Purple Haze 2011: A Retrospective

I first started playing Ultimate when I was in 10th grade. My friends and I — long fans of throwing around an Aerobie — started up impromptu pickup games on my high school’s quad. Most of us couldn’t throw a forehand and there was nearly no offensive strategy, but we had a lot of fun.

That summer, a bunch of us decided to organize a team to play at Albuquerque’s (now-defunct) annual tournament, Ultimeet. We, of course, got crushed, though our speed and athleticism did cause some problems for the older pickup teams. I remember I threw an awesome backhand for a score but a scandalously late travel call brought it back. (If you see this, Robin, just know that it definitely wasn’t a travel).

The Ultimate bug had bitten me. I started playing with a church league (they were terrible, but it was fun) and the following school year — realizing that I hated running track — started an official team. I have lots of amazing memories playing with that squad; we even went to Western Nationals in our first year as a team (we lost every game).

I played more and more pickup with the Albuquerque/Santa Fe crew and actually began to understand the game a little better. I couldn’t wait to play in college. Not long after I decided on NYU, I sent this (embarrassing) email to Alex Kuo, a former captain:

Hey Alex,

I dont know if you are even at NYU any longer, the Purple Haze website is a bit out of date. I’m an incoming freshman and I’ve been playing for 2 and a half years now. Just wanted to let the team know that I’m coming out and I was wondering if there are any fall practices or city leagues or anything.

Thanks!

–Charlie Eisenhood AKA Pigeon (cause I sky the shit out of everyone)

Albuquerque, NM

“Cause I sky the shit out of everyone.” When you’re in high school, you really think you’re a boss. I was quickly put into my place (though I still wear my Pigeon hat).

Despite realizing I was not the superstar anymore, I did want to be the best freshman. I used to like to match up on Lu Wang at practice; he frequently owned me. Thing is, we had a lot of talented freshmen. Lu stood out that year, but I think we had one of the best recruiting years a college team could ask for.

Early that year, I befriended Husayn, who lived on my floor in Brittany. I found out he had been a sick soccer player, but came to NYU because he wanted a good education, not a D1 soccer scholarship. I got him to come out to Haze practice. He promptly fucked up his ankle going up for a disc against Ryan Schulz, the reigning deep threat and all-around badass. Somehow — even though he was out for basically the entire season — he came to enough practices and stayed committed. We used to throw in the narrow Brittany hallway for hours talking about Ultimate and smashing the disc into light fixtures, peoples’ heads, and doorways.

I taught Husayn a lot of what I knew about the sport at the time — he, being a natural athlete, picked it up quickly. I also told him a million times, “Hus, when we’re seniors, we’re going to be so good.”

Freshman season was kind of a bust. There were some really personality issues (I won’t be specific) and a lack of focus that led to a fairly unpleasant year for many of us.

Over the summer, I was lucky enough to get a spot on the Albuquerque club team, Sweet Roll, where my real Ultimate education began. I learned to play defense. I learned about subtle strategy. I just became a much smarter player thanks to some really gifted captains and generous playing time.

Sophomore year Haze was a different beast altogether. Under the leadership of Pete Gilchrist, we actually became committed to improving. We ran — a lot — and were easily the most conditioned team in our section. Unfortunately, I think an overemphasis on conditioning limited our disc work and, despite coming in as the one seed, we missed our chance at Haze’s first appearance at Regionals.

I had another summer in Albuquerque playing for Sweet Roll. Lots more personal growth. I started to get hungry for a chance to lead Purple Haze. But I left the country for a year as I studied abroad in Argentina.

Second semester in Buenos Aires, Eli and I spent a lot of time talking about Ultimate. We played together in a small BA league and met some great people, but, honestly, our focus was on Haze. We bugged Quinton for recaps of tournaments and sat glued to our computer screens updating Score Reporter during Sectionals. We were both thrilled and saddened when the team snagged the second bid to Regionals — ecstatic for the team, bummed we couldn’t be a part of it. But it just hardened our resolve to come back to NYC and tear it up as seniors.

