Thursday, 18 February 2010

Bloody Mary at the SE Frisbee Regionals

I played in the South Eastern University Regionals Ulitmate Fribsee tournament last weekend for the Queen Mary "Bloody Mary" team. I woke up on Monday morning more sore than I can ever remember being, but had a great time, and I've decided to write "the report" for the weekend. It's pretty long, so I've put most of it below the fold: if you don't want to read that far, here's a summary: we finished 10th, out of 23, after being seeded 23rd, with only 6 players, finished second in a 3 pint challenge, and partied at least as hard as any of the other teams. All in all, a pretty awesome weekend.

Incidentally, this is all pretty much steam-of-consciousness, and I can't be bothered to edit it, so please forgive any typos/spelling errors/factual inaccuracies/blatant lies. Names have *not* been changed to protect the innocent!

Click here to read the rest

So... where to start? I guess probably the story really starts on Friday afternoon, when we went for our final practice before the tournament. We were entering the South East University Regionals Ultimate Frisbee tournament. At this stage, it wasn't entirely clear who "we" was. A couple of my friend's were maybe's. The only definites so far were me, Rob, Jake, Andy, Dan and Lawrence, with Sytske planning to join us on the Sunday. This was the first training since we'd definitely decided to enter the tournament, and we started to talk tactics (and to speak Frisbee, which is very definitely a different language). We talked hucks, and long cuts, inside cuts, unders, grabs and dumps. We used an awful lot of words that I thought I knew what they meant. By the end of the weekend, I would understand most of them...

As we left Stepney Gardens, we started to try to figure out who was coming on Saturday. Chris would come if we needed him (but we were pretty sure we didn't), Charlie cancelled as we were walking home. We were pretty confident Matt was coming, and there was always Friedrich. We'd probably have about 8-9, maybe even 10. That was Friday.

Day 1

Saturday morning, I planned to get the train at 7.00 from Stepney Green, Rob had decreed that we needed to get the 8.03 train in order to be in Chichester in time for the 11.00 match (the journey takes 1.5 hours...). I got on the Tube slightly late, but still arrived at Victoria station with 20 minutes to spare. I wandered round, grabbing food from M&S, paying 30p to use the toilet (damned train stations) and finally came across Jake and Dan with about 5 minutes to go. There were 6 of us, but we were pretty sure someone else was coming (Rob was organising, and he'd gone off to get tickets). Rob came back with the tickets, and the bad news. We were going to be playing with 6 for the entire day (Ultimate Frisbess is 7-a-side), or at least the entire morning, as desperate efforts began to recruit a 7th for the afternoon's games.

Jake was introduced to the game of Mao on the way down. If you haven't heard of it, well, suffice it to say that I'm not going to explain the rules here. So, slightly distracted from the fact that we were going to have to play our first ever ultimate frisbee tournament with one player missing, we arrived in Chichester with an hour and a half to spare (as anyone who was paying attention in the last paragraph might have predicted). We wandered off in search of Wetherspoons, and breakfast. Once inside, Jake and Rob decided that a bit of Dutch Courage was necessary, both stocking up with a pint for the road, and then we headed off in search of the tournament.

We arrived at the Chichester SU with about 10 minutes to go before our first game. Rob headed off to the tournament organiser to get our registration pack, and was greeted with some slight wariness

"So is this your first tournament?"
"yes.... and we've only got 6, is that going to be ok"

The man's face was a picture, he mumbled something polite, and offered to explain to us how to fill in the Spirit Forms after the game, and sent us on our way, down to the bottom pitch, where we had been seeded 23rd (out of 23) due to our status as newcomers). Clearly he thought we were not there to take things seriously, and was not expecting great things...

I guess since I'm posting this on my blog, I should take a brief diversion to explain what a Spirit Form is. There is no referee in Ulimate Frisbee, with fouls being called by the players and "challenged" or not as necessary, so keeping things friendly is very important. One of the ways in which this is achieved is with "spirit" awards - you fill in a form saying how well your opponents did in various categories "knowledge of the rules", "team spirit", "sportmanship", etc. and the team which gets the best scores from their opponents at the end of the tournament wins a special "spirit of the game" award.

Anyway, we were about to start our first match. We headed down to pitch 8 (of 8) where we would be competing against Kent's second team. I have to be honest, I was somewhat apprehensive when we arrived, to find them all kitted out in matching uniforms, and practising what appeared to be well-rehearsed drills. Demonstrating excellent Spirit, the Kent captain (a girl universally referred to as "Irish", I don't remember her actual name) offered to start the game with 6. She had clearly come to the same conclusion as the tournament organiser: anyone who turns up to their first tournament with 6 players isn't going to be any good. Our tactics were fairly simple: make sure every pass goes through at least one of Rob and Jake when in attack (usually both, especially in the later games..), and play some sort of zone defence. After we'd scored the first 5 points, Kent finally decided to put their 7th player on the field. It didn't make much difference, and the game finished 13-1 (it was first to 13, or until the buzzer).

