In order to head down to Antarctica last year, I had to quit my ultimate team in Colorado. I was playing with Johnny Bravo, the best team I'd ever played for by far. When I was with them, we made semifinals for the first time. I left in early October 2007 and three weeks later, they went farther than ever before and made finals at nationals.
When I quit, I decided that I might also retire from competitive men's ultimate and just play recreational leagues and possibly competitive coed. My body just wasn't healing as fast as it used to. My priorities were shifting so that I wanted my weekends free to go play in the mountains instead of play on the ultimate field. Also, I never had the drive on Bravo that I had on other teams I had played for. That could have been a number of reasons (the commute, shifting of priorities, desire, or unity). Either way, I was going to think about it while I was on the Ice and go from there.
After not playing anything but low level mini ultimate in a gymnasium for a year, I thought barefoot pickup in the park might be a fun way to kill an afternoon in Christchurch. I hopped online, googled up the local game, and showed up to play in a park just past the botanical gardens. The pickup wasn't low level. It was fantastic. While there, a couple players asked me if I'd be around to play on the one of the Canterbury Frisbee Flyers Club's three teams at nationals. I wasn't sure. I was planning on heading home. However, my leave of absence unexpectedly expired at my job so I wasn't in a hurry to get back and Mike and Mel harassed me enough times that I decided, why not.
From there on out, my time in NZ was defined by leaving Christchurch to hike as much as I could in 6-10 days before returning back for practice, pickup, and league. While out hiking with friends, I'd be doing my own plyometric and sprint training in the morning while they slept. When I got back to Christchurch, I bided my time remembering how to play the game after almost 14 months away and trying to score free cleats. I eventually just bought cleats. Relearning the game again wasn't nearly so easy.
Nationals weekend finally came and our team was seeded 1st overall. On Saturday, we had 4 games. If we won all of them, we'd have a first round bye on Sunday. We blew through the first three teams (Wellington-B, Nelson NUDE, and Canterbury's Ethos) 39-3, I think. We just weren't challenged, which might have led to our let down in the final game of the day against Auckland/Australia's MRRP. For some reason, we were playing sloppy and the other team quickly went ahead. When the cap went, I think the score was 9-6. We switched up our personnel a little bit and rallied back to 10-9 going upwind. I dropped the goal to tie it up because I was looking to see if I was in. We lost 11-9 and earned a trip to quarterfinals. We weren't happy, but we weren't too worried because we knew we hadn't played our best game and would have a second chance tomorrow if we played well.
On Sunday, we came out blazing and beat a team from Auckland which gave us the #2 team overall in the tournament, Duke from Wellington, in the semifinals. We came out hot and went up 4-0 before the other team had even warmed up. When they got warm, they quickly brought it back to 4-3. I don't remember too much about this game. We would go on a run and then they would. We were only ever up by 2 or 3, but I felt like we were playing well enough that I was never really worried. I probably should have been. I remember finishing this game well because Mike worked ridiculously hard to get us a break and upwind goal so we didn't just trade points until we got to 15.
That win gave us MRRP again in the finals. We definitely wanted the rematch and were excited because it was windy. We have a lot of players who like the wind and so that probably worked in our favor even though we had lost the last game to them in the wind. I'm struggling for details on this game. I remember feeling the game was always in danger, but apparently we won 15-6 or 15-8 so maybe it wasn't or we just had a lot of close plays go our way. I remember Hannan skying their tallest guy early on. I remember Penny and Sammy being patient and eventually getting me to be patient. I remember our ladies dominating. I think this was the deepest group of women I've ever had the privilege to play with. I remember that I feel like I have no offensive awareness anymore. I felt like my D was pretty good. Bump, grind, and battle. Same recipe as always.
Game face? (photo by Neil Gardner)
To wrap up a long ramble, my tournament team was fantastic. The Christchurch ultimate community is great. They made me smile. It is made up of good, mellow people. They reminded me why I love this game. They've defined a lot of my time in Christchurch. Maybe, I won't retire when I get home. In fact, I'm eyeing up another tournament in February.
Major points to Ken, Mel, Brian, and Raja for coming out to see ultimate!
*All photos are from Neil Gardner's site.