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The Rebuilding

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Northwest Regionals Retrospective

One thing you learn in competition is that people construct narratives. Driven by some visceral need or superstition for meaning and context, players and spectators alike put stories to outcomes. We try to explain the complex (or complicate the simple), often through a mish-mash of fact and self-projection, but it’s a human habit, and a somewhat necessary one for a team. These stories provide a sense of identity, so as a captain, one of the most important of your duties is to share your narrative — the story as you see it.

On Sunday, Furious was eliminated at the Northwest Regionals qualifier, marking the first time we’ve missed the trip to the Championships since 2009. And if you’ll permit its leathery, armchairish tone, here is the story as I see it….

2009 was a rebuilding year incomparable in depth in Furious history. It was a year in which the old guard, seriously considering retirement for the better, first undertook the groan-worthy task of training an almost completely new generation of players. With over 50% turnover in the roster, the Monkey’s chemistry was clunky at best (and totally inert at worst), but we worked hard. It was a long grind, and we chalked up a lot of losses, but we still skirted the outside chance of making it to Sarasota. But after a season of weaving with San Francisco’s Jam, we ultimately lost to them in the backdoor game of the Northwest Regionals.

In 2010 and 2011, we gained new momentum, and reasserted ourselves among the elite (albeit inconsistently). Furious reappeared in Sarasota and even did some damage, upsetting teams and causing some notoriously absurd ties. We eliminated Rhino and Sockeye from the Northwest bids (of “Chasing Sarasota” infamy), and we defeated GOAT at nationals to gain control of the national team programme. The future looked bright.

What followed next was a flurry of high-octane and pressured years. The rebuilding paused, if not suffocated. 2012 was sacrificed on the altar of the world championships, and that year was dedicated to recruiting and hardening a national team. In 2013, a combination of the U23 and World Games championships concurrently gutted our roster. The introduction of the MLU to Vancouver offered more competition, but one in which every single weekend counted, and Furious proper did not even launch until mid-July. Even though there was an influx of rookies, hardly any real team development took place, as everything became focused on what was immediately in front of our eyes.
2014 spelled a similar story, with another world championship (WUCC) on our plates, and a slew of personnel losses thereafter. We were stuck in top gear, always trying to go our fastest, but unable to pick up speed.

Some people lamented that Furious had been rebuilding for years, but I never really accepted that. Rebuilding is not an accident, nor is it the biding of one’s time until the next heroic phenom shows up at tryouts. “Rebuilding” implies a deliberate, mindful, ordered application of work: the laying of sound foundations and the shoring up of walls. We worked furiously, but not on the foundations or fundamentals. You cannot spare time for conditioning if you always need to be running at your fastest. You cannot be working on plays or complicated defenses at the same time as basic throws, cuts, and positioning. “Rebuilding” requires sacrifice; you have to be willing to not be your best in order to become better.

It is a truth that is exceptionally difficult to carry through, especially in an environment where every moment of competition now counts for something.

We did not truly resume rebuilding until last fall. And between last fall and now, Furious has improved by leaps and bounds. In August of 2014, we spent a month developing our resets just so that they seemed less like an Indiana Jones adventure. I am relieved to say I no longer need a sedative to watch our O-line dump and swing the disc. But the work is far from over. In August of 2015, we spent a month developing hucks and strikes so that we could maybe score in fewer than 20 passes. We are getting better, but we’re still sharpening our tools.

At Northwest Regionals this year, Furious finished a very decisive third, faithful to the seedings. It would be easy to focus on our losses to Sockeye and Rhino, because these are teams we need to beat to meet our goals. But those are long-term goals, and you cannot allow your losses to distract you from your victories. Furious needed to play well to get to the second-place game versus Seattle, and we did. We did not play extraordinarily, and we did not crush our opponents but we worked very hard and we played well, with resilience.

A fact that often goes understated is that our opponents are good at ultimate, and they are also getting better. Utah’s Powderhogs are not pushovers. They play a cavalier, when-in-doubt-shoot style of ultimate with a precision and success rate that repeatedly stunned our defense. Warchild likewise continues to climb the rungs, this year adding a seasoned patience to their long game. And I recall Darkstar’s lull when the team was a complete non-entity, but now they are winning upsets and carrying themselves into the elimination round in an even tighter tournament format. And once upon a time, the regional champions, Rhino, were our perennial runners-up. Whilst we’re rebuilding, we are also fighting off these up-and-comers, and they are putting us through our paces. That is not a shame, because they are genuinely good at what they do, even if the world does not know it yet. We had to earn our wins against them, and we should never take for granted the wins we have to earn on the way up the ladder.

So, in 2015, the Angry Monkey came up short. But we worked hard, we developed new strength, and we went most of the way. People will say — maybe even in criticism — that Furious is “still rebuilding.” That is fine. That is the truth. Rebuilding is effortful, structured, and mindful of the future. That is how I like people to think of Furious.

Tonight, we are voluntarily practicing. Why not? There is a lot of rebuilding to do, and the people we want to beat aren’t taking a day off.

Alex Davis

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