Gabe Hernandez || The 5 Toughest Matchups I've Faced
Nick and I played together at Stanford for three years, which means we got matched up together a lot—three times a week for three years. He’s a big guy out of Seattle, six foot four and fast, and before he even got to Stanford people were talking about how he could break any mark. He was used to being able to do whatever he wanted on the field, and I can’t say I always prevented that, but I certainly made him work for it. I remember one practice we were getting heated with a lot of well-fought points, and he took off deep, which is what Nick always did when he started feeling crowded down under. I got to him. It took a layout D, but I got there, and it felt good to talk trash afterward. There was another time when we were playing the University of Massachusetts at Nationals, and there was a floater in the end zone that Nick went up for. It looked like it was going to be a close one, but once they got into the air, Nick had six inches on his opponent (who was also 6'4") and there was just no contest. I think that marks a lot of Nick’s matchups; sometimes it’s just no contest.
Elliott was somewhat of a mentor figure for me at Stanford. He was a couple of years older than me when I arrived, and he really encouraged me to take frisbee seriously. He taught me what to watch for and assured me that I had potential. He also had a field IQ comparable to LeBron's basketball IQ: he saw everything in the game as a field general, knowing exactly where everyone needed to be at any given moment. The way he commanded the field and the way he directed his cutters meant that it was like marking more than one Elliott at the same time. We were running end zone resets one practice, and I was up against Elliott. He pulled a spin move on me; it was a weird thing to see on an ultimate field, but he pulled it off so well that I fully turned my hips, and I was left for dead. We had a lot of fun matchups throughout my time in college.
It was my junior year, and we were playing at Nationals. We were in the last game of Pool Play and needed to win to move on; losing meant getting stuck in a three-way tie. We were up 12 to 9 when Khalif stepped onto the field and set out to score every point from there on out. He was a part of either every turnover or every score. I remember at one point I had a player with separation in the end zone and got a hammer out right for him. Khalif just put his head down and caught up. He barely nicked the disc, but it was enough for a drop. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a single player pick apart a team like that. And we went on to lose in the tiebreaker.
Abe and I played together on the Dallas Roughnecks and Austin Doublewide. He was one of the first teammates I consistently matched up against once moving to pro play, and it was eye-opening. I had gotten used to being one of the better players on the field in college, but Abe helped me see that wasn’t going to immediately be the case anymore. He’s out of Arkansas, five foot eight or nine, and fast. Very fast. It’s like chasing a rabbit. His acceleration and deceleration are off the charts and make him very difficult to keep up with, especially as a handler. Add to that his game knowledge, and he could get into the right spot before you even realized where he was trying to get to. We were playing the Raleigh Flyers in the AUDL quarterfinals, and he was just unstoppable. His throws were something like a hundred percent completed, and he was burning his marks in every direction. If you’re not tight on Abe, he’ll expose you.
Dalton stands out because of the sheer breakneck pace at which he plays. We played together on the Dallas Roughnecks, and he was quick—not just quick at running and cutting, but quick at decision making. He never holds a disc for too long, which means trying to catch up when defending him is nearly impossible. And the craziest part is that he keeps the pace up the whole time he plays, so he just wears you down and never lets you catch your breath. During the first or second practice back for the 2020 season, just before COVID hit, we were running end zone drills, and the points were intense. It felt like we were fighting each other for every inch, and being able to cut off a couple throws or win some of those inches felt like a huge win. What I like the most about Dalton is that he isn't only a tough match-up but also a great teammate, always telling you what you did right and wrong, always helping you grow after the point.