The US Open was a special experience. We went to face seven elite teams, one after another with no breaks, byes, or buffers, in an international gauntlet of ultimate. The tournament was one of many revelations and surprises, not the least of which was just how much of a gauntlet it would be! By now our result has been made pretty public — standings-wise a disappointing 6th, but of the seven games, five were time-capped marathons decided by a single point, and of those, four went to universe (double game) point. We left with a firm statement that we can compete with every team at the pinnacle of our division, and perhaps more importantly, with a chip on our shoulder.
That said, purely as fans and supporters of our sport, there were many moments that caused us to step back and appreciate what a special experience this was.
For the leadership, it started during the application process way back in January. With 4 bids automatically granted to the top four US teams from US nationals, only 4 spots remained for other top US teams and international talent. We had a good resume, coming from Canada as its most recent champion, but our nationality became an issue since we technically could have qualified through the 2013 USAU series. Of course, we hadn’t taken that opportunity, and, boosted by an endorsement from Ultimate Canada, we were relieved and excited to receive an invitation.
For others, it began when we saw the official list of teams that would be present. This tournament was the most consistently competitive tournament many of us have ever, and may ever, attend. Chad Larson Experience, the mixed champion at the last WUCC, gave us our first taste of elite US club ultimate in 2013 when we sacrificed a late lead at Poultry Days to give them a hard fought win. AMP, whom we had only ever faced in tryout form, would this time be in form as a perennial contender at USAUs. Wild Card, an extremely athletic and skilled team, we had already faced twice this year — the first being a tough 13-9 loss and wake-up call at Boston Mixed Easterns, and the second, a nail-biting universe point win at Boston Invite. Rounding out the competition were The Ghosts, another WUCC-bound team who have been a superpower in the northeast for the past few years; a team from Colombia, unknown but could run systems very different from what we’re used to; and, oh yeah, last year’s two USAU finalists, Drag’N Thrust and Polar Bears.
Looking at our schedule — Day 1: CLX, Colombia, AMP; Day 2: The Ghosts, Wild Card, Drag’N Thrust; Day 3: Polar Bears — promised a grueling road that would be part whetstone and part crucible…
Organizationally, the US Open was as professional an event as we had attended. Nearly every game had a complement of orange-shirted, and let’s say ‘eager’, Observers. Every field was immaculately lined four times around — a white field perimeter, a dotted sideline players’ line, an equipment line, and finally a coloured flag line for fans and spectators. Each field was equipped with a sideline tent for each team. An ultimate development convention ran simultaneously for organizers of ultimate, highlighted by a keynote address that featured 4-time Olympic hockey medalist Jenny Potter. Even the player ID cards on the lanyards around our necks were of utmost professional quality. All of this was for good reason — 15 games were to be broadcast between NexGen and ESPN3; the US Olympic Committee, which operates like the Ministry of Sport in the US, had just officially recognized Ultimate as a sport; and CBS was in attendance to produce two prime-time TV segments on Ultimate. Needless to say, the fields sported lush grass, a flat grade, and soft soil. This was Ultimate, cresting through puberty and realising it was time to put on pants, get a haircut, and get a job.
When it came to game time, we’d like to to think that we weren’t quite firing on all cylinders on Day 1. But the confounding truth is that we played two top US teams that were hungry to prove that their missing out on WUCC bids was a mistake. Iowa’s CLX and Philly’s AMP were no joke. Elite teams have a way of diverting you from what has worked in the past, making you question your strengths, expose your weaknesses, and adapting to your game while being resilient in the face of your momentum. Both the CLX and AMP games went to universe point, and while both final points were rife with mistakes & heroics, turnovers & chances, we came out on the wrong side twice.
Sandwiched between was our game against the extremely speedy & elusive Colombian team, One to One. We carved out an early lead in that game, and while we couldn’t seem to break the game open, we carried our lead to the finish. 1-2 was a disappointing start to the tournament, but any two key moments flip our way and it could have been a 3-0 day.
Day 2 brought with it a new slate of competitors, and the added pressure that our results against these two Lecco-bound teams from Boston could have seeding implications at WUCC. The day began as we had imagined Day 1 could have ended — another two universe point games, but this time both were heart-stopping wins — first against the experienced The Ghosts, and then against what was turning into our comic book nemesis with our third meeting in three tournaments, Wild Card. At this point, with 4 universe point games in 5 matches, our minds were swirling with such thoughts as –
- are you kidding me?? this is a joke, right?
- no no no no not again no
- just another day at the universe-point office
- my poor heart
- why me?
- i am going to need medication
Thankfully, there is no medication quite like winning, and if our plan this year was to find mental adversity in order to persevere through it, we were getting our money’s worth. Not to mention the fact that we had more total minutes of game time than anyone else, so our team’s bargain-hunters and value-seekers were naturally thrilled.
The showcase game to close out Day 2 was nothing short of a disappointment. You could call it nerves, you could call it pressure, you could call it mental exhaustion. You could say that having set a clear precedent for universe point matches we suspected it might be inevitable.. without actually having to work for it. But Drag’N Thrust is the US Champion for a reason – they showed a smart game plan, a positive mindset, a fierce athleticism, and an implacable determination to make a statement that gave them an edge over and over again. We couldn’t help but have flashbacks of our lopsided finals loss at CUC 2012 at the hands of Odyssee, and will have to ensure that we similarly find and take the lessons to learn from the showcase match.
Our final game, on Day 3, still had playoff implications & like any ending, had the ability to shape our lingering thoughts of the tournament. Of course, any urgency from that thought, or any fire from the embarrassing loss to close out Day 2, were MIA at the game’s outset. It was a strong upwind/downwind field, but the Polar Bears gave us regular trouble scoring in any direction, showed an impressive ability to huck upwind, and served us an 8-2 halftime score. But with some strategy and line adjustments, mental fortitude, and reliance on the potent depth of our team, we started a slow change of momentum. 9-2 became 10-3, then 12-5. Then the dam burst — an unrelenting series of cohesive, energetic plays would nearly see us complete an incredible comeback, scoring the final point but just barely falling to the Bears 14-13. In an encouraging footnote, they would go on to win the tournament.
Despite all of this, despite the encouraging performances, the lessons learned, experiences shared, the heart-skipping moments, and the Mirror Maze, our biggest surprises and takeaways came when we returned home.
In talking to our friends, family, and community, we were overwhelmed first by how many of you knew about the tournament, and would ask about it. But far more than this, we were surprised to find how much you already knew, because you were with us, through twitter and boxscores, facebook and text messages. It was comforting and humbling and flattering and unexpected.
Echoing this, while we were gone our IndieGOGO campaign swelled generously. To date, we are at almost twice our original goal. We can’t thank you enough for your funding, your facebook shares & likes, and, let’s be honest, your interest in our swag.
It is one thing to know that we are going to Italy to represent the best of ultimate from our country and community. It’s another thing entirely to know that our country and community are behind us.
Come August 2nd, we will be ready, with fire in our legs and confidence on our minds and pride in our hearts.