Friday, November 07, 2008

Jim’s Nationals report

Once again, this year’s Nationals is not like any other Nationals.

I wrote just prior to the event, exaggerating only a little, that 0-3 was a distinct possibility for our first day. I did believe that it was going to be a fight to get into quarters in a decent position (good seed or not exhausted). Our team was thin in numbers (18 players on Saturday, swelling to 20 for the rest of the tournament, minus injuries) and in talent (missing a lot of big names from Worlds and last year’s Nationals), and our performance earlier in the year (Worlds notwithstanding) was decidedly poorer than the previous year. In 2007, at Boston Invite we had a play-in to make top 8, then lost a one-pointer in the 9th place semis bracket; in 2008, we lost a play-in to make the second 8, and ambled to a 17th place finish. In 2007, at Sectionals, we lost a one-pointer to make the finals; in 2008, we finished 6th. In short, no matter how you looked at it, we were significantly worse than we were in 2007, when we battled to win it all.

But when the games started, this was not at all the case. We started off against Madison’s Old Style (#2 from the Central), which had beaten Surly in pool play at Regionals. We broke with tradition and insisted everyone get there early, to run a huck drill at 9:05 (game at 9:30) and then some endzone scrimmaging prior to the game. On offense, I made it a point to treat this game as an elimination game, and our offense came out and scored the first several times we got the disc. Before we knew it, we were cruising in for a 15-4 victory. “Huh,” I thought.

Next up was Miami’s Anejo (#2 from the South), with some of the old Refugees and some younger guys who apparently inherited their marking habits. This was a key game, we all thought, as a win would put us in good shape to be able to lose to one or both of the regional winners and still be in good position to run the table at the end. But they kept dropping the disc, and before we knew it, it was 8-0 at the half. They finally scored and mock celebrated, but the 15-4 final score was a good indication of the game. “Wow,” I thought, “these teams really suck.” To be fair to my team, we were playing solidly. Our O hadn’t been broken in 10 attempts (with only a couple turnovers even), and our D was converting their opportunities fairly efficiently. DoG’s best performances historically came when the O and D did their basic responsibilities (score and get turnovers, respectively) well but not historically so, but the D managed to convert their turnovers at a high rate.

With some room under our belts, we knew we could lose our next game to Troubled Past (#1 from the NW) without forcing us into any must-win games. They appeared to have about the same team as last year, when we beat them by 1 in pool play and 2 in the semi. But once again, they made mistakes and we didn’t, and it was soon 5-1 in our favor. I think at this point they backed off and conceded the game. (There was one point in here that one of our new guys came up to me and apologized for that last point. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he said he was getting into it with one of their players. “Which one, #3 or #77?” I asked him. “Don’t bother with them, that’s what they do.” But in fact #3 (my old friend Aaron) was not playing that game at all this year.) We continued to roll, although the O finally got broken at game point and then survived a multi-turnover point to avoid getting broken a second time (I was rooting for either team to score at some point as I just wanted to get off the field and not wear myself out). 15-8.

We had clinched a spot in the quarters and were already calculating necessary point differentials and tie-breakers. Our first opponent on Friday was Philly’s OLDSAG (One Last Ditch Shot At Glory, for about the fifth year in a row), who had surprisingly lost to Denver’s Double Black (SW #2) on Thursday at double game point. It was a little windier this day. OLDSAG didn’t play that well, and we rolled them 15-8. Somewhere late in the first half, I developed a big knot in my calf and removed myself. I went off wandering around looking for treatment, stopping at the Ironside tent first (Russ couldn’t take me), then to the Frisbee central (no massage until 1, just a tape guy, who told me to stretch it), then back to the field eventually. Coop’s wife Amy, who is a massage therapist also, worked me over after the game a little, and spread out the pain from a single spot to a much wider area.

Our final opponent had rendered this contest meaningless for us by getting smoked by Anejo in the morning game. They needed to beat us to qualify, but we had clinched first place. I thus planned to take the game off, but with our small numbers, when we began struggling, I got into the game, first as a fill, then more actively as the game continued to be close. We just don’t think it’s a good idea to blow games before the elimination rounds start. I think it was during this round that Mooney hucked a backhand upwind to me right over my head. I couldn’t pick it up at first, and when I finally tracked it, it started to fade away quickly and I just watched it hit. Hall of Famer Danny Weiss thought this a good chance to heckle me, so he did. Some Miami guys were also walking by and joined in, and all reminded me later when they saw me again. (In the second half of the Miami game the day before, as we lined up, I saw my wife in the far endzone walking away from the field. I yelled down to her right past our opponents, “HEY JACKIE! I’M CUTTING DEEP THIS POINT! GET A PICTURE!” They came down in some odd form of junk and left me uncovered, so I ran deep. The throw was perfect for a picture, and as I was chasing it down I saw Jackie 15 yards in front of me with her camera, but it was just too far to even make a bid, knowing that if I knew it was gratuitous I would hurt myself. So the Miami guys heckled me, “if you were 33, you would have caught it.” I replied that 41 would have been enough. I also threw into a poach which I saw but didn’t bother to care about. Those two plays seemed to make their day.) So I played a few more points, and we had our closest game of the tournament, 15-11.

