Monday, October 01, 2007

Ultimate

So, a few posts back ckbluffer commented about how she too plays ultimate and also has a poker blog. Fun. Then she writes up a monster of a post today about how she played on a club team at the national level! What?!

Poker bloggers who also play ultimate frisbee is admittedly a pretty small group. But poker bloggers who have played at the nationals level?

In both 1999 and 2000, I played on an ultimate frisbee junior's club team in Seattle named MoHo (for More Horizontal). The group of friends I grew up with were into three things: ultimate frisbee, video gaming, and girls--in that order. With the rare exception, the only "serious" girlfriends any of us had were ladies who played ultimate frisbee--or ladies who played soccer and we were trying to recruit (using any means necessary) over to ultimate... sneaky, sneaky! This, of course, led to some awkwardness when the two ultimate ladies got passed from one ultimate guy to the next, but I was never in on any of that, so I'll just slide past that subject.

I started playing competitive ultimate when I was in 7th grade. I've been playing over half my life, which is pretty crazy when I think about it. I learned how to play in 6th grade, but the first ever Seattle middle school ultimate league started when I was in 7th grade. I think my middle school team lost to Bush or Noms. My gym teacher, Mr. Costigan, was a very good freestyle frisbeer, and he had connections in the ultimate community, which included a Mary Jorgensen. Mary has won WORLD freestyle championships, yes, championships--plural. She coached another middle school team and between Mary, Mr. Costigan, and the other gym teachers, they were able to put together a league.

All of my friends who played ultimate with me, with the exception of Tyler, Chase and Jimmy, were one year older. So in my 8th grade year, our team pretty much sucked compared to the year before. We sucked so bad that we won the entire tourney! I think a lot of it had to do with other schools graduating great players as well, but our team just clicked. We had lots of athletic guys, and a couple of us could throw it deep, which is all we needed.

Fast-forward a few years to high school. I missed my sophomore year of playing ultimate, and I honestly have no clue why. It may have been driver's ed., or possibly the fact that I played tennis in high school Freshman year, which meant no ultimate (same season). My sophomore year I played tennis in the Fall, so again, I'm not sure why I didn't play.

During my sophomore year, MoHo, the youth ultimate frisbee club team, formed from all of the good now juniors in high school. With Mary Jorgensen coaching and chaperoning, the team headed to the first ever Junior National Championships. I don't recall where the first event was held, because I didn't go, but I know that MoHo was the only junior's team west of the Mississippi River. Youth ultimate just wasn't happening on the West Coast--it was almost entirely an East Coast phenomenon.

Nobody in the ultimate community had heard of MoHo (quite simply, because it didn't exist!), and nobody knew anything about the team other than Mary was the coach. MoHo entered the tournament as the second-to-last seed, and upset Bronx Science, the number 2 seed, in the first round of pool play. Their pool play record got them into the semi-final game against the number 1 ranked team on the East Coast, no... make that the U.S.A. ... no, you could probably just go ahead and make that the World: Amherst. All that you need to know about that semi-final game is that Amherst beat MoHo, and it left a bad taste for my friends.

Roll around to the start of my junior year of high school, and I connect back up with some of my old frisbee buddies (my how having a driver's license and a vehicle to use changes things!). They tell me I should come join the team, and that they are going back to Nationals to BEAT AMHERST!!! I didn't have anything better to do, and loved playing ultimate, so I joined.

The guys were frigging nuts. As seniors and juniors in high school, we played in a handful of college ultimate tournaments in the Northwest. My first ever tournament was down at the University of Oregon. We camped two nights, and I remember not once taking out my contacts. We lost every single game, but had a blast and learned so much from the older and physically dominant college players. We played three other tournaments that I remember, at Evergreen State College, University of Washington, and at the University of British Columbia.

The University of Washington tournament was funny, because I missed the first half of the day taking my SAT's on campus. I had my cleats with me, and ran over to the fields as soon as I was finished. We actually would have beaten the UW-B team, but they added some ringers after losing the half to us... weak.

Up at UBC I remember smelly some weird, funky smell, and at the time I had no idea what it was. A lot of people were smoking cigarettes though, which didn't make sense to me. Why smoke and run around???

The entire season led up to our trip to nationals in Philadelphia. Besides losing lots of games to college teams, and getting a lot better, there is only one thing I remember from all the practices and games: beat Amherst... Beat Amherst... BEAT AMHERST!!!

