Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Interview with WUGC 2016 Champion Boneyard

Tim Lupo is a member of Boneyard - the Masters Men's club ultimate team that represented the United States at WFDF's 2016 World Ultimate and Guts Championships. The U.S. club team won all 8 of its games at the international tournament  to win a Worlds gold in June 2016. Tim dishes on Boneyard's history, the team's preparation for WUGC and their winning ways.
SLUDGE: Let's start with  some team background for those who may not be familiar with Boneyard.
Tim Lupo: Boneyard is based in North Carolina, mainly the Triangle.  The team was formed in the summer of 2005 by longtime pillars of the Triangle ultimate community, Christian Schwoerke and Victor Maneilly.  Christian, the Godfather of Triangle Ultimate, made sure all the details of forming a team were taken care of, while Victor, generally considered one of the great thinkers of the sport, took care of the more intellectual, strategic issues.  The vision was to build on the foundation started by former area masters teams Cranky, THOR, and ED to develop into a perennial national contender.

There were mixed results in the early years.  Boneyard made Nationals twice in the team's first four seasons, finishing 12th and 9th.  In the 2009 season, Boneyard went winless on Saturday of Regionals.  The team seemed to be on the brink of implosion, with a lot of talk about scrapping it and starting over.  But on Sunday, we came out and dominated three teams who had beaten us soundly on Saturday.  One of those teams, [D.C.-area] Chesapeaked, was loaded with talent and should have easily handled us.  We beat them in the 2/3 game to make Nationals.  That was the game where Boneyard finally turned the corner.  We only finished 10th at Nationals that year, but we were a completely different team after that.  We made finals the following year. If we'd lost that game to Chesapeaked, I'm not sure there would be a Boneyard today.

From the team's inception, Boneyard has been a team that practices and prepares for the season more like an open team than a master’s team.  Practices begin about 4 months prior to the Nationals or Worlds tournament we're aiming for.  We practice twice a week, and usually play a couple prep tournaments during the season.      

SLUDGE: What's the origin of the team's name?
Tim: The boneyard – or graveyard, or cemetery, or whatever you want to call it – is a pretty crazy concept if you think about it.  We throw people in there after they've expired their usefulness to this world. Then we stick a stone marker over them with their name and statistics, just so nobody forgets.  But the question is whether we do it so we don't forget them, or so we don’t get forgotten when it's our turn.  Die, but foil oblivion, the saying goes.

So it's kind of like what we're doing.  We're a team trying to leave our mark on the Ultimate world. And Boneyard just seemed like an appropriate name for a bunch of old guys with one foot in the grave and the other on the line.

SLUDGE: Macabre, yet inspiring!

SLUDGE: What's one thing you want ultimate fans to know about Boneyard?
Tim: Boneyard has an intense pride and love for our team.  Intense. That drives us to never let down our teammates and to never let an opponent work harder than we do.  And as a North Carolina team, we have that Us-against-the-World attitude.  Guys like Augie Kreivenas and Tim Brooks and TJ Cawley led the way in the early years establishing our identity.  We may lose, but we won't be outworked.

We talk a lot about our success today being built on the foundation others helped establish.  In those early years, when our effort far exceeded our talent level, we didn't know it but we were building the culture that would define Boneyard.  

SLUDGE: I'm pretty sure that's more than one thing. 

SLUDGE: Moving did you prepare for the June World Ultimate and Guts Championships event? Any truth in the rumor that you scrimmaged the Raleigh Flyers?
Tim: Our preparation for WUGC was not much different than any other season. Our goal is always to practice like champions.  Every practice and every scrimmage is an opportunity to get better individually and as a team.

Our practices tend to be pretty physical.  We want our practices to be the toughest battles we face all year, and we have very high expectations for ourselves and our teammates.  That's one big advantage to having a team with the quality depth that we have.  When we scrimmage each other, we're scrimmaging really good players who are giving maximum effort.  It simulates playing high quality opponents during the season.    

