Dogfish defensive standout Andrew Hagen worked his way into the starting lineup after barely making the team. Hagen began the season on the practice squad and played well enough to substitute for missing players at an early season game. His performance on the field earned him more playing time, and now Hagen starts as part of the first defensive line.
His play with the Dogfish helped him earn a roster spot with Revolver, San Francisco’s top men’s club team. Revolver anticipates Hagen will be a defensive asset as the team seeks its third National Championship in four years. Hagen and I caught up over lunch this week.
How did you start playing Ultimate?
I started playing pickup with my friends on the cross-country team in high school. One of those guys who was ahead of me had gone to Cal and told me I should try out for the team when I started at Berkeley, so I did.
What generation were you at Cal? Who did you overlap with?
2008 to 2012. I just graduated a year ago. Ryo coached me for my first two years at Cal. I played during the same time as Cass and Russ, when they were at Santa Cruz.
(Dogfish teammates Ryo Kawaoka, Cassidy Rasmussen and Russell Wynne)
Did you spend a lot of time covering those guys?
Oh yeah my first layout D ever was against Cassidy.
What was it like playing for Ryo?
I was terrified of him.
Did he yell at you?
Constantly. It was constructive yelling not angry yelling for the most part.
Was yelling at you effective?
I mean, I’ve known plenty of players that play better angry. I definitely play better when there’s yelling, when that energy is around me. I think Ryo brings a lot of that, the way he carries himself.
What is your history playing club Ultimate?
The fall of after my freshman year I played with an open team from LA called Monster (2008). My second year I played with Mischief, a Bay Area mixed team (2009). Then I did a year with Wolf, a Bay Area open team (2010). My senior year I played with Mischief again (2011). After graduation I got an offer to play with Blackbird at Worlds, so I played at Worlds and then won Nationals with Blackbird in 2012. I just tried out for and made Revolver.
Had you tried out for Revolver previously?
I tried out in 2011 but got cut and played Mischief. I was going to try out in 2012, but decided that going to worlds with Blackbird wasn’t worth missing.
How old are you now?
So then you try out with the MLU. What was your impression before you try out? Did you think it would be competitive?
I didn’t know what to expect. I tried to talk to people to see who was going to try out and I could see that there was some core of Revolver that was going to play, and a lot of the really good Boost Mobile guys were going out, so I knew that it wasn’t going to be a walk-on team by any means.
How did you think the tryout went?
I thought it went fine. I got cut so it could have gone better.
Why do you think you got cut?
I had some inopportune turnovers, and I think I wasn’t playing as strongly as I could have. I play a lot better in game situations than I do in practices, and tryouts unfortunately tend to run more like practices. During games you’re more conscious about possession, and there’s more adrenaline pumped, you’re more able to make big plays.
But you make the practice squad and then you get an opportunity the second week of the season against Vancouver.
There were a couple of injuries so I got to travel. I was on the 3rd D line in Vancouver. I went on maybe like twice in the first half and got big skies on both points. In the second half Safdie would start putting me in if there was need for a downfield player on a D point, if someone was in the bathroom or didn’t hear the line call.
(Dogfish Head Coach Justin Safdie)
I heard you stared getting lots of blocks in practice. Then a couple of weekends go by with four of guys away at USA Ultimate National Team commitments. Did you play a lot?
By the fourth week against Portland, I was on the first or second D line. Now I’m starting on the first line.
When you were on the practice squad, were you disappointed or did you have the expectation that you might work your way on to the team?
There was definitely [a motivation] to let coaches know that I can play with these guys. I had something to prove.
Did you feel dissed?
I got cut. I had to play better to make the team. Safdie coached me when I was playing for Mischief. There’s always been a lot of respect. I have always appreciated him as a coach, especially since I have a tendency towards defensive play and I know that’s what he was best at.
And now you’ve made Revolver. Congratulations! Did you think you had a good shot?
I thought I had a pretty good shot. They went into tryouts noting a couple of key areas where they wanted players, and one was definitely a defensive-minded playmaker. And that’s what I feel I’m good at.
And I feel that I do much better in game situations than in practices and tryouts, so for me it was an advantage that the Revolver captains are on the Dogfish and have seen me, game after game, getting blocks, and generating turns.
