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Washington Sectionals

Recaps, Tournaments

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One of the unexpectedly tiring parts of having a tournament every weekend is deciding what to say about them every Tuesday.

This past weekend, we played in the Washington Men’s Sectionals, looking to win a bid and earn a favourable seeding for the Northwest Regionals. Coming in as the number-one seed, we were favoured to win, but not by overwhelming odds.  Two years ago, in fact, Furious beat Blackfish in the semis by only a two-point margin after an eleventh-hour surge, and lost to Seattle’s Voodoo in the final. On the other hand, the turbulence of those sectionals (and that whole season) culminated in an exciting Regional contest, where we redeemed ourselves, overcame our rivals in freshly decisive fashion, and thus secured a bid to the National Championship! And a year before that, in a four-game series played in one afternoon, we split 2-2 against Seattle, by equal point margins.  In summary, you can never take victory for granted before it is earned. Judging from the small crowd gathered on our sideline for the Sectional final, there were plenty of people this weekend who wondered whether it would be Voodoo or Furious on top this time around.

We won,and by a healthy margin, but that isn’t the point. The point — the one we stressed all weekend — was to (i) earn our victories, (ii) playing on our own terms. Because when you’re setting up to become better, there is a valuable, calculable difference between just winning and winning well.

That is to say, win or lose, we wanted to hold ourselves to a high standard of personal excellence, exercising the skills and strategies we have committed to in practice. We wanted to force turnovers instead of waiting for them to come to us.  We wanted to practice plays and defensive sets to become better at them, to become better at facing difficulty, even if they weren’t necessarily the most efficient path to victory at the time.  We wanted clean, spacious endzone and midfield offenses, and to run them with sedulous conviction. We wanted to play with the same diligence, teamwork, and focus regardless of the score and the weather.

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Now, in ultimate, wind can act variously as equalizer or destabilizer, thinning or spreading the gap between teams, depending on its strength and direction (and the teams’ respective skill sets, of course). Owing to the nature of the wind (which appears to the reigning theme for our fall season this year), most of our early sectionals games tipped fairly easily to our favour. In inclement conditions, it can be very tempting to relax your focus and work ethic if you know that the other team is likely to turn over a throw sooner or later. And to be honest, we struggled to ignore that temptation.  By the end of Saturday, even our man-to-man defense began to look suspiciously like a zone — which can breed treacherous habits.  I wondered what would happen to us when we faced a team with strong throws in a moment of calm weather.

 

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Another element of Washington Sectionals is its pageant of, well, colourful characters.  For the previous two weeks, we had played teams with nothing but unconcealed ambition. Now we were playing against teams besparkled like a Richard Simmons beach party, and that contrast lays a tricky mental trap. HAM and Ghost Train, in particular, exemplify Seattle’s skill depth disguised as a tangle of irreverent, carefree oddballs.  Oddballs are dangerous, you see.  They are unorthodox, they play tactics you haven’t thought to practice, and they care too little about stifling little systems to notice the pressure you hope you’re applying.  Partly by accident, and partly by design, they expertly punish hubris and lapses of focus.

The genius of it is that everything about their culture invokes hubris and laxity in their opponents. They practically dare you to indulge a fantasy that the game will deliver itself into your waiting hands, singing all the while; but in a moment of inattention, they will take it from you. It was difficult not to fall prey to their wiles, and I think our focus fluttered; HAM in particular was able to notch many more points than we should have allowed, especially as the wind we had so recently used as a crutch promptly evaporated on Sunday morning.

So, with all of this context in place, there was a legitimate question of what mindset we would bring to our game against Voodoo. Would we raise the effort level and the discipline to meet theirs, or would we traipse in with an attitude of false entitlement? Win or lose, our weekend goal was being put to the test.

 

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I can proudly say that we executed our game plan for that match.  From start to finish, we maintained a desire to earn the disc.  That is not to say that we always played well; our offense was at times messy and confused, and we threw ample turnovers.  But we won well, because we did not allow tough times to affect our determination to keep at it.  When we made mistakes, we rarely surrendered to them, and we redoubled our efforts instead — exactly the attitude we have been trying to cultivate and our chief season objective.  It culminated in a 13-3 victory, marking a rare two halves of unwavering work ethic for us.

Win or lose, if we can bring that kind of commitment to Northwest Regionals next week, then we will call the season a success.

Alex Davis

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