After a brief break came quarters against Seattle’s Throwback (#2 from the NW) , which had backed into the quarters through a) beating Mileage which was resting their players and b) Old and In The Way losing a DGP game to Chesapeaked when they had the disc downwind at least twice to win. The win had picked up a bit so it looked like it might be an upwind/downwind game. We had the choice of sides, but Alex wanted to start going upwind for some reason. I felt this was a dumb idea, giving away the advantage like that, but he insisted, so I continued to humor him and let him choose side. Both teams scored downwind the first two points, and I started to worry. But then we broke them upwind, and downwind, and maybe upwind again. Before too long, the game was safely in hand. During the game, one of their players came up to me and said, “I’m from Alaska, and we were talking about Sarah Palin last night, and your name came up. Is it true that you’re a Republican?” I laughed, and said, “No, although I vote that way every election. I used to vote libertarian, but they’re wacko and soft on terror. I just dislike the Democrats more than I dislike the Republicans. Maybe that’s just because everyone in Frisbee and Massachusetts is a Democrat.”

Thus we found ourselves in the semis once again. This year, the pools went about to seed, and the higher seeds all won their quarterfinals, none of them all that close. We drew Mileage (S #1), who had been rolled by Throwback 15-7 in their final pool play game. We knew they had two big receivers and one guy who wanted to throw deep. We had lost Dennis to a hamstring pull in the final pool play game (he said it was the first time all weekend he had run hard for more than 3 steps), Simon was available only for limited use, and my calf was sore enough to limit me a little. Alex insisted again on letting them start with the disc going downwind, and they got two easy hucks for goals. We also moved the disc down fairly easily, although they were running a poachy defense. I may have outsmarted myself here, as I decided to try to counter this before it was effective, and went to an alternative play (catch-hitch-back to catch) on the next point. But then the pull was short and it messed up the timing anyway, and we had to scramble. I hucked a low pass, and Coop tried to intercept it before a defender had a chance at it, and it bounced off his hand, break for them. We tried the catch-hitch-catch again the next point, I think, but this time the pull was too long and it again broke the timing. Our stack didn’t adjust and we found ourselves too far downfield, and a forced pass later, they had the disc and quickly punched it again. After yet another misthrow and break, we finally got back on the board with our first upwinder. We really needed a downwinder here from the D, but they couldn’t muster a turnover on that point or the next and so we traded out to an 8-4 halftime deficit. We had one chance to seize the momentum shift in the second half, after our D finally got a break and again had the disc going downwind, but an errant huck spoiled it. We may have gotten broken again on the ensuing upwinder, and that was pretty much it, barring a miracle comeback. No turnovers for Mileage in the first half, and not a lot in the second half, either. They made the plays, created the breaks when they needed them, and we did neither. Not that we invested a ton of effort into the season, and we had awfully low expectations coming into the tournament, but it is still disappointing to go out like that. Especially when the team that beat us rolled over in the finals.

After drinking beer for a few hours at the field, I headed back to Siesta Key to get ready for the Hall of Fame banquet. I had done some work in coordinating the Open Peer Review group in prior years and so wanted a chance to meet up with some of them (some such as Mooney and Sholom Simon I have known for years, others I’ve really only dealt with through email). The banquet was a good blend of milling and listening. The presentation lasted about 90 minutes out of 4 hours allocated for the event. First Mooney presented a slide slow of ultimate then and now. There were some other generic speeches, then came the honoring of the inductees. Rob “Nob” Rauch, the other emcee, announced that individuals would not get a chance to speak but rather each class (there were five years of inductees to get through) would come up as a group after each inductee was feted. I was disappointed in this at first, but in retrospect that was the right decision as it would have just taken too long and taken away from the time spent conversing and celebrating. Besides the inductees, several had family and friends present (Jim Herrick’s 92 year old father was there, for instance). The stars of the show in this respect were the Glassboro State crew, which must have numbered at least a dozen to celebrate the induction of two of their players, Timba D’Urso and Frank Bono. Matty J was there to support Danny Weiss, several Godiva women supported Teens (Glo could not attend).
There were probably 80-100 people total, a nice showing.

I made it to the fields to catch the first goal of the Open finals. Although I played on DoG with 11 of Ironside and have played goaltimate and in the Boston Ultimate Showcase Series with about a dozen more, I didn’t want to be one of those hangers-on who inserts himself onto the sideline as if he were an injured member of the team. So I meandered and tried to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen much of. It’s amazing how easy it is to miss people or to see them for only a fleeting moment on Thursday and not again for the rest of the weekend. (Maybe not that amazing, since there are 1500+ people and players are occupied for most of the day.) I was definitely disappointed for the guys, although happy for my Worlds teammates Husak and Namkung, old DoG teammate Justin Safdie, and fellow blogger and long-time finals sufferer Idris. Congrats, guys.