Monday, May 23, 2011

Michigan Flywheel: Great Plays, Great Lakes

Becky "B-Mu" Malinowski with the D
Throughout the season, Flywheel has been showing why their team is one to contend with. The team is able to successfully overcome the weather constraints of being in the snowy, cold state of Michigan, to put together a nationals-qualifying squad year-in and year-out. Co-captain AnnaMaria Paruk, or “AMP” as she goes by, details the way that Flywheel has carried the momentum from the team’s 9th place finish in 2010 to push to improve upon it in the 2011 season.

In the 2010 College Championships in Madison, WI, you may have took notice to Flywheel’s extremely small roster. “Last year, unfortunately, we only had 13 players at Nationals. Due to mid-season quitting and injuries, our roster was quite small for almost the entire season,” begins AMP. But this just served as extra motivation for those who showed commitment to the team. “[It] did, however, force the 13 of us to be in extremely good shape because we rarely had time to take breaks in tournaments; there was no 'resting'.”

Going into the 2011 season, Flywheel has been able to add to its athletic veteran group returning from 2010. “This year we got lucky with a great incoming class of athletes and grad students. We now have a roster of 19 with 8 handlers as opposed to 4, 3 grad students as opposed to 1, and 5 huckers as opposed to 3. However, everyone is still in really good shape because we still depend on the entire team to get the job done,” explains AMP.

Flywheel can make even the toughest plays look easy.
One added challenge was thrown at Flywheel in the 2010-2011 season: Uncertainty of coaching staff. Unsure of whether or not the team would be able to secure a new coach, the captains had to take a different approach. AMP says, “This season we transitioned into a more player run team. In the past we have had amazing coaches who took us on and made us into a great team. This year, we were unsure of our coaching situation so the players had to step up big time. However, we did end up with two amazing coaches again but the characteristic of a player-run team stayed."

A huge way that the team has added depth in 2011 is the focus on recruiting athletic rookies and maintain their interest. “Our recruiting practice is to get as many athletic girls and train them into Ultimate players. We have sign ups throughout campus in the beginning of the school year to attract players but we also post signs throughout dorms and gyms,” explains AMP. Though the emphasis is getting new players at the start of a new academic year, the team continues this push throughout the entire season, and it has paid off. “Recruiting cannot be just done in the fall. If you want a good incoming class, you need to promote your team throughout the year to get people interested in joining your team. We do this by throwing in public places and advertising our achievements."

AMP might be short, but she can sky the pack.
Another struggle the team faces is loss of personnel in the middle of the season or between semesters. “We try to discourage it by creating a friendship vibe so people do not want to leave their friends. A lot of people complain about the time needed for Ultimate and both school; to combat this problem we have Flywheel study sessions at the library so people are making sure to get both done while still having fun.”

This season showcases an extremely fit, athletic team, perhaps the most athletic top-to-bottom in the college women’s game in 2011. AMP explains the team approaches workouts. "This season we continued with Cross Fit workouts. We started this last year and I can say that is definitely the reason we were able to play with 13 players at each tournament, including Nationals. We go to a gym that is unaffiliated with the University so we are trained by professionals making sure we get all of the movements and workouts correct. Additionally, the workouts are tailored to Ultimate so our workouts are very productive and effective. In April we stop these gym workouts and move towards speed and agility to make sure we are still explosive and fast. These skills build on form the base that the Cross Fit workouts give us."

Undoubtedly, the team has reaped the benefits of this training approach. See that the team is explosive and able to play a fast-paced game. For teams looking to improve athletic performance, “I would really look into going to a Cross Fit gym. While you can do Cross Fit workouts on your own, it is a lot easier to go to a gym where a trained professional is coming up with the workouts and perfecting your form,” suggests AMP. But understanding cost and facility constraint, she also recommends that teams “focus on gaining strength in the beginning part of the season (Jan, Feb, Mar) then move towards speed workouts (April, May) so the skills are balanced.”

 For teams looking to increase commitment to workouts, Flywheel has found incredible success with team accountability. “We create a document listing everyone's workouts per day during school breaks. This encourages the rest of the team to workout when they see one player doing sprint workouts and weight lifting after eating Thanksgiving dinner or thousands of Christmas cookies. Keeping a competitive vibe (not too competitive though) encourages everyone to get in/stay in great shape throughout the season,” highlights AMP.

To develop skills to match the team’s athleticism, AMP notes, “We encourage throwing a LOT. Throwing outside of practice really helps with your throws (obviously) but also your catching. In practice we will do punishments (like sprints, pushups, or burpees) for drops in certain drills to hone in on our catching principles and concentration. We will also do drills where crazy, swilly throws are put up so everyone has a chance of reading the disc and coming down with interesting things.”

Flywheel is explosive with their under cuts.
This focus on offensive skills has helped the team to develop an explosive, quick-paced offensive strategy. “I would describe our team as an athletic team with defensive perseverance and quick offensive movement. However, I think the offense has gotten better throughout my years here while the defense intensity has picked up. Teams across the nation are getting more competitive so it is forcing our team to get better at certain skills.”

Nationals Outlook:
Flywheel is coming off of a dominant Great Lakes Regional performance; however, the conditions were not necessarily ideal. “Regionals went quite well for Flywheel. The wind was really strong but we were able to score in both upwind/downwind scenarios as well as crosswind. I was extremely pleased at our showing despite certain elements. We knew the finals was going to be tough against Northwestern,” highlights AMP.

Since Regionals, practices have been going well for Flywheel. The team is taking advantage of its early end of the academic calendar (about 2 weeks earlier than most schools on the semester system), and focusing on ultimate.
Kim Culpan gets up for the score.

The team carries it’s injury-free season into the College Championships, with no personnel losses. As such, the team is prepping for Boulder with “many hill workouts and sprint workouts. Other than that, we are just making sure we don't overdo our training so our legs aren't too heavy come Nationals,” notes AMP.

“I think everyone can expect Flywheel to come out with intensity,” says AMP. “This year the women's division is so close it is really anyone's game. Flywheel greatly believes in this principal so we are going to come out with intensity for each game. However, I can expect that out of every team. For it is, after all, Nationals.”

Going into nationals, Flywheel finds itself in Pool A behind UC-Santa Barbara as the 8th Overall Seed. The UCSB/Michigan match up at nationals will be a good game to watch, and this author highly recommends you try to catch that game if you have the chance. The match up between the Burning Skirts and Flywheel will be one not to miss.

No comments:

Post a Comment