Beach Diaries, Mixed (Regnier) 8/27/11

Posted: September 2, 2011 11:31 AM

Final Thoughts

Friday, 10 AM, Quarterfinals: USA 13, Poland 5

I don’t remember much about this game, other than that I thought the Poles were awesome.  They were hugely spirited and played incredibly hard.  Once again the story was the combination of efficient offense and intimidating defense.  We decided early in the week that we were going to challenge every under throw and force teams to beat us with pinpoint deep shots.  This only worked because we had very strong marks, which really minimized the number of break-mark deep shots.  

Friday, 5 PM, Semifinals: USA 13, Portugal 2

We caught a bit of a break in this one.  After our Poland game ended, we turned around to watch the quarterfinal behind us – Portugal vs. Switzerland – the outcome of which would determine our semifinal opponent.  The game was capped at 11-5 Portugal (I believe)… and then never ended.  Switzerland scored five straight points to bring it to 11-10, and then came the hell point of all hell points.  With both teams out of time-outs, this point featured double-digit turnovers; during the point, I saw one player catch a disc with a fall/bid, then take upwards of five seconds to stand up.  These guys were TIRED.

The point is, after their dramatic win (also a big upset, as the Swiss went 9-1 in their pool and looked very good all week) the Portuguese just didn’t have much left in the tank.  We took the field with a lot of intensity (we were pretty pumped for our bracket games) and ran out to a 4-0 lead; at that point, it was pretty much over.  The Portuguese were a prototypical unpredictable team.  Their reliance on very fast, athletic guys made them both capable of huge plays and of struggling if their main throwers were shut down – so we decided to shut them down. 

After our win, we started to get pumped/nervous for the finals, with several of us having weird dreams on Saturday night; in particular, Lisa and I both dreamed about playing Ultimate against non-Ultimate players; Lisa dreamed that we were getting destroyed by a German family in which the mom was a dominant handler, and I dreamed that I was playing Ultimate in a living room during a potluck dinner party – though I eventually stormed off the ‘field’ after an older woman insisted on picking up the disc after a turn.  In other news, I don’t think it’s healthy to obsessively play intense Ultimate for six days in a row.  

Every day of the tournament until Saturday was essentially the same.  85-90 degrees, very little breeze, not a cloud in the sky.  Of course, Saturday was windy and cloudy and confusing.  Walking to the arena, I had a couple distinct thoughts 

  1. I reminded myself that, by and large, the team that wins is the team that deserves to win.  I truly believe that the majority of games are won in preparation, before either team ever steps on the field. 
  2. I thought of how happy it makes me to be able to wear a Team USA jersey.  There is a peculiar joy to those passions which are inherent, illogical, and ingrained, and national pride is one of those passions.  I can’t tell you why it means so much; that’s one of the reasons it means so much. 
  3. I sang “I’m Proud to be an American,” my Potlatch team’s (Schmidt’s and Sliiiiiide) favorite drinking song, repeatedly to make myself laugh and keep myself loose.

We got there in time to watch the Master’s win.  Woot our Master’s team.  Warm-up was weird because of the wind and, especially, the cold.  We have not warmed up much this week because, with the heat as stifling as it was, once you ran three or four plyos you had enough sweat pouring down your face.  I was in charge of warm-ups for the week, so I tried to get everyone warm without sacrificing game-time prep. 

Game starts.  We’re nervous, making a number of mistakes on the first point and allowing the Germans to score an up-winder and negating the advantage we had gained by winning the flip and choosing the wind. 

The Germans almost immediately break us going downwind.  2-0, and the crowd is pumped for this German team (more on this later). 
Re-watching this game later, what stands out to me is the defense.  It’s extremely intense on both sides, making open-side in cuts almost non-existent in the first few points and showing why these two teams made it to the finals – only to be met by a team that plays D just as hard. 

We held serve for a few points, bringing it back to 3-2, but then the Germans go on a three point run by capitalizing some uncharacteristic mistakes that we made – which were admittedly forced by great German D.

6-2. In a 45 minute game.  Against a confident, undefeated team that’s still hurting from a gold medal game four years before which they led to the end – only to surrender a late run, and the title, to the US team.  We call time-out.

I wish I could tell you that there was some magical formula of words that led us out of the abyss.  Instead, Steve told us to look into each other’s eyes and check in with each other; Greg reminded us to do what we had done all week.  We remembered our confidence and forgot about the score.

We went out and scored a down-wind O point.  Nice and easy.  6-3 – which suddenly doesn’t sound so bad. 
The Germans miss two streaking deep cutters, either shot may have ended the game.  Greg finds Erol in the middle of the end zone with a tailing up-wind shot.  6-4.  The Russian is cut!
We play stellar D.  The Germans drop an in-cut, we put it in.  6-5.  Now the Germans are nervous.

We pull.  June gets a ridiculous layout D on the end zone.  Again, we walk it in. 6-6.  This is our game. 

Germany’s going up-wind again.  They miss a swing near their own end zone; we punch it in.  7-6 – and we have the lead.
We sit the unders and force yet another deep turn; Tyler throws a huck down the right side which, given the wind (pushing into his face and to the sideline) and the situation was one of the best throws I’ve ever seen.  8-6.

At this point, the Germans regroup.  After we fail to convert on several opportunities, they score on O to make it 8-7, helping regain their confidence by scoring up-wind, and then break us for 8-8.  Time is called during the point; the game will be decided on double game point. 

Luckily, we decide not to drag this one out; Sally Mimms makes a ridiculous layout grab on the near sideline, then takes advantage of a poach to find Adam Raty in the back of the end zone.  Exhilaration.  Celebration.  Relief.

