Common ultimate enthusiasts might be tempted to lump this generation of GOAT and Furious George together as, simply, that pair of virtually perennial Canadian Club Championships qualifiers. It’s not that that there’s anything easy about getting to Sarasota (almost) every year, it’s just that for anyone not having much first-hand experience playing against either team, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the two. Last reaching Club National semis five-or-so years ago (Furious, 2006; GOAT, 2007), each has undergone a period of ‘rebuilding’ since then; each is viewed as talented but inconsistent, and each would generally be considered a long shot for this year’s crown. As elite teams around the continent put the finishing touches on their preparation for next week’s showdown, we checked in with each squad to learn about the respective 2012 editions of GOAT and Furious George.
First, for all the parallels that exist, make no mistake that these are two teams with very distinct identities. A summary of GOAT as a team begins with the fact that many of their key players today are in their early/mid-20s and have only recently moved into leadership roles on the field. That youth, coupled with the retirement of household name John Hassell after WUGC 2012, has necessitated a sense of unity among the team that will surely serve as a strength on the road to whatever success they achieve in Sarasota. GOAT’s emergence as a relatively-unknown Championships semifinalist in 2007 branded the team as a “faceless army”, a characterization that they hope will inspire and apply equally to their efforts this year. Emotionally, GOAT will be looking to do what most young teams struggle to do: stay positive in the face of adversity and maintain the focus needed to close out tight games.
If their remarkably consistent and compelling blogging hasn’t made this sufficiently evident, then it’s right there in their name for all to see: Furious George are inspired and defined by anger in its various forms. To be clear, Furious are at their best when angry with themselves; that’s when they unleash their animalistic defensive will and refuse to go down without clawing and scrapping for all they’re worth. Their astonishing inventory of comeback wins over the past couple of years is as much a testament to that iron will as it is stark evidence of their inability to put together complete games. So when they tell you that “we are the most frustrating team in the mix”, you get the sense that they’re referring not only to opponents’ frustration, but also to their own. Furious seems to take pride in this phenomenon, but they’d be the first to admit that their challenge at the Championships will lie in finding this inspiration before their backs are up against the wall.
Nobody would define Furious in terms of offensive polish (including Furious themselves). In a recent recap of Northwest Regionals, Lou Burruss humorously-but-aptly described them as one big D-line – not afraid to turn it over and needing heavy wind for their best chance at success. GOAT, on the other hand, doesn’t see themselves as having one particular stylistic preference, and are perhaps still forging that identity as their evolving core gets more reps together.
On that note, both GOAT and Furious had disjointed summers because of Team Canada commitments. Nearly all of Furious and many players from GOAT competed for Canada’s Open or Mixed squads at WUGC in July, so both teams approached the summer in two distinct parts: Worlds ‘season’ vs club season. For Furious, this meant that their club season proper didn’t start until ECC in early August, where they went 3-4 on the weekend, with wins over PoNY and Truck Stop, and a comeback win over GOAT on double-game point. GOAT held practices throughout the early summer and sent a small squad of its newer talent to the US Open in July, but didn’t welcome any of their Team Canada members until ECC as well. In Seattle, GOAT’s 16-man roster went a disappointing 1-6, but that included three losses on double-game point (two in which they had the disc with a chance to win). They came away from the weekend feeling good about the way they competed, but recognizing they needed to improve their execution at the end of close games.
Since then, it’s been a bumpy road for Furious, as they struggled with roster fluctuation and O-line shake-up throughout the Canadian Ultimate Championships (which they won, but in more dramatic fashion than they would have liked) and Labor Day in Santa Cruz (at which they went 3-4, with wins over Boost Mobile, Madcow and Ring). Neither performance satisfied them so they were encouraged when they finally put together a solid effort at Sectionals, losing 15-13 to Sockeye in a hard-fought final. They proceeded to give away all of that momentum on Saturday at Regionals, when they got crushed by Sockeye and lost handily to Rhino. But, in an all-too familiar scenario, they grappled their way to the back door on Sunday, overwhelmed Voodoo in the game-to-go (15-7), and even stole 2nd place in the region with a 12-11 win over Rhino in a 2/3 seeding game. The positive spin on the ups-and-downs of the season so far is that they’ve helped galvanize the squad and given them a chance to prove to themselves that they can deal with adversity; in the end, an 8 seed at Club Nationals isn’t such a bad spot to be in.
