Fascinating games

Stars battle it out in the cold and wind at World Games Trials

The coaches will reduce the group to 30 players before a second trial weekend at the end of March.

Matt Rehder and Jack Hatchett were two of the standout performers during the first weekend of the 2022 World Game Trials. Photo: Natalie Bigman-Pimentel — UltiPhotos.com

ROUND ROCK, Texas — Adaptability. With seventy of the country’s top ultimate players in attendance for the first round of the US World Games Trials, that’s the trait the coaches defined as what they were looking for, and that’s what the cold weekend and windy demanded of the participants.

Athletes pulled an unfortunate hand with one of the worst weather weekends for Austin in 2022 as temperatures on both days started below 40 degrees. Saturday’s cold and windy conditions were described by Seattle Sockeye’s Matt Rehder as “slop.” Sunday was less gloomy as the sun came out, but still quite windy. The constant 15 to 20 mph wind caused problems for even the best pitchers in the country. What would normally be easy subs sailed over the receivers’ heads and many resets were wasted as a sudden gust knocked the disc to the turf.

Saturday’s trial, which was closed to the media, had blocks of time to get everyone on the same page with the systems as well as go through isolation drills and scrums.

On Sunday, after the first huddle, the group split into four teams for the day. Each team followed its own player-led warm-up routine and the determination with which the players performed their warm-up was an early reminder of how dedicated these players had to be to earn a place in this trial. From there, teams started with a manager-optioned cutting drill, played a three-way, and then moved on to downfield defense-focused drills. The weekend ended with a three-hour block of 7 against 7 melee.

Talent evaluation at this level of play is different from a conventional tryout. Former World Games player and current assistant coach Miranda Knowles, as well as National Under-24 team coach and assistant World Games selection Nancy Sun, highlighted how the weekend was less about demonstrating skills and more about demonstrating adaptability to different situations. Head coach Matty Tsang echoed that sentiment. All the players present had already been checked for their skills. The questions are now about higher order game factors. How can you connect with other players? How well can you stop an under and hold a reset? And given the small size of the final 14-person roster for the World Games, are you flexible to play offense and defense, handler and cutter in the same game?

Despite the windy conditions, the players still managed to stand out. Opi Payne was an all-around monster. Jack Hatchett was excellent on defense both in manager space and on the field. Sarah Meckstroth and Kaela Helton were also among the standouts on both sides of the record. Chicago Machine’s Nate Goff and Paul Arters were great tools to have on offense, with Arters being one of the few players to consistently huck upwind.

There were also a few notable absences on trial. Allan Laviolette, Jibran Mieser, John Stubbs, Max Sheppard and 2017 World Games selections Liên Hoffman and Nick Stuart were not present. And unfortunately, there were injuries sustained before and during tryouts that sidelined the players for the weekend. Two-time World Games star Sarah ‘Surge’ Griffith has suffered a foot injury. Ryan Osgar was out on day one with a sprained ankle and Michael Ing tore his Achilles tendon midway through Saturday. On Sunday, Nicky Spiva left the trial with a wrist injury.

Although there were plenty of veteran players involved, it was impossible not to notice the younger faces that were part of this elite group. Coach Knowles noted that this is one of the rare instances where multiple generations of talent can overlap. You see people who have played on World Games teams before on the same line with the 2021 college champions. Coach Matty Tsang noted how “remarkably complete” the young players are now compared to when he began coaching in 1997; Skills that were previously only exhibited by experienced athletes in their late 20s and 30s can now be seen in players fresh out of college. He credits this to a strong and expanding United States National Team program that gives young players experience competing at the highest level from an early age.

The value of the World Games process is not lost on players or coaches. Knowles explained how being a coach is both “extremely exciting and a huge responsibility”. Tsang explained how the World Games are unique in sports because they’re not just an “ultimate event” – they’re closer to the Olympics. Everyone at these games is passionate about both what they do and the opportunity to share their skills with other athletes around the world.

Tsang also noted how different this World Games cycle is due to repeated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tryout slate was drawn primarily from the 2020 Ultimate and Guts World Championships (WUGC) slates which were postponed and then ultimately cancelled. He expressed his gratitude to the guests for their commitment to a testing process that lasted for years.

For players, the importance of the trial process is something that goes beyond roster composition. Asked about the preparation for the test, Jesse Shofner of Nashville Shine and Matt Rehder of Seattle Sockeye spoke about the importance of working as an individual – getting on the track to go faster, avoiding those moments of apathy – but also what it means to represent your community. Everything is essential to be competitive in this process.

Shofner, who stood out over the weekend, thanked her Nashville community. She explained how her community helped her train during the cold days leading up to the trial. Shofner is proud to represent her community, those who have trained with her, even if they themselves had no trials to prepare. Rehder also spoke about the benefits from his personal experience at Round Rock, but also what it meant in a larger context. He saw real value in representing the ultimate Seattle community, his past and present teammates, and even the young players he coaches. Both players recognize that caring about something like the World Games is a privilege; in many ways, others can bear a similar burden of effort without ever reaping the reward of playing on a national team or even earning an invitation to try out for one.

For those who managed to show their adaptability this weekend, a second round of trials will take place on March 25 and 26, still in Texas. Before that, the roster will be whittled down to just 30 who are still vying for one of the coveted 14 spots to represent the country at the World Games this summer in Birmingham, Alabama.

  1. Chris Cassel

    Chris Cassel

    Chris Cassella is from Orange, Connecticut and started playing pickups when he was 11 years old. He graduated from the University of Richmond, where he played four years with the Richmond Spidermonkeys. At Richmond, Chris won a National Championship (2017), two High Tide titles (2019, 2020) and the “Worst Decision Award” four years in a row. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he will play his fifth year with TUFF. You can follow him on Twitter (@nerdyboypolis) to see his daily shots on area defense, political science, and I-35 traffic jams.

TAGGED: International, Trials, World Games