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Nationals & Canadian Thanksgiving

Recaps, Tournaments
photo credit: NKolakovic

photo credit: NKolakovic

The Year of the Monkey Comes to an End in Rockford

Even with the season at its close, under an avalanche neglected work and errands, I did not think I would find the time to write this post.  I rationalized putting it off, or even skipping it entirely. After all, I am not obligated to write. Nobody pays me to write.  There is no gun to my head, let alone some kind of reward. But like the sport itself, this act of reflection becomes such an entrenched habit that it feels like an unquestioned duty. It persists; it gnaws at the mind, and like the first Tuesday night without practice, not doing it felt like an eerie quiet. It seemed like such a pity too (in light of so many past seasons misspent writing what now feel like apologies to ghosts),  when I know what I’d write, to forego this little ceremony for a season of progress.

Coincidentally, the universe agreed. When a transformer exploded at my laboratory (seriously, not my fault), leaving any kind of real work quite impossible (for us and most of the city block, in fact), the opportunity beckoned. So here I am, putting the seal of closure on our twenty-second season, the Year of the Monkey.

First, the tournament itself: the USA Ultimate National Championship in Rockford, Illinois. Continuing our love affair with the Midwest this season, it was fitting enough that we should finish it in Illinois. And if ever there was a town in need of a fresh Spirit of the Game injection, it would be Rockford, the second-most dangerous city under 200,000 in the United States.

We opened against Chicago’s Machine in 30km/hr winds, and under a strict directive not to turn over the disc anywhere near our endzone, under any circumstances. Nobody expects the 16th seed to upset the 5th, but in the first game of the tournament, in strong wind, stranger things can happen, and I would argue they nearly did.  Upwind breaks are worth two points each in a stiff, lengthwise breeze, and that is what determined the final score.  But we played well in this game; we competed and we kept focus, and just a few instances of bad luck and extraordinary plays tilted the outcome in Chicago’s favour.

The game against Colorado’s Johnny Bravo represented a comparative lull.  We initially competed against Bravo, perhaps for the first third of the game.  After that, our diligence just lapsed, maybe out of frustration, or maybe out of an over-eagerness.  But the truth is that Bravo made some excellent throws, and we fell into a trap of trying to one-up them at their game.  We stopped settling good opportunities, and we tried beating the odds with difficult throws.  Under that discouraging trend, we slipped into a mentality of going through the motions without genuinely fighting for supremacy.

Here is where we got lucky. By a trick of the seedings and the tournament format, Furious (16) and Texas’ H.I.P (9) landed in the same pool. Of all the teams gathered, H.I.P was likeliest to re-ignite the Angry Monkey’s competitive temper.  With two prior match-ups in our regular season, Furious was tired beyond measure of losing to H.I.P’s carefree, uniquely unorthodox circus-style of offense. And fortunately, you tend to learn a lot more about your enemy by losing to them than by beating them. You know what needs to change; they don’t know what your changes will be. We had learned from H.I.P.; we had spent two weeks practicing some of their own throws and imitating their own cuts. We drafted a new defensive scheme and it was the first they had seen of it. And it worked.

Having upset H.I.P., our luck carried us further, because stealing the ninth seed therefore pitted us against the eighth seed, PoNY, in the pre-quarters. Now, as it happens, Furious and PoNY have not crossed swords in a long time.  On opposite coasts and in different Flights, we don’t even occupy the same ecosystems. But, we held the benefit of some second-hand scouting reports from GOAT, and the advantage of knowing the field where we would play and the behaviour of the wind there.  And as luck would have it, Toronto’s brief sketch of PoNY’s preferred offense almost fit like a key into the zone template we had drawn up for Texas. Everything came together as if by fate, and Furious flew out of the gates, taking New York by surprise.

A victory put Furious George in the quarter-finals — for the first time in a decade, in fact. Even more than just breaking seed, we had somehow broken a ten-year streak. I choose to dwell on this for a moment, because its implications are instructive to me, and hopefully, to those who will come after. Because I vividly remember the five-year span of 2010-2014, the unrelenting, self-imposed pressures, the scramble to claw our way into the championships, the desperation to break into quarters. I remember the stress in the pit of my stomach, and the disappointments measured by double-digit numbers – 10th, 13th, 14th….

There is noticeable irony that we should achieve a breakthrough result in a year where we stressed our disregard for results. Furious did not even earn a bid for the Northwest this year.  There was no reason to think we would make it out of the Northwest and qualify for the championship. There was no reason to think we would upset anybody. There was certainly no reason to think we would clear a long-standing hurdle like the quarter-finals. Point being, there was no reason to expect such results, and no good reason to focus on them. It was a struggle, but we had to learn to care less about the numbers.

Like cats, the numbers came when we cared about them the least. Previously, when we focused solely on results, we gradually lost sight of how to actually achieve them. When we focused purely on our own play, results came unsolicited.

But, now we must remind ourselves that what happened here is neither magic, nor vindication. Yes, Furious grew this year.  We made strides as a team, and by a combination of those strides, some good turns of luck, and some good execution when it counted most, we won a few games, and we landed where we did.  But as I previously cautioned, that is not success — that is a temptation masquerading as success. Real success is still to come, and we have to see this for what it is — a nice stop on the side of a very long road.  We don’t walk this road because we’re looking for good places to stop; we do it because we value the walk itself.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll see you at tryouts.



Alex Davis

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