Although my international tournament participantion has dropped to 0 since leaving Malaysia earlier this year, I have played against more teams and new people than I could have imagined.
This weekend passed all that playing culminated in the biggest tournament on the SA Ultimate Calendar: the SA Nationals.
East London Suspends Wind for Ultimate
15 teams from all across South Africa made their way by car and plane to the usually windy city of East London in the Eastern Cape.
Cape Town had the biggest contingent with 7 teams (including Stellenbosch), followed by Joburg with 3 teams, East London with 2 teams, and a team each from Pietermartizburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
Maties (ma · tees), the team I play for, started the 4 day weekend of Ultimate with a 12 hour road trip from Stellenbosch to East London in a very loosely grouped convoy of 4 cars.
The roughly 1,000km long trip didn’t feel as long as it was – on the way there at least – with good company and varied scenery making short work of all the driving. Even so, it burned through the entire 1st day.
Arriving in East London early evening Friday, we convened at teammate Andrew’s house, where we discovered the generosity and gregariousness of East Londeners. Andrew’s parents not only had beds prepared for half the team, but also made sure we were well fed and clean. Across the road MCI temp teammate Nathan’s family housed the other half of the team with equal abandon.
We attended the registration party on Friday night, which was fairly sedate and just as well, as the long drive was draining and we had an early start on Saturday morning. We did, however, sign in, receive our goodie bags and eagerly gobbled up the boerie rolls the organisers had prepared, whilst getting reacquainted with old friends and making new ones.
Back at Maties HQ however, Andrew’s parents had prepared, of all things, a steak dinner, which was devoured with huge grins of gratitude.
SA Nationals – Day 1
We rose perhaps not so bright and breezy at 6am on Saturday and convened at Andrew’s house, where his mom had laid out a buffer breakfast, ensuring the whole team started the day with a full tank.
Onwards to East London’s Hudson High School, we got there with an hour to spare before our first game. Maties warmed up and ra-ra-ra’ed for our first game against Long Donkeys from Pietermartizburg.
Game #1: Matie v Long Donkeys
Long Donkeys are a noted team, least of which for the average height of their players. However, apparently in 2013 their average height is lower than in previous years, not that it made a difference to their formidable attack. Maties played bravely and scored diligently, but we were ultimately outplayed and lost the game 7 – 15.
The game had finished mid-morning and the weather in East London was near perfect. It was absolutely wind-still – apparently an anomaly in East London – and the 28°C temp was right up my used-to-Borneo-weather alley (although I’m sure my teammates were less thrilled by the heat).
After our game, Long Donkeys went on to play the team from Wits, while Maties enjoyed a bye. We keenly eyed that game, as we were up against Wits next and had no idea what to expect.
Game #2: Maties v. Wits
When our time came, Maties squared off against Wits who fought bravely, but we discovered they are even less experienced than us. Maties played text-book Ultimate, fairly flawlessly executing the basics, illustrating great control and confidence throughout the match. The game against our University opposition was exceptionally well-spirited and Maties clinched the victory 15 – 3.
It was a quick’ish game, which meant we could take our time for a decent lunch break. At the school kiosk we swapped the provided vouchers for a panini sandwich, a packet of crisps, a chocolate, a juice and an apple each, most of which were devoured without ceremony.
By now Maties were on a roll, purring like a race-engine and ready to face our University nemesis UCT Tigers.
Game #3: Maties v. UCT Tigers
At the start of the league at the beginning of the year, before I even joined Maties, we got walloped by UCT Tigers and was keen to measure our improvement over the past league season. Maties played well, perhaps a bit better than the score suggests, but were a little frazzled against UCT’s precision play. They turned the tables on us and mirrored our score against Wits, Maties losing 3 – 15.
That concluded the pool play for the tournament and next we waited to see who we’d meet in a pool cross-over, the last game for day 1. It ended up being Prawn Bunnies from Durban, some of who we saw in action in the March tournament, when they teamed up with a few others to form team Slug & Raven. We knew we had our work cut out for us.
Game #4: Maties v. Prawn Bunnies
Maties were invigorated after realising we like winning better than losing. Our repeatedly drilled skills, honed over the whole day of play, paid off beautifully as we matched the Prawn Bunnies point for point with daylight fading.
At just before soft-cap, near the end of what felt like a really, really long game, the scores were tied 7 – 7. I’m not entirely sure what happened next, whether it was Prawn Bunnies who realised their necks were on the line, or whether it was Maties who started running out of steam, but the tide turned against us. 20 minutes later the game wrapped up with Prawn Bunnies having pulled ahead, leaving Maties to lick wounds with a 7 – 11 loss.
The day ended, cold and dark. I had mowed through 7.5 litres of water (with homemade isotonic – 2 teaspoons of sugar and dash of salt per 1.5 lites) and was salty all over. Once the salt dries up, it becomes, for all intents and purposes, sand-paper. Perfect for chafing, which is what started to happen. I couldn’t get back to base and in a shower quickly enough.
Our host families filled our bellies before we headed to the Saturday-night party / SAFDA Annual General Meeting, where complimentary bottles of wine and cheese-and-cracker plates greeted us, with cheap beers for sale.
The AGM was interesting and we had to vote on a few motions. The most controversial was SAFDA wanting to step in line with WFDF’s globally accepted norm of playing a 4:3 gender split, as opposed to the 5:2 accepted at the moment (2 women, that is).
For various reasons, most of which I didn’t understand, there was opposition to this, not only from men, but also from women. Women who, I might add, are all awesome Ultimate players in their own right. In the end, the motion was passed and from next year SAFDA will make a 4:3 representation mandatory, perpetuating one of the key reasons why Ultimate is the awesome sport it is.
After the AGM dancing ensued, but Maties evaporated. I was keen to retire, mostly because I was unpleasantly chafed and being forever cashless, the bar having no creditcard facilities was not a happy place for me. Besides, having lost our cross-over game, we were due on the field by 07:30 the next morning.
I was in bed by 22:30:00 and asleep by 22:30:01.
SA Nationals – Day 2
Maties had to get up at 6am, but – bless his soul – host Nathan did not. He was forced to get up anyway, mostly due to the dogs, party because he had to open the gate for us, and in the end to join us for breakfast at Andrew’s house and send us off.
Maties, arriving at the field in drips, were clearly cold after the previous day’s 4 long, gruelling games, plus, of course, the partying a few of the squad had dabbled in the night before.
Game #5: Maties v. Rebels
Alas, we had no time for self-pity as we