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Cutting Principles: Always Have Two Options

October 22, 2016

If you haven’t seen it already, Mike Lawler created a Facebook study group for the Fury vs. Riot semifinal at the USA Ultimate National Championships in 2016. Thanks again to Ultiworld for providing coverage.

Here’s ten seconds of #51 Claire Desmond cutting on offense out of a horizontal stack with #22 Sarah Carnahan making the initial cut and #33 Anna Nazarov picking up the disc.

Ten seconds doesn’t seem like a long time but there’s plenty to learn from this clip. In short, Nazarov picks up a dead disc close to the sideline. Carnahan pushes her defender out and comes under for a flick. Desmond cuts out, changes direction, and makes a lateral cut to gain 20 yards. But let’s go a little deeper into the principles that Desmond beautifully demonstrates.

First, she coordinates well with Carnahan who is in a good position to make an initiating cut. Desmond waits a little bit but mirrors to make space (that is, she goes out when Carnahan comes in).

In some offensive systems, Desmond could have gone downtown (straight deep) and then come under, but Riot’s #6 Sarah “Surge” Griffith was positioned tight enough to take away a number of cutting lanes away from the disc. Furthermore, Carnahan’s defender chose to push Carnahan in. In this situation Carnahan has the easier in-cut compared to Desmond.

After Carnahan receives the disc, Desmond chooses to attack the open space going somewhat upline rather than setting up (by cutting out) for an in-cut as you might see in a standard waterfall drill.

This is an aggressive move but what I like even better is that Desmond realizes she is tightly covered by star defender Griffith, and aborts the upline cut. Instead she clears out directly away from Carnahan. What’s interesting about this move is that not only does she get Griffith to turn her hips but when she decides to make her next cut there are actually four (!) possible places she could conceivably cut to from that position on the field.

Since Desmond aborted the upline early she created enough space to either cut diagonally out, laterally across, or diagonally under. With a different (non-flat) mark and a different thrower, Desmond could have also come laterally breakside for a I/O flick. But given the flat mark and a fast defender, a diagonal cut away from the thrower would require a combination of speed mismatch which didn’t exist or a thrower willing to put up a difficult bladey forehand to space. Of the lateral cut and the diagonal in-cut, the lateral one gains more yards and thus Desmond goes for it.

As a general principle, as a cutter or handler it’s good to always have at least two options*. If a defender knows you only have one option they are much more likely to stop that single option. If you have two options (or more) it’s harder to predict. (Of course, sometimes you have to commit to the best/satisficing option 🙂

As a cutter and handler it’s useful to think about where these “branch points” exist on the field, that is, locations at which you can branch off into multiple different cuts from the same spot. In this case the branch point is where Desmond chooses to cut laterally.

Note that branch points are fairly localized in space–if Desmond hadn’t created as much space to work with, let’s say by not being far enough away from Carnahan, the in-cut wouldn’t be viable. Similarly had she cleared too far, then the deep shot would be less viable. (Branch points are localized not only in space but time–Desmond’s continue cutter probably passes by a branch point as she cuts deep, but did she hit the branch point at the right time? In this case perhaps she gets to a possible branch point too early.)

When you take a look at the sequence of moves, Desmond is either attacking open space or attacking a branch point, that is, setting up to be in a position where she can choose one of several places on the field to attack next. Even when she has the disc, Desmond has two options–she looks breakside rather than tunneling her vision downfield.

Summarizing, here are some basic principles we can see demonstrated in these short ten seconds.

1) Coordinate with the other cutter(s) — who has the better initiating cut? whose turn is it? based on how defense sets up.

2) Mirror cut to make space.

3) If it’s your “turn” consider attacking early if you can–carpe diem!

4) Fail fast.

5) Always have two options: each move should either attack open space or set up multiple attacks. (Even “clearing cuts”!)

6) Plan ahead.

7) Create space on the open side if you can.

8) Read the defender’s hips and see when they commit.

9) Attack branch points to maximize optionality.

10) Take the best / easy option that the defender gives you.

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