One difference this season was that we had the opportunity to scrimmage the Raleigh Flyers a lot.  We held our weeknight practices at the same fields, so almost every week following our team practices, we would meet up to scrimmage.  Playing against that level of competition really benefited us, and I feel like it helped them, too.

Their team speed is beyond anything we see on the masters level.  Getting accustomed to that kind of speed is as much mental as it is physical.  Speed creates pressure, and pressure creates turnovers.  Becoming more comfortable playing against high level speed and pressure really helped us when we faced young-ish rosters at WUGC.  Working against the Flyers helped us become a much more patient, stingy offensive team.  And I think that was the greatest benefit to the Flyers, playing against a stingy team that wouldn't give up the disc on careless errors.  All our scrimmages were close.  We won about half of them.          

SLUDGE: What was the biggest challenge during the team's prep?
Tim: For many of us it was the wait.  When we won USAU Nationals in July 2015, we had 11 months to prepare.  And wait.

SLUDGE: How about the WUGC tournament? What was most challenging aspect about WUGC 2016?
Tim: There were some really good teams there.  The teams seemed younger and faster than most teams we typically face at USAU Nationals.  I'd say the top teams at WUGC were comparable to the top teams at Nationals, but the number of quality teams was greater at WUGC.

Off the field, the most challenging aspect was driving on the left side of the road, and all the roundabouts.  I wasn't even driving, but I was a nervous wreck every time I got in the car.  Traffic always seemed to be coming from exactly where you didn't expect it.  By the end of the week I was pretty exhausted from all the puckering.      

SLUDGE: Give a sense of what a Boneyard team huddle on the sidelines was like during WUGC.
Tim: Our team huddles are almost never for rah-rah speeches.  The captains run the huddles, and typically focus on strategies, personal assignments, and adjustments.  In-game huddles will discuss what’s working well and what adjustments we need to make.  Post-game huddles will reflect on positives and negatives from the game.

At WUGC we would finish our huddles by cheering USA, Boneyard D.  "USA" was a reminder of why we were playing.  "Boneyard D" was a reminder of how we play.      

But there was one huddle at WUGC where we got away from X's and O's and talked about deeper stuff.  A game early in the tournament had been a pretty heated, contentious battle, and we let our emotions get away from us.  After the game, one of our quieter, most respected players stepped up to speak.   He reminded us of what it means to have the opportunity to represent our team, our country, our families, and ourselves; what it means to respect and earn respect; and what it means to come from nowhere with nothing but heart, desire, and little bit of fire, and have the fleeting opportunity to be champions of the world.  It was a different tournament after that.    

SLUDGE: How is Boneyard's team huddle different from how Boneyard players act off-field?
Tim: This is a very close team, and we've been playing together for a lot of years, so there's always a lot of laughing and joking when we're together.  But there's rarely any joking during in-game huddles. During games we tend to be very focused.  After the game, however, you better pray you didn't make any stupid plays, because you will hear about it…in detail.

SLUDGE: So, congrats on the WUGC gold ! How did Boneyard celebrate their WUGC championship?
Tim: We got together for dinner and drinks at one of our rental houses.  As you might imagine, there was a lot of talk about personal greatness and the incredible plays we made that carried the team.

SLUDGE: And, where's your WUGC medal now?
Tim: I'd like to think it's with my other medals, hanging up on my desk at home, but that's pretty unlikely.  Well, it's unlikely for my gold medals, but I'm sure the silvers are right where I left them.  I have two young daughters, and they have a game they like to play called Goddesses of Victory.  After vanquishing some imaginary evil dragon or trifling-ass king, they award themselves gold medals.  A few times I've found the medals strewn around the backyard, where the girls held their medal ceremonies.  So, really, there's no telling where my medal is right now.

Oddly, they both refuse to wear the silvers.

