The first leg of the USA Ultimate’s inaugural Triple Crown Tour kicks off in Raleigh, N.C., July 4-7 with the 2013 U.S. Open Ultimate Championships. USA Ultimate billed this tournament as a competition of some of the world’s top teams and athletes in the sport of ultimate. Indeed, many of the U.S. top teams will participate but there will be three international teams competing in the open division as well: Mephisto from Canada, Euforia from Colombia, and Ragnarok from Denmark.
Mephisto is Montreal’s elite open team that participated many times at Canadian nationals and even represented the Montreal open program at the World Ultimate Club Championships (WUCC) in Prague in 2010. Euforia is one of the top teams in Bogotá. North American ultimate players are therefore probably more familiar with these two teams than with the third non-U.S. team participating in the open division this year: Ragnarok, the record-holding Danish national champion and one of Europe’s finest club programs for many years.
I talked with two members of the Ragnarok squad that will be traveling to the U.S. in July. Daniel Ocariz (#17) who played for the club since he was first introduced to the sport about 20 years ago and Mads Bakkegaard (#10) who joined the team in its inaugural year and currently serves as a player-coach. We spoke about the history of the club program and their preparation for the U.S. Open.
The club started in 1994 when Ocariz came up with the name for the new team. In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of north gods, the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. To the question on what people should know about Ragnarok, Bakkegaard and Ocariz replied: “We play hard, we bring respect onto the field for ourselves and our opponents.”
This statement holds true. In the European ultimate scene, the team from the Copenhagen area is known for a well-spirited never-give-up attitude.
Ragnarok still has a handful of players on the roster that already played in the first season. They have steadily improved over the years, by winning the national title. In 2005, the Danes won silver at the European Club Championships, but only after they had fought their way through the backdoor final in the pre-quarters which they had to play after failing to qualify for the upper pool during the first rounds of the competition. Also last year at the European Ultimate Championship Finals (EUCF), as a team starting (only) in the challenger division, Ragnarok advanced to the semi-finals and won bronze losing only to runners up Chevron Action Flash from Manchester, UK (European club champion in 2009).
Paving their way to the U.S. Open
Ragnarok has been wanting to play at an U.S. tournament for a few years now. In the past, the problem has always been getting a sufficient number of players to commit early enough. But last year, directly after the bronze game at EUCF 2012, the team came together and decided they would eventually take the exciting step and play a tournament in the U.S. in 2013. “Luckily this feeling didn’t vanish completely when all the everyday stuff took over after a long season,” Bakkegaard and Ocariz further report. In fact, almost everyone committed early and the U.S. Open was the number one priority. Everyone was thrilled when they actually got a spot to compete.
Many would have expected the Clapham club team (UK), which has won the European Club Championships three times including last year, to represent Europe at the U.S. Open. Clapham instead opted for Chesapeake, mostly due to the fact that the U.S. Open runs over four week days. Further UK has six players traveling to Toronto for the World Under 23 Ultimate Championships 2013 and the U.S. Open would not have worked for them either. But Clapham will likely consider it in the future and the same applies for other European teams.
However, Ragnarok took the chance to fulfill their dream of playing a U.S. tournament now. The Copenhagen team has been preparing for the U.S. Open since mid-winter including an ultimate fitness session with Melissa Witmer. The players have been hitting the gym and are preparing for a long season with an early peak in July. Almost the entire team trains together at the weekly practices and everyone is obligated to do physical and technical practice.
In addition, Ragnarok played three warm-up tournaments this spring where they have been focusing on different aspects of their game and incorporating new strategies. They won their home tournament in April, finished second at Tom’s Tourney in Bruges in May and came fourth at the Windmill Windup in Amsterdam a couple weeks ago. But clearly, the U.S. Open will be a different caliber.
What to expect at the U.S. Open
The tournament in the U.S. is very much a first time experience for most of the players, although in the 2011 season, Mads moved to Austin, Texas and played the season with Doublewide and he together with another Ragnarok player, Faissoil M´Bae, also played with Doublewide at the U.S. Open 2012.
