Eastside Thaw 2014: I’m Lovin’ It

When the location change of the 2014 Eastside Thaw was announced I knew I wanted to go. These two courts in Frederick Maryland are probably the nicest on the east coast. I was a little weary of the format. Mixed skill level, shuffled teams? Was I gonna get stuck with a couple duds and just get slaughtered all weekend. I got shit for trying to sandbag on Facebook, but not having played a tourney in almost a year and only a couple pickup sessions under my belt since my injury I really had no idea what level I was playing at and how my body would react to tourney speed polo.

Jav - a solid 'C+' player
Jav – a solid ‘C+’ player

But the courts are so sweet, and I figured at worst I’d get a good early season shellacking to keep me humble.

The Format:

There were actually two tournaments this weekend. The first was a 3v3 with the twist being teams were drawn from three decks of cards. All the players were split into three groups based on skill level (A,B,C) and each team got one player from each level. For the most part this system worked out and the teams were fairly even. Perhaps instead of A/B/C some teams looked like B/B/C or A/C/C.

Mixing skill levels in this way made for some really interesting polo. Not only were most people playing with teammates they might not know or have ever played with before, they were then given a letter that was supposed to mark their skill level.

Callin people out.
Callin people out.

It took me two games (a loss and a tie) to realize I could not carry my team on my own. I spent the first two games ball hogging and ignoring my teammates. I was forcing the ball up the court by myself and not finding the back of the net. It was once I relaxed and approached it more like pickup, focusing on passing and good communication that the team turned around.

Luckily I had great teammates who didn’t get pissed off at me, and worked hard to get us to the final. Troy from Lancaster was calm and steady and took it upon himself to hang back in net. When he did come up it was with speed and purpose. He scored the goal to put us into overtime in the semifinal with only a few seconds left. Arguably the most important goal of the day for us. Drew from Philly worked the midfield, winning back possession frequently and disrupting the other team’s offense. It was super rewarding to build a team with these guys over the course of the day.

So while I was very skeptical of this format coming in, I really came around to appreciating it. Did it make for the highest level polo possible? No, but that wasn’t the point. It’s a great format for bringing together people and raising everyone’s level. This is the kind of event that will make our region stronger in the long term.

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Bench captains mulling over the lists.

Sunday was a typical bench tourney. As a top goal scorer I was one of the captains and got to pick Nick Vaughan so we won. That guy is really fucking good. One of my favorite memories of the tourney was watching him play against his teammate Alexis. It really felt like watching two Kung fu masters battling it out with their different styles.

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My only complaint about the bench tourney is that ten players on a team is way too many. I was really trying to get everyone in to play, but the clock was running too fast and a lot of times guys would only get in for quick minute long shifts. I almost blew the final when I put in our C line not realizing there were only a few minutes left.

The Scoops (wrist shots)

So they allowed scoop shots at this tourney as they had the year before. I hadn’t played in a tourney where they were allowed since the bench ESPI in NYC a couple years ago. I remembered being very frustrated in that tourney with BBP players constantly scooping balls over the net instead of just taking shots. Aside from that and Lomax and a few others making a couple nice looking ones, they didn’t seem to play a very big role.

'Scoop shots?! Gross.'
This is Nate’s face about scoop shots. Not really. I have no idea what his face is about here.

That was not the case this past weekend. The scoop shot took over games and how people were playing defensively and offensively. I think this was because of a few factors.

– Improved mallet head designs make it easier to grab the ball

– it was a laid back tourney so people were more willing to experiment

– goals were full size 4×6 ft nets so it was pretty easy to find the big gap at the top of the net

I’ll let others discuss the aesthetic merits of the scoop shot. It’s a skill to master, and it’s no surprise that the people with the best scoop shot also tend to be really good players without them.

And no one really knows what would happen to the game five years down the road if we legalized them today.

For me, what’s most interesting is how they affect defenses. A  good scooper within a couple meters from net can beat a double goalie fairly consistently. Also if you soft lob a scoop into a double goalie, you are less likely to have a hard rebound to defend. You have to keep strong pressure on the forecheck, which is something people say they want to see. Turtling up and letting a guy pick his corner out isn’t gonna work.

People say goalies would adjust and learn how to block them. I’m not so sure. If you need to keep your mallet down to block your five hole and bottom corners, can you really also use it to protect your top corners? Are goalies really gonna have to be popping wheelies and endoes to block shots? With a shot a goalie can predict trajectory based on the head angle on contact, with a scoop, the shooter can change trajectory during the release. I dunno I guess it could be done.

BBP having a good o'time.
BBP having a good o’time.

Conclusion:

This tourney was a blast. I got out of the house, got to play polo all weekend with new homies and old buds. The drive there and back wasn’t so bad. I got to travel for the first time with members of BBP’s young guard, Zac, Nick, and Charlotte. They repped Boston so hard both on and off the court. There was an amazingly consistent waffle maker at the hotel which was a big hit. We took a sweet bike ride through the old town of Frederick and saw some sweet historic stuff and forgot to Instagram it. I got in on a couple bad jokes and made my throat sore heckling and shouting at my teammates. And now sitting here looking at all the pics and remembering the good times, it’s like McDonald’s.

I’m loving it.

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