SLUDGE: How did the team keep in touch with your fans who did not travel to London?
Tim: You got me.  I'm a Luddite, so I really don't deal with any techie gadgets or social media.  I just waited until I got home. Then I made sure any- and everybody I could corner into a conversation was well aware that we won the world championship. At first, it's hard to turn a random conversation into a detailed narrative about how we rose from being just a ragtag bunch of wannabes to being Team USA, World Champions.  But with a lot of persistence and practice, you can actually get pretty good at it.

SLUDGE: What will you remember most about the WUGC event?

Tim: Wearing the USA on my chest was something I'll never forget.  I think all of us grew up watching the Olympics as kids, dreaming of one day representing our country and winning gold. WUGC isn't the Olympics, but it's the highest level of competition for those of us who play Ultimate. Representing the USA was very, very important, and we worked very hard for a lot of years to get there.  The opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream was definitely on my mind during the tournament. And being fortunate enough to win the gold was a special feeling.

Having my wife there to share the experience made it even sweeter.  She wasn't able to travel with us when we won WUCC or USAU, so having her there was special.  And I know my teammates felt the same about having their wives and kids there.  Even more than usual, we had a close family feeling on the sideline.

SLUDGE: How did winning the WUGC championship compare to WUCC 2014 gold medal? 
Tim: The biggest difference was that WUCC was where Boneyard finally made it over the hump. We'd been to USAU finals three out of four years, and lost every time to Surly.  We came into WUCC absolutely driven to win.  It was a little bit of a letdown to not face Surly in finals in Lecco, but finally winning gold got that monkey off our back.  That championship was something that we'd worked very, very hard for.  We had a sense of relief, I think.  It was validation for what we had been striving for.

In London, wearing USA on our chests made a big difference.  It definitely created an edge that I hadn't experienced before.  This was my 9th year on the Yard, so I just instinctively identify with representing Boneyard.  Looking down at my jersey and seeing USA added an extra layer of emotion to the experience.  Winning WUCC was for Boneyard, but WUGC was for Boneyard and the USA. And winning it was extra sweet, because the thought of losing while representing the USA would have felt so utterly devastating.  That was something I thought about every day from the time we won Nationals, qualifying for Worlds, until the day of finals in London.  It was definitely a motivating factor in preparing for Worlds.  Losing would have really, really hurt, but losing because we hadn't worked hard enough would have been unbearable.

SLUDGE: Where does the WUGC 2016 championship compare to other Boneyard wins?
Tim: I'm not sure if it's any more or less satisfying than others, but it felt different.  WUCC was about finally emerging as the team we'd worked so hard to become. USAU Nationals was about finally winning that championship that had eluded us for so long. WUGC was about living out a lifelong dream of representing our country.

SLUDGE: Boneyard is on an impressive winning streak. When was the last time Boneyard lost a game?
Tim: June 8, 2014.  We lost to Ring of Fire at Furniture City Shootout.

SLUDGE: What is the secret to Boneyard's amazing success?
Tim: We work.  Hard.  And it's a very, very fun team to play with, so guys want to keep playing once they join.  We have a great core of players that have remained mostly intact for several years, and we've been fortunate enough to add some really good talent to that core. I have no idea how Boneyard seems from the outside, but from the inside it's a family.

A Summary of Boneyard Results:
WUGC 2016: Gold medal
USAU 2015: Gold medal
WUCC 2014: Gold medal
USAU 2010, 2012, 2013: Silver medal
USAU Qualifiers: 2006 (12th), 2007 (9th), 2009 (10th), 2011 (6th)
USAU Spirit Award: 2006, 2009*
*We handed out BoneHard brand condoms as gifts to the other teams, so the Spirit Award may be tainted by the ugliness of bribery


1 comment:

Brummie said...

Great interview. Playing Boneyard/USA was the highlight of my week at WUGC playing with GB Masters. They are a classy team, battled hard and out-fought us. Congrats again on your gold and good luck in the future.