Best Perspective: Wild Southwest Regionals

by | May 7, 2014, 6:00am 9

There are certain life events that seem to pause time. Falling in love, heart break, being in the zone, letting down a team, getting married, a child’s firsts, some of these are moments are relished and cherished forever, while others drag on seemingly infinitely as the misery piles on. This weekend, I saw an entire team experiencing one of these moments.

The score stands at 14-10 with the UCSD Air Squids on top of the UC Davis Dogs. There are supporters of both teams present, along with a sizable crowd of players who have had their seasons cut short. With four observers on the field, we’ve got great coverage of everything happening. A huck from half field goes up towards the end zone. UCSD’s Nikhar Abbas is streaking deep for it, but with the disc hanging a little in the center right of the end zone, the Davis’ Nathan White hasn’t given up and manages to catch up. Both go up for the disc and collide in mid-air. The disc skids to a stop right in the middle of the end zone, uncaught.

Foul is called by Abbas as he picks himself up from the ground. White calmly explains that he believes they were both making a play for the disc and the contact is incidental. Abbas disagrees and says he was hit before he could attempt to make a play on the disc. They both turn to me as the closest orange shirt and let me know they want to come to the observer. I’ve been listening to both of their arguments, and I wave over to the other observer on this side of the field for a short conference. I want to make sure I get this call right, and a second opinion never hurts. A third opinion comes from one of the other observers. I walk up to the players and let them know what my ruling is.

“Call on the field was foul. Coming to the Observer. There was a foul. San Diego disc in the middle of the end zone walking to the goal line. After you ground check it in, we’ll go live and everyone can move.”

A collective gasp and groan is heard through the nearby crowd. Supporters of UCSD are clapping, while supporters of UC Davis are shaking their heads. Still the crowd starts to get back into the game after the call is made and the players start moving again. UCSD rushes down the field to set up their endzone offense with UC Davis doing their best to try and shut this down.

The four observers have gone into a diamond formation: we have one trailing observer that is watching the marker-thrower interaction, two observers on the front endzone watching players near the endzone and dump interactions if needed, and one observer on the back line of the endzone in case a in/out call needs to be made back there. I am on the back line. There is a flurry of movement as the UCSD offense ignites. UC Davis follows closely by, and they manage to force a dump. Time seems to be slowing down as the crowd keeps cheering on their respective sides. UCSD spots an opening and finds a receiver near the goal line of the end zone.

Three observers point both of their hands to the middle of the end zone. Silence reigns on the entire field. UCSD players on the sidelines are ready to explode, but their eyes are on the orange jerseys. The crowd has gone completely silent similarly focused on the only non-players on the field. In what seems like  a minute, but is in reality only a second or two, I make sure there is no call on the receiver’s defender. I then make eye contact with the other two observers pointing in to the endzone, and they affirm that the receiver was inside the end zone. We then all look at the trailing observer to see if there are any calls made between the thrower and marker. With his arms prepared in front of him, we are being told that there are no calls being made there. Simultaneously, all four observers raise their hands to signal goal.

This is the pause I alluded to earlier. There is a moment of silence right before we signal goal, and about a half second after we make the signal that seems to hang in the air. Nothing is moving, as if someone asked to take a picture of the moment and every single person politely obliged. The crowd has collectively been holding its breath. Players from both sides look on hopefully. UCSD players can see a season’s worth of work hopefully coming to fruition right now. UC Davis players are seeing the end of a season’s goal flit away and are hopeful they get another chance to continue the game.

The field erupts in activity. I can feel the ecstasy from the UCSD players as sideline players rush onto the field to hug and celebrate with their teammates with the knowledge they have just clinched a berth to nationals. I can also feel the utter disappointment in the UC Davis players that their season is over. The pro-UCSD crowd erupts in jubilation. The pro-UC Davis crowd is silent. The exultation among UCSD players continues while UC Davis players pick themselves up and join the rest of their team. Both teams line up and shake hands to end the Men’s bracket of Southwest Regionals.

While this is all happening, I am finishing up filling out my scorecard. I also run over and try to find the guy that was manning the scoreboard to thank him for doing that, but I can’t seem to find him. Making sure the scoreboard was correct was one of my responsibilities during the game, and I wanted to thank the scorekeeper for making changes when they were necessary. I jog over to the head observer and hand him my score card. He thanks me for it, and we watch the two teams shake hands. Afterwards, a few players here and there come over to us and thank us for observing their game. We tell them it was a great game. Members of the crowd come over to talk to us and do the same also. While we certainly do not want or deserve any glory for the game, it is always nice to have players or members of the crowd come up and thank us for observing the game.

