EAST RIVER PARK, MANHATTAN – After a 2015 campaign that ended in disappointment, the Empire were keen to start 2016 with a new groove. The first tryout, held this past Sunday, was the first step. As the ultimate communities both in New York and in each of the AUDL’s cities grow to new heights, the Empire are looking at 2016 as another chance for a championship.
As the recently re-signed Taylor Brooks led the opening warmups, rain began to fall on the practice field and the wind swirled around the field site. Looking across, you could see jerseys of local USAU club and college teams, pinnies from hat tournaments, and a few sprinklings of national teams’ attire from across the globe. A huge amount of New York-area talent had gathered to test each other, and to show they could test the rest of the AUDL’s Eastern Division during the regular season.
The newly signed Chris Kocher was in attendance and immediately made his presence known on the field. During the final scrimmage, it was hard not to notice his disc skills. Other re-signed players such as Mike and Ryan Drost, Sam Taylor, and more helped with the organizational side of the tryout and occasional stepped on the field to showcase what they bring to the table.
After the warmups, players were soon divided to take part in different drill stations that each focused on aspects of an AUDL game. The drills, designed by the Empire staff and recently re-signed players, tested the endurance of each Empire hopeful. There was no easy matchup, no jogging between sets – each drill enabled the players to showcase exactly their talent and how they would perform in crucial situations.
Of the four stations, two focused the players on specific situations on offense or defense. Each was designed to put the players into a situation that is unique to the AUDL, due to the rule variations and width of the field, and each was gradually ramped into a more intense situation. One of the trickiest parts of the stations were the ‘wrinkles’ that could be thrown in by the team leaders, designed to make the players aware that just like in a game, unpredictable parts of the game can sometimes break a pattern.
The other two stations were both variations of simulated game-play. One of the stations focused exclusively on the ability of players to adjust on the fly to the size of an AUDL field on their march to the endzone. What may work in a recreation league game of ultimate on the smaller field was soon frustrated and stifled by the defense in this setting. The final station put players in 3-on-3 gameplay, with a focus on their decision making with the disc, and ability to defend a player in a high-intensity situation.
As the sun gradually came out, the energy ramped up on the field as players settled into their own groove. With the recent spell of cold weather in New York, the spring-like weather was a welcome change for all and it showed on the field. Talking about the drills, Head Coach Tom Gibbons said, “Smart bunch of guys down at the park today. We were able to jump right into working on some of the core Empire defensive fundamentals – it felt more like a practice than a tryout.” Later, while announcing the start of the scrimmage portion of the tryout, General Manager Cullen Shaw could not contain his excitement in the intensity and talent that the drills brought out in each player.
The intensity and showcase of talent continued during the scrimmage. Even with some players playing on a full-size AUDL field for the first time, each of the four group’s players adjusted their game quickly. The short games that followed were heated at times, and full of big plays on both sides of the disc. Under the watchful eye of the Empire staff, players were leaving it all on the field, trying to make an impression to make the second tryout.
When the players gathered on the sideline as time expired, there was a buzz in the air. Side conversations between friends on their play, frustration and excitement from play, and questions of what could be next were all around. As the players gathered for one final “Empire” cheer, the silence that followed was fleeting, with the buzz resuming and growing as players straggled off of the fields.
General Manager Cullen Shaw and Head Coach Tom Gibbons have tough choices ahead of them before the second, invite-only tryout, that will be held in two weekends. Said Gibbons, “I’m looking forward to selecting the final roster and have the veterans show the new guys what the mob mentality is all about.” But at this stage of the season, those are the difficult decisions they want to have.