If there is one name in college Ultimate that has become synonymous with success, it is the Wisconsin Hodags. Since the turn of the century, Wisconsin has been to every single UPA Nationals, finishing second or better in five of their ten appearances. However, last season saw Wisconsin miss the finals for the first time in three years. This season, the Hodags have yet to go through a tournament without a loss and have only appeared in a single tournament finals.
Results like these have left many wondering: Is there something wrong with the Hodags?
Senior captain Ben Feldman has an easy answer for people who are asking that question: No.
“With 10 new people on the team this year, we are still gathering our marbles,” Feldman told us in an e-mail. “We are seeing massive improvement in both our team play and individual skills as the season progresses. The best is yet to come as we get outdoors.”
That being said, Feldman is certainly aware that his team hasn’t been posting results that the Ultimate community at large has come to expect from the Hodags.
“Our regular season results certainly don’t match the high standard (we have set) over the past 4 years,” Feldman wrote. “(The team) is very positive.”
Perhaps one of the main reasons that Feldman and the rest of the team is so positive despite results that they aren’t proud of is a faith in the leadership and top talent of the team to pull through during the rough spots. One of the main players that fits that bill is senior Evan Klane. Klane leads UW’s handling core and Feldman can think of no better person for the job.
“I consider Evan to be one of the best all around handlers in college Ultimate this year,” Feldman wrote. “His ability to retain the disc and get open in a handler set is unequalled.”
Klane had the benefit of learning from leaders before him how to conserve the disc and move it effectively. Names such as Brandon “Muffin” Malecek and Matt Rebholz just begin the list of players that Klane had the benefit of learning from before taking the reigns to the Hodag offense himself.
“Evan had the privilege of playing the 3rd reset on both the O and D line for some of the most amazing handlers to go through our program,” Feldman said. “Their confidence and skills have passed on to Evan over the course of his 4 years on the Hodags.”
Though Klane’s play has been outstanding, even he has not matched the individual play of Hodags to come before him. However, what this year’s version of the Hodags lack in individual star power, they are attempting to make up with a team full of club experience, Klane, Pat Donovan and John Bergan (Madison Club) and Cullen Gepert (Machine), and overall ability.
“We are certainly a faceless army,” Feldman said. “We have a lot of strong and solid players across the board.”
That army is marching into Wilmington for College Easterns this weekend as opposed to what was the Hodags original schedule, Cultimate’s Roll Call.
“We are always looking for the best competition,” Feldman wrote. “Even with my affiliation with Cultimate, we want to play the best teams. Roll Call obviously would not provide us with that this year.”
It’s clear why the Hodags want to see the best competition, it’s because they have bigger goals than playing at a certain group of tournaments or in certain locations. Wisconsin has its mind on something larger than that.
“Improving is the most important thing,” Feldman wrote. “Our team goal goes beyond an Easterns championship… no offense to Easterns. With such a young team, all of our players have a very high learning curve. Minor improvements in fundamentals and knowledge result in huge advancements for the team as a whole. We always want to win, but not at the cost of stunting development.”
Though Wisconsin’s results are not what Ultimate fans are used to seeing, it’s clear that the mindset stays the same. Feldman and the rest of his “faceless army” are ever marching towards the only goal that they consider worthwhile, a National Title. If winning Easterns is a means to get there, then you better believe they’ll be trying their damndest to accomplish that this weekend.