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Tournament Reports

Alumni Cup

26.Apr.2014 - 27.Apr.2014 - Manchester


Kia ora,

This is the tale of a toaster-less alumni team, playing liquid ultimate
in the delightful (n.b. not actually delightful at all) conditions that
are Manchester on the weekend of The Big Show.

[n.b. classic Mike ramble coming up. Yes, I'm still living up to that
annual dinner award from a few years back. And yes, the team I coach in
Germany have already cottoned on to the fact I ramble way, way too much.
I'm beginning to think that this reputation is well-deserved...]

Our brave and all-slightly-broken alumni and heroic non-alumni were as
follows:

"Lord" Strachan, significantly less Lordly with his Lordly locks lost;
"I am" Gonzo, sporting a range of hair-control apparatus...es? apparati?
Apparatus-s-s-s-s?
"GO" Benfold, who made the best fake of the weekend and managed to
completely sell his opponent on it as well;
"There when you need me" Sam Robin, who was always in the right place at
the right time for the disc;
Booth, who I'm just gonna call "Gluteus Maximus", cos it just sounds
funny, and also cos had a glute injury;
"Speedy for about 0.1% of the weekend" Rich Lloyd;
"Blazingly fast" Eleanor, who spent the entire tournament getting
efficiently and quietly open against guys;
Kris "FLY LIKE AN EAGLE"  Cao, who made the major contribution to the
single most brilliant moment of the weekend;
"BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES" CArnott, who (with myself) realised that ground
jumps are not a great idea in the middle of a tournament;
"Who needs two knees" Bryn, who despite having only one working knee for
most of the weekend, still managed to totally tear up the ho-stack
cutting lanes;
and myself, "your overly verbose" narrator.

I dunno how everyone else's travel plans went, but I spent most of
Friday in airports. I also visited Hamburg for the first time. It turns
out that Hamburg airport is kinda boring. It still smelled a little of
the sea though. You don't get that down in Baden-Wuerttemberg, lemme
tells ya. The descent into Manchester consisted of me staring out the
window for 20 minutes until the cloud finally broke... at about 200m
altitude. Thankfully, the worst of THAT weather was avoided for the
weekend. The wind, on the other hand...

We rolled up to the pitches at about 9 o'clock for a 10:10 first match
and proceeded to start warming up not long thereafter. Then we realised
we still had 40 minutes left. Then we did a drill. Then we still had 30
minutes left. Then we realised we were taking this whole "warming up"
thing way too seriously and resolved to only bother warming up half an
hour before our matches. Yeah Alumni Cup! In retrospect, this may have
contributed to the steadily increasing pain levels all weekend.

A brief note on the structure: the AC had 9 teams, and we were in a pool
of 5, so we had 4 Saturday matches. Then the top 8 played quarters, and
then the bottom 5... well, I'm not even gonna bother explaining that
because (SPOILER ALERT) Hallam bailed at 7:30am on Sunday, so we just
went to the standard 8 team knockout thereafter.

Saturday pool match #1: Mohawks

Ooooooher. For us 2011 UON alumni, this was a harking back to THAT
final. It was the first time I've seen a Mohawks team on any pitch since
then, too. They had a mix of faces we recognised and newer ones,
including most notably Ash, who is a damned fine receiver and would go
on to demonstrate such in in our game (and for the rest of the weekend
too). They were also a team of athletic dudes. No matter! Our ladies are
good enough to take 'em on.

That said, SB is not a traditional fast starter in the first game of the
day, and the fact that Mohawks already had a bagelling of UCL under
their belts meant that we were even further behind the 8-ball. And it
REALLY did not help when, on the very very first point of the day, Rich
hared down after the pull and managed to (and I quote) "make [his]
hamstring go ping", thus possibly setting a record for most rapid first
match injury. He spent the next 5 minutes lying by the endzone whence
he'd rolled out of, while I tried to help and not laugh hysterically at
the black humour of being down to 10 "fit" (and I use the term loosely)
players with about 0.1% of the tournament done.