We got to the fields and knew what our goal was, but also knew that we'd have to play our best to get a chance at Amherst. The first point of the 1999 junior's championships we lost, to a team full of scrubs. I felt a little bit like all our hard work might be for naught if we couldn't make it out of our pool. The second point got underway, and they pulled to us. I was on the sidelines watching as we made a few quick little passes, then Jeremy just lets one fly.

"Wow, he put way too much on that one," I thought to myself.

Toby was racing to the disc, but there was just no way he was going to be able to catch up to it, then...

Oh. My. God.

Toby leaps. I don't think I had ever seen him layout until this very point. He goes horizontal while using his monkey arm length to grab the disc about three feet in the air. He comes crashing down to Earth and we are all stunned. MoHo is stunned. The other team is stunned. Everyone who witnessed the catch is silent...

then a roar,

"OH MY GOD!"
"DID YOU SEE THAT?!"
"WOW!"
"WHAT?!"
"TOBY!!!"

From that point on we just steam-rolled through our pool. Day 2 began and we had a matchup with one of the lower ranked teams, but they gave us a good run for our money, because our minds were already focused on our semi-final game... against Amherst. We squeaked out a victory in our first game, then had all of our juices flowing for our rematch.

"This is what we came here for, fellas," one of the seniors said.

The seniors on the team had that confidence about them that they just weren't going to lose this game. It wasn't going to happen. It didn't matter that no team had beaten Amherst for the last three or four years, or something ridiculous like that (yes, they had a team before nationals, unlike MoHo). It was payback time, and we weren't going to be denied.

The game was quite simply--amazing. Every single person on our team played to the best of their abilities. Jeremy was hucking and laying out on Defense. Marc was being the giant that he is, knocking down anything in his vicinity and bringing down the big grabs in the end zone. Phil and Josh were handling like they'd been playing for decades.

And we won. In a game supposed to go to 15, we won 17-15 in overtime. The guys were jumping up and down, I think I even saw a few tears--we had done the impossible. The entire sideline was cheering for us to win, and we delivered. The other semi-final game was long done, and both of those teams were rooting for us to beat Amherst. Looking back, it must have really sucked to be Amherst in that situation, but that's what they get for winning so much :)

We had just spilled our guts out, and feel on top of the world, when the tournament director comes over and says:

"Finals starts in 5 minutes, same field."

WHAT?! FIVE MINUTES?!?!

The other team, Nashville, I believe, had been resting for a good half-hour, watching our game as we ran our asses off in an overtime thriller. We were exhausted, and needed more than five minutes to rest. Mary protested, but her protests fell on deaf ears.

We ended up taking half, something like 8-6 in a game to 15, but in the second half the wheels just came undone. We had nothing left to give. The point that stands out in my mind as the nail in the coffin is when they threw the disc long to a guy who couldn't have been taller than 5'8". Marc is standing there waiting for the disc to drop into his 6'3" kill zone... as the disc drops, Marc reaches up to D it and gets skyed by the short kid. The kid just leaps right over Marc's out-stretched hand and takes the disc away. Marc had nothing left to jump, and I don't blame him one bit, but watching that kid a head shorter than Marc jump up and take the disc away just broke any of the little willpower I had left.

All of the seniors graduated, content with a second place finish at nationals, knowing they had done what they set out to do. We beat Amherst, and no one else could say the same. We had an amazing team in 1999, and I think three of those guys are now playing on Sockeye--one of the best open teams in the world, and winners of the national championships in 2003 (I think?). A fourth MoHo is also on the team, but he was on the 1998 team who lost to Amherst and he graduated that year.

Sigh.

Good memories.

Then, in much less dramatic fashion, in the 3rd annual junior's championships, we win. Much less drama, and the five guys who returned to play their senior years with me were pretty shocked at the talent difference in the 2000 team. Much like my 8th grade team in middle school--we sucked! We didn't play any college tournaments, our practices were terrible compared to a year prior--but we ended up winning the whole tournament. We still had some amazing players, and Chase pretty much came into his own his senior year. Chase was a big reason for our success, and he plays on Sockeye now and I believe he won the Callahan Award which is given to the best female and best male college Ultimate players in the country.

