Photos by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

Vancouver’s preseason got underway with the first of two open tryouts on February 15 at Andy Livingstone Park.

The sky was clear and the wind was negligible; perfect conditions for ultimate. The promising group consisted of about 40 of Vancouver’s best players, many bringing along family and friends to cheer them on.

Returning veterans were on hand and ready to help with the drills, with Morgan Hibbert and Kirk Savage also participating in the scrimmages. Savage, with his extensive experience and arsenal of throws, showed the prospective handlers that age is only a number. Hibbert brought out his urge to play and dominated in every aspect, as he always does.

The tryout started with a warm-up led by Charles “Bobo” Eyrich, another returning player. Eyrich shepherded his charges on a warm-up run around the field, followed by a series of dynamic stretches.

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The player demographic was rather different at this year’s tryouts compared to previous years. This group was very young, with many players wearing jerseys and shorts from local touring clubs like Misfit, Wildcard, Tribe and UBC.

“There is no doubt that the Nighthawks in 2015 will be the youngest team we have had in our three years of existence,” said General Manager Brian Gisel. “There are a lot of up and coming players in the Vancouver community, most of whom cut their teeth at the high school level.”

After warm-up, the players proceeded to a series of handler throws and cuts. The returning Nighthawks worked with and supervised the new players as they practiced handler movement around the field. The players were then split into two groups located at opposite ends of the field, one working on strikes, the other on under-cuts.

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With about an hour left, Head Coach Andrew Lugsdin called everyone in for three-on-three scrimmages. Returning players such as Savage dropped in and played a few games. The matches were very short, only to two points, and were constantly changing, which allowed Lugsdin and the veterans to better assess the new players’ skills.

The players finished their tryout with full seven-on-seven scrimmages, during which all of the returnees except Matthew Berezan and Aaron Loach dropped in and played a few points. Despite being surrounded by fast young players with impressive verticals, Hibbert still dominated the skies as usual. Savage might have been facing players half his age, but never hesitated to put up hammers and use his experience to his advantage.

“It looked like there was a lot of raw talent out there,” said Hibbert. “The players had lots of good athleticism and strong disc skills, but there was a lack of systems knowledge and a potential lack of high-level field awareness. I believe a big focus will be expanding the new players’ minds and getting them to think about the game at a higher and more advanced level.”

Hibbert is also well aware of the change in the player demographic, and is ready to adapt to a different team with a different playing style.

“I believe it is important to marry the style of play you believe in with the skills that the players bring,” said Hibbert. “After the first tryout it looks like we have more small but quick athletes than we did a year ago, which is really exciting. A lot of the guys have really good first steps, and this could lead to a more give-go quick disc movement kind of offense.”

“Defensively this could prove problematic and so we may need to come up with some more creative defensive schemes to account for the potentially taller teams out there.”

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Based on what they have seen, Lugsdin and Gisel are expecting to field a young team with less experience but more potential for growth.

Gisel believes that there’s going to be a major difference between the team at the beginning of the season and the team at the end of the season.

“Certainly with a younger, less experienced team we won’t have as many veterans to fall back on.” he said. “However, I expect the team will be much hungrier than past Nighthawks squads had been.”

“The key will be to coach them up to their physical potential and to create some positive team chemistry. When you can create the conditions where a bunch of individuals become a team, you can take some major steps forward in terms of on-field success.”

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