We simply couldn't cope with Mohawks' strategy of "throw shit to Ash and
trust him to catch it", which he did with impressive ease, no matter
which of us was marking him. We further did not help our cause by
sticking to a straight-up mark which let them break with low-release
throws on either side, and attempts to run a German offence floundered
when floaty lead passes to an iso away cut did not hang right in the
wind. They also tore through our attempts at zones with quick handler
throws and movement.

At 0-6 we were in serious danger of starting the weekend with a
bagelling, but then I decided to throw a total shithouse blade to Booth,
who fell over for our maiden goal of the weekend. Having proven to
ourselves that we could actually compete with these fast-running dudes,
we then proceeded to put one more point on the board while Mohawks
helped themselves to an 11-2 lead. Then, for some reason I can't really
fathom, they decided to take the foot off the gas, and started turning
the disc over in positions where we could punch in easy goals, while our
ho-stack O started to click. We scored 5 of the next 6 points to bring
the game to 6-12 or so at soft cap, the personal highlight for me being
a moment when I spotted Benfold streaking deep and actually said out
loud "oh, why the hell not", which must've confused my marker until I
boosted a high-release backhand past his mark. One more pass later and
we had another point on the scoreboard.

Could we do it?

Well, no, they decided to finish the job (finally), but we'd given them
a hell of a scare in true SB fashion, with sweet liquid ultimate flowing
through our ho-stack give-and-goes. (Afterwards, another team mentioned
that Mohawks later got kinda tetchy about the fact we scored 7 points on
them. My instant reaction was "well at 11-2 up it's your damned fault
that you didn't close the game out, isn't it?")

SB alumni 7 - 13 Mohawks

Saturday pool match #2: Phat'eds

Our immediate next match was against Sheffield, a perennial Alumni cup
participant. This was a much more even match on paper than Mohawks -
they had a mix of genders, and they also didn't have a gun receiver to
throw crap to. With the wind deciding to pick up more (booooo), we
turned to not one but TWO zones: junk and that perennial SB classic, the
clam. Woo-er! 

Both of these zones worked really well against their offence; by forcing
loads of passes in the wind, we generated plenty of turnovers. However,
our decision making was less than optimal after the turn, and we
struggled to convert breaks, especially when throwing low-percentage
throws considering the windy conditions. When they played two flavours
of zone on us (a cup/junk a looser poachy thing), however, that sweet
Cambridge ulti DNA came to the fore, and we easily passed through the
middle of their cup like a slightly hamstrung knife cutting through
warmed-up butter and went haring off downfield with short passes between
our poppers, Gonzo and Kris doing a sterling job as the pair in the
middle, not to mention important contributions from the wings from Sam,
Benfold and Bryn.

Despite the self-harming behaviour on O, we managed to build a 2-3 point
cushion that held for the entire game, and ultimately we ran out
winners. The quest for the AC title had begun!

SB alumni 10 - 7 Phat'eds

Two games down got us a two match break, so we celebrated by fuelling up
on grease from the food truck (..... yeah alumni cup!) and watching SB
open take on Mohawks in their pivotal pool game. This consisted of us
sitting at the back of the endzone and bellowing "GOOOOOOOOAL" as the
students got all up in them heads yo, with the junk completely
dominating Mohawks mentally and letting SB build a 3 or 4 goal lead to
zip real early. The standout moment for me was SB turning it on Mohawk's
endzone's downwind corner (boooo), but the junk then so completely
crushing the Mohawks O that their handler was forced to throw a stall 8
scoober to nobody. It was a brilliant demonstration of how good that
junk was, and also a pointer for future games...

