Hodags look for 3rd ultimate title

first_imgView Gallery (2 Photos)They might not carry the household name of the white and red, but the Wisconsin Hodags might be as good as any sports team the University of Wisconsin can boast about. Forget about football — it’s Ultimate season.Three time national champions, including winning back-to-back national titles the past two seasons is some of what the Wisconsin club ultimate frisbee team has to offer.But that’s not all. You would figure most programs would be happy with a 25-10 record but not these Hodags. Considering the squad lost more this season than it did during the team’s two championship runs, it makes sense the captains were a bit unnerved after the team’s 3-6 performance in a Las Vegas tournament in early February.“Vegas was definitely a little shocking for some of the older guys on the team because we have only lost a handful of games in the past few seasons,” co-captain Jim Foster said. “You can tell the older guys were demoralized, where the younger had never experienced that before and they didn’t realize that we expect to win every game we play.”One of the most difficult club sports teams to make at the school, UW Ultimate has a rigorous six week schedule to determine who makes the “A” squad, one of the country’s best teams. The tryout process, according to Hodags co-captain Evan Klane, is as intense a system as the team could offer.“We really invite anyone who has any athletic experience, whether they played ultimate in high school or not,” he said. “It’s really tough, it’s about six weeks long and … there are about 100 guys who come out every year. At the end of the process we really feel like we have the best team possible.”Whereas all varsity sports at UW are coached by professionals, the Hodags pride themselves on self-coaching at the hands of the team captains, Foster and Klane. The closest thing the squad has to a coach is its alumni, which return to the team to help out during practices and provide insight wherever possible.One of the alumni, Brandon Malacek, came back to aid the team when needed but still puts most of the responsibility on the captains.“Basically, I came back because I knew they had a legitimate shot at winning a third championship in a row,” he said. “A lot of the responsibility falls on the captains, but I try to come in and make sure they get all their plays in, coordinate practices and to make things run smoothly.”But while Malacek is among the helpers, Klane and Foster do most of the dirty work, leading practices while participating in them. That, Foster believes, is what makes the team gel so well together.“It also helps the other guys by motivating them because we’re part of the team too,” Foster said. “We do it all with them, I feel like it’s a motivational thing and we have a unique perspective because we’re playing out there as well.”Especially after losing nine seniors, the Hodags need leadership from their own players. And while they are still successful in most tournaments they compete in, Klane said he believes the loss of senior leadership may have been a factor in the early season struggles.“We had a lot of fifth year seniors graduate this past year including one of our captains and that was a really big contingent of our team, but I think we’re looking much better than we did earlier in the year when we struggled a lot,” Klane said.The struggles Klane speaks of refer to the team’s poor performance in Las Vegas where, according to Foster, the Hodags’ lack of leadership, coupled with poor weather conditions, were big factors in the substandard showing.But while the six losses were a shock to most of the upperclassmen on the roster, both Klane and Foster believe the struggles helped motivate the team to get to where they wanted to be. Since those six losses, the Hodags have only lost four games in four tournaments.“We’ve definitely responded well. We’ve had some really great wins this season that we’ve been down in game,” Foster said. “We’ve made sure that we go into every game with the mentality that we have to play as good as we can to win every game.”“I think it showed us that we weren’t at the place where we wanted to be,” Klane added. “It gave some added motivation … and I think it sort of changed the mindset of the team, saying, ‘We’re not the team we were the past couple of years and we need to be a little more humble in going forward when we face our opponents.”While the struggles early in the season may have hurt the Hodags’ record, it hasn’t taken away from their confidence. With the College Open Sectionals coming up, everyone on the squad, including Malacek, has the sense that a third consecutive title isn’t out of reach.“Usually about every year, there’s about four to six teams that have a legitimate shot at winning,” Malacek said. “Our squad is clearly one of those teams that could do it.”Reminiscent of the UW basketball team, which struggled to make the NCAA Tournament this season coming off a Big Ten Championship a year ago, the Hodags have faced similar adversity this season. While their season is still not over, the captains, particularly Foster, who is a fifth year senior, found this season to be the most helpful for the team and for himself.“It’s definitely been completely different than the past two seasons,” Foster said. “We used to be so talented that we were kind of overwhelming to a lot of teams. This year has been completely different.“Because we’ve won two in a row every team comes out with the best game they can muster,” he continued. “I think that helps us because we have to play as hard as we can to win.”On April 18, the Hodags head to Whitewater for the sectional finals. If they perform well enough there, they will play in the regional finals at Carleton College in Minnesota. If they finish in the top four at that tournament, the squad will take on the nation’s best at the national finals being held in Columbus, Ohio.last_img

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