From Aug 15-18th 2012, 72 teams covering the Open, Women’s, Mixed, Master’s, Junior Open and Junior Women’s divisions, descended upon Victoria, British Columbia for the 26th annual Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC). Editor’s note: Our apologies for the late release. Enjoy!
For many, CUC closes out the summer touring season, for others it’s the first peak before having to do it again for the USAU fall series or the Canadian University Ultimate Championships (CUUC). That sense of closure is what surrounds CUC with an incredible reunion-like atmosphere for everyone involved.
With Canada’s sheer size and travel costs, it is quite rare for teams to face many of their opponents prior to CUC, therefore it’s usually the onetime per year when one gets to see old friends and teammates. There’s a real buzz amongst players when they get to Nationals: rekindling friendships, team dinners on the road, getting the CUC swag and the sheer anticipation of the only 4-day tournament of the year.
The tournament itself isn’t much different than USAU Club Championships in that it uses USAU rules, has uniform regulations and uses observers (by request in pool play, by default in bracket play). CUC bids are determined across 6 Regionals tournaments in July; our series does not have Sectionals. Like most tournaments, there has been a big push for increased online presence – live updates, Twitter feeds, broadcasting games and so on. Although we haven’t reached the broadcast quality of NGN, there were 2 broadcasts of the final games, one from Victoria’s local cable outlet and the other from IAmUltimate.com.
The unique part of CUC, at least compared to the USAU Championships, is that the location changes from year to year. This is a tremendous opportunity for players to experience different parts of the country and usually serves as a jumping off point for extended vacations. From my experiences, this has led to trips to Banff National Park before CUC in Calgary, partying at the Citadel in Halifax, enjoying the small town community vibe of Sherbrooke and going on a whale-watching tour in Victoria, to name a few memorable experiences.
This year was a particularly eventful Nationals for me, I was returning to Mixed with Union from Toronto, after a one-year hiatus. I had a great feeling about our blend of skills and chemistry. If we could find our groove early, I knew we had a shot at winning gold.
Heading into nationals, we felt there were four main contenders: 2011 CUC silver medalists and 2012 US Open semi-finalists Odyssée from Montreal; 7 Deadly Spins from Vancouver – a version of 5 time CUC gold medalists and 2011 champs Team Fisher Price; Unight from Montreal… and us. But we had to deliver against teams we hadn’t beat… or even played.
Day 1 would be a series of tests to see if we had the ability to be efficient against lesser teams and the composure to handle difficult games.
Day 1: Ottawa’s Glide (16), Saskatoon’s Bunny Thugs (10) and Unight (2).
Our first 2 games went as planned with little issue, 15-7 and 14-5 respectively. With our poor showing at Regionals we were seeded 7th, and Unight 2nd, creating the toughest pool in the division. Unight beat Odyssée at Regionals so we knew they were legit. Our scouting report informed us not to fall behind early, as they tend to use observers a lot to stretch games out.
We fell behind right away. However, our O line was smooth and efficient for the rest of the half. Our D line was grinding. Our tournament goal was to make teams work for their points, “no quick points”, and we were succeeding. Unight displayed a calm offense despite our pressure and extremely quick D coverage to keep the game tight, but we managed to take half 8-7.
With time wasting away in the second half, Unight pulled ahead by one. In cap, needing to tie it and receiving the disc, we turned it over on a huck to their end zone. Without a win against a top team this year, were nerves finally kicking in? On their first pass after our turnover, Sachin Raina made an outstanding layout D ten yards out of their end zone and proceeded to throw for the point and to tie it up. On the ensuing point, we managed to turn Unight at our endzone and marched downfield for the win. Twitter exploded. Babies cried. We took the game on double universe. That win defined us as a team. That game galvanized us and proved that we were contenders. All we had to do was take care of business on Day 2 and improve our standing.
Day 2: Power Pools against St Johns’ Wreckhouse (5), Vancouver’s Power Pack (13) and Guelph’s MuD (4).
Wreckhouse has done great things for Ultimate in Atlantic Canada and Power Pack was an exciting group on young athletes, but we took care of business, 15-9 and 15-4.
MuD is our Regional rival; we beat them in our only head to head game of the year, but they were the Ontario Regionals champs. We dismantled them… we were starting to peak; our D line was finding the right balance of intensity while exuding the necessary patience with the disc after turns. The MuD game proved that Unight wasn’t a fluke and we could put teams away that we usually allowed to hang with us.
Meanwhile, the other power pool provided for a good bit of drama. After being upset by PRODiGY on day one, word from the other pool was that some of 7 Deadly Spins’ top players had finally shown up and they narrowly lost to Odyssée 11-10 on day two. Odyssée, meanwhile, was distancing itself from everyone.
