Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sarah Itoh and Molly Roy Discuss Their DC Current Tryout

After two open tryouts and two invite-only tryouts, the Washington DC Current (MLU) announced their 2014 roster. At the February 2nd open tryout, two stellar players from the 2013 USA Ultimate champion Scandal team participated. Sarah Itoh and Molly Roy recently reflected on their experiences at the tryout, providing memorable moments and lessons learned.

SLUDGE: Tell me about your decisions to sign-up for the DC Current tryout.
Sarah: I was definitely interested from the moment I heard that Emily Baecher, of Brute Squad, had tried out for the Boston Whitecaps. For some reason it just hadn't occurred to me to give it a shot before then. She really ignited the whole idea for me and when the DC Current management reached out to us (which surprised me a bit), I was already sold.

I really thought I'd be going alone so I was excited to hear that Molly Roy and Amy Wickner were in as well. I was hoping more women would be interested though, so I was pushing for more of our teammates to join us. However, it was pretty difficult to sell at that point because it's something you really want to be prepared for and it's the middle of the off-season for the club scene. Another hesitation was that the risk of injury is typically higher when you're playing with bigger and faster bodies, which is inherent of most male athletes, especially those that you would expect to encounter at the professional level. Unfortunately, Amy ended up getting sick so Molly and I were the only women to attend tryouts.

Molly: It was a tough decision to commit, mostly because the tryout started at 5am and was a good drive from my house, but when Itoh said she was willing to do it too that made it much easier for me to commit because I wouldn't be the only girl and having a teammate there for support was immensely helpful.

SLUDGE: How did you prepare for the Current tryout?
Molly: I didn't get a chance to prepare all that much for the tryout for a couple reasons. First of all, I didn't fully commit to do it until a couple weeks in advance. Additionally, I'm used to playing some pick up in the weeks of March/April leading up to a tryout to help train and get back into shape, but that's much much harder to do in February when there's snow and ice on the ground. So for both of those reasons I was not super prepped for the tryout, which would be something I might change if I wanted to tryout again next year.

Sarah: Well, as I mentioned before I hadn't really thought about it until I heard that Emily Baecher had tried out for the Whitecaps, which was a few weeks before the Current tryouts. So, unfortunately I wasn't in the best running shape at the time as the club season ended in October and I usually take some time off to rest. I've benefited from strength training though, which is something new for me and is now part of my off-season routine. It's especially beneficial for any old injuries that need working on, like my knee. For the past few months I've been adding weights to my workouts and I've also started to spin (indoor cycle) on a daily basis. I usually start my track workouts around March though--when the weather is more cooperative--so, the only thing I really had time to prepare for was my mental game, which was tough because I really wasn't sure what to expect. I also changed my sleep schedule for a few days leading up to the tryout, since it had a 5am start time.

I was a little more nervous going into these tryouts than I normally would be for any other tryout because it was pretty obvious that Molly and I were going to stand out a bit. Honestly, I had no expectations of making the team but I wanted to be a real contender out there and most of my worries were considerably normal in terms of what one might mull over going into tryouts. That big one being, nobody wants to get shown up. The only thing I couldn't expect was how we'd be received by the other players. As we all probably know by now, there are sometimes social stigmas when it comes to women in predominantly male arenas. The Ultimate community is really amazing though and we knew a lot of the guys going into tryouts so it was something that had been on my mind a bit, but it quickly subsided once the tryouts started.

SLUDGE: Did you have an opportunity to watch any pro Ultimate games? What were your impressions??
Molly: I was a season ticket holder for the Current last year so I went to almost all of the home games and one away game. I knew a lot of the guys from Truck Stop, so that already made it fun to root for them, but the quick pace of the game as a result of the referees I thought made the games really great to watch even if you didn't know the players or the sport very well. I brought my parents to a game and they were extremely impressed, they kept commenting on how the players never stopped running.