Saturday pool match #3: Reservoir Discs

Our first post-break match was against Bangor, who won AC2013. So we
knew that they would be a good team. However, in our favour - just like
we'd seen with the open team before! - was the fact that conditions were
getting worse, with wind picking up considerably. What followed was one
of those unpleasant, attritional, gritty games of ulti where every point
was zone and the wind added extra spice to just about every throw apart
from a 2 yard pop pass. However, we've had plenty of practice in those,
so it suited us down to the ground.

We played a combination of junk and clam on D, with the clam working
nicely once we got our middles roaming in and out as their poppers
moved. Bangor were assured with the disc, though, and while again we
could generate turnovers regularly, our inability to play calm in the
red zone meant we would often end up giving it back to them.
Nevertheless, more sterling work from our poppers and wings - notably
Bryn working hard on the upwind wing to stretch their middles and give
us space - meant that Gonzo and Kris could play the
pop-through-the-middle-give-and-go game once more. I believe we built an
early lead, but Bangor came right back, leading to increasingly scrappy
play by both teams and more huck-and-D downwind. Bryn took the idea of
"huck and D" perhaps a little too literally at one point - having gotten
the turn on our endzone line, he ran to the disc and boosted a backhand
most of the length of the pitch before any of us had a chance to move: a
true "wait, what?" moment, but as the game tightened, probably a safe
call!

By soft cap we were a goal up and heading upwind, and wanting to score
so we didn't have to play universe point. The perfect setting for the
POTD: Strachan boosted a forehand into the wind to me, and I managed to
read the disc well enough... until it dropped into the sun and I
couldn't track it. Getting a hand to it was a good effort in that
situation, but then I pulled off what was later described in the spirit
circle by Bangor as "a jammy catch": I got my body to the bobbled disc
and somehow managed to clap "catch" it between my elbow and my chest as
I fell to the ground. Having kept control in such a ludicrous manner and
avoiding ground strippng myself, I got up, had two options to throw to
for an easy goal, and immediately turfed it in an attempted 5 yard
forehand to Rich. Classic conservation of greatness! Bangor set up their
O in a tired fashion, with their cutters too far from the endzone, and
off a poach I got a block on the first pass... and walked away, leaving
someone else to throw the goal for the win. The glory, downfall and
redemption in the space of about 30 seconds: a miniature 3 act play of
ultimate.

SB alumni 8 - 6 Bangor

Saturday pool match #4: UCL

With a 2-1 record so far, and Mohawks topping the pool comfortably, we
headed into our last pool match against UCL not knowing what was needed
to secure 2nd in the pool. The wind was just as bad as the previous
game, and our small squad was really beginning to show the fatigue of a
long day, let alone the fact that half the team were carrying injuries
(from the weekend or older!). UCL had opened the day with the bagelling
by Mohawks, and followed it up with a loss to Bangor and a win over
Phat'eds, meaning we needed to get a good result to ensure we weren't
caught on the wrong end of a potential 3-way tie for 2nd. 

The game was more or less a continuation of the Bangor match in style:
gritty, zone-heavy ultimate. UCL's squad seemed fitter and speedier than
ours, but good junk play meant that they often went for optimistic hucks
that Strachan mopped up with ease or got trapped on the downwind
sideline trying to throw floaty outside-ins. The game started on serve
with the wind, but we managed to get an upwind break early to get a 2-1
lead. A few more points with the wind followed, but good quick disc
movement from UCL and strong cutting against our tiring junk meant they
got the upwind break back; 3-3. As legs tired further and the wind
continued to howl unabated, gaps opened up in our coverage and attacking
the wings became easier for UCL, and they managed to get another upwind
break in the middle of the game, leaving us chasing and fighting with
ever-dwindling energy to get through their D upwind. At least we
continued to play reasonably efficient huck and D downwind, keeping us
in touch score-wise. 

