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The Ninth Title: CUC Summary

Recaps, Tournaments

UltiPhotos: Finals Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_sunday-695
When You Play Badly Hard Enough, Good Things Can Still Happen

Furious George showed up on Thursday at the national championships with 12 players and our work cut out for us.

When you play for a club like Furious, it doesn’t take long to realize you’ve signed up for near-relentless stress and fatigue.  You inherit everything both good and bad, for better or for worse.  You gain the uniform, which is nice (since you probably worked for it), but you also inherit a history, and you’re measured against it again and again. You never really feel as if you’re playing for yourself or for personal gain — you’re playing out of a nebulous sense of obligation to something or someone else.

All that said, at this particular one tournament, the name of Furious George happens to carry a rare winning streak — the distinction of having never lost a game at the Canadian Ultimate Championships.  And knowing that, the awareness of tradition weighs on you.  It demands caution and vigilance.  With a tradition like that, nobody wants to drop the ball. And in that nervous light, it would be very tempting never to set foot in CUCs without a 28-man roster of rested all-stars, just to feel safe.  But this year, in spite of any and all hardships, we promised to make a run at another national title.  We signed on as Furious George, adding to the Monkey’s name, or accepting its first defeat.

Mostly broke, broken, and emotionally tired, Furious showed up with 12 bodies with the promise of another ~3 reinforcements on Saturday.  It was a gamble, of course.  We needed everyone to play well, every game.  And even though we all know we’re capable of that, I still had a sense that we were walking yet another fine rope.  It always feels that way.

As mentioned previously, our goal entering the tournament was to play as efficiently as possible. This meant investing effort surgically; cutting hard, managing space, playing intelligent defense, taking smart chances and balancing conservation and attack. On the whole, I think we accomplished this goal in two-thirds of our games.

UltiPhotos: Thursday Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_cuc2012-239

Where we typically faltered was after bye rounds and breaks. The schedule was structured for us such that for the first three days, we would always face our strongest opponent of the day after a bye. And although this schedule is so arranged for the top seed’s benefit, I think we routinely walked away with the wrong lessons and habits. Regardless of the reasons, we typically started our afternoon games huck-happy and happy-go-lucky, and a little confused-looking when flinging the disc into the endzone didn’t score goals. Nevertheless, we somehow always recovered and kept advancing:

THURSDAY (tournament pictures)
vs The Ghosts (15-4)
vs The Phantoms (15-1)
vs Too Bad (15-4)

FRIDAY (tournament pictures)
vs Mephisto (15-9)
vs Sofa Kings (15-2)
vs General Strike (15-8)

SATURDAY (tournament pictures)
vs Grand Trunk (15-3)
vs The Ghosts (15-6)

UltiPhotos: Friday Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_Friday-916


Oh, boy. Where did we first go wrong?

Maybe we prepared and warmed up inadequately.  Maybe on the fourth day of competition, we were finally showing fatigue.  Maybe the stadium wind was just enough to play havoc with our expectations.  Whatever our failure (if any), Furious George opened very shakily against Winnipeg’s General Strike.

We genuinely struggled on offense, in nearly every respect.  Our cuts looked slower and predictable.  Our throws looked either nervous or inaccurate.  We misread the disc on what seemed like almost every huck.  Somehow, we contrived to gain a 5-2 lead over Winnipeg, and I honestly thought it was just a matter of minutes before we shook off whatever cobwebs were clouding us.  I thought a well-oiled machine would emerge and dominate the rest of the game.  It didn’t. In fact, they pounced on us.

Maybe we imploded on our own; maybe Winnipeg caught us off-guard. I would submit that good defense has a mysterious way of making offenses look unusually sloppy.  Good defense applies unfamiliar pressure, and makes what should be easy seem surprisingly difficult.  It forces errors, but it also breeds unforced errors. When it happens to you, it feels like an acute case of sudden-onset myopia. You question the fundamentals, and all the obvious, easy exits suddenly seem ineffably more difficult. Errors accumulate, they prove costly, and that feedback just reinforces the sense of doubt.  Ironically, I think we had done exactly that to half a dozen teams over the last three days, and now suddenly it looked as though the tables had turned.

UltiPhotos: Finals Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_sunday-330

Winnipeg was covering our long game, and in spite of that, we kept struggling to make it work, and we suffered a shortage of miracles to make up for it.   It was an exercise in frustration.  We replaced intelligence with determination and we substituted daring in for calculated risk. The errors accumulated, and Strike cheerfully profited on our misfires all over the field.  Led by Mark Lloyd and a relaxed, savvy set of handlers, Winnipeg began rhythmically building up a damning lead on us.

They broke us again for half, and then capitalized on the subsequent O-point to gain a 9-6 advantage.  Even then, I thought the turning point was upon us; that we would surge ahead on a comeback run the way we always do.  But then Winnipeg was reading us so fluidly and we were so electrified that we began throwing into poaches.  At a score 0f 8-13 in a game to 15, General Strike was having a field day with us.  They had, after all, just smashed us with a lopsided run of 11-3.

UltiPhotos: Finals Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_sunday-468

Faced with imminent defeat, our offense finally calmed, and we sought out the easy avenues.  We dribbled the disc through resets; we looked for safer throws.  And when we really needed someone to step up, someone would emerge for a big play.  Hibbert hauled down a high, arching forehand huck, and the scene suddenly looked eerily familiar.  The score was 10-13.  We had been here before, against Rhino, Subzero, Sockeye, and in a stadium just like this — on a play just like this — against GOAT one year prior.  This was old territory for Furious-the-Underdog, and I think at that point we crept back into our comfort zone — a place of controlled rage where everyone on our team plays their best.

The score inched closer to disaster at 11-14, but the comeback run began in earnest. A little bit of luck here and there, combined with an urgent unwillingness to fail afforded us a few precious opportunities to earn back our points. A huck was dropped; another was blocked. We tied up the scores at 14-14, and it was like stepping back into the light and starting anew. The last point of the game saw Furious play patient, possession-oriented offense, dumping and swinging the disc nearer and nearer the endzone. The cutters were tired, and Winnipeg made a firm last stand, but the disc inched inevitably closer, until at last Norris toed the goal line on a quick snap. And that was it: 16-14.

UltiPhotos: Finals Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_sunday-560

After the game, a commentator asked me how I thought the Winnipeg players must feel. I have no doubts. Few of us who are serious about ultimate will escape that kind of agony — the agony of being within inches of the sought-after, all-consuming, dreamt-of prize. I have nothing but the firmest sympathy for anyone in that position. And I take no pleasure in seeing them thrust there, knowing my part in that. But in the other hand, I have to carry the inherited tradition that I cannot, must not fail. And I am equally certain of how terrible I’d feel if our positions had been reversed. I wish we did not have to choose one or the other. Well played, Strike. At least we put on a good show.

UltiPhotos: Finals Preview -- CUC 2012 &emdash; jbp_CUC2012_sunday-604

Alex Davis

3 Responses to “The Ninth Title: CUC Summary”

  1. Nexert Says:

    Holy cow do you love to hear yourself talk. This could have been half the length, without the hyperbole and given a better message. My goodness.

  2. adavis Says:

    We strive to write these summaries largely for the reader’s entertainment and enjoyment. Thanks for the feedback; we’ll try to improve our writing.

  3. James Says:

    Hey Nexert, no one said you HAD to read it… If it’s too long, skim. It was a pretty awesome game to watch and I enjoyed the inside story.