Sarah: Yes, I attended several DC Current games and I have watched quite a few MLU highlight reels from the 2013 season. I was impressed with the level of play and I enjoyed the pace of the games. The refs really do keep things moving and the fitness level of the athletes is incredible. There were some really athletic plays last season and being able to watch them happen in person, with everyone cheering and heckling, made it much more exciting. It's especially nice to be able to watch players that you know and admire compete in what is essentially the birth of professional Ultimate. They will be a part of Ultimate history and I think that's pretty cool and unique. It's definitely a really interesting time for the sport.

SLUDGE: What did you not expect at the tryout? Any surprises??
Sarah: There were a few things that surprised me a bit. In regards to how I played, I was pleased with how well I did on offense, especially in the handler position. For the past two years I've been playing on Scandal's defensive line and I tend to be a downfield cutter in general so it's no surprise that I am not the most comfortable with the disc in my hands. I was especially worried about being shut down by the naturally larger wingspan expected of most of the guys who'd be marking me, but I was always able to get the disc off before the stall. I was also a little surprised that I was able to continually get open, when and where I wanted to be open, against the guys.

In terms of the tryout in general, I was surprised at how much faster play moved and the physicality of the game really stood out to me as well. There is definitely more contact between players, especially for positioning on a disc coming down and on defense in general. It was nice to be able to body-up and get in the lane to try and dictate where the cutter was going. I really enjoyed being able to play a more physical game. It's not that it doesn't happen in women's Ultimate, but it's just not as prevalent as it is in the open division.

Molly: Biggest surprise was honestly just how sore I was the next week. Stairs were very difficult for like three days.

Sarah: I, also, expected to be sore after the tryout, but I did not expect to be that sore. Molly and I actually called each other for a few days to see how the other was doing. Given our late decision on attending the tryout, we just hadn't been physically prepared the way we would've liked. So pushing ourselves as hard as we did, and for four hours, was really tough on our bodies.

Molly: Other things were about what I expected in a good way--the other guys trying out were very accepting and supportive and didn't make that big a deal about us two girls being at the tryout. They cheered us on like they did each other and worked hard when I went up against them. There obviously was some novelty to us being there as the only girls, but it wasn't as big a deal as it could have been, which I appreciated--I play better when I can work hard under the radar than when I feel a lot of pressure. Playing-wise, I also found that I was much more effective in the zone scrimmages when I could find the holes on the field than when we played man-to-man and I had a harder time getting open on a single defender in a small space.

Also, I don't own turf shoes, so I was at a further disadvantage with my sneakers and couldn't change direction as well as I would have otherwise, which would have helped me in man-to-man scrimmages.

SLUDGE: Any memorable moment(s) for you at the Current tryout?
Molly: One memorable moment for me was when I made a big catch during the huck drill--there was probably about half the tryouts in line for the drill watching me go, and I got position on my guy and went up big to catch it and got a bunch of cheers. I felt pretty good about that!

Sarah: The sprints were really memorable! Some of the most memorable moments involved big plays in the huck drill. A lot of guys got huge when going up for the disc and some of them just smoked their defenders on a cut. I had a nice run when I faked an in cut and got open for the huck. I heard my defender gaining on me so I had to get big early and I came down with the disc to some cheering. The drill was setup in a way that left all eyes on the cutter and defender so there was some added pressure and excitement to it. Other memorable moments included watching some of the returning players shred the cup in scrimmages. The fields were pretty small so play felt really cluttered at times, yet some of the guys still threw through tiny gaps in the middle of zone defenses. There were a ton of throws that I just normally would not expect.

Molly: Also, I have to say it...I actually had to stop early because I got a disc to the eye during the tryout. I made an in cut and my defender got a step on me and I was so sure that he was going to catch the disc that I put my hands down; he didn't end up getting the disc and the disc nailed me in the face and I got a black eye. It wasn't a lasting injury, which was great but I spent the last hour of the tryout icing. It was a silly mistake on my part, and I didn't get interviewed after the tryout like Itoh did, I'd guess cause they didn't want it to look like the girls got beat up at the tryout (haha). But it has to be said that that was a pretty memorable moment of the tryout for me!

