I was called into the office for a salary review. I did not have highest of hopes. My sweaty palms may have given me away. Nevertheless, it was good news and I received a decent raise, a raise that was to be blown on ultimate.
Weeks earlier, a pre-Nationals tournament aptly named the Mother City Invitational was put together. Hosted in Cape Town, the home of South African Ultimate, it required teams from Durban and Johannesburg to travel. This cued the formation of the Slugs & Ravens, a rag-tag collection of players from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Mozambique. Many of us hadn’t met each other, let alone played together until a week before the tournament.
In terms of opposition, it was steep. Cape Town was home to Ghost, the National champions, and former champions, Chilli. The steady wind in the Mother City makes for difficult throws and is often the first hurdle for visiting teams to clear before they even face opposition. The teams from the Cape pride themselves on using their conditions to their advantage. They are masters of the cup defence, and masters at breaking it.
The Slugs met early on that Saturday not really knowing what to expect from each other. We started cautiously against the weaker Chilli team, Chilli B. They made their intentions pretty clear from the start: they were playing the long game. The Slugs proved more than a match for them, swatting Chilli B’s long throws out the sky and then working the disc up with patience. Final score: Slugs 15 Chilli B 6. We took a moment to appreciate how lucky we were to play Frisbee at the foot of the stunning Table Mountain.
In our second game, we were up against Ghost. The wind was picking up and we knew we were in for a tough game, but before we knew it, The Slugs were 3-0 up. Ghost came back hard to even things up at 4 apiece. However, it was clear that they were rattled. Our cup was working overtime against their slick handling and forcing errant throws. We traded points until the Slugs managed to get a 2 point lead. The final 3 points were mammoth points and neither team seemed to be able to get over the line. Hard cap was called, and the Slugs had eked out the champions 13-12.
In the last 2 major tournaments in South Africa, Ghost had gone unbeaten. The Slugs ended their epic run, and in their own backyard to boot. The Slugs were giddy with excitement…we had done what so many great teams had failed to achieve.
But our very next game was to prove our wake up call. Chilli had been national champions before, and had a very strong looking team. Right from the get go, the Slugs could not keep up with them. Their cup was working very well and, on offense, their long receivers were troubling us. The Slugs were perhaps still a little hung-over from our achievements in the game before. We lost 15-10, but we had a suspicion that this would not be the last time we would meet that weekend.
The final game after an exhausting day was against UCT, a team that fluctuates greatly each year depending on the influx of foreign students. This year, the students were no match for the tired Slugs whose cup dominated again and forced errors out of the inexperienced handlers. We finished up early with a 15-6 win. It was only then did we realise that playing in the final was within our reach. All the Slugs had to do was win our 2 games on the Sunday which were against lesser opposition.
Sunday morning greeted us with slightly less wind. Despite weary legs, The Slugs eased through Maties and UCT B, both university teams with the latter consisting of about 8 members playing in their first tournament ever. They did themselves proud though.
We had a good rest before the final and took stock of our team. Cramp meds were dealt out, aching bits were taped up and more sun-cream applied. After a few groans while stretching, the Slugs did some warm-ups and were ready to face Chilli. They had remained unbeaten in their run to the final.
A small crowd gathered on the stands armed with beer, smelly cleats and grazed knees. Personally, after Chilli comfortably beating The Slugs the day before, I was concerned we would not put on a good show. Nobody likes a one-sided final. But after the first 20 minutes it was clear that it was going to be a tight game. We traded points until an upwind score saw The Slugs 8-6 ahead at the half.
The crowd definitely made themselves heard throughout the final, especially when one of Chilli ladies scored and spiked the disc. Two points later I returned the favour, which was met with even more jeering. This kind of heckling is what you can expect when you’re in a final… it was all new to me. Eventually I got the opportunity to score right in-front of the crowd, where I laid the disc down on the grass ever so carefully, much to their amusement.
Chilli were not keen to try a cup defence in the lighter wind. The man-marking allowed The Slugs to use their quick mids to work the disc into easy scoring opportunities and extended their lead to 12-8. Realising that they were now chasing the game, Chilli turned to their cup. They got the turnovers they wanted and scored the next 2 points, bringing it to 12-10 at soft cap, making it a game to 14.
The Slugs were definitely feeling the pressure, and perhaps their lack of playing time together was beginning to show. Either way, the Chilli cup was phenomenal as it earned turnover after turnover. The Slugs brought one back to make it 13-12, but Chilli were unrelenting in their offense, and got the equaliser right on hard cap.
This was it. Universal Point. The Slugs strongest line pulled upwind toward the fired up Chilli team. Nervous hands lead to a drop in Chilli’s third of the field and the gasps from the side lines were audible. The Slugs moved it from handler to handler gaining a few meters, until a throw into the teeth of the wind fell short of the receiver and Chilli had it back again.
Patient hands and good cutting got the disc up field between the frenetic man-marking of The Slugs. A handler put out a floating forehand that looked like a sure turn, but a fantastic full-length layout grab from the Chilli cutter edged the swatting hand of the marker. A backhand to a handler to reset the disc in The Slugs quarter of the field and eventually lead to an easy score in-front of the crowd, cueing a rush of Chilli players from the side line.
The Slugs dream was over, but we could still hold our heads up high for ending Ghost’s epic winning streak and almost causing an upset in a tight final on Chilli’s home ground. We had started the weekend as an untested, unknown unit and finished it as very decent team… and made good friends along the way. Ultimate stole my heart again that weekend. It is the best sport that ever happened to me.