Another big reason for our success is that we had an incredibly easy draw. We made it through pool play on the first day with a loss (which didn't give us great hope for the next day). On day 2, we had a rematch with Bronx Science from two years prior, but they had eligibility issues, and the tournament director gave us a win by forfeit. Our second game of the day was against the only other team West of the Mississippi that year, Midwest Express. I hear nowadays, they are the team to beat. Madison, WI has an amazing ultimate community and they've been continuing to grow like wildfire. I actually stepped up pretty huge in the Midwest Express semi game with a few key D's, a couple assists and a couple scores. Out of all the big games I played in, I think I contributed the most in that one.

The other semi-final game was Amherst against Nashville. Nashville had their turn against Amherst, and were now the second team to claim victory over the powerhouse. Apparently a team called Paedaea had beaten Amherst in a friendly game, but sadly the nationals tournament was the same weekend as their graduation--another good fortune for us.

This time we were fresh though, and Nahsville didn't know what hit them. We led the entire game in the finals, and even though it was close, Chase made the difference and caught a lazer of a pass one-handed while coming in at a full sprint to win us the title. I could see the disc taco-ing in his hand as he caught it. How he held onto it? I have no clue.

The intensity at that level of play was too much for me. I loved playing frisbee, but whenever someone dropped the disc or made a mistake, teammates would just get all over them. It just wasn't fun when that was happening. And it happened a lot. Some of the better players on the team had chosen their colleges based on how good the ultimate teams at the school were. That just crossed the line for me, and I decided to retire from that level of competition.

In college, I loved playing bare-foot on the quad along with the slew of my peers who were just learning how to play the game. I still had all my throws, and could toss it long to the guys who liked to soar for the disc, but I would always be on the lookout for the open woman. Too many times I would see ladies interested in playing, but after a few points playing and standing around watching the disc get passed from guy to guy, they'd just leave. I vowed to never let that happen while I played.

My freshman year at UPS, I actually picked up with a Tacoma team in the same Seattle spring league I had played in with MoHo (did I mention we played spring league for nationals practice too? jeesh..). The Tacoma team was an amazing group of friendly people who just loved the game of ultimate. They weren't great, although they had their moments of brilliance, but no matter the outcome--they always had fun. I have played Potlatch with them the last seven years (for those of you that don't know, Potlatch is one of the world's largest ultimate frisbee tournaments, held around 4th of July every year in Redmond, WA). We are in the bottom pool, which usually is the E or F pool, but we drink (lots) and just generally have a good time. I get to reunite with my old frisbee buddies who are usually in the semis or finals of the A-pool games, which has always been a blast. Even when I've been living in Sacramento, Portland or Tahoe, I made it back up to Seattle for the tournament and hope to do so for at least the next seven years--no matter where I'm living!

Ultimate, I love you.

Labels: ,

3 Comments:

Blogger SirFWALGMan said...

If you come to Vegas in December bring a Frisbee.. I am not sure if there is any grass in Vegas (that does not come from dime bags) but we should get a degenerate drunken pickup game going.. lol.. that would be fun.

10:10 AM  
Blogger ckbluffer said...

Great post! Love hearing about your disc memories. Every once in a while, I feel the urge to lace up the cleats again. I think drunken pickup may be more of my style these days though.

Waffles, you play too??

Interesting comment about women and disc. The whole reason the 'Cuse women's team got started was because two women (Gail and Katie) got tired of playing with the boys. I ended up playing with the BC men's team in law school because there wasn't really a women's team. There was one tournament (Chowdafest in RI) where we were playing Brown B, and a young kid (looked like a freshman, but who knows) was assigned the task of covering me. I toasted him a bunch of times, and he teammates started heckling him mercilessly. I think he almost started crying.

Ah . . . ultimate.

And BTW, Potlatch is one of the best tourneys I've been to (it has to be second to Paganello though).

11:21 AM  
Blogger RaisingCayne said...

MHG, I enjoyed the post. Neat memories. I've heard our NorthWest has a substantial ultimate frisbee community of sorts, but have never witnessed it myself, nor played. I'll have to google this "Potlatch" tourney and come up to Redmond to watch a few matches. Quite a coincidence you and ckluffer have so much in common. Neat to witness such a passion for a hobby.

I just got hit up by Schaubs, lettin' me know you also reside in the Seattle area... I'll put your blog on my reading list.

11:04 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home