After each game, in another measure designed to encourage Spirit, the teams huddle up together, and each captain gives a speech, starting with the losing team. Irish was gracious in defeat, although I think she was still in shock, and wished us all the best for our next game, which was starting pretty much immediately, against Reading. Rob tried his best to hide his excitement at having actually won a game with only 6 players (and at the prospect that we might actually end up doing reasonably well in this tournament after all). The Reading game was a *much* more tightly fought affair, and for the first time, we really got to see Jake in action. In a pattern that we would see for the rest of the day, Rob would "huck" (throw it long) the disc up for Jake, who would run on into the endzone and catch it. Put like that, it sounds simple, but you have to bear in mind that in most of these cases Jake was surrounded by at least 3 defenders, each of whose sole aim was to prevent him catching it. This barely put him off his stride. We finally managed to come through this game, after sudden death finish when the buzzer went with the score 9-9, and win 10-9. The Reading captain was slightly less gracious in defeat, as you might expect: having just lost to a team with 6 players, they now weren't going to get another game that day (due to a quirk of the tourney schedule), whereas we were promised at least one more, a playoff for 9th place.

We headed back to the SU for lunch, which consisted of whatever we'd remembered to bring with us from home, plus crisps and oranges from the "goodie bag", and set up for our next game, against the might of "Thrown" (this was the first team we'd played with a silly name, which seems to be the norm among ultimate frisbee teams: we were "Bloody Mary", and was actually the team from Kings). They were, I think, better than either of the teams we'd played earlier. They were well-drilled, and several times just tore our 'zone' to pieces, scoring incredibly easily. The buzzer went with them leading 10-8. I think we all thought it was probably game over. The way the scoring works, they needed to get one more point, while we needed 3 in a row: that would mean stopping them from scoring 3 times running, and making sure we got the disc into the endzone each time. Well... I think you can guess the ending. 3 times we managed to defend, 3 time we stood at our end of the field, telling each other to give it our all for the last point of the day, 3 times Rob and Jake did their magic. For the last point, it honestly felt like the disc was in the air for an age before Jake rose up out of the sea of green shirts surrounding him to catch it, land in the endzone, and score us our third, hard-earned victory.

We were drained, and they were (understandably) disappointed, and I don't really remember any of the details of the captain's speeches, other than someone informing us that we had another game to play. So much for the last point of the day! We headed down to pitch 2 for an 8/9 game against Kent I. They, at least, were expecting us, as we'd played against their second team earlier in the day. We did manage to hold them to 7-6 at half-time, but it was frankly too much: we just couldn't run any more, the zone was easy to break down, and they were a pretty well-drilled team: the final score was 13-8, and we could finally rest, having worked our way up from 23rd to a pretty impressive 9th place!

Dan and Jake headed home to London for a friend's birthday, the rest of us headed back into the bar, set ourselves up on a sofa and started to wonder where we were going to spend the night. Just before we managed to get ourselves a beer, the tournament organiser grabbed us, and told us he'd show us where the accommodation was. We were taken off to the university gym (after a brief detour when we lost sight of our guide) where we grabbed some gym mats, set up camp, and got showered and dressed for the party.

Back in the bar, we did finally manage to get ourselves a pint this time (the first of many!) and began to feel the fact that we hadn't eaten pretty much all day: we asked for advice on where we should eat, and a very nice girl (whose name was very possibly vicky) from the Chichester team offered to show us the way to a Harvester where we could get some food: en route, she gave Andy her number, in case we got lost, and a challenge was born - for him to also get the number of her friend, Kim, who we would meet again later that night. I don't think Andy has spent much time away with university sports teams so he seemed slightly bemused, and a little excited by the challenge (which, incidentally, he was eventually to fulfil).

En route to dinner, Rob kept informing us that we should eat a lot of pasta, and also decided to take up water polo (which he'll be doing later tonight!). When we finally got to the pub, all thoughts of carb-loading were quickly put out of our heads by the Harvester menu. The only pasta they had was the singularly unappetising "simply pasta", and we all went for some combination of chicken, scampi, chips and sweetcorn (although no-one had all three!).

Finally, games over, appetites sated, clean and dry, we heade back to the student union, where the party would begin. To be honest, I don't remember too many details of what happened during the night. I know that Rob initiated a "three pint challenge": two players from each team were designated to drain a frisbee full (yes, it does hold three pints!) of beer through straws, we finished a respectable 2nd (it was my first ever three-pint challenge, I'm confident we'll do better next time!). I know that we chatted with the Kent team quite a bit (Irish kept exhorting them, and us to dance), and once again with Kim and Vicky. I know we drunkenly agreed to attend at least one future tournament (which Kent are organising on March 14: Rob, are we actually doing that?), and that I drank a *lot* of water to go with my (several) beers (did you know that drinking water between alcoholic drinks helps prevent dehydration?). I think it was at some point in all this when Andy managed to complete his challenge.