To date, GOAT’s signature win of 2012 was over Chain Lightning in the Chesapeake Invite semifinals. Whittled down to 15 guys by that point in the tournament, they fell behind 9-4 to Chain Lightning early in the second half, then proceeded to fight back for a huge win on double-game, 15-14. Ironside ended up getting the better of them in the final (13-9), but GOAT came away from the weekend feeling good about their performance (particularly the resilience they showed against Chain) and confident that they can compete with anyone. They rode that confidence through Sectionals, where their biggest test was a 15-9 win in the final, and into Regionals.
At Regionals, GOAT finally showed up with a full roster; 26 of 27 Florida-bound players were in attendance. Saturday went smoothly; Sunday was a bit of a wild ride, as many readers will already know. Up 14-11 in the final against national-#1-seed Ironside, a close call ruled against them sent GOAT into a tailspin that didn’t end until they had lost that game (14-16) and the next one (10-15, to PoNY for 2nd place). Only in a do-or-die 3rd-place game against weekend surprise Dark or Light did they finally, mercifully break out of the free-fall. With a 15-12 win, GOAT secured the Northeast’s last spot in Sarasota. On the whole, Sunday didn’t play out the way that they hoped it would, but there are some clear positives to take away from the experience: they accomplished their #1 objective for the weekend (qualify); they pushed the consensus national #1 to the brink of just their 2nd loss of the season, and they got a glimpse of the strength of their full roster.
Speaking of personnel, GOAT will be notable among the Sarasota field for featuring European players in Nasser M’Bae Vogel, Sebastian Sporrong and Justin Foord (check out Ultiworld’s profile of those guys). Other players to watch include O-line standouts Mark Lloyd and Cam Harris, plus Adrian Yearwood, Anatoly Vasilyev and Geoff Powell on the other side of the disc. They report no significant injuries heading into Club Nationals.
Furious is a bit more coy, opting not to divulge much information on the health of a roster that’s struggled with injuries all season. Certainly, they’ve made public record of the Regionals sidelining of spiritual leader Marc Seraglia, plus key players Brendan Wong and Aaron Koenig, but it remains to be seen who, if anybody, is a spectator in Florida. One suspects that it will take a lot to keep any angry monkey out of action for the chance to play spoiler at the Big Dance. Still, even if those particular injuries haven’t healed, we can expect many of the Furious vets to make their presence felt, as they always do: Morgan Hibbert, Nick Menzies and Oscar Pottinger, to name a few.
When I spoke to members of Furious and GOAT to get input for this story, it hadn’t yet been announced that they’d be occupying the 8th and 14th seeds in Sarasota, respectively. Officially, both teams are aiming to win, but that’s not surprising at all, is it? You don’t get to be a Nationals-calibre team without that mentality; as Alex Davis of Furious puts it, “satisfaction is father to complacency”. Reading a little deeper into their message, the neutral third party would understand that GOAT and Furious George are going to the Championships to compete, and to win as much as possible; they’ll worry later on about how they should have expected to do going in. In that way, these teams are alike and like any other team we’ll see at Club Nationals. Still, they’re very different squads that have taken different roads to get to this point. Each is in search of the best possible end to the story of its season, which will naturally come at the expense of its opponents’ objectives.
If they happen to square off against each other at some point during the tournament, I suspect that any parallels that do exist won’t mean a whole lot to the guys on the field.
Photo by Corry Berghout.