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Recaps, Tournaments

The Pro-Elite Challenge

First, permit us to apologize for the tardiness of this update.   I am on an airplane as I write this, emerging from an all-consuming, two-week vortex of Triple Crown (Atlanta) and U23 (Toronto) duties.  I have been stumbling through a queer, recurring dreamscape in which I still have to play or coach a bronze-medal game (I don’t know why).  I face opponents forever of nebulous or mixed identity – semi-Japanese Sockeyes and German GOATs.   I think this is to testify I may have become a little unhinged.


Fourteen days ago, when I still had my mind,  I flew to Atlanta’s Terminus.  This is the story.

Every once in a while, circumstances demand you play a short-handed tournament under tough conditions.  Between U23 and World Games commitments, Furious was stripped down to a skeleton crew, and far from a seasoned one.  For Terminus, we carried a roster of 17 (of whom 2 were too injured to play more than a few points).  We brought 6 bright-eyed rookies (some of whom had never played an Open tournament until last week).  We picked up 2 players more as mercenary reinforcements – they had not practiced with us at all.   Of everyone, only Oscar Pottinger had ever played for the Monkey’s bonafide O-line.   And with this squad, we set off for the Triple Crown Tour Pro-Elite Challenge.  In short, we plunged our rookies into a trial by fire.  Far from ideal, but there we were.


That this happened to take place in the living furnace of summertime Atlanta comes as a fitting metaphor.  In daytime, the thermometer never strayed from the thirties (centigrade), and the humidity pushed the conditions into the positively infernal.  Sweating was a constant fact of life, and drinking enough water to keep up was sisyphean in itself.  Sunburn: simply inevitable.   Lastly, if Atlanta failed to fry you on the field, it could, on a whim, try to strike you with lightning instead.*


So at a tournament like Terminus, we had to be realistic about what we wanted out of the weekend.   The setting of goals figures prominently in athletics (arguably, just another breed of project management theory), and sensible, attainable targets are essential.  Whether biased by Hollywood distillations, misplaced machismo, or just honest lack of good sense, I have seen and played for too many teams for whom the goal was “to win” indiscriminately.  In sports, anyone can win (note that PoNY scooped up their first elite win at Terminus).  But setting oneself up for failure is not goal-setting – it’s self-torment.


The goal for the tournament: to develop as a team.  We aimed to incorporate our rookies into our system, to help them find what worked and what didn’t.  We spared the rod, and our tradition of fierce and fiery self-criticism gave way to matter-of-fact, cerebral feedback – sometimes, it’s just too hot to shout at people.  There would be no calling or loading of lines, and no punitive benching of players.  If we could manage this education fast enough to win a few games, so much the better.


Saturday served us games against PoNY, Truck Stop, and fellow Canadians GOAT.   Realistically and necessarily, these games were sacrificed on the altar of higher learning.  Outscored 2:1, we struggled up the learning curve.  For some players, it was an abrupt and rude introduction to elite ultimate.


Happily, we occasioned flashes of brilliance – everyone was chosen to this team with good reason, and that periodically shone through.  But that we were not quite a proper team yet was equally self-evident.   A team in the act of forming manifests some amazing convergences of utterly incompatible habits.  You might see a thrower who hesitates to commit to any given target, combined with a dump cutter who dances on the spot.  You will see some lane-defenders denying in-cuts, but markers letting out uncontested hucks.  There were times too many players tried to do too much at once alternating with times when they tried to do too little (as if dumping and swinging by itself might score a point).


I think we also saw a comprehensive compendium of every throw (however gorgeous) unlikely to succeed in a competitive setting.    It was mildly amusing to watch them tested and abandoned one by one in almost systematic fashion.  Science: it works, monkeys.


The good news is that there was progress.  And progress, in a word, is “fun.”  Progress is what makes sport worth playing.  By the time we met GOAT in pool play, we were able to hold together a strong first half of an ultimate game.  Granted, it takes two halves of ultimate to win, and we made plenty of groan-worthy turnovers still, but we also saw players stepping up to the challenge and making the kinds of plays under pressure we will need from them.  Rookies Gyorgy Aponte and Kevin Tian distinguished themselves as fearless and fast learners and they kept the disc alive for us when there was no one else to do it.  GOAT won handily, but I was not overly concerned with the score.  I was already thinking ahead to stretching out that focus and delivering a full game’s performance.


Just prior to the start of the fourth scheduled round, a thunderstorm of outlandish power descended on the playing fields and flooded them in less than twenty minutes.  Within half an hour, the complex had developed its own river system as endzones lazily drifted away downstream.


On Sunday, we faced Madison Club, Sockeye, and Rhino, in that order.  Although down to 14 players, we had matured considerably over 24 hours, and we brought that savvy sobriety to the field.  The addition of force-breaking Furious alumnus Andrew Brown to the Madison roster added an extra spice of rivalry to the game.  That he made continual (and not altogether incorrect) attempts to guess our plays on the fly made his presence all the more entertaining.  It does, however, vex me that Brown seems to have developed an understanding of the playbook only since leaving Furious.  Where was that inner savant when he was on our roster?


The Monkey eked out our first win of the Tour against Madison by the lean margin of 13-11.  This marked a turning-point for us because we had played two complete halves of competitive ultimate against a stubborn opponent.  And we held fast to that work ethic, carrying it into our game against Sockeye, where we exerted a committed defensive pressure and used a nothing-to-lose attitude to our advantage.  Granted, we lost 13-9, but to a team that would have roasted alive our Saturday persona.  By the time we faced Rhino, fatigue had set in, and Portland played well.  Although we never surrendered, Portland was outrunning us, and they mounted a run of breaks they needed to secure a solid win.


Lessons learned: learning to play compatible habits and basics, learning to focus for a full game.

Next lesson: Canadia Ultimate Championships


*I came to appreciate Chain Lightning on a new level that weekend.
Confidential to You-Know-Who-You-Are  – During a lightning stoppage, holding a dance party in the flatbed of your pick-up is the opposite of a good idea.

Alex Davis

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