*    *    *

Regionals started for me Saturday morning with a 5:30am wakeup. CSU: Long Beach is about an hour and a half drive away, and the other observer coming from San Diego, Keith Temple, and I decided that going up Saturday was the easier option for us. I did my last second packing, picked Keith up from his house, and we headed up to the field site.

As is customary for any tournaments that we go to as observers, we often quiz each other on situations that have come up in tournaments that the other hasn’t gone to or on situations that may have come up in observer communications. Something that is of note that I have apparently been doing wrong is regarding the “observers are air” policy. We tell players during the captain’s meeting before games that observers are “air”, and that if a disc contacts us or we somehow get in the way during a play to treat us as if nothing is there. If a disc bounces off of us and hits the ground, it is a turn. Perhaps the most famous example of this is a Brodie Smith pass deflecting off an observer running down the sideline at the Florida-Carleton Men’s Championship game a few years back. It was caught for a score by a tip toeing player. I had been telling teams that players could call picks on an observer, but this is not actually the case. We are for all intents and purposes air, and picks can’t be called on air. I’ve never actually put myself into a situation where a pick would be called, but it is good to know the proper procedure for anything that I have been doing wrong.

We arrived at the fields around 8:00am, planned out the games that we would cover, attended the captain’s meeting, and got to work. With the way the brackets and pools were set up, it was our decision to cover more women’s games on Saturday since placement into their third place bracket games would likely be more contentious than the Men’s pools, basically eliminating the 4th place team in each pool. In the end, I think it largely worked out since there was only one ‘upset’ in regards to making it to the bracket, and that happened between the #12 and #13 seeds. Otherwise, most of the rest of Pools A, B, and C all went to seed. There was some excitement around who would win Pool D, and that eventually came to point differential after some mirroring scores came to light.

In the women’s games that I observed, UCSB and Stanford seemed to be a step above the rest of the region, and their first matchup on Saturday proved to be a treat to watch. Both teams were highly spirited and very athletic with plays being made all over the place. UCSB’s Callahan nominee, Pitcaithley, was especially a star in the first half of that game with an especially memorable layout score around two Stanford defenders. She seemed to not dominate as much when Stanford decided to throw their Box and 1 while isolating Lisa with specific matchups. Stanford started to get a few breaks to cut into a lead they had given up in the first half, but UCSB eventually ground out a victory in the second half.

Later in the day I was moved back to the Men’s side for the LPC-UC Davis game (since that game would decide who would get a bye into Sunday) and a Men’s pre-quarters game (Stanford-Arizona). The LPC-UC Davis game could be characterized as two similar teams (major stars on both sides carrying a lot of the weight of their teams) with one major difference (a relative dearth of depth for LPC, they were 12 men strong at Regionals). This lead to UC Davis etching out a win with their legs.

Stanford-Arizona in the pre-quarters was a rematch of the game to go from last year’s Regionals. Both of these teams had Nationals aspirations, but this round would be the first round of eliminations. One bid regions can be tough that way, but it certainly does up the drama factor when it comes to bracket play. This was a tough, hard fought, and physical game played between the two teams. The fifth round of the day was wearing on both players and observers at this point. Stanford found ways to capitalize on Arizona mistakes, and this eventually lead to their loss.

The next day had me observing a Men’s quarters, semis, and Women’s 3rd place bracket Semis in addition to the Men’s finals. First game on the docket was UCSD-UCSB. In what was a largely high spirited game, UCSD managed to take the win on defense, taking advantage of UCSB throwaways and forcing a few D’s. UCSB found its offense and defense in the second half, but they were unable to claw back from the 8-2 hole that they found themselves at half en route to a 15-8 loss.

Next up was a semifinals game between UCSD and California. This was a back and forth game between two hungry teams, and it showed as it went down to universe point. This last point was punctuated by a drop on the pull by UCSD, and the seeming slipping away of the season was wiped away with a UCSD goal line stand. UCSD worked it up the field for a couple throws before a huck near the end zone set up an easier throw past a bidding California player for the game winner. The universe point can be viewed here.

