Over the last ten years, the Hodag name and symbol have become synonymous with elite level college ultimate. It has been ten years since the Hodags missed a trip to UPA Nationals. The Hodags boast a Callahan winner among their alumni, a group who are as renowned for their talent as they are for their dedication to the ideal that is Wisconsin Ultimate.
However, along with all the fame and all the glory comes a great burden as well. The 2009 UPA series was the first time in four years that Wisconsin did not find itself among the semifinalists at College Nationals. In fact, earlier in the season, at Trouble in Vegas, the Hodags went winless for a day of Ultimate. A feat that, according to the Hodags has never been seen before in Hodag Ultimate history, aside from winless Sundays at college Nationals.
While for most programs, a replica of Wisconsin’s 2009 season would be the season to end all seasons, the Hodags were certainly not overwhelmingly pleased with their results. This left many folks asking the question, “What is wrong with Wisconsin ultimate?” and “What does this mean for next year?” As a large group of the Hodags’ core was leaving for the great beyond of post graduation. Including Callahan nominee Jim Foster.
Those questions have circulated just about everywhere except for inside of the Hodag huddle, as current captain Jake Smart simply states that UW’s expectations have not changed in the least bit.
“We expect to be playing on Sunday at Nationals,” Smart wrote us in an e-mail.
Leading the way to that goal will be Smart, a consistent defensive player for the Hodags and senior handler Evan Klane, the anchor of the Hodag offense. Both players are among a group of Hodags that gained solid experience with the Madison Club team this summer. Madison Club won the Central Region during the UPA’s club series. During our interview with Smart, he named seven Hodags that would be the face of the team this season, five of those seven spent this club season playing with Madison Club.
One member of the team that also has connections with Madison Club is Hector Valdivia, a player who has gained repute in the Ultimate scene for both his skills and knowledge of the game. An alumnus of Wisconsin, Valdivia has jumped on board at UW as the coach of the Open team.
“He coaches via mental exercises, mini games and heuristic principles,” Smart wrote. “(He) provides sideline presence and strategy at tournaments.”
However, Valdivia’s presence won’t change much when it comes to the way Wisconsin appears on the field. The Hodags plan to continue their tendency towards hard play and threatening the endzone on every throw.
“We huck it a lot,” Smart wrote. “Our receivers are athletic and are expected to make plays deep if the disc is at all catchable.”
The key to Wisconsin’s offense is its team cohesiveness. With every dump and every swing, each player is expected to know where his handler is looking and how the wants to put the throw where he is looking. Wisconsin’s young, relatively speaking, team is well on its way to reaching that cohesiveness.
“We have a lot of sophomores (7) and juniors (3),” Smart wrote. “These are guys who are on the cusp of becoming great and effective players. They are also just becoming comfortable with each other. We are looking for these guys to jump up to the next level and develop chemistry.”
That chemistry will be tested at this year’s CCC as the young Hodags will be asked replicate something that their more experienced predecessors have accomplished many times. Win the most prestigious fall tournament around. The untested Wisconsin players are living up to their alumni who have won CCC the last four years.