The season began with quite a let down for the Kansas Ultimate team this season. KU is now sitting pretty with a 23-11 record, is ranked No. 20 in the UPA Top 25 and earned the No. 11 seed at UPA College Nationals in Columbus, Ohio on May 22-25. However, when the Horrorzontals travled to Cultimate’s Trouble in Vegas for their first tournament of the season everything did not go as planned. While future Nationals qualifiers like Colorado and Carleton had field days, finishing in the semifinals and finals, respectively.
The Horrorzontals struggled to a 3-6 record at TiV and were in definite danger of seeing their season not only start off on the wrong foot but take a bad second step when they finished their trip to Centex in Austin, Texas with a tournament record of 3-4 and had a overall record of 6-10. Team captain, senior Kevin Kelly chalks the poor record up to a little bit more than a lack of talent though, as by the time UK arrived in Las Vegas, they had only been able to work on the track and had yet to get an actual practice in.
“TiV was our first tournament of the season and being so early in the season we did not have any opportunities to practice outside beforehand (winter stayed late in Kansas this year),” Kelly wrote us in an e-mail. “Consequently we came into the tournament having only tack workouts under out belt. We had a lot of self turnovers due to our lack of practice.”
Again, Kelly believes that the late winter caused major problems for the Horrorzontals when Centex rolled around.
“Coming into Centex we were finally able to get some practices in and during that time we changed our offense,” Kelly wrote. “Centex was our first opportunity to run our new sets and the timing was way off on Saturday. We struggled to get things flowing and we had not developed an efficient method to get the disc off the line.”
Many teams may have struggled to get back on track after such a rough start. By the time Centex was over, Kansas was well out of the National picture as Regional rivals were posting better records at lesser tournaments. By the time Kansas was 6-10 Arkansas and North Texas had posted great finishes at tournaments like Mardi Gras and Presidents Day. According to Kelly though, Kansas took its early season struggles as a chance to learn and improve.
“We learned a whole lot from the early season struggles as far as making adjustments to our offense and changing our focus on defense,” Kelly wrote. “Additionally, we realized our team needed to get stronger mentally and we actively worked on improving that aspect of our game.”
Apparently, the team did just that. Kansas went into its next tournament on fire and streaked through the competition at Huck Finn in St. Louis, MO. The Horrorzontals accumulated wins over Georgia, Notre Dame and Wisconsin on their way to going undefeated for the tournament. However, their undefeated run would not end in the way that they expected as the unusual tournament format sent St. Louis, who had played two B-teams and several lower tier teams throughout the weekend, to the tournament final against Florida. Once again, instead of letting the end of Huck Finn turn into a negative, Kansas used it to fuel the fire for a tournament victory.
“We were thirsty for a tournament victory after Huck Finn and we brought that energy into Sectionals,” Kelly wrote. “We did not fool around on Saturday and we took care of teams with wide margins of victory.”
Kansas ran through Sectionals with only a brief scare in its game against Truman State, which Kelly chalked up to a slow start by the Horrorzontals and inclement weather. When Regionals rolled around Kansas was ready to make a run but Texas stood in the way and the Horrorzontals lost on double-game point. Once again though, Kansas used the loss to push them towards a National title.
“Winning Sectionals really helped our confidence,” Kelly wrote. “We had won 15 games straight and knew that etams were going to fear us at Regionals because of this. We thought we were the team to beat at the tourney. We just really should have taken care of business against Texas. That loss still stings but overall we have used it as a positive rather than a negative. We talk about it at every practice, about how we need to get better. Instead of riding high from a Regionals victory, we have recommitted ourselves to working in the gym, hitting the stairs work outs with fire and pushing ourselves to improve more than the competition between now and Nationals.”
Kansas will also utilize other physical gifts in its attempt at winning Nationals. The Horrorzontals have 5 players that stand over 6’3″ inches on their starting O-Line, including their Callahan nominee, Kelly and sophomore Axl Brammer. Both of whom are capable of pulling down the deep shots that Kansas leans on so heavily. On the other side of the disc KU depends on a tight, physical style of defense that is exemplified in the play of sophomore Gary Gareis and senior Ryan Bigley.
“We have arguably the tallest team in the country and plenty of players who can huck it,” Kelly wrote. “We like to throw it up for our bigs to come down with and once we establish that we’ll take under after under as the defense adjusts. On defense we like to play aggressive. Our marks are tights, we do not like to give free resets and downfield we use positioning to force the offense into making risky throws.”
Kansas struggled for most of the season but the team has learned from the lows of the season and is now ready to experience the Ultimate high.
“We have recommitted ourselves since Regionals and we are going to seize the opportunity in front off us,” Kelly wrote. “This team has enough veterans who have been here before and who have felt the pain of missing out as well. We are going to do everything in our power to come away with a tourney victory in Columbus.”