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Texas MMXIV

Recaps, Tournaments


Texas

Silver Linings
I was walking through customs at Vancouver International, answering the usual gamut of questions. It was late. The lengthy layover in Portland spent on pumpkin ales had left me lethargic, and given to perfunctory responses.

“Where were you?”
“Texas.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Ultimate frisbee.”
“How did that go for you?”

The vagary of the question woke something up in my brain, and I paused while it whirred up to life. I answered thoughtfully, at length:
“You know, not that badly, actually….”

Looking skeptical but satisfied that I wasn’t lying, the officer waved me through.

***

Now and then, you have to shut your eyes, filter out the noise, and ask yourself what your real goals are.

We all have goals that we feel outwardly compelled to set. We now play in an era wherein commentary is public and prolific. Video is ubiquitous. Talk is cheap. Pundits, critics and self-styled reporters abound.* It’s all part of the ever-expanding social media entertainment engine that the sport of Ultimate increasingly feeds. And like any sport, our community brims with superstition, image, posturing, and volumes of armchair psychology.

Any tournament competition is necessarily cutthroat. Every contest — game, point, and play — is a zero-sum equation; the successes of others necessarily and mathematically diminish your own. And by that measure, you will be judged and compared in the public eye. So by reflex, an uninvited guest — a thought virus — takes root among your goals. It colours your perceptions, your preparations, and even your decisions. You say that you’re “in it to win it,” because that’s what you’re required or expected to say. You’ve been provoked to try to live up to a hype parade, or more commonly, to disprove naysayers. Unmonitored, that thought gradually displaces all its more patient, healthier, well-reasoned bedfellows. First, it forces your hand, and then your mind.

So in quieter moments of clarity, you look at what you have and you ask yourself, “okay, so what are we really trying to get out of this?”

Furious had a lot of rebuilding to do this fall. Only half of our 2013 roster returned for our 2014 championship bid. Of those, five players were just in their second season. We lost an enormous fraction of our core handling personnel like Cowan, Pottinger, Menzies, Loach and Yu. With the added departures of Morgan Hibbert and Andrew Lugsdin, the Angry Monkey even lost half its leadership, leaving two captains new to the job. The House of George had been gutted and renovations were under way.

Unfortunately, rebuilding is not a thing that can be rushed. It is a lugubrious, stepwise process, often involving a lot of trial and error. It can only happen one game at a time. And a period of two months — with elimination games interspersed among them — is a short window in which to accomplish that. When Lou Burruss opined that Furious George was in rough shape, he wasn’t lying. The question was how much we could improve in the time we had.

So, this is how we managed:
6-15 vs Johnny Bravo (5)
6-15 vs Ironside (4)
8-15 vs Chain Lightning (9)
9-15 vs Revolver (1)
11-15 vs Sockeye (3)
15-14 vs Prairie Fire (13)
15-11 vs Machine (2)

The USAU format always pits the #16 seed against the highest available seed at that stage of the competition. It is an unforgiving place to be, but if you want to play against elite teams, it affords you the opportunity most generously. Looking at the numbers, we were never well poised to win. A quarter-final appearance was not out of the question, but that required us to show up in a tempered, elite-level condition we just had not yet reached by that time. These, perhaps, are not what Furious genuinely needed to try to accomplish. But what we all needed, in our hearts and minds, was to show ourselves that we could continue building at this level. And by that measure, you can see the quiet successes.

Every game, without fail, we played better than the one previous. Our scores monotonically climb regardless of the seed or true caliber of our opponent. In our first two games, we were completely crushed. Against Chain, Revolver, and Sockeye (a team that had smashed us at Regionals), we finally summoned strong first halves and stayed even with our opponents. Against Prairie Fire, we turned around and repaired our second half with a last-minute comeback win. Against Machine, we finally pieced together a consistent, complete game. That the game happened to be for 13th place is really immaterial; because four weeks ago, who — in all honesty — would have picked Furious to win in a match against Chicago? Let the blogs say what they will in the aftermath; Machine is still a very good team, one we haven’t beaten in many years.

Maybe that’s not the story that most teams aspire to at the USA Ultimate National Championships. It does not suit conventional sports psychology nor the peanut gallery. But I won’t let them decide for me how to measure my club’s success. In 2014, we pulled together from the brink, and continued to improve in the middle of the most challenging tournament in the world. I’ll take it.

FG2014

*And critics love Furious George; we offer up a lot of fodder for criticism.

Alex Davis

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