Player Profile: Mark Lloyd

About half an hour before the first pull of a Toronto Rush game, standout Rush cutter Mark Lloyd starts to get nervous. While the rest of his team run drills, his eyes will drift up to the stands in Varsity Stadium, and he’ll start counting the number of fans. Lloyd isn’t just one of the best ultimate players in the AUDL and reigning Championship Game MVP. He’s also the general manager for the Rush, which means he oversees operations for the team and is responsible for everything from player recruitment to marketing plans to finalizing travel schedules.

“Right before the game, I might be thinking there’s only 500 people here, and if the numbers are low I get a little worried,” Lloyd said. “But as soon as it’s game time, I become one of the guys. The game starts and I realize that us being successful as a team means winning, and putting the best product possible on the field. That’s what gets people in the stands. As a player, you just want to play in front of as many people as possible. You want to share what you do with as many people as possible.”

Lloyd is the very definition of a team player. He comes up big in clutch situations (just check out his SportsCenter-worthy layout D against the Rochester Dragons). He keeps his team cool and collected, and has helped them eek out close wins over the New York Empire and DC Breeze. He’s an integral part of the Toronto ultimate community, and courted the support of local clubs as soon as the Rush started. He works late hours to pack the Varsity Stadium stands and keep the organization running smoothly, and frequently pulled 13- to 14-hour days in the team’s first season. Everything Mark Lloyd does is for the team, and to help advance a sport he loves.

The team-oriented mentality stems from his days playing youth hockey in Winnipeg. He wasn’t the biggest, or the fastest, or the strongest person on the team, and left hockey in the ninth grade to focus on ultimate, a sport he started playing at age 11. But hockey taught Lloyd the value of being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and playing selflessly.

“With hockey, you want to do things that make the game easier for the rest of the team—to set up scores, make defensive plays,” Lloyd said. “I try to translate that mentality to ultimate. I want to put people in the position to make a play and to make a score.”

So far, Lloyd and his team are doing quite well. They won the 2013 AUDL Championship, and are undefeated through the franchise’s first 23 regular season games. Lloyd is unguardable. The Toronto ultimate community has embraced the Rush—home crowds are rambunctious and big (the team set an attendance record in 2013 with 2,300 people). And every team in the AUDL wants a chance to take them down.

“Our goal is to win the whole thing—I’m not really scared of those Toronto guys,” Noah Saul of the New York Empire said at the season’s start. The Empire lost to the Rush, 20 – 22 in the second game of the season.

“Toronto is the team we’re gunning for the most,” said Alex Thorne of the DC Breeze. The Rush beat the Breeze twice, 20 – 19 and 27 – 17.

“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Riptide stunner Derek Fenton said. “But we’re aware of what the Rush is doing.”

Lloyd knows his team plays with a target on its back, and uses that as motivation to fight complacency and keep the Rush humble.

“We don’t want to have that overrated tag,” Lloyd said. “Because the league has gotten stronger, anything but a strong performance from us this year will make people question what we did last year. There’s a lot of pressure to do well this year, but also to validate that we were the best team in the league last year and we deserved to win the championship.”

The Rush's relatively simple playing philosophy has helped the team combat those external pressures. Lloyd and the front office have worked hard to recruit and develop players who would perform well within the Rush’s system: athletic man-on-man defense and confidence in moving the disc patiently between all its parts for open looks. Above all, the Rush play with a high level of teamwork and integrity, and emphasize the spirit of the game—something the team discusses extensively in meetings and practices.

Lloyd received accolades when he invoked the integrity rule in last year’s AUDL Championship game, calling back a Rush point that was scored in a close match against the Madison Radicals. The AUDL introduced the integrity rule to protect the spirit of the game at the professional level and allow players to have a say in calls made. Although the ref’s call on the field is final, a player can overturn it if the call is made in his favor. For Lloyd, who saw the Toronto Rush player was out of bounds, the call was a no-brainer.

“It was pretty much a knee-jerk reaction,” Lloyd said. “When the game is over, I don’t want to make any excuses and I don’t want to allow anyone on our team to make excuses. I don’t want anyone to take away from our victory. And we want to show the community that we take spirit of the game seriously, and play with it at all times.”

He likes to keep it simple, a real bread-and-butter type of person. No, really. Just bread and butter. And Kraft American cheese.

“I only ate grilled cheese sandwiches for every meal until I was 16, except for breakfast, obviously,” he said. “Two slices of white bread, Kraft singles American cheese, that’s all you need. I’m a purist. Plus, I put in that little extra ingredient: love.”

If Lloyd and the Rush can stick to the basics—playing their game, shutting down opponents, and eating simple sandwiches—they stand a very good chance to repeat as champs.

– Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen and Adam Ruffner