The word “Sarasota” tends to resonate.
The mere mention of the word in any sort of ultimate contact nearly always refers to the Club Championships. In this one simple word, ultimate players recognize the caliber of play, the harsh conditions, the level of fitness and the dedication necessary to play in Sarasota. It is the toughest and deepest tournament in the world. Aside from donning a Team USA jersey, it’s the pinnacle of the sport.
I was invited to play with GLUM at this year’s 2012 Club Championships for the first time, as a Masters player. Sarasota is every competitive ultimate player’s goal and has been mine for a long time. It was an incredible experience.
GLUM’s goal was to win it all. We were seeded 11th.
Having placed second at NE Regionals and without even participating in last year’s Championship, it was clear that we had a lot of work to do. With ever-changing rosters, average-ages yo-yoing from year-to-year and commitment being a strategy unto itself, seeding the Masters division is a mug’s game –scouting it is even more difficult. Either way, we were dead serious and extremely confident we would be #1 on the continent.
After a one-year hiatus/combo-experiment with DoG in 2011, GLUM reverted back to its core from Ottawa, which finished 3rd in 2010, while adding key players from Toronto, Montreal, and Rochester.
Having represented Canada at WUGC 2004 in the Masters division in Finland, our Ottawa-led O-line had played together forever. Their chemistry instilled confidence that the rest of the team could feed off of.
D-line had the legs and athleticism to get the 2 or 3 important Ds necessary to turn any game on its head. Our strategy was simple: always force flick, use a 1-3-3 or 3-3-1 transition D to limit set plays and hucks, use our legs and let the bodies fly.
The Championships story started at NE Regionals with two noteworthy events:
1. We suffered an epic collapse against No Country. Up 7-3 at half, our reliable O simply forgot how to score and our D failed to capitalize on turnovers like they had in the first half. The result was a 13-10 loss, a wretched taste in our mouths and a score to settle.
2. We ended DoG’s 18-year Club Championships run. Motivated by our disaster against NoCo, we played ornery, pissed-off ultimate and dominated Sunday with 15-5, 15-5, 15-4 wins,taking the back-door game 15-8 against DoG. GLUM was ready for Sarasota.
As expected, Sarasota was hot, a difficult transition coming from the Great White North. The infamous Sarasota wind wouldn’t really make its presence known until Day 2…
The Sarasota polo grounds are something to behold. It is hard to envision a facility that large being dedicated to ultimate in your mind’s eye, but there it was. It is massive. The fields were as soft as turf, flat as a board and had, for a bit of added flare, tiny explosions of sand accentuating every cut, turfed disc and layout.
Our pool games ran the table of emotions. Our first game was against the #2 seed, Reckon. Personally I felt we were sluggish in this first game, content to play them close but not elevating our game to pull ahead, a dangerous mental state to have in Sarasota when every single point is precious. Our D finally found its legs and we pulled even before dropping what should have been an upset, 17-15.
We missed a huge opportunity against Reckon and took it out on our fellow countrymen, FIGJAM, before our rematch against No Country. Having beat Reckon, we knew No Country would be bringing energy and confidence. We couldn’t allow ourselves another slow start.
With many Canadians playing for NoCo, bragging rights were on the line. After a long, hot day, the game was a grind, each team matching one another with long, grinding points, heated calls and lots of great defense. Our rematch came down to Universe and once again we let our Regional rivals wrestle a devastating game from us. We were 1-2.
Day 2 brought what would define the 2012 Championships, the infamous Sarasota wind. With our reliance on athleticism and a quick short-game, this did not play into our strengths against the zone conditions.
Needing one win to ensure quarters, we re-focused on Wasted Talent from Chicago, after our worst game of the tournament against Johnny Encore. Being down for most of the game, we finally pulled ahead with a key strategic change – “huck and hope” to our 6’ 6” guy, brought over from the O-line. And with that, we were into Quarters. The logic was perfect; the execution was ridiculous – as most teams would attest.
Boneyard was our dance partner for the Quarters. With each team scoring up-wind early, a false sense of security fell upon both squads. It was not to be; the wind took over. It was clear that the reward for the next up-wind goal would be a berth in the Semis. Boneyard would earn that berth, managing the only break of the game, winning it 15-12. Boneyard would go on to capture the silver medal.
We played Tejas and Burnside to round out the tournament, finishing tied for 5th – a worthy accomplishment but far from our goal. It was a disappointing finish.
Our D-line captain summed it up, “I don’t think we got to roll like we’d planned. I expected to run all teams into the ground, based on our athleticism. The wind screwed us from reaching higher”.
Not to be forgotten was the underlying story that this would be GLUM’s last Championships. With USAU’s relegation of the division from Sarasota, Masters will be consolidated with Women’s Masters and Grand in a new event starting in 2013. Apart from two missed bids, this would be GLUM’s last run in Sarasota since they started in 2003. 2012 would be my first and last trip to Sarasota.
Although there were many great moments from my first USAU Club Championships, there were three unique moments that will stick with me:
1. Every team relies on chemistry and much of that comes from what happens off the field. Team dinners are not uncommon, but to enjoy one while visiting Siesta Key, in a villa, with a huge BBQ, great people and a random story about falling out of a tree while holding a running chainsaw, all while being steps from the beach, cannot be beat. It’s the prize at the end of a long, intense, battle. It’s part of the reason Sarasota is the pinnacle for many players and why we are all pretty lucky to be playing this amazing sport.
2. The wind provided a lot of frustration and likely separated the contenders from the pretenders, but it highlighted one of my fondest memories: The moment when all 60 teams stopped, doffed their caps, turned towards the clubhouse and stood for the National anthems. This sight is something to behold – all that could be seen and heard were the lightly flapping dri-fit jerseys and shorts and quiet hum of the wind, with O’ Canada and the Star Spangled Banner playing in the distance.
3. That sweet, pink fluorescent glow of the Daiquiri Deck…