Vertical Stack Endzone Defense

Defenders can act as a team to restrict a centre of the field vertical offence. The goal of team defence is to trap a vertical stack on one sideline or the other by forcing throws forward, aggressively preventing upline resets and taking away the huck option with a last back. The scenario is quite easy to setup from a dead disc but can take a team several practices or games before being able to execute during normal flow or game play. Most players will agree it is much easier to defend against an offence from a dead disc than it is to defend a team that is moving the disc well. To that end, it is quite easy to beat handler defenders up-line during normal flow, which results in well timed hucks to cutters with separation. So, at best you may trap a team successfully 10 times per game and force 3 or 4 turnovers. At some point, however, the offence will work the disc to within a few yards of their scoring end zone.

Defending the endzone is different than defending down field (Figure 1). The defenders don’t have to worry about long throws and should adjust to take away the under cut back to the disc. Instead of worrying about deep throws, it is now the responsibility of downfield defenders to defend the width of the field. Overall, the defence has to work hard to prevent the offensive team from moving the disc side to side easily. The mark will be more concerned with breakside throws (for the first 4-5 stall counts) and not as worried about throws to the backfield. The dump defender will be trying hard to prevent dump passes (in general), but will be more exposed to upline cuts as they attempt to prevent easy dump passes. Endzone defenders will be doing everything to prevent their check from getting open on the force side.

Intermediate teams will likely run a centre of the field (end zone, in this case) vertical stack, which gives them three distinct options for goals. First, they can work the disc across the width of the field trying to hit players cutting to the front cones. Second, some will hit cutters at the front of the stack on the breakside and, lastly, run upline cuts from the handler position. Usually, teams are working all three of these options, depending upon the location of the disc on the field. We are going to worry about stopping the upline cuts for goals. Upline cuts for goals, from the handler position, become much easier near the endzone as the handler defenders begin to play tighter and bite on aggressive fakes by the offensive cutter. One of the players defending cutters in the endzone will be relied upon to help prevent throws to the upline cutter. The player responsible for helping on upline cuts is still responsible for a person in the endzone. This trick is a sure-fire way to make a team think twice about throwing to a (seemingly) open upline cutter or earn a couple D’s near the endzone against inexperienced throwers.

Figure 1: Endzone defense. No deep throws are available as it is much easier to defend the open side by stepping away from your check. The bold line is our choice to play help or poach upline cuts from the handler position. Don’t give away your intentions too early by standing in the lane (bad positioning); your check will just run to the open space beside you, behind you or to the breakside and catch a goal.

Note the difference between being helpful and getting scored on. if you poach the lane and a thrower sees you, they can easily throw to the triangular or rectangular shaped regions for a goal as the bad position will not be able to defend those areas. The arrows are potential cuts by the poached player.

See Figure 2. Normally, a fast and aware (or more experienced) player will have to assume this role. However, any person defending a cutter in the middle of the stack will suffice. A defender at the front or at the back of the stack are not the best choices, but will work. A player defending in the middle of the stack will be a good choice because their check won’t be wide open as there is too much clutter from teammates and other defenders. Besides, teams conditioned to running upline cuts from the handler position will expect their stack to hold their position, which will give a defender an opportunity to poach and recover. So, a defender in the middle of the stack will have to keep an eye out for open upline cuts and anticipate a throw to that player. Watch the handler, when the handler zeroes in on the dump cutter it is time to make your defensive play and intercept that upline pass. Keep in mind, the stall count is still rising and preventing a throw may be the same as a turnover. If teams begin dump cuts at stall 5/6, then your team defense will be forcing stall 9 throws or forcing stall downs.

Figure 2: The handler is focused upon the dump cut who has gotten open for an upline pass. The unseen defender has anticipated the open cut and is moving to take away a lazy pass or bid within the area of the dotted rectangle. You don’t get many chances for a turnover, so be ready when yours arises. When the throw is holstered, get back to your check and play as normal

Additional notes: When the team has the disc centered, they will be looking to throw to endzone cutters either on the break side or on the force side as they cut to the cones. Also, teams may just focus on breaking the mark for throws to the front of the stack. Upline cuts from the handler position are more common when the disc is on or near a sideline as the upline cut can easily be defended when the disc is in the middle of the field. Also, hammers and cross-field blades are worth watching for when the disc is off-set from the center of the field by 10-15 yards, so don’t give your check too much of a leash. When the disc is one yard off the goal line, force dump cuts into the back field as help will not be able to arrive in time. Calmly count stalls. Don’t go stall 7…stall 8…stall 9, down. That behaviour gives the offence the disc back with a chance to recover their composure and complete a pass they wouldn’t have known was available.

About Keith Krieger

Keith has been playing ultimate for close to a decade. He’s had the opportunity to play both formally and informally with teams the west and east coast of Canada. His main focus has been playing with Wreckhouse from St. John’s NL. Like most, he plays ultimate for the competition, fitness and strategy.

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