Thursday, May 19, 2011

Washingon Element: The Seattle Advantage

Seattle, Washington: synonymous with being the "Mecca" of the ultimate world in the U.S.; the place where youth ultimate has exploded, becoming a model for the whole country; the place where STRONG is an understatement for the club teams in the city.

Washington Element gets the opportunity that most of our teams would kill for: playing in Seattle. After speaking with Element coach, Danny Karlinsky, the team reaps many benefits from the situation.

Karlinsky has been coaching women's ultimate since 2009, when he was an assistant coach for Riot, the elite women's team in Seattle. He describes what it is like to be in Seattle:
“Seattle is an unbelievable place when it comes to ultimate. There is this thriving, hungry and ambitious group at all levels and divisions that make it the main hub of ultimate in the country. There is nothing like Seattle ultimate; it’s full of some of the most invested players in the history of the sport and you can see/hear/feel the passion at every event.As a coach, I’ve had the pleasure of working with middle school, high school, college and club teams in the city, and as I’ve travelled and experienced other areas, I’ve been hard pressed to find anything like it across our country.”
This energy pulses through every ultimate player in Seattle, even the young. With the strong youth scene, Element has the opportunity to recruit rookies who have more experience than the veterans on most other teams. “Youth ultimate in Seattle is our clear advantage. Element is chalk full of high school players from within the area who played at their own school, for YCC and Juniors teams,” explains Karlinsky. “Our special perk is that we have freshman who have already been playing four years!” The youth scene is even expanding into middle and elementary schools, something that other cities with a strong ultimate “culture” dream about.

Another benefit: Element players have the opportunity to play with some of the best women’s club teams in the country. “Element players are always looking to get better and most of the team, especially at the junior/senior level, are playing club in the offseason with Riot, Underground, Swagger or Rainer Rupture,” says Karlinsky. The top players from Element are practicing with these ridiculous teams and also get to play against them regularly throughout the summer and fall months. As a result, “Everyone on the team is super skilled and quality young women’s players are always sought after in the women’s and co-ed division,” explains Karlinsky.

Having a robust young talent pool to choose from and a strong club scene to improve returning players’ skills allows for the establishment of a solid program for the future. With this being said, many grad students and transfer students also want to be part of the special family that Element has. “We picked up three ‘rookies’ this season,” highlights Karlinsky. “All three of them have had big game experiences either from being high school ballers or grad transfers from National’s level teams. Though they are few in number, their contributions have been enormous and I’m confident our freshman will be dominant players when their time comes.”

However, every power house has its challenges to combat. For Washington, the constraint is facilities. The team is limited to late practice times when they do get access practice facilities from the University. In addition to sub-par practice times, the team only is given turf reservations, which has given players leg and hip troubles. Karlinsky also points out that, “In addition, turf represents a challenge as it is rarely ever the type of pitch we play on at tournaments (not once this season, in fact) and thus we make sure we practice on grass at every other opportunity.”

Another huge obstacle is Seattle’s weather. “Oh, Seattle. Rain, 35+mph wind, snow and hail...we’ve done it all,” says Karlinsky of the outdoor conditions. But the same Seattle that poses difficult playing conditions also gives the team an advantage during game time. “The way I explain it to the team, you don’t reach your potential if you never have to surmount nasty obstacles. Our advantage is that we get to fight through tough conditions and feel ecstatic when we get sunny and calm skies.” Many of us can attest to these conditions, as they sound to those of the Midwest and Northeast face in spring, as well.

All in all, Element gains significantly from being in Seattle. This only adds to the strength of the solid foundation that the team of years past has worked hard to lay and maintain. It goes to show that when a team has an advantage, they should fully take advantage of the opportunity given to them to give them a competitive edge over the competition. The team’s location is just one of the many factors that plays into making this team a perennial qualifier to the College Championships.
Washington Element at Regionals 2011

Nationals Outlook
Washington will appear in Pool D with Stanford, Iowa, WashU, and Ohio State. This allows Washington to re-match up with Stanford and Iowa, giving Element another chance to prove itself against some top teams at the tournament. Pool D will most definitely be an exciting one to say the least.

Element is coming off of a strong Northwest Regional performance. “Regionals went really well for us. We battled Oregon on Saturday to double game point in a very tough, spirited game,” highlights Karlinsky. “Playing UBC on Sunday was incredible as we had to battle back from being down at the end of the game to breaking twice to win. Though we had a sub-optimal final game, it really didn’t diminish our focus or intensity coming into the series. If anything, it just made us want more Tiger Blood.”

Element, unlike many of the other teams in the post season, did not suffer any injuries through Conferences and Regionals. In fact, their roster has grown, as some players who were injured came back. Of his team, Karlinsky says “[Element] is full of tough and strong minded players.” Another thing going for them is that school is still in session, and everyone is around with the focus on Nationals…maybe even more so than finals, shortly after returning from Boulder.

Preparing for the big show has taken a mind change for the team. “Our goal has been to focus on what’s directly ahead of us. Our goal for the pre-series into Regionals was to earn our way to Nationals. Now that we have accomplished that, we look onto the next goal and focus on that. I think it’s ludicrous to imagine National’s just like any other tournament. It’s not. It’s long, much more intense and the stakes are higher. It brings out the best in players and there is no need to try to hide the fact!”

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