I’ve heard that the concern around you is your decision-making.
I think part of the mentality switch that I’m making is getting away from that college mindset, where you’re the best player or one of the top two players, or you have the best throws of anyone on your team and you have to make plays.
Dogfish and Revolver are teams with guys like Ashlin, Cassidy and Mac, and you realize how low you are on the depth chart. And that encourages you to not force throws because you know that these other players on your team are five times the thrower you are so you don’t have to make a tough throw. It puts things into perspective.
(Ashlin Joye, Mac Taylor)
Tell me about playing on Dogfish. You are a defensive specialist and I’ve noticed that you’ve been asked to cover a lot of the top MLU players. Do you feel like you can cover anybody?
It depends. There are different kinds of players. Jumping on the run is where I have the greatest advantage over other players, and because of that I tend to like to play against quicker runner types. Jump balls are not much my specialty. I think my strength is helping out on those discs, when I can attack at a full sprint.
You’re a downfield guy but do you ever end up on a handler?
I’m pretty hit or miss with handlers, I matchup pretty well with some, but I don’t know that there’s a particular type that I can identify that I guard really well. I do end up occasionally on a downfield guy that is dynamic enough that he’ll stay around the disc after his first catch, and those are generally good matches for me.
Who do you like playing against?
I like guarding guys like Marc LeDuc from Vancouver. He’s not that tall but he’s got great hops and he’s really fast. It’s a fun matchup because we’re similar players. I enjoy those matchups the most. Cassidy, Russell and Grant Lindsley were some of my favorite college matchups. They’re all that kind of athletic, not actually just tall, but looking to jump.
As far as current MLU players, Eli Friedman (Portland) is a great matchup. All the Oregon grads are great to play against. I like covering Cody Bjorklund.
How do you play Cody, he’s twice your size?
It’s different. It’s always interesting playing a 50/50 disc with him, because it’s so tough to get around him. And it’s tough to get D’s on him – that straight path is just never as open as it looks for you; he uses his body well. It’s fun though.
Do you have huge aspirations for your career? Do you want to make the national team for instance?
How long have you been thinking about that? Did you see your potential as a star at Cal?
I don’t think it’s seeing myself as star. I enjoy the game a lot, and I’m really competitive, and the competition in and of itself is the driving force. It’s not so much a need for recognition, it’s just that I like playing at as high a level as possible. You keep taking steps towards your goals, and the World Games Team is definitely near the top, if not the top goal.
I want to get as far as I can, I want to get to as high a level as I can, and if I could do that (make the national team) that would be awesome. We’ll see how realistic it is.
What do you think it will take to get there? What do you have to work on as a player and what do you think your strengths are?
My strengths are defensive positioning and athleticism. That being said I still need to work on those things. I would like to develop a stronger physical foundation. It means I have to start hitting the track more. ‘Cause this is the point in the career where everyone’s fast; you can’t just rely on being fast. You got to work if you really want it.
How do you think you’re going to fare against Portland and Seattle this weekend?
I’m hopeful. I have faith in this team. It’ll be neat. Both games against Seattle so far we’ve been missing all the Team USA guys, and this will be the first time that they’ll all be present.
You’ll have the full squad, but you’re in Seattle and you will have played in Portland the day before.
I’m not that worried about the fatigue just because of the depth of the team. I think we’ve proven time and again that everyone on this team can compete with anyone on the other teams. So it becomes less of “we have to play our all-stars to win” or “we have to rest the all-stars for Sunday” and more of everyone getting an even share of playing time.
Is Seattle not as deep?
I think that Seattle has a crop of players that are very good at running the offense, and the team does rely on them a fair amount. Being responsible for that much of the offense for that much of the game wears you down, and I don’t know that they have the freedom to sub out their entire starting line without losing some of their offensive flow.
You’ve had a lot of elite level experience and you’ve won a championship with Blackbird. What are the keys to winning at Ultimate?
I think that the sport has gotten to the point that you can’t get away with just having good players or just having a good system or just having good chemistry. The sport has advanced to where you need all those things to get to the highest level.
Do you think the Dogfish are there?
We’re getting there. There’s always room to improve.
Thanks Hagen. Good luck this weekend.