Strange Blue Tournament Report


19-20.March.2011 - Sheffield

Prepare yourself for a ramble: it's the report of what happened with SB at The Big Show.

The climax of the season had come upon us: Uni Outdoor Natties in Sheffield, last weekend, the 19th and 20th of March. After winning Midlands Regionals in a fairly nailbiting fashion (down 7-8 at cap to Oxford, winning 9-8), we arrived at Natties with the 3 seed overall (behind Mohawks and Ro Sham Bo, and ahead of Warwick).

Firstly, I'll acknowledge the people who weren't able to come: Sam T, who was stolen away by the Geography Tripos to Morocco (I have absolutely no time for this crap, but according to Rob, the rocks there are awesome... bloody geologists); Pete, who whisked himself off to Germany for a PhD interview weekend; and Adam M, who got laid out into last weekend and couldn't run more than a hundred yards on Thursday, so invalidated himself out. They all deserved to be there for the madness (!) that followed.

As for the team who did travel, it consisted of:
Elliott "hey check out my really really intimate mark" More,
Gareth "G-dawg" Brookfield,
Nick "plays a lot of golf" Owen,
Matt "caught mono the week before regionals and was blowing up huge" Humphreys,
Jon "Fatty" Middleton,
Graham "Nimble" Wilson,
Nick "check out my sweet 360 degree camera - oh wait" Tsao,
Chris "loves to drive around roundabouts" Arnott,
Ruben "never feels pain, sleeps, is wrong, or makes a bad decision" Land,
Andy "shotgun layout D" Konarski,
J-P "commentary and analysis central" Delport,
Matt "throws it a long, long way" Shannon,
Adam "creme fraiche" Booth,
Chris "when I think classy, I think..." Monahan,
Chris "I noticed today he was keeping everyone updated on Facebook. Damn there goes the dramatic tension of this report" Barnes,
and your co-captains,
Rob "the other captain" Green (Nimble's words, not mine!),
and myself, Mike "Sweetheart" Fletcher.

To properly prepare ourselves for the experience, we travelled up on Friday night to stay at our luxurious rented accommodation (read: a motel at a motorway services. Delicious). As people arrived over the course of an hour or so, we discussed our respective journeys (mainly sprinkled with Heart FM or Contact or analyses of the various methods of stimulation), and then had a team heart-to-heart where we talked about our goals for the weekend. Everyone was (reassuringly) aiming high.

Having had our pow-wow some of us retired to bed, while the rest of us struggled to watch South Park and UPA Clubs highlights DVDs. In the end we just went to bed. This is what being at Nationals does to you.

SB 11 - 5 Dundee

First match of Saturday was against the 3 seed in our pool, Dundee. They'd had a total of 2 games of outdoors all season, as apparently Scotland's had terrible weather (and is still partially covered in snow. Weird, I know!). So we came into this kinda sleepy, kinda still unsure of who we were or why we were there. Thankfully we managed to find out who we were pretty quickly, and after a start which saw us trading points eventually we pulled away to a fairly comfortable win. This was epitomised in a sweet couple of minutes where we had them trapped on the openside endzone corner: an in-cut got massively layout blocked by Ruben, but the Dundee player called a foul and it went back. The next pass was to an identical in-cut, to an identically massive layout by Elliott for the turn, and we punched the goal in. A sign of how comfortable we got is best typified by my throw of the weekend: we're on the endzone trying to score, and Nick T cuts out of the 'zone to get a short gainer. Having caught the disc he balletically spins around on his pivot foot and launches a flick blade into the endzone, all in the space of about a quarter of a second. Unfortunately Chris B can't hold on to it. But Nick gets my "balls out" award for playing ulti without limits. Also during this match: I managed to out-fake my marker so hard he headbutted me. Turns out I had a mild concussion and didn't play the rest of the day. This also meant I got to watch every agonising (from what I can remember) minute of the next 3 games. You'll see why.

SB 13 - 5 Leeds

Then we played Leeds. I was still pretty concussed so I can't remember very much of this match at all. We won, though.

While that match was going on, on the next field the other pool match - Dundee vs Cork - was a barnburner, as Dundee came back from 8-10 at cap to level it at 10s. Universe point went back and forth with a succession of calls, when what SHOULD have won it was a ridiculous Cork greatest out the side of the endzone for the goal; however, everyone (Dundee players and SB sideliners included) said he'd jumped from on the line, sadly. As the disc never lies, Cork won to set up the final pool match as a straight 1v2 to decide who would go to prequarters, or straight into quarters.

SB 9 - 8 Cork

So we wandered up to the upper fields for our final pool match. After our warmup we started the game and tried out our man D which had served us pretty well in the past. Except here, it wasn't working, and our O wasn't clicking either, with the net result that we were quickly looking down a long, long barrel at 2-6 down, with Cork all over us and screaming while we were wondering what we could do to drag ourselves back into the game. Then we decided to try our last available weapon: the clam! The clam! The clam which hadn't worked all season! Well, there was an eensy bit of wind up on the hill, plus in a pressure situation you never know what happens, so... we pulled out the clam.

And... it started our claw back into the game.

