04/19/2011, 2:23pm CDT
By Eric Alexander and Zach Alter
The Hodags finish the regular season with a win in St. Louis
The Hodags' winter season was marked by some rather disparate highs and lows. At Warm-up, they learned they could win against anybody. At Stanford, they learned they couldn't take that for granted. Easterns was the tournament of "almost," as the Hodags let leads slip away against three different teams--good teams, but teams they could and should have beat. This left the team dissatisfied, and so they decided to attend one more tournament--Huck Finn in St. Louis, MO--in order to put final punctuation on the winter season going into the Series. Though the competition wasn't as heavy as at Wisconsin's previous outings, the tournament was attended by regional rival Minnesota, along with a smattering of solid teams from Illinois, Wash U, and Ball State.
Saturday morning started out rough. The hosts Wash U Contra played like the home team, capitalizing on the Hodags' mistakes and riding off adrenaline and intensity for the whole game. The Hodags, in contrast, were uncharacteristically sloppy with the disc and had trouble scoring on D. Ultimately, they were able to pull out a 14-12 win and counted themselves lucky. They picked up their game significantly in the second game against Northwestern. The Hodags took half 8-4, shredding the Northwestern zone with a confidence that had been lacking earlier in the season. This continued in the second half, and the D-line continued to get breaks. The game ended, as it should, on D, with Wiseman pulling down a huge sky from Simmons.
The third game of the day was against Illinois who had just come off a close game of their own against Wash U. Illinois came out of the gates fast, holding on the first point and then breaking the O-line twice before they had a chance to blink. Down 3-0, the Hodags finally got on the board with a huge huck from Bergen to Brian. Both teams traded to 3-5. Then the D-line went on fire. Try as they might, Illinois could not get past Wiseman with their deep shots, and he pulled down D after D from the deep-deep position and on help D's. Jerry and Coolidge had their share as well, and the D-line offense was as chilly as it had been all year, with scores on the endzone line by Jordan, Danny, Simmons and Feldman. The Hodags took half at 8-6. The two teams mostly traded after half, and the game ended at 15-12 with a huck from EA to Cullen.
For the final game of the day, Wisconsin matched up in a crossover against Minnesota Grey Duck, who had also gone undefeated on the day. The last meeting of these two teams had been at MLC, where they had literally traded goals all the way to a 9-8 victory for the Hodags. This game started out by continuing that trend. Though the D-line had initial struggles against Minnesota's deep game, Grey Duck had no answer for Colin Camp. In the first half, Colin caught four scores on throws from Bergen, EA, Brian, and probably Dan. The two teams traded until 7-7. In the final point of the half, the D-line got a D and worked it up to the goal line before calling a time-out. Out of the time-out, Feldman pulled his "super secret" headfake (ask him sometime), making his man look silly and getting the break for half. This ended a streak of 31 straight holds in Wisconsin/Minnesota games.
The second half was similar. Despite some great D from Simmons and Coolidge, Minnesota continued to score, almost exclusively on deep shots that were almost-but-not-quite knocked away. Colin continued to put on a clinic on O, and Brian stole some assists from Dan by getting a couple almost-goal deep shots that he continued to Bergen and EA. At 13-12, Cullen, who had been playing both ways because he's Cullen, got bookends to give the D-line a chance to break for the win. On the very next point, Wiseman came down with a huge sky to do just that, winning at 15-12.
To say Sunday was windy would be like saying that Wisconsin winters are kind of chilly. At its slowest, the wind hung around 25-30 mph, with gusts getting up to 40 or 50. Thankfully, the fields were straight upwind/downwind. Wisconsin began the day against Harding, who had just beaten Northwestern in pre-quarters. The Hodags opened with a hold going downwind--and then proceeded to break Harding 6 times in a row for the oatbag. Harding held going downwind coming out of the half, but ultimately did nothing to slow down the break train. Final score: 13-2. Matching up against Ball State in the semis was more of the same: upwind break to start, followed by 6 more to take half 7-0. Ball State held on one downwinder in the second half, but then the D-line broke all the way to a BHart Callahan off a huge hammer pull from Jerry. Final score: 13-1. In both games, the D-line offense did an impressive job of working the disc upwind. Simmons and Rainy ran the offense calmly and collectedly while Feldman jacked flick after hammer after flick 40 or 50 yards upwind. The ones he didn't complete were quickly earned back on D. Dan Park made a point of picking up the disc and throwing immediate assists, scoring on something like his first 6 throws of the day. A lot of the young guns stepped up, showing they could get D's and read crazy throws in the wind.
Finals matched Wisconsin up against Minnesota again. Though Grey Duck had not had much trouble winning earlier in the day, it was clear that their smaller squad was just about running on empty. The Hodags capitalized on this early, breaking them immediately upwind to start the game with a shot from Feldman to Simmons, and following that with another break to Jerry after a nasty Simmons D close to the endzone. Grey Duck held on their next downwind chance, but after a quick downwind goal from Dan to EA, the D-line got in another pair of breaks, one from Feldman to a skying Wiseman and a downwinder from Dayu to Lucas. Minnesota then held downwind, followed by a Dan to Colin hold, followed by a great upwind read from Jerry who then threw a goal to break to half at 7-2. Though Minnesota would get a couple of breaks in the second half, they looked like a defeated team, and after a huge sky by Wiseman to bring the game to 11-6, they were quite content to accept the hard cap and begin the long ride home. Point, game, tournament, Wisconsin.
The weekend ended up being just what the Hodags wanted. They got a lot of practice throwing and catching in wind unlike what they'd seen in the Shell all winter. They practiced zone offense and defense. They got to spread playing time and get they younger players some important in-game experience. They got to scout a likely Regionals matchup against Minnesota. Most importantly, they found their swagger. They remembered what it feels like not just to win games, but to know you'll win games, and to play like it every point. They'll be riding that line between cocky and confident through Appleton all the way to Boulder.