Finally, the party wound down: Kent left early (despite our protestations to two of their team that they should carry on partying and just spend the night in the gym) and we were thrown out of the SU Bar at the incredibly uncivilised hour of 12.30. Luckily, Kim and Vicky were on hand to inform us that there was an all night basketball tournament going on somewhere on campus, and lead the way down there (me and Kim swapping piggy backs on the way, with varying degrees of success). When we got there, we found several Chichester players and several others (including, I think, some from the team we were due to play the next day, Mohawk), and I saw Rob heading confidently up towards the registration desk to enter our team in the basketball (obviously we hadn't done enough running that day!). The basketball was, to say the least, not quite as successful as the frisbee. We lost to a team that was nominally the Chichester Univesity Women's team (although I'm pretty sure some of the guys that played them were very ineligible for the women's team), and finally (after a brief interlude in which Rob had an incredibly drunken phonecall with Kim, just to confirm that the number Andy had got was in fact genuine), it was off to bed.

Day 2.

We woke up ridiculously early, at 9.00. I was feeling surprisingly fresh (did you know that drinking water between alcoholic drinks helps prevent dehydration?) Rob, I think, was not feeling quite so good. Me, Andy and Lawrence headed off to Wetherspoons, Tesco, and in search of Sytske, Dan and Jake. Sytske finally managed to meet up with us just as we finished breakfast and we headed back to the pitches, carrying about half the pasta they had in Tesco, and getting slightly apprehensive that Dan and Jake still hadn't turned up.

Our game was due to start at 11.00. Dan and Jake *still* hadn't turned up. We started the game without them: Mohawk II was the team we were playing, and our tactics, such as they were, were to keep the score as low as possible until reinforcements arrived. As if playing with 6 hadn't been hard enough the day before, we were going to try with 5... We acquitted ourselves remarkably well: the score was 5-1 when Jake ran onto the pitch, worringly alone. Where was Dan? Well, I think Jake put it best: "Fucking Pussy wouldn't get out of bed". So we were to play with 6 again. To be honest, I think we were so relieved that Jake was finally here, that we hardly even registered the fact that we were not going to get the rest we'd been hoping. Jake's presence made all the difference. I don't remember the actual score, but we never looked back once he arrived: winning by 2 or 3 points in the end, and comfortably retaining our 9th seed, and guaranteeing ourselves a rematch against Kent I.

This time, they'd definitely seen us coming: there were several people crowded round both Rob and Jake every time they got the disk, they waltzed through our defences (we just didn't have the legs to keep up the "force" that we'd been playing so well the day before) and took the match comfortably. After the surprising success of the day before, and the thrills of the night out, Sunday was always going to be an anti-climax, and so it proved. Kent, once more, were impressed by our sheer staying power, but they had bigger fish to fry: if they could win 2 more games they'd qualify for 2nd division nationals (I have no idea if they actually managed this in the end: Rob?). We were battered, bruised, tired, and starting to feel a little down, but we still had one more match to play, HU?1, who were, at least, playing off a squad of 7 for the day.

Honestly, we didn't really want to play the game, but they were having none of our suggestions to shorten the match: it was a 9/10 playoff, and we were currently placed 9, so they had something to gain if they won, and weren't going to make things easy for us, so it was game on. Once again, the defence was solid, although once again, when they did manage to break us they scored with ease, and once again, we took the game down to the wire: the score was 9-8 to us when the buzzer went, meaning we only had to score one point, whereas they had to score two (although they had the disc). They scored the first point relatively easily, and we had a chance to take the game. We ran the disc up. Jake passed it to Sytske almost in the endzone. She caught it, and passed it to Andy who was in the endzone. Andy fumbled, but managed to hold onto it. We'd won, surely! No... it turns out that Sytske had passed the disc from inside the endzone, which is apparently against the rules, and Jake (in a good show of Spirit) informed the opposition of this, and we had to take it back to before she threw it. We couldn't do it a second time. They got the frisbee back, and we just didn't have the legs to stop them this time. It was all over, with a mildly disappointing defeat, but at least we didn't have to run any more.

We gathered our bags, and hobbled back to the train station. More Mao on the way home, more food devoured, but frankly everyone was too exhausted to do much. I finally left Rob and Jake on the District Line and Stepney Green, Rob was almost asleep and Jake looked about to join him. Weekend over, every now and then we'd have to remind ourselves that we finished 10th with only 6 players! More importantly though, I think we all had a pretty awesome time (even if we were a little down on the second day). I don't think I've ever felt as stiffand I for one, hope we manage to find another tournament somewhere, and keep the Bloody Mary team going (although I think we should probably take more than 6 players next time!)

PS - apparently playing Frisbee with 7 players is so hardcore that there's a special name for it: Iron Man. We need a name for playing an entire tournament with 6: "Stainless Steel Man"?

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