Photo by Jeff Bell –

The Vancouver Nighthawks held their first of two open tryouts on January 19th, marking the official start of the 2014 preseason.

On a cool clear night, the Nighthawks began their search for candidates for this year’s team when 42 top players convened at Andy Livingstone Park for the first of two open tryouts. 18 of the participants were members of last year’s team. Two nights later, 36 took part in the second leg of the tryouts at Trillium Park. Overall, 45 players signed up.

Staff members were on hand to evaluate returnees and potential recruits by running them through a series of drills and scrimmages.

The recruits’ ages varied substantially; many were in their 30s while some had yet to turn 20. Darren Wu, 18 years old, expressed how it felt to be one of the youngest participants.

“During the tryouts, I could feel the pressure by watching the others’ intensity and effort,” said Wu. “I felt a bit scared and star-struck because I was competing with players that I’ve only seen on YouTube or heard about. They have such intensity and charisma, and to be able to play with them at such a young age was an honour and a great experience to take home and use to motivate me to improve my play.”

The majority of the participants were from local club teams such as Furious George and Blackfish, but there were a few new faces from as far afield as Japan and Australia. Notably, Tim Lavis, who competed on the Australian Open Team and was named the most dominant player in the Mixed Division of WUCC 2010, took part. Lavis is excited by the chance to make the Nighthawks his new team, and a good bet to make it, too.

The tryout began with a brief introduction by Nighthawks GM and Head Coach Andrew Lugsdin. Greeting the players, he explained the team’s plans for the year in a nutshell. Then the participants did a standard warm-up run around the turf followed by various mobility exercises led by Alex Davis, one of the returnees from last year.

Operations Manager Brian Gisel then gathered the participants to test their offseason training using the infamous beep test. Running 20 meter shuttles, the players had to cross the finish line before the dreaded beep. Five hopefuls made it to level 13, but only one, Brendan Wong, made it to level 14.

“The big difference between the beep test this year and last was the big increase in fitness level of the players,” Gisel commented. “After a successful first season you could see that there was a real hunger in the players to make the 2014 squad, and part of that was coming to the tryouts in great shape.”

The athletes then played a series of three on three and seven on seven games. Lugsdin and Assistant Coach Al Nichols stood in the center of the action, spinning around in circles trying to catch everything that was going on.

Afterwards, Nichols shared his observations.

“I felt that the scrimmages were fairly well-played. The individual quality and athleticism of the guys was quite high, better than I expected for so many having turned out. Also, I think the effort of everyone was very evident. As expected so early in the season, the individual skills such as one-on-one defense and overall throwing skills were way ahead of the skills that require team chemistry.”

Lugsdin was impressed by the players’ efforts.

“Overall, I liked the intensity that guys brought. People were running hard, looking to make plays. It was a little sloppy at times with some poor execution and decision-making but part of that is that it’s early in the season.

“There were a few players that we didn’t really know anything about prior to the tryouts that impressed us. I would guess that about 4-5 of the new guys will make it to the February final tryouts.”

The Nighthawks staff has a deep pool of Vancouver talent to evaluate, and with more time to prepare, they feel confident they can pull together a winning team.

“Andrew is planning on asking 35-38 players to those February practices,” said Gisel. “Considering that some of those will be out-of-towners and some will be connected to the UBC men’s team, plus there will be some injuries and conflicts, this should leave us with around 30 at each practice, a good number to work with.”

Gisel and the coaches will cut the team down to a final 25 players around the end of February.

You can buy tickets for the upcoming season here to watch the Nighthawks play at Thunderbird Stadium.

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