Photo by Pete Guion – UltiPhotos.com
In their inaugural season, the coaching duo of Keven Moldenhauer and Will Smolinski assembled a dynamic team to represent D.C. That team fell short of their goals. Nothing short of a league championship would have sufficed.
But as the 2014 season approaches, Moldenhauer and Smolinski have put last year’s failings behind them; they’ve focused on the successes; and they’ve initiated an offensive game plan designed to short circuit the Eastern Conference.
Head Coach Keven Moldenhauer spent the 2013 MLU season as a player-coach, but he knew he would need some assistance on the sideline when he was active on the field. At the recommendation of some of his players, Moldenhauer contacted Will Smolinski, a local youth coach with zero experience coaching elite level Ultimate.
The pair got together and talked for hours, then spoke again over the next several days. The two discussed coaching philosophies, their vision for the sport and a host of other wide ranging issues. It quickly became clear to Moldenhauer that he had found his assistant coach.
“The biggest thing to me was that Will cares as much or even more about Ultimate and the growth of Ultimate, especially from the coaching perspective,” said Moldenhauer. “I knew he was going to be the perfect fit for our team.”
Last year Moldenhauer was in charge of the Current’s offensive line while Smolinski focused on defense. The arrangement worked. After a shaky start to their season, D.C. finished the season strong and earned a spot in the playoffs.
Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com
“It took a lot of trust for Keven to do what he did last year,” said Smolinski. “I really appreciate the fact that Keven gave me an opportunity. The D-line was all mine last year, because Keven was focused on the O-line as a player-coach, and we’ve kept that format this year.”
The coaching duties may remain the same, but the schemes on both sides of the disc will look different in year two. Moldenhauer and Smolinski plan on unleashing a new offensive and defensive system that they hope lead to more explosive plays.
“It’s really two things,” said Moldenhauer. “It’s a better way of isolating cutters in space and also gives those cutters more freedom to be aggressive and to continue to cut.”
Allowing his players to be more aggressive is a change in philosophy for Moldenhauer from when he first started coaching. The Salisbury University graduate who captained and helped lead the Buzz men’s Ultimate team to two appearances at nationals was more conservative when he first started coaching.
“I didn’t like taking risks, I liked moving the disc through a very regimented offense, which demanded that you had very few turnovers and that you were looking for somewhere in the 90% completion level,” said Moldenhauer.
He employed this strategy during coaching stints with the Salisbury University Flash women’s team and the Towson University men’s team.
“I still think there is a place for that type of game, but I don’t find it nearly as fun to play and I don’t think the players find it nearly as fun,” said Moldenhauer. “So I sort of opened up to this more aggressive play where you’re okay with having a turnover.”
The more aggressive style of play on the field will be coupled with a better understanding of the pro game by Moldenhauer and Smolinski, who hope to be able to take advantage of opportunities both on game days and during the week after going through a full season of play.
“We have a much better idea of what a week’s work of preparation looks like now,” said Smolinski. “That process is a lot cleaner. We have a much better idea of how to use those midweek practices to prepare for the following weekend’s game and how to really use the single game format to our advantage personnel wise.”
After weeks of practice leading up to the start of the second season, Smolinski says he can’t wait to see the new system at full speed.
“It’s amazing to think about how much work we’ve done in a small amount of time,” Smolinski said. “Just 12 weeks ago or whatever it was, we were coming in at 5 a.m. and we didn’t know what the roster was going to finally look like. Now we have a new offense and a new defense and are ready to go out and show the East what we can do.”