I spent the summer in DC playing for an awesome group of guys on Medicine Men. I actually learned how to play defense (thanks Bill). After finding out I would be captain with Hus, I started to take notes from my club experience about things I wanted to do with Haze.

I came back to New York absolutely chomping at the bit for the college season. Husayn and I planned extensively about the season — from Club Fest recruitment to our preferred tournament schedule to our goal setting. It was difficult, at first, coming into a team where I didn’t know many of the younger players. I had to work hard to get to know them, while trying not to be too much of a dick at practice. But that core of seniors was there, ready to put in work.

It was quite a process, trying to keep the right tone during Fall season so as not to scare off the new guys while simultaneously instilling a sense of what it means to play for Haze. We really focused on teaching strategy early so we wouldn’t have to do it during Spring.

Husayn and I left for Winter Break, telling everyone to really get in shape. Not that many people followed the instructions; the workout spreadsheet was pretty thin. But Hus and I put in serious hours at the gym and came back to send a statement — we are putting 100% of our focus on this next four months. When we sat down in the rock climbing area at Coles to talk about our goals, the energy was palpable.

But when we said, “We are trying to go to Nationals,” I don’t know that everyone bought in. And we knew that they might not. But we put our heads down and ran up the three flights of stairs, jogged back down, and ran up again. We believed it — we knew we could get there.

The road towards the Series was bumpy. There were times of great doubt. In the middle of the season, before we had made some major changes to our O line, everything felt out of sync. A few of us sat down one night and realized it was ‘go big or go home.’ We could either refocus and buckle down — which required making some big adjustments and setting aside egos — or we could sort of give up.

We decided to refocus. Spring Break was — amazingly — a huge step forward for the squad. We took apart what we thought would work and started going with what was actually working. The lines were quite different. Some people changed roles completely. But, suddenly, we felt like we were on the right path.

It’s really something to devote yourself wholly to one task. I can honestly say I’ve never put in the kind of time, energy, and focus into one activity before in my life. As we kept running stairs and trekking out to East River Park or Prospect, I think the team started to recognize that, wow, we can do this. We ran more. We got better. I took something VP told me at Spring Break — “we play harder” — and never forgot it.

Ultimately, we fell short of our goal. But what we built was a team that was unbelievably selfless and committed to winning as a unit, as brothers, not as individuals. There were no egos. Every single member of the squad put their hearts into the team as we fought through the Series, winning ten games straight and only faltering at the very end in a 14-11 loss to Cornell.

I’ve played for a lot of teams in my life, but I’ve never played for a team like Haze 2010-2011. It was a team years in the making — it wouldn’t exist without Zach, Schultz, QMa, Pete, Lu, and others. That crop of ’07 freshmen grew together and brought others seamlessly into the fold to create one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Yes, it stings that it’s over. Yes, I wish we had accomplished our goal. But it goes beyond that.

Ultimate is just a game, of course, but the friendships it builds and the lessons it teaches — on and off the field — aren’t fleeting. It means a lot to me to see our freshmen and sophomores already hungry for next season, hungry to play with each other and work towards a goal together.

I said it to Husayn a million times, “Hus, when we’re seniors, we’re going to be so good.” And we were. And we will be next year. And the year after that. Sure, this crop of seniors is graduating, but, with Haze, it’s always ‘we,’ win or lose.

*

Thank you with all my heart to each and every one of you for an incredible season. You are all my brothers. Haze <3.

(I wrote this in one take and didn’t go back to edit. Apologies for any typos.)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Purple Haze 2011: A Retrospective

  1. Bill E.

    Very entertaining read Charlie. Thanks. There must be non-collegiate teams all over the place. Maybe you can keep the game going out of school. It does sound, though, like nothing will ever replace the NYU years.

  2. Thomas eisenhood

    Charlie you’ve just sealed in all of what I was excited about and looking forward to in college ultimate.

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