The Germans mirror our emotions with understandable devastation, then somehow find the energy to sing us a song and have a dance party with us within five minutes.  I can’t understand how that’s possible, but it shows why the Germans won the spirit award for the tournament; they were an incredible team, both on and off the field.  Kudos. 

Afterwards we took pictures with the rest of the US teams, wrestled goofily on the field in celebration, took over a wonderfully understanding restaurant with our reservation for fifty, and danced until the early morning.  It wasn’t everyone’s first world championship, but it was mine – and I was determined to enjoy it.

As for my team, I never thought that I could become so close with a group of people in only a week.  We were 16 players who knew their roles, and played with an intensity and respect for their teammates and opponents that made each and every game enjoyable; nobody ever took a game off, or a point off, or relaxed while their teammates finished out a win.  No matter the score, we supported each other – and nobody missed a moment to LOAD UP. 

A few other thoughts on the week as a whole:

1.     International Spirit:
This was the most spirited tournament I’ve ever been to.  By and large the teams were gracious, welcoming, and friendly; I found myself introducing myself to players on other teams more than I ever had before.  We gave a ton of high spirit scores early in the week, then were confused to see how much lower people were ranking those same teams.  Then it hit us; the Europeans grade spirit on a curve, giving 10’s and 12’s where we give 16’s and 18’s.  Good spirit is not a bonus; it’s expected.  Just being in that environment inspired me to pursue spirit even more strongly when I returned to the US.  

2.     Arena Game Atmosphere:

The arena games had great energy, with fans often filling both sets of bleachers and cheering throughout the games.  Unfortunately, with a few exceptions (shout-outs to India’s Open team and the French Women’s dreadlocked handler!) everyone – and I mean everyone – was rooting against the US.  And they should be, considering how we used our greater resources and talent base to win five of the six divisions.  I understand that everyone loves to root for underdogs; it’s how I choose the team I’m rooting for in almost every Ultimate final that I watch.  Nobody, except Yankees fans, likes rooting for the Yankees.  For the moment, the US is the big bad wolf, and must accept that they aren’t going to get a lot of sympathy during big games.

At the same time, venom was often directed at US teams in ways that I can only describe as unspirited.  I hesitate to write this, given how incredible the spirit was the rest of the week, but the truth is that the routine booing that followed US calls carried with it the implication being that the US was trying to cheat on some level.  As a team with consistently above-average spirit scores, trying to come back from a huge deficit, you might think we would get the benefit of the doubt, but we did not.

Again, I understand why fans root against the US; at the same time, I can’t remember a single call by any other nation that was boo’ed during the seven games I watched at the arena.  Even during the US-Canada Women’s final, which was admittedly ugly and featured a multitude of calls on both sides, the crowd chose to punish only the Americans. 

I don’t know if there’s a solution to this problem; I don’t know if there’s even a problem, because it’s possible that I’m being overly sensitive.  What I do know is that it was the overwhelming spirit of every team that we played that made those arena games stand out in such stark contrast.  I loved just about every team we played, and for the most part they loved us.  In the end, maybe it’s just a consequence of distance; when we could see each other’s faces, we saw the humanity in one another.  In the arena, all the crowd could see was another American team hell-bent on winning at all costs; all I could see was a faceless mass that wanted nothing more for us to fail.  Fortunately, in my memory it’s the faces that win out.  

3.     International Rules and Game Play:
There was a consistent undercurrent regarding spirit and contact that ran through our entire week.  The discussion centered around an old question in Ultimate circles: just how much contact is appropriate?

In general, the international style is much less physical than the North American (sorry, Canada, you’re with us) style.  By and large, it was refreshing to play Ultimate at this tournament with such a large group of great athletes that take the sanctity of the game so seriously; after all, Ultimate was created as a non-contact sport. 

At the same time, contact is going to happen.  Though I could never condone holding or restraining another player, or indiscriminately crashing into them in order to get to a hanging disc, the most common collision in Ultimate is one that, in my mind, is not unspirited; it occurs when two players, playing to the height of their abilities, both attack the same space at the same time. It’s in fighting for these spaces, which each player has an equal right to, that competition is at its fiercest and most enjoyable. 

At the same time, it took playing in a tournament abroad to realize how out-of-control marking fouls have gotten in the US.  By and large, I’ve always subscribed to the opinion that fouling on the mark is a risk with benefits for both sides.  The defense can disrupt flow and force the occasional turn, while the offense can draw a multitude of free throws and reset their stalls to zero if they are smart enough to throw through these fouls. 

Only with a heightened sensitivity to these issues (we were often worried that we would offend other teams with our play) did I realize how much better the game would be if we could cut down on marking fouls.  Early-count marking fouls allow the defense to manipulate the rules and often ruin beautiful and hard-earned offensive flow.  Repeated calls on the mark also disrupt the rhythm of the game and make it ugly to watch – not exactly what all of us, as ambassadors of the sport, hope to convey to the world. 

This is a deeply rooted problem in the US game, especially in Club and College Open, where players are explicitly taught to foul on the mark.  We could all benefit from taking a step back, both literally and figuratively, and deciding what it is that we love about this game – and how we can do our small part to help make those aspects of the game flourish.

4.     Thanks:
I have to thank the following people: all the volunteers at the WBCU, all of my teammates, both on my team and all of the US teams, USA Ultimate, Five Ultimate, and all of our supporters back home.   This was the most rewarding experience of my Ultimate career, and I’m really happy to have gotten the opportunity to share it with all of you.  Thanks to all. 

Team USA Beach Diaries

Some members of Team USA will be submitting diary entries during the event to keep everyone posted on their experience in Italy.

  Grand Masters
Mixed Masters