My second to last game of the tournament was a surprising 3rd place semis matchup between SDSU and USC in the Women’s division. In what ended up being a game between throwers (SDSU) and legs (USC), USC did their best to lockdown on downfield defense waiting for throwaways from SDSU. When they got these throwaways, they mostly worked it back down the field for scores. With a scoring run shortly before half to open up an 8-4 lead, USC never looked back and cruised on to the victory and playing for a nationals bid in the 3rd place game.

After the finals game, there wasn’t much to do except pack up my gear and head home. It had been another memorable Regionals with a number of highlight reel-worthy plays. I will be looking forward to Nationals and seeing how the teams in the Southwest matchup against the rest of the country. Until preparation starts for Nationals in a few weeks, I’ll be preparing by reading every article possible on every single team that makes Nationals. The seeding discussions will be useful for this too since that will give some indication as to what to expect from some teams. Still, I am excited for my first Nationals experience, and I can’t wait to experience it.

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  • TAlexCooper

    Thank you very much for all of this. Thank you not only for observing, which is excellent for the ultimate community, but also for these articles. Observing is a great way to give back to the sport, and if these posts inspire just one more person to become an observer, you've done a great service. Even if they don't directly inspire someone, they're a great read from an often unheard perspective. Congratulations on the job seemingly well done at Regionals, and good luck at Nationals.

  • Joe

    I came to watch the games on Sunday since it is a rarity to have such high level games within 30 minutes of my house. I watched the Cal/UCSD game and was pretty impressed with the level of play throughout and good spirit between the two. This is why i was shocked when a late bid from a UCSD came on an under cut. He took out the Cal player and apologized as soon as he knocked him down. The Cal player, understandably a little upset with the late bid, says come one as he slaps his hip with the disc. This observer decided that action needed to be given a TMF…on the Cal player! He called a TMF on another ticky tack play soon after.

    Please ease up on the TMFs at nationals…we don't want observers deciding the game. Everyone in my area thought both instances were ridiculous and completely over the top (I was in a pro-UCSD area and these were TMFs called against Cal).

    • Eric

      I could be mistaken, but I think Marvin told the Cal player to calm down and then TMF'd the UCSD player for dangerous play.

  • Clify42

    5 TMF's in our quarters game against Cal all against SDSU. 3 for being too close to the sideline on with an overall sideling width of 4'. And two TMF's called on a marker who bumped a thrower (not knocking him down or aggressive, the second in fact he lost his footing and apologized right after, yet the call came from the observer on the opposite side of the field) . Cal made no call the call came form the observer. 3 yardage penalties against SDSU during the game who ended up losing by one point.
    Observer's became participant's and decided the game. Absolutely shameful

    Clif, Coach SDSU, (incidentally no team of mine in 7 years had even had one TMF called against us, nor have I in all the years I played. It was an absolute shame to have observers arbitrarily end their season…..still smarting)

    • counter

      Apparently Cal had no problem staying off the sideline.

  • john

    If you're reading up on all the teams, is that a objective to remaining impartial? I don't see why you would do this if it could possibly form opinions of how certain teams/players play.

    • silly.

      Do you think NHL officials try to avoid knowing who the goons on each squad are?

      • Jcs

        If you're going to call one team goons just come out and say it.

  • Lamar

    I'm grateful for Marvin and every other observer, but I think the drawn out discussion of the moments between a catch in the endzone and the observer signaling goal reveals that he, and most other observers, have an over inflated sense of themselves that hurts the game. The crowd should not be collectively holding its breath waiting for the observer to signal goal – they should be holding their breath while the disc is in the air, headed for one of the players. They should exhale on the catch, not on the observer's delayed signal.

    All in all, observers are way too strict about sideline players rushing the field on a goal and way too slow to signal goal. The emotional catharsis of rushing a player who is holding the disc that just sent your team to finals or Nationals or whatever is too important to the current state of college ultimate to destroy with three seconds of waiting and glancing around. It really hampers the emotion and takes the focus off the players. Instead, observers should immediately signal goal when a player catches a disc in the endzone, and if there is in fact a foul that changes the play they should then signal that and clear the field without a TMF. That's the tradition in ultimate – immediate celebration, and if it goes back the celebration never really hurt anyone because the disc was dead anyway.

    In conclusion, observers should immediately signal goal and should not penalize rushing the field. Keep the emotion in the game and keep the players, rather than the observers, in the spotlight. And again, observers are awesome people who make the game way better; this is just an area in which there could be serious improvement.