Friday, May 20, 2011

Washington University Tilt: The Covenant

Sam Huo with a low-release throw.
There were haters in the 2010 college ultimate scene when it came to discussing the strength of the former South Region. WashU has taken this on as a challenge, setting up the vision necessary for a successful performance at Nationals this season. (Click the link to find out more about their covenant)

In the winter, Tilt co-captains Sam Huo and Emily Luck approached a newcomer to the St. Louis ultimate scene, Melissa Gibbs, about enacting their vision for the upcoming season. Huo and Luck wanted to challenge Tilt to not make similar mistakes the team has in the past. One of the huge goals: overcoming tournament fatigue. “The team knew what they wanted and took some time to really lay down how they thought they would get there,” Gibbs describes. Part of this process was the visualization of what this covenant meant to each player individually.

In Gibbs’ first season coaching with Abby Stephens, a standout WashU alum, the duo has helped to challenge Tilt in ways they never thought they would be. Gibbs outlines her role as “Pushing them physically and reminding them of their goals when necessary.” Physically, the team has come a long way from where they used to be, even since fall. “In the end, they responded really well to it and appreciate it for all the leg power they had at the end of Sunday regionals and a little difference in their game mentality for the goals we employed that method for,” she says.
Theresa Chan for the score.

The first season coaching on a new team during the spring season can be difficult. For Gibbs, an Iowa State alum and former CLX standout, this was no different. “You don't come into the program with the respect you would get coaching players that had already at one point been your teammates,” says Gibbs. But the gap was quickly bridged, and Tilt took to their new coaching staff. The respect was mutual. “The fundamentals were there and I'd never before really coached players into the higher strategy and playing skills as much as I knew I was going to be. I was nervous about this but I'm so much the stronger for it and eventually felt I helped the team. It takes a long time to figure out players, their motivations, how you can or cannot push them and this is a quiet thinking group of ladies. We've reached the point where I get them and they get me and I think we're a good match finding strengths in each other we don't necessarily have in ourselves,” explains Gibbs.
Ellen Miller with a layout grab.

Gibbs also adds some extra depth in strategy to the team. “A large part of my responsibility was taking over line calling and playing time. It was a good position to be in, because I was a neutral, outside source judging on skills and work alone, and eventually found elements of players that worked well together and pieced them all together nicely for subbing,” she describes. Her ability to see the field has helped to develop a greater amount of depth than many of the college women’s teams in the game today. When it comes to contributors, the WashU roster is filled with them. “I eventually came up with familiar and new methods of plays that fed into the already existing strengths of the ladies, but that helped include our bench depth instead of over utilizing dominant players. It helped our cohesiveness on the field improve when we felt our natural chemistry was breaking down.”

When it comes to giving advice players making the jump from captaining or playing into coaching, Gibbs has a lot of great words to offer. “Positivity should always be one of your key words,” she starts. “The attitude you choose will always trickle down to each and every team member. Be honest and forgiving and always, always encourage communication. Make yourselves open to apologizing for mistakes and the team will get that you are humble and will reward you with their trust naturally”

Kami Groom rules the Centex skys.
Her approach to coaching also differs than many others that we sometimes see. She helps to provide an emotional synergy to the team, and often forces herself to stop talking. “When I need to, I say to myself ‘this is their team, they decide where they want to go.’ They give me the destination and my job is to create their roadmap,” she describes.

On the subject of her first season coaching, she says “I always feel like people of the ultimate community are really gems in terms of personalities. I feel blessed to meet more people on such an intimate level where as I would normally be closed to new faces I find in ultimate I can open up better because of our shared love for the game.”
Of all the great players I respect in the game, Melissa Gibbs really understands the need for talented players to lend their talents to coaching. “Somewhere in me I knew that it was about that time I started working on giving back a little to ultimate what it had given to me and coaching is one of the best ways.”

Nationals Outlook
Danielle Blatt with a sick grab at Centex 2011.
Tilt is working on maintaining their focus and conditioning that they have built up this season and sticking to their game plan. This season, WashU has developed many more set-plays to fall back on. This means that their offense has options even if their natural flow breaks down. Offensively, this team has the throws to create many options on the field.

WashU is coming off of a second place finish in South Central Regionals. All through the post season, Rice surprised all sorts of opponents in the region, and ended up surprising Tilt, and beating them on Saturday of Regionals in pool play. “We had a heartbreak of a close loss to Rice on day one because we were all so focused on taking down a Colorado team we hadn't defeated in the three times we met them over the season,” recaps Gibbs. The team, however, bounced back from this loss, and secured the second bid from the South Central. She explains,
“We knew what we needed to do for Sunday and made sure everyone on the team was clear about what that was in sense of our game progression. After using our bottom half of the team well in the first couple of games, we went to O and D lines which we hadn't done all year and it payed off big when we controlled the whole of both semis and the back door game. The women took the game plan and executed it to a "T" and I was so very very proud of how every individual played and came together as a team. True competitors.”
Going into nationals, Sam Huo, Danielle Blatt and Julie Habbert, three of WashU’s big play-makers have nagging muscles injuries; however, Gibbs notes that they will be ready by Nationals.

Tilt has been practicing with all but a couple of their players, who are in Boston until Nationals, but the team plans to get to Colorado early in the week to adjust to the altitude.

WashU will be in Pool D along with Stanford, Iowa, Washington, and Ohio State. This pool will most definitely be an exciting one to watch unfold over the weekend.

Also in the scouting report: don’t overlook this team. Gibbs reveals,“We are about the most rag-tag looking team. Skinny women who will jump right over you, really tall women getting handblocks, and really small women layout d-ing you. They are constantly studying and have pasty white skin, glasses and were non-high school athletes but they are never to be underestimated. You can never judge a book by its cover ‘cuz these books have busted their asses off to be the best players they can be. These women sincerely have true grit when it comes to game time.”

Tilt and their coaches, Abby and Gibbs (center).

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