The AUDL’s Tuesday Toss w/ ESPN Broadcaster Evan Lepler is back… and the first of the monthly offseason articles features quite a bit of discussion about the offseason activity going on here in DC with the Breeze.
A RISING BREEZE
One obvious benefit of attending Breeze tryouts this past Sunday was the opportunity to be around Alex Ghesquiere, the man who is entering his third year as D.C.’s leader. Perhaps more importantly for someone like Helton, the incredibly accomplished coach, better known in ultimate circles simply as “Dutchy,” will be making the key personnel decisions for the next U.S. national team as coach for the upcoming WUGC—World Ultimate and Guts Championships—a quadrennial event that is coming up in London next summer.
As a coach, Ghesquiere’s championship resume obviously speaks for itself. And when D.C. Breeze owner Don Grage locked up Ghesquiere’s services for another season, it helped ensure that the Breeze would be on the rise in 2016.
Before the Beau news broke, the most significant player transactions for the upcoming season were made public back all the way back in July. When the Breeze announced that Alan Kolick and Markham Shofner had each signed two-year contracts to join the team for 2016 and 2017, it signaled a major shift in both the DC ultimate community and, more than likely, the entire East Division of the AUDL.
“It all started with my conversations with [Breeze Owner] Don [Grage],” said Kolick, who graduate of William & Mary and has been a part of the D.C. club ultimate community for the past several seasons. “A group of us met with Don before the 2015 season, and I honestly was expecting to get a free meal out of it and not much else…After the meeting, I became very interested in joining the Breeze organization, largely because of the ability to direct and influence the team and franchise decisions…Dutchy’s presence is obviously huge. Any opportunity to play for someone with his pedigree and proven record is great.”
More than any other team in the league, the DC Breeze have publicly proclaimed their 2016 presence by already announcing nine signings for the upcoming season. They have re-upped their top pieces from last year like Matt Kerrigan, Brad Scott, David Boylan-Kolchin, and Ben Feng, while mixing an established cadre of ultimate veterans that will immediately raise the team’s level of play. Kolick, Shofner, David Cranston, Nicky Spiva, and Jeff Wodatch are all AUDL rookies, but it is easy to imagine them seamlessly elevating the Breeze toward the top of the East Division.
Together, Don and Dutchy are building a squad to contend.
“I talked to Alan [Kolick] and Markham [Shofner] a few times before last season about team philosophy and coaching style,” Ghesquiere explained. “In those conversations, I talked about the team mentality I try to create, the underdog billing the Breeze was going to get that I would enjoy having, and a bit about open-field offensive strategy.”
Ghesquiere added that Grage should receive a large chunk of the credit for adding the new pieces. In fact, six of the nine players currently lined up for the 2016 roster signed before the coach committed. Without Grage’s efforts, message, and presence, Ghesquiere likely would not have returned as head coach.
“I’ve been involved with lots of startups,” Grage explained, “and it’s always about the quality of the people that make it fun and prepare the situation for success…Tryouts [this past Sunday] were amazing. We had a very strong turnout from pre-registration and then lucked out on November weather with a partly cloudy, high 60s afternoon!”
Eight of the nine players who have already signed competed at tryouts, running through Ghesquiere’s gauntlet of challenging drills and scrimmages. For Helton and perhaps a handful of others who dream of being selected for the USA team, it was a firsthand chance to see how the coach conducts a high-stakes tryout.
“[Dutchy] really wants to expose players by putting them in massive field spaces with too few players,” Helton shared, explaining how 3-on-3 games might be played on a full-size field to test both conditioning and disc skills. “You just can’t hide.”
Heading into 2016, the Breeze will look to improve upon their 7-7 record from last season. The three-time division champs from Toronto should be as strong as ever and rumors of an AUDL expansion into Boston continues to simmer. But the District’s ultimate scene has risen to a place where, when unified, it expects to compete with any of the other top cities in the country.
With undeniable talent and Ghesquiere’s wits, the Breeze are a club to focus on.
“People have told me [Ghesquiere’s] not an Xs and Os guy; he’s a team mentality guy,” Shofner said. “He keeps the team on track on a spiritual Phil Jackson type level. I dig that. I’ve always been more of an intuition and emotion player, so it’ll be cool to cleat up for someone who speaks fluently to that mindset.”
Full Tuesday Toss Article: http://theaudl.com/tuesdaytoss/2015/OffseasonMoves