When the dust settled, our upset over Unight and 7DS’s two losses meant that the three top-seeded teams were all on one side of the bracket – 7 Deadly Spins, Unight and Odyssée.
Day 3: Bracket play.
Quarters put us up against Edmonton’s Rogue Hippos (11). They played us tight but in the end we managed to pull away for a 15-7 win. The upstart Skysharks were next.
Victoria’s Skysharks (8) were providing the hometown Cinderella story; after a 10th place finish in 2011, this 2nd year team was turning heads with a 5-1 record out of power pools. We had no idea what to expect.
The game had an electric feel to it. Being the hometown team, there was no shortage of family and friends to cheer them on; Victoria’s Nomads had their pig roast roaring on the sideline and since it was the last time slot of the day, magic hour was kicking in for the photographers and many of the teams were looking for a game to watch and enjoy a beer. It had every feeling of a showcase game.
The game didn’t disappoint. Our offense was firing once again, but the Skysharks matched us point for point with a couple spectacular plays from their women: a huge layout, audience erupting grab for a point and a 40-yard lefty bomb for another score. It was a game in which we felt in control but could turn into an upsetting loss if we didn’t pull away soon. Up 8-6 at half, our captains Dilhan Kuru and Warren Tang kept us focused: reiterating that their big plays couldn’t possibly continue and told us to keep grinding. We did and took the game with an exciting 15-10 victory. We were going to the show!
Day 4: Gold Medal game against Odyssée (3).
For many of my teammates and I, the final was a huge accomplishment. Only 4 of our 25 players had ever played in a CUC championship game, three of which joined us late in the season from top club teams – Mal Lundgren and Kate Jardine from Capitals and Mike Jones from GOAT.
For Union, making the final was the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication in the mixed division. A fairly veteran team, Union began as… ahem… a union of 3 Toronto mixed teams in 2011. Union’s goal was to build a mixed system with an Elite A-team that could win Nationals, something that Toronto ultimate had struggled to maintain despite its large population of players.
2012 was the first time a Toronto team had been in the Mixed Finals since 2004 and only the third time since the division started in 1999. Odyssée was riding the crest of the mixed ultimate wave in Quebec over the past 4 years, churning out many top-tier mixed teams, including ONYX, Unight, Rip and Gecko (versions of which have appeared as Denoiret and Snowbirds in the USAU Northeast Region).
The finals field in Victoria was in immaculate condition, lined specifically for Ultimate. There were 1600 fans watching from the grandstands. For anyone who hasn’t played in a stadium, it’s wild. On the home side, the stadium funnels all of the noise towards the field making it very difficult to communicate to your teammates while also heightening the emotion on the field. For anyone that makes it to this stage, make sure to embrace the opportunity; it’s an entirely unique experience.
Once the game started, all of the emotion that came with playing on the big stage went away. It was business as usual. Matt Chellew led us into our ridiculous “2-Lines” dance to start the game and away we went.
We started on O and were broken right away – another slow start. We settled in and tied it at 1s. Before we could blink and after a few unforced errors, Odyssée went on a run, taking the lead 4-1 and eventually taking half at 8-4. It was the first game where our O line struggled. Unforced errors were a part of it but we were throwing hucks into tighter coverage and we didn’t adapt soon enough. Our movement underneath was great but we couldn’t close out points. It was evident that they were keying their defense on Mal and Kate, our stats leaders. When we did turn Odyssée, they managed to respond with backbreaking, momentum-killing Ds. Or we simply didn’t convert.
In the second half we switched to a wedge zone and had greater success – limiting their set plays and quick handler movements – but it was too little too late. Odyssée took a well-deserved win 15-10 and the gold medals.
I’ve heard some people mention nerves as the problem or that Odyssée was simply the better team. In the end, the better team won the game, but I know that we had a better game in us. As a veteran team there was a quiet confidence we never really discussed at Nationals, so I don’t think nerves were an issue. Although, our D line may have had some rust simply because it took us so long to finally turn Odyssée. Sometimes, I think there are games where you simply don’t execute, I think it was one of those games.
I played with several of the Odyssée guys on Team Canada at WCBU 2011, and wish them luck in their USAU run. Congratulations to Odyssée and thanks to all our rivals at CUC for pushing us in each and every game.
In the end, I think everyone on Union is proud of what we accomplished. After all, we had a 36-2 season, took on an Elite group of teams at CUC and brought respect back to Toronto mixed. Congrats and thanks to everyone on Union.
The full game can be seen on one of 2 feeds: Victoria’s Shaw TV or IAmUltimate.com. Full coverage from each division is also available on these channels.
Thanks to Scott Chapman for the feature photo!