We slowly dragged ourselves back into contention, the next 7 points falling 5-2 to us to take it to 7-8 at the hooter. After another point of frustrated offence against the clam, I hear one of their players remonstrating with his teammates about bad decisions made, and I know that we've gotten into their heads. We punch the hooter point in too: 8-8. Universe point, game to 9s. And then, what must've been the longest point I've ever had the agony of watching in my life: our clam completely shutdown their upfield looks, and while they had some success with loopy crosspitch O/Is, in a universe point game to decide who goes into quarters, do you trust yourself to throw that? Trench warfare ensued, as our chases (Elliott and Andy, I believe) worked tirelessly to put the pressure on. Cork would throw lots of little handler passes around the roam but couldn't buy a goal. We took our turns and marched downfield, but again! Couldn't buy a goal; little drops and unforced errors costing us again and again. Bears (who were warming up by the sideline I was on) started chatting to me about how I looked stressed out (who would've thought?!?!?!). By the 11th or 12th turn I was reduced to lying on the ground, too scared to look. Finally, someone floats up a crosspitch outside-in across the endzone to a streaking Elliott on the far side for the goal.

Incredible. At 2-6 down, we looked dead and buried, but like a particularly virulent kind of zombie, we came back (of which more anon). In the post-match huddle, Cork thanked us for an awesome game... of which I couldn't help but agree, although I couldn't watch many games like that in any single weekend (OH, THE IRONY THAT WILL SHORTLY ENSUE).

The relief in our post-match huddle was evident; we'd gotten the chance to play quarters, against the winner of the OW-Bears pre-quarter going on behind us. Bears comfortably won that match, so it was deja vu all over again: Bears in the first match on Sunday morning... hm.

After watching the rugby (yay Ireland!), we completed the traditional carvery pilgrimage to stuff ourselves silly with roast, as that's the only thing they eat Oop Norf. The moon was terrifyingly large. Carnott drove around roundabouts a load, because satnavs are useless without a postcode, oddly enough. Elliott started interviewing people on his phone. Nick O talked a load about golf, and even managed to convince other people he was talking about golf. Ruben always made a good decision. Matt S got really, really bitchy at the carvery waiting staff, who kept on calling him 'darling' nonetheless.

I went to bed really early.

So in a new exciting twist, UKU tweeted a lot of Sunday's play. I'll start linking to the appropriate tweets. Here's the first one:


SB 10 - 9 Bears

And here we were: Sunday a.m., Bears, but this time in the 3v6 quarterfinal. In the pre-match huddle we talked about how we wanted to play like we did on the Sunday at regionals.

We didn't. Bears were all over us. We were making simple errors and very, very quickly, they punched in every turn we gave them to zoom to a 0-4 lead. I called a timeout and basically screamed at the team (apologies to everyone, in retrospect: it was a bit rough). But it was needed, as while there was a load of passion and energy in the game, it was all on the one side: our opponent's. They were doing to us what we'd done to them at Regionals. And if we didn't pick up our game there would be the same result... but this time, not going our way.

So we did. Out came the clam. We ground away, stopped them using their nippy cutters, and started really, really working them on their handler passes, and relying on their less experienced players to touch the disc more. And it worked. By forcing them to spread the disc across their line - not just their best 2 or 3 - they started making mistakes. We brought it back to 5-7 at half. By cap it was 8-8, game to 10. We scored the first point for our first lead of the match: 9-8. The next point we have our chances to take the win but Bears finally manage to grind it out, 9-9, universe point. I'm checking my pulse for cardiac arrythmia. Out comes the clam again. This time the pressure's too much and we force Freeman (their star handler and captain, not our injured gun O cutter) to start throwing it away: a hopeless huck when trapped on his endzone corner. After even more turnovers, finally we get it back, work it up on the endzone, and it's a little dinky pass to Fatty who's standing on the line for the goal. He raises the disc.

Cue: the rushing of the field, the screaming, the hugs, the dejected vanquished, etc. etc. etc.

You know how I said one close match was a handful? Two was ridiculous. Once again we were back from the dead, from 4 points (!) down at the start of the match to bring it back. Freeman said that even when they were up, Bears were worried; and once we started getting on the board, and once we started grinding out the points, there was an "air of inevitability" about our victory - even they started doubting whether they could win it. Even when they had possession on the edge of our endzone, and they'd iso-ed their cutter right in front of Freeman with the disc - Fatty got the D. Even when they worked it 60 passes up-pitch against the clam - we got the D. I guess that's the "inevitability" of it all.

Oh man, oh man. So by now I was feeling pretty fine (well, my headache was being safely mattressed by a layer of paracetamol), and given we were in a semi, bugger not playing that. Onwards to the 2v3 against Ro Sham Bo, a team with one of the winningest reps in uni ultimate.

SB 13 - 8 Ro Sham Bo

By now we were high as a kite, spirit-wise, with two ludicrous comeback-from-the-death wins, and for some reason in the leadup to the Ro Sham match, the team insisted I whip out the NZ national anthem. So in what must've been one of the more incogruous sights of the weekend, everyone gathered around and gave me a slow clap while I recited the first verse in Maori: lyrics (see, they ARE real words, not made up gibberish). As I get into the swing of things the clapping speeds up, and after the finishing "Aotearoa" there is a HUGE roar from the team . Standing near by, Ro Sham look thoroughly spooked, as you would if your next opponents had appeared to engage in some sort of weird voodoo ceremony pre-match.

