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USA Ultimate Championships

by Davis

Welcome to sports. Any team can win; any team can lose. And just as importantly, for every story of success, there must be a story of equal disappointment. The fact that I have to write on behalf of disappointment this time really stings. Honestly, there are not enough daiquiris in Florida to cope. But friends want to know what happened (one buddy at the fields tactfully inquired, “So, can you explain? Like, why you guys are sucking so bad?”*), so I’ll oblige by jotting down some thoughts.

We opened against Machine (Chicago) first thing on Thursday. Our offense looked irksomely shaky to start, but inelegant goals are still goals, and our defensive line was productive, so it did not seem to be an immediate problem. We climbed up 5-1 and got yet another turn. Then our game mysteriously unravelled. One drop followed another; there was even a dropped pull. Our offense looked stilted and unfamiliar to me. The agile and exhausting cuts and systems that I was used to practicing against did not materialize. Handlers and cutters alike seemed lethargic; slow to continue, forgetful to fake, reluctant to clear. We threw into empty spaces just as people left them. Machine wrestled their way back and took the lead. Chicago was awake and playing simple, effective ultimate; they weren’t biting on our halfhearted jukes, and they were taking our defenders up the line over and over. I think we tied up the game once more before the end, but we were still bleeding breaks, and we lost. [Final Score: 12-15]

The Southpaw game told a similar tale. Furious takes some dubious pride in our reputation for digging ourselves out of ugly situations. And after our loss to Machine, we readily found ourselves in yet another one, needing two straight, decisive wins to assure our place in the Friday power pools. No one was worried, because we knew this position well. Yet, that famous magic of ours never came. We took another early lead, but then we lost it. To their credit, Southpaw is an amazing team in that they seem able to play possum all summer long and then to suddenly reveal previously unseen muscle in Florida. For the second year in a row, the team that showed up in Sarasota was unexpectedly strong (considerably better than the team we saw at Labor Day). And by contrast, Furious looked uninspired. We were fairly successful on defense, aside from a few groan-worthy cock-ups, but we still could not recover breaks fast enough for the rate at which we gave them up. [Final Score: 12-15]

Against Ring of Fire, we opened poorly by going 0-3 on the first few points. We staged a comeback, though, and won four breaks in the first half. Ring then recaptured the lead and appeared to pull away. At 11-14, Furious clawed back a precious few points, eventually rallying to win double-game-point on defense. It was a display of resilience we had waited all day to see, but it was unfortunately irrelevant in the grander scheme. The arithmetic of the day had already relegated us to fourth place in our pool. [Final Score: 17-16. ]

As of dawn on Friday, there was still a possibility of making our way to a pre-quarter, but we needed to orchestrate a three-way tie (with a little luck), and then to win it. For any hope of that to happen, we needed to beat Johnny Bravo and then the Condors. The Bravo game was a tight one, in which we once again traded several breaks. Our long game – usually so dependable for us – was still malfunctioning. And Bravo was a paragon of patience, at one point throwing approximately thirty passes just thirty yards from our endzone. [Final Score: 12-15]

The game against Condors at the end of Friday was an emotional release of frustration. We won, but with all prospects of making it to a pre-quarter already obviated. Condors had beaten Southpaw, and then Southpaw beat Bravo. There was now a simple tie for 1st-2nd and another for 3rd- 4th in our pool. Thus, even 9th place was out of the question; both Furious and Condors were destined for the same 13th -16th placement pool. That is to say, it had become another utterly meaningless game for us. In a complete reversal of fortune, despitet our reputations for winning the unlikeliest roads, we had somehow contrived to win the only truly meaningless games in the last two days! [Final Score: 15-8]

One of the most difficult mental challenges I’ve recently faced was the simple act of getting up on Saturday morning, going through the tournament routine, and preparing to win the 13th place bracket. If you have not tried it recently, you may not understand just how much effort goes into that. It is one thing to struggle to meet your goal; it is quite another thing altogether to struggle just to accept your goal. 13th place is not a glorious objective, but your opponents are still talented, they still worked hard to get to this tournament, and they can still beat you; they certainly will if you do not play well.

It was a grey and wet, foggy morning, and it was a rocky start, but we managed to defeat Subzero, who put up a strong fight despite the appearance of the final tally [score: 15-11]. Our last game was played against the Santa Barbara Condors, in a haunting rematch of the 2002 UPA final – this time, in a very different bracket. We won, thank God [score: 15-10]. We finished our tournament with a 4-3 win-loss record (which may be the best record in the history of the bottom bracket – I’ll have to check that out some time!).

We had a moment together as a team to reflect on our season and our tournament, where our strengths had been, and where our weaknesses betrayed us. There were a lot of angry monkeys in that circle. That’s fine – being angry is pretty much what we do best, and when I go back into off-season training, that is how I’d like to remember the end of the season.

So, returning to the original question, why did we “suck so bad?” Heck if I know. Our offense did not look like the offense we used to win our bid out of the Northwest. It lacked the same energy and dynamism; it relied more heavily on good throws instead of good cuts. We did not make big plays when we needed them. I suspect our opponents on Thursday had also done some decent video analysis on our O-line, as their defenders demonstrated an almost prescient read of our patterns and habits. What else? Was our O-line rotation too small? Was the temperature a factor? Was the time difference? Did we peak early for CUCs and regionals, and then burn out for the championships? I could probably throw down any number sports cliches, and it would probably sound about right just by virtue of its being yet another sports cliché. Maybe it was focus; people seem to nod in comprehension when you say “it was a lack of focus.” But why now? Where do problems come from when they were not there before? I can’t think of any good reason, so I would prefer to sum it up with the bare honesty of the situation. Machine, Southpaw and Bravo played better than we did, they scored more points than we did, and they won the games that mattered. Good for them.

As for us, well, I can handle disappointment in myself – it happens all the time. Disappointing others, though – that sucks especially. I think everyone on Furious is aware of the poignant reality that we’ve let down a lot of people. The Canadian ultimate community wants to see national champions win abroad, but we slipped up. Our friends and adversaries in the Northwest were counting on us to bring home a strength bid, but we didn’t, and now our performance reflects poorly on them too. I’m sorry, guys. Rest assured, we’re still working hard. We’ll do you proud again in the future.

*I surround myself with friends who give out very little sugar with their remarks!

Alex Davis

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