SLUDGE: So, did you have fun?
Sarah: I had a lot of fun at the tryout. Ultimate is always a good time for me and it felt good to walk away knowing that I performed well. I feel a little more confident in some areas that were pretty grey before and I enjoyed being able to play with more of the best athletes in our sport. The guys were really awesome in terms of accepting us and I didn't hear any negativity associated with our presence there. It was a great time and I would definitely do it again, even at 5am. 4am though--forget about it!

Molly: I had a lot of fun!! It was a great challenge and I felt like I held my own. Though I never want to have to wake up for another 5am tryout again, it was definitely worth it. Props to those guys that went out at 5am multiple times!

SLUDGE: What did you learn about Ultimate from this tryout?
Molly: I learned/reinforced the knowledge to never give up on the disc even if you think your defender will get it!!! Also that sneakers suck on turf. Seriously though, it was more of a skills focused tryout than a strategy one, so I learned the way you do when you step up to a new challenge and push yourself hard in little, mostly undefinable ways, but there weren't big revelations I took away about the game of ultimate since we weren't focusing on learning or implementing new things so much.

Sarah: I learned that the physical game can be a lot of fun and it's something that we, especially in the women's division, should not shy away from. Sometimes you really have to fight for positioning so some contact is okay, so long as there's no foul. It can really help win the lane, especially coming off a dead disc.

SLUDGE: What did this tryout teach you about professional Ultimate?
Sarah: Well, I don't think there's much of a difference when it comes to the fundamentals of Ultimate at the professional level when compared to the club or college scene but there is obviously a difference in the athleticism of the players. So the game moves a lot faster and you'll see some really impressive plays. The Innova disc was also new and that took a little bit of time to get used to but, for the most part, I don't think it affected my throws.

Molly: A big difference playing with the MLU versus club ultimate was the use of the Innova disc. It definitely took some recalibrating to get used to throwing it--you had to make sure to actually through the disc totally flat, whereas with a Discraft disc you usually put some tilt on it, expecting it to flatten out as it flies. That took some getting used to and was an interesting test of my throwing skills!

SLUDGE: How will your DC Current tryout experience improve your Ulti skills in 2014?
Molly: Mostly in those indefinable ways I mentioned earlier that you get from pushing and challenging yourself. Also it was a nice confidence booster to see that I could in fact hold my own in a tryout of mostly guys, instead of just hoping I could in theory.

Sarah: I plan to be more physical on my man to man defense, something we like to call bad-touch D on Scandal. I also plan on picking up the pace at which I play by working on quick passes before the mark can set and exploding off of the release.

SLUDGE: What advice/lessons learned would you give to others seeking success at a professional Ultimate tryout?
Molly: Get turf shoes. Play confident, work hard, and keep your head up. It's not really any different from trying out for any other team you want to make!

Sarah: Well, my advice for tryouts is pretty simple and it's not restricted to just the professional level, but for any team and sport. Try your best and work hard in your training leading up to it. Walk in being prepared, both mentally and physically. Tryouts can be long, the Current tryouts were about 4 hours each, so make sure you know what you're getting yourself into and be good to your body. That could mean abstaining from partying the night before or making sure you're getting enough sleep. Eat and hydrate before and throughout the tryout and make sure you're adequately warmed up for the tasks ahead of you.

SLUDGE: So, what was the outcome of your tryout?
Molly: I didn't get asked back to the next round, but I really appreciated the opportunity to tryout. It was fun!

Sarah: I didn't make it to the next round of tryouts. Unfortunately, the DC Current hadn't gotten back to either of us about our performance and the outcome of our efforts that morning. There must have been a bit of miscommunication going on somewhere because the way in which we found out was not ideal either--but it happens. I was still happy to have had the opportunity to tryout and I am still a fan of the DC Current.

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Anonymous said...

Molly Roy rocks!! Good for you Molly wolly!!!!!! You will be on that men's team next time. Go get em!

Anonymous said...

sarah you rock too but I since I don't know you and do know Molly I know she rocks big time! Congrats on busting through the glass ceiling!!

Anonymous said...

When will there be a women's professional team? If there is a men's team there should be a women's team--duh!!!!