We started on D. They convert the first point for an easy score...

On for my first point of Sunday, I pick up the disc in the corner from the pull and see Carnott streaking deep. A massive forehand rip sees him in front of the endzone and after a few more passes an easy goal

We get an upwind break to go 2-1 up, and then Shannon pulls a ridiculous backhand blade... which is dropped. Easy goal

And with that moment, I think we - as a team - knew we were gonna win. Even though they got it back to 5s at one stage (twitter), it never seemed like we were gonna lose, and after breaking to take half 7-5 (twitter), we pulled out a series of breaks as our D line took it out and our O line walked points in:

Cap went at 11-7 and we went on to win...

Right up there. That match was right up there with the best ulti I've ever seen SB play (right up there with the Bears game at Regionals). We were so together as a team, everything O and D was clicking. We clammed, and while they were able to get around it fairly easily, they always seemed to have an unfortunate drop just when we needed it. Our O sparkled, and was so utterly smooth it was a joy to watch.

Mohawks 12 - 9 SB

Final. The final. We'd made it to the final. 1v2 against Mohawks, who'd come back from 6-7 down at half to win 10-7 against Uriel. Here was our chance to prove it. It was weird walking around and having people come up to us and say "oh, we heard you smashed Ro Sham. Congrats, good luck in the final".

For the final: I'm not gonna do a play-by-play, cos Twitter has it (start at twitter). We started off with another rousing rendition of God Defend New Zealand, which was greeted from the squad with an even louder roar (if possible).

Suffice it to say: well, damn. The anthem didn't work this time 'round. On the day, we were good, but just not good enough. Once again, the clam (the clam!) worked well, but Mohawks had a well-knitted handler unit who knew how to work together and they crashed in and pushed around our clam, despite a number of valiant layout bids by our middle-roams (Rob, Ruben, Fatty amongst others). It was a close match, as close as the commentary suggests, and I don't think many points were clean, turnover-free clinical goals; we had a fair number of throwaways on our O points before getting it back, while any turns that we generated from the clam or man seemed to end up in 50-50s upfield that the Mohawks always came down with. In the end, I think their greater composure told: their calmness against our clam, the willingness to move it around and wait before hurling a bullet throw a tired and leaky roam or over it into a hole left open by an exhausted deep. This made our offence (both O and D lines) look shaky, exemplified by a number of awesome bids (both in the air and ho). But as Humphs said later that evening: it was a close thing, but it was their day; on another day, we might've won. But on Sunday, Mohawks definitely deserved their victory.

After the match we had our final team huddle, listened to some speeches, got our silver medals (I didn't talk... or sing), had our team photo, and then had a gentle warmdown to consider all the crap that'd gone down that weekend.

Ruben said that, as is the way of the playground, "first is worst, second is best". And as he always makes good decisions, I think we can take some comfort from his words.

Our MVP was Matt Shannon, for reasons that are of course obvious: massive hucks, sweet handling, and being really REALLY tall under hanging discs, as always.

Elliott and Gary are making a video of "The Road to Nationals", which will be a bit more lighthearted than my screed, so watch out for that when it's released (I've heard the video itself will be 2 minutes ish long, but there should be a good half hour to forty-five minutes of way more entertaining out-takes).

And with that, the student season is (almost) over (except for UMON... which you should be signing up for!). In that last huddle, I asked Gary to say what he'd said to me in the aftermath of the Ro Sham match, when we'd just beaten one of the best teams of the country - and done it with some style - and he repeated: "This is the most I've ever seen SB look like a *team*, ever". Cork said to us after that match, that we're one of the best teams in the country. And as Freeman said after the Bears match, when we played, when we got into our scoring groove, there was that "air of inevitability" about us.

I guess that's the note I'd like to end on: from where we started last October, having trials in December and training all Lent, what we got - everyone in the squad, not just those who went to Natties, but everyone who played at Regionals and who trained on all those windy Saturdays and freezing cold Sundays, all the people who put themselves through an hour of tabatas and ground jumps at an ungodly time on a frozen JG twice a week - was that we really, truly became a team.

On a personal note, that's what I'm most proud of - that Rob and I captained such a fantastic team. Not just a bunch of individuals with great skills (though we were that too), but one that was well and truly a *team*. When we were good, we were amazing - Bears at Regionals, Ro Sham in the semi. But even more importantly, and even more amazingly, to me, when we were down, when we were up against it: we DUG, and we came back, and we took it - Jesters and OW at Regionals; Cork and Bears at Natties.

So yeah. Thanks to everyone for an absolutely exhausting but exhilarating and rewarding year. And while I can't help but think "what if..." for a few moments on Sunday, I'm still incredibly proud of what we've achieved in the last 7 months, and I'll cherish the memories - and the medals - that we've got from the year. Cheers guys.

- Mike