The 2012 College Tour is presented by Spin Ultimate
Standing on the sidelines near the east end zone for most of the backdoor final of the Georgia Tech versus Florida, I had a mostly unobstructed view of the game. Almost everything happening was within my line of sight and after almost two hours watching high level college ultimate, I realized my heart was beating through my shirt. Neither school is my alma mater. It’s been four years since I stepped on the college playing field. Yet this particular game was one of those instances that grabbed a hold of all players and spectators and produced tremendous emotional swings no matter who you rooted for. The story lines only fed into the mental frenzy: Georgia Tech hasn’t qualified for Nationals since before some of the current roster was born, Nick Lance is in the Callahan hunt and Florida has to go into hostile Atlanta territory to beat the hometown team. What culminated for Tech was more than just a win. The team exploded in a sheer embodiment of the triumph of victory.
Tech shouldn’t have been in this position: a two decade drought of the big stage as a result of some very recent near misses. The 2006 team should have gone, loaded with (at the time) present and future Chain Lightning talent but alas they happened to be in the same region as Florida and Georgia who finished 1st and T-3rd in the nation respectively. Had the current bid allocation rules been in place then, it’s easy to speculate that Tribe would have been a participant in Columbus. The 2010 team should have gone, having beaten Georgia already twice that season including a recent sectional crown victory with some spectacular match-up play between Lance and Peter Dempsey that left a stunned Athens crowd near silent. Though, when the bid was on the line in Tallahassee a few weeks later, Tech fell to Jojah in the game to go as the Dawgs continued their impressive Nationals qualifying streak by once again peaking at the right time.
This year, for the majority of the season, Tech was a bubble team at best, positioned tightly with Georgia and Florida in the rankings, which says a lot about the increased competition level among college open teams. An eleventh hour second bid burst the prospects wide open and an unfortunate series of injuries to Jojah meant that the team that earned the second bid was unlikely to claim it. The other prime contender for the ticket would be the Gators. Florida is, well Florida. They’ve been an elite team for almost a decade now and have seen several classes of elite superstars take over the college game and progress on to the club circuit. The fabulous critics of RSD have always been quick to point that “so and so has graduated so Florida is going to fall off.” Well, they haven’t and scoffs at the perceived game breaking inabilities when compared to Gehret and Gibson and Smith only fuel the fire that is the Gator squad.
Is this a good explanation of the feelings that made up the diehard folks attending the game at the end of Sunday of regionals? Probably not. But factor in that those diehards were by and large a very dichotomous group, save for some raucous hecklers from Tennessee. Florida Fuel had just qualified for Nationals themselves, which provided a hearty fan base for their ultimate family as well as slew of Tribe alumni and fans who took advantage of a local stage to hopefully see their team advance. Past college nationals champions Dustin Travaglini, Joe Crinkley and Alton Gaines stalked the sidelines for Florida while past club nationals champions and Tribe alums Russell Snow and Jonathan Monforti did the same for Tech. For an ultimate junkie like me, it was a great site to see. Tech would go on a run and draw large cheers from the crowd. Florida would go an equally impressive comeback in the second half which sparked excitement from the other half of the fans. All of the past years which led to the past months which led to this one game left everyone overcome with at least a little bit of sensory overload. Tech’s victory was not only a claim of a nationals berth, it was also a claim for all the invested emotion that both teams anted up through years of hard work.
So if Tribe ever wondered what comes next after reaching this point, they were certain to find out. For me, it was apparent on all their faces: smiles. Lots of them. Little things now had meaning, such as Ramu Annamalai pointing out to me, breaking from shotgunning beers, that he unknowingly kept a lucky penny in his shorts pocket the entire game. Jay Clark (jokingly) shrugging off his previous trips to the show with Tufts as casual and he’s used to this thing by now. Everyone embraced the stereotype that a bunch of nerds could in fact play a hell of a game of ultimate.
Is this the peak of the mountain? Yes, but it’s only one mountain in a lifelong range. There aren’t many scenarios that will spoil Tech’s trip to Boulder this year, but that means there’s a steeper slope downward next year. On the other hand, I was very impressed with Florida’s standout freshman Bobby Ley. He showed a lot of maturity and poise, not to mention spirit as well which bodes well for Florida’s future. For now, kudos to Tribe and their return to Colorado for the first time since ‘92.
Feature Photo by Christina Schmidt of UltiPhotos