One of our downwind goals was the unanimous DOTD moment: we get a turn
near their brick mark, leaving us with a short field to hold the
downwind. Stacking up in the endzone, I look off the first few cuts,
before a wondrously clear corridor opened up straight down the middle of
the pitch, with Benfold being poached off right at the back of the
'zone. I toss a fairly crappy i/o break and the wind pushes it speedily
towards Benfold, who was wide open and safely behind the disc, when
suddenly out of NOWHERE, Kris, having cut and cleared out, FLIES through
the air from right to left, fully horizontal and off-the-ground, making
a bid for the disc. Luckily he got NOWHERE NEAR IT and Benfold
clap-caught it in his chest for the downwind hold. (Kris later claimed
that he "thought Benfold was on D", begging the question of why he'd try
to D the D...) This wondrous image - Benfold, wide open, when SHAZAM out
of nowhere a flying figure in blue zips across my sightline like a
confused but very rapid superhero - sent me into paroxysms of laughter,
and I spent the next half minute or so giggling hysterically on the
ground, while Tejas heckled "you broke Mike!" from the sideline. 

The last points had the game getting uglier and uglier as we tried to
score the upwind break that would get us back into the match, with
Strachan gamely tossing forehands into the wind that none of our
receivers could read, and tired turnovers close to the 'zone if we did
manage to work it up that far. The epic final point was eventually
punched in by UCL on the downwind endzone at about the 6th attempt,
giving them a deserved victory.

SB alumni 7 - 8 UCL

We found out later that due primarily to our stunning and futile
second-half comeback against Mohawks, we'd actually managed to hold onto
2nd place in the pool, and in fact once soft cap had gone on at 7s we
were guaranteed a top 4 spot. This may have been good news to find it
before running ourselves silly on the last point; however, Tejas
gracefully told us after the fact in the bus. I believe we were all in
too much pain to attempt to throttle him.

The evening was as quiet as you'd expect for nationals, although as
alumni, we of course livened dinner up with pitchers of cocktails. Jassy
joined us for the limited bout of alcoholism, because there ain't no
thing that keeps that girl from a party. (We later had a party with
beers while watching Match of the Day, followed by an extremely
lacklustre attempt at a game of Mafia which failed because I didn't get
the game and Booth just wanted to go to bed.)

Sunday QF: Salford

We faced off against the 6 (+1 later) players repping Salford in our
first match on Sunday. This was a match worth winning, as it would
guarantee us top 4 and thus a wonderful feeling of self-worth.
Conducting our now-customary half hour warm up... well, okay, most of
the team conducted the warm up, while the rest of us lay around
stretching and aching gently. Before the match in the huddle we talked
about starting strong and doing the simple things well. Salford had been
ironmanning and it showed, as our legs allowed us to run rings around
their man D, getting open more or less at will and our D shutting down
their cuts. Our dump'n'swing O moved the disc too fast for them to keep
up, and I even got to bring back the old times by throwing some sweet,
sweet i/o breaks. We clocked a comfortable win without too much trouble.

The game was most notable for the DOTD moment: our D got a turn around
their brick mark, Strachan picked up the disc and shouted "BENFOLD, GO!"
Benfold responds with a glorious deep cut to the wrong endzone, so
completely selling the fake that his marker actually followed him the
entire way while the sideline did the now-familiar thing of trying to
give helpful advice, but being unable to because they were laughing a
little too hard.

SB alumni 13 - 3 Salford

We spent our one game break pre-SF by wandering along to watch the open
team play Halcyon in their SF. This game was again an exhibition for the
stifling junk, which worked really well at generating turnovers, not
just by the D but also from forcing simple mistakes from their
under-pressure handlers. That said, with the wind notably less strong
than the previous day, Manchester had a bit more joy throwing breaks
around and through the wall. SB got a few breaks right at the start, but
Halcyon pulled back a few before halftime. We were sitting on the
sidelining quite close to the Halcyon huddle and the team talk was
noticeably angry, with details that I won't relay here but I will
summarise instead as "ultimate team expects better of itself in a very
frustrated manner". Given the final result, it didn't seem to change
things that much, although we didn't get to watch the second half due to
having to play another game. Dammit! This alumni cup shenanigan really
gets in the way of spectating, it turns out.