The last time the whole team competed with a (practicing) U.S. club team was in 2010 when they finished 12th at the WUCC in Prague. Back then, in power pool play, they presented Revolver with a style of play that seemed to have confounded the U.S. champions for the first 6-8 points as they traded to start off. The Revolver defenders tended to afford a larger buffer when the disc was across the field, but the Danes punished this with around-the-mark forehand blades for small to large gains and several goals. Eventually Revolver dampened the around throws enough and reeled in their buffers to pull away for a 17-10 win. In the same power pool Ragnarok lost to Sockeye (15-6), but beat the Canadian team Phoenix in a close battle with 10-8.
At Windmill Windup this year, the Danes showed that they are prepared for the U.S. Open. They had almost the entire squad brought to Amsterdam, but were remarkably missing five key players. However, they nevertheless presented themselves in a very good shape and made into semi-finals where they faced Chiniya Rada, a squad of RISE UP coaches and friends. Windy conditions had a strong influence on the game and strategy. Both teams still found ways to score upwind earning two upwind breaks each in the course of the game, but in the end Chiniya Rada finally made the last downwind point winning 11-10 in overtime.
Skyd Magazine’s Elliot Trotter who played with Chiniya Rada in Amsterdam reported about his experience with Ragnarok after he returned from his trip:
“The Ragnarok team we played is athletic and self-aware. Unfortunately, high winds held their strategy to huck and d play, but based on their play throughout the weekend, I’m confident that they’re a solid team,” said Trotter. “The fact that they really haven’t had much consistent U.S. competition shows in minimal adjustment throughout our game against them, but I see them as a team that’s very close to breaking into the elite world. I suspect they’ll have a hard time at the U.S. Open against practicing U.S. teams but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset.”
Also, Boston Ironside’s coach Josh McCarthy was available for a brief statement on Ragnarok and what to expect from them in Raleigh. Try outs for Ironside are over and now they can focus on their preparation for the U.S. Open. “Ironside is looking forward to competing against the Danish team Ragnarok at the U.S. Open in this off-Worlds year,” said McCarthy. “Although our advance scouting team assigned cover them at Windmilll Windup could only report limited tactical information (due to the apparently extreme upwind/downwind nature of the game witnessed), game tape analysis from 2012 suggests that they are a big, athletic team that utilizes multiple offensive sets (such as horizontal and side stack). They also seem to have a knack for untraditional but effective throws to space. #10 Mads Bakkegaard in particular looks very poised and impressive as a go-to receiver who leads by example for Ragnarok; he is coming up on 20 years with this squad? Ironside wasn’t even founded until 2007, and even now, we only have two remaining members from that original team.”
Assessing the overall chances of success of the European team the Boston coach remarks: “Ragnarok appears to be an experienced and veteran squad with strong team chemistry, which will undoubtedly serve them well heading into the U.S. Open against a number of U.S. teams that are just starting up their fall series run and have yet to play a competitive tournament together this season. It will be interesting to see how Ragnarok as a whole adapts to playing against these American teams, who are known for their aggressive and more physical style of play, as well as to USAU (rather than WFDF) rules, such as playing with observers and under strictly enforced time limits between points and following turnovers. While I suspect many pundits will disregard their overall chances, Ironside will not be overlooking Ragnarok when we take the field against them in Raleigh.”
It remains to be seen if Ragnarok’s early preparation and consistency in the team structure will compensate for the limited individual experience of the players at the highest level, in particular since the Danes failed to send a team to World’s in Japan last year. In any event, Ragnarok is looking forward to competing with some of the best that our sport has to offer now. And even if they would not win many games at the U.S. Open, their massive effort this season will definitely pay off, as the team will further develop during the next couple of years. The experience that they will gain in Raleigh will be a huge advantage for them at the European Ultimate Championship Series this fall and also next year at WUCC in Italy. Beware, the Vikings are coming.
The best videos to see Ragnarok in action are the semi-final against Chevron Action Flash (UK) and 3rd place game against Flying Angels Bern (Switzerland) at EUCF 2012. They can be purchased here:
And here are some scenes from WUCC 2010:
US Open Coverage
Watch seven games Live on ESPN3:
And ten additional games will be covered by Ultiworld: