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Recaps, Tournaments

The Tenth Title

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

–Tennyson, Ulysses

For a long time, Vancouver remained the undisputed seat of the Canadian ultimate aristocracy.* And Furious, over the course of a decade, had accumulated more than their fair share of medals and accolades. But as the rest of Canada (and the world) grows into the game, leveraging their populations, newfangled winter facilities, and outreach, that distinction has gradually and necessarily eroded. It so happens that sport detests a static system; the balance of power inevitably shifts.

The last vestige of that legacy is one remarkable statistic: in ten appearances spanning nineteen seasons, Furious George has never lost a game at the Canadian Ultimate Championships.

UltiPhotos: CUC Women, Mixed, Master & Open Finals &emdash;

It is one of those oddities of sport. At this point, it would be tempting to retire the name of Furious from competition. It would be safer to play as Some-Other-Club so that the name can live untarnished by our mortal flaws. But a core value of the Furious culture is the courage to step on the field and to risk everything, and such sandbaggery would serve only to protect our egos. It is a quiet commitment that neatly falls into its own category of masochistic pride.

UltiPhotos: Sunday - Open Final -- CUC 2012 &emdash; untitled-1161

Thus, the eighth title was won by the narrowest of margins. The ninth was won on a comeback run of improbable proportions. We know all too well, Furious George is earthly and mortal and fallible, but despite it all, by luck and fierce, sheer will, there still lingers some magic at the CUC stadium that favours the Monkey. No matter the adversity, or how many times the dice have rolled, the old streak just isn’t ready to die quite yet.

UltiPhotos: Sunday - Open Final -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_sunday-437

The 2013 Canadian Ultimate Championships took place on home turf in Vancouver. And #1 seed Furious George walked through the gates with perhaps more doubt around their potential than ever before. A year after a surprise life-or-death struggle for gold, an inauspicious showing at Terminus with some 50% turnover in the roster, none of the founding members, and with Ottawa’s Phoenix showing real upset potential in recent games, a lot of people probably felt this would be the year the streak would end.

UltiPhotos: Open, Womens, Mixed, Masters - Thursday - CUC &emdash;

Pools & Power Pools
Over the first two days of competition, the Angry Monkey was still visibly learning to play. Six games’ worth of repetition saw players still feeling out their roles and finding familiarity in the system. But it was encouraging as patterns and expectations became entrenched: the offensive line was not once broken, and the defensive line gradually ramped up its conversion rate. What was especially heartening was to see the level of defensive acumen on the field. I say that because the confidence in being able to regain possession of the disc removes fear of mistakes. That is important because fearless commitment is the foundation of execution.

UltiPhotos: Personal CUC 2013 Favourites &emdash;

Quarters and Semis
Come the playoffs, we were challenged first by Calgary’s Ghosts — a team that, true to their name, had gone largely unnoticed by speculation for a top spot. But with nothing to lose, the Ghosts took fearlessness to its extreme. Loading their lines with artillery like Dustin Hong, Tierney Fitzgerald, Thomas Kuhn (TC-WUGC 2008/2012), and Kirk Savage (TC-WUGC 2002/2004/2008/2012), the Ghosts mounted a huck-based offense that seemed to defy statistics. Our defenses, normally designed to bait difficult, long-distance throws, were confounded by a chain 5 points scored on full-length hucks. Their success frustrated not just because of the tally, but because any good defensive strategist needs a reasonable sample size on which to assess his opponents’ weaknesses. And when your adversary scores in three passes, you are left staring at an utter vacuum of information, and still wondering whether you just witnessed fluke or mastery. Eventually settling on a man-to-man defense with a backhand force, we nullified the most successful forehand throwers, and we placed specific match-ups on Savage to read his wind-up and deny his backhand. 15-8.

In the semi-finals, 2012 silver medallists General Strike attacked hard and fast. Strike is a young, fast, team with physical defense and a willingness to bid on nearly anything. With U23 defenders like Michael Chura (2013) and Ethan Kovacs (2013), and additional speed in cutters like Jonny Luk and Bailey Herron, Strike’s springiness is the foundation of their strength. We had previously dismantled their offense in power pool play through use of a zone-based defense on a narrow field. In the semi-finals, though, they adapted, much as they had the year before. Like the Ghosts, they required a few points of observation to grasp the right defensive formula, but we found that another man-to-man set with a backhand force yielded the best results. 15-4.

UltiPhotos: CUC Women, Mixed, Master & Open Finals &emdash;

The Sunday final unfolded under the eye of austere Thunderbird Stadium, the last of all the division finals. Up to this moment, Phoenix had played a golden tournament, smartly denying every other pretender with commanding wins, and they truly looked the part of the anointed challenger. They carried the confidence of having recently matched Portland’s Rhino to a double-game-point contest. Four of them had attended a Team Canada pre-tryout camp at Hawaii’s Kaimana Klassik last year. Their U23 players knew us and our tactics. Three starting Furious defenders are graduates of the Ottawa school of ultimate as well. They had even stolen our home colour in the pre-game flip. In many ways, there was a fine, appreciable symmetry to this match, recalling the days when Furious first wrested the national title from reigning champions WaX — the ancestor team from whose ashes “Phoenix” supposedly arose.

UltiPhotos: CUC Women, Mixed, Master & Open Finals &emdash;

And Phoenix was poised to deliver. They immediately seized on Furious’ errors, and opened the championship game by breaking the Monkey’s O-line for the first time in the tournament. And in short order, their defense drummed out more, surging aloft to a 4-1 lead. And just like that, Ottawa had lit a fire of unpredictable excitement under the Open final.

The Furious offense reshuffled and refocused, and at last secured a footing in the game, but it still fell to defense to somehow recuperate those 3 breaks. A keen sense of familiarity settled on the stadium, and I could see in my mind’s eye a sort of sepia replay of every recent game we had been down (5-1 to the Dogfish, 11-6 to Strike, 4-0 to Rhino, 13-11 to GOAT, 13-11 to Rhino. . . .). And at a time when some people thought they smelled death, the Angry Monkey was decidedly calm and steely.

UltiPhotos: CUC Women, Mixed, Master & Open Finals &emdash;

It took some time to find the right formula that would win the game. It takes patience to mount a comeback. Emotion-filled comebacks rarely work — they ride luck and a sort of loose-cannon freneticism. A true comeback, one that is destined to win by design, must ultimately emerge from patience and focus, and the confidence that you will find the chink in your opponent’s armour — the one that will allow you to generate consecutive turnovers. Against Phoenix, it was an observation in their offensive pattern: a preference to huck from a successful in-cut, and a style of reset throws accustomed to facing no-huck marks. Theirs was an offense accustomed to intimidating opponents into over-guarding their deep game, and ultimately seducing them further into the trap.

UltiPhotos: Personal CUC 2013 Favourites &emdash;

So, we played man-to-man, with a flick force, hotly contesting every in-cut, and flashing no-huck marks for a second on every new possession. We drove the disc back into the handlers hands, and we used wrap-around marks to thrust a more complicated reset scenario upon their throwers. This, in turn, meant longer throws onto handlers running for a loss of yardage, and provided opportunity for a certain player to earn MVP honours that game — young Peter Yu. Yu matched up against Phoenix’s Bryce Ring (who ultimately ran a majority of dump-cuts for Ottawa) and his uncanny acceleration, on those longer, slightly more awkward resets, suddenly rewarded him with a flood of defensive blocks. And thus, the comeback began in earnest, resurfacing from a 7-5 deficit to win the first half 8-7, and onward, to 10-7. Eventually, the Angry Monkey sealed the win at a score of 15-10.

And that was it. So the magic lasts a little longer.

“Vamos a estar enfocados, concentrados, 100% intensidad en todo los 90 minutos del juego. Estar con cara seria, con cara de juego, nada de risa, y les digo que descarguen toda esa ira y esa energĂ­a con intensidad en la cancha. Vamos Vamos con todo!
Jorge, Furioso! Jorge, Furioso! Jorge, Furioso!”
–CUC2013 huddle speech

UltiPhotos: CUC Women, Mixed, Master & Open Finals &emdash;

*I’m entitled to say that, having had no hand in it myself.

Alex Davis

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