Sunday SF: uBu

Ah, back in the big leagues. uBu had sent a strong team with a few
familiar faces, most notably Marius, their lefty handler who is really
really good at throwing past a mark who was not expecting to be broken
around, amongst other things. We knew this would be a more intense match
than the previous, and we set out to show uBu who was the better
Midlands alumni team. With the conditions remaining noticeably calmer
than Saturday, both teams played man D and expansive offences looking to
put it deep. For the first few points, it felt like uBu hadn't really
turned up, as we got into a 2-0 lead on the basis of good vert stack O.
Given the level of the opposition, this was probably one of our best
spells of the weekend and the nominated POTD, with the offence really
clicking and uBu looking like they hadn't really gotten out of bed yet.

However, they rapidly woke up and pulled it back to 2s. We traded to 4s
before uBu really stamped their mark on the game, with Marius throwing
his ultra-quick around breaks and general swill to receivers, while we
were always a step behind their speedy cutters, with too many mismatches
for our D to handle. They broke us repeatedly and ran out comfortable
winners. That said, it was a well-spirited game (as were almost all of
them over the weekend), and it was a definite joy to be able to play man
O and D and not have to contend with a constant gale of a crosswind.

SB alumni 7 - 13 uBu

Sunday 3v4 game: Reservoir Discs (again)

Over in the other SF, Bangor gave Mohawks a good game but weren't able
to topple them, meaning the 3v4 placement game was a rematch of our
Saturday match. By this stage we were all thoroughly broken and tired,
and Bangor were in a similar state. There was discussion of substituting
a full match with (a) a DDC tournament (b) a flip or (c) just saying
we'd tie for 3rd, but for some cray-cray reason SB was raring for
another game, so we ended up playing them at ulti instead.

The start of the game was farcical, with Bangor conceding our appointed
pitch to the uBu-Mohawks final. They started the game with a hammer
pull... which Booth promptly dropped. A dangerous pitch stoppage saved
his blushes, leading to a 10 minute delay as Si Hill came over and
explained why all the big holes in the ground meant that using these
un-coned pitches as, well, pitches was a bad idea. 

We moved 3 pitches over and continued the game, and it was clear from
the very first point that both teams were exhausted. About 3 points in
the Bangor captain said to me that following yet another cramp they only
had 4 fully fit players left; however, this didn't seem to hinder their
O at all, as their fit and still-running dudes got open easily against
our gassed defenders. While we fought gamely for the entire match, it
was clear that fatigue was taking its toll and we when we could get open
on O our decision making was again less than optimal and we gave them
the disc with unforced throwaways far too easily. They showed how much
more energy they had by repeatedly busting up the line, and we couldn't
do anything to stop 'em really. Bangor ran out comfortable winners.

SB alumni 5 - 9 Bangor

And there we have it. SB's return to the alumni cup wasn't as successful
as the last time around, but we gave a good account of ourselves despite
having only "11" (I put the number in quotes because if you count
injuries we probably had something more like a total of 8, if you
chopped everyone up and glued the uninjured parts back together) fit
players. And it was great fun, with the games being friendly and
competitive, and also having many more moments of comedy genius than I'm
used to for natties. We managed to forget to vote for an MVP at the
pitches, but the replies I've received have nominated none other than
his Lordliness Strachan, which just goes to show that nobility is
eternal, unlike his hair- and beardline.

So yeah, we should totally send a team next year. Although someone in
the right country can organise it next time. And we also need to
remember the toast. Both of these solutions would be solved by having
Ken back. Come back Ken! The alumni team needs you!

And on that note, I'm off to Bibione, where the sand will hopefully be
less stressful on my muscles. Chur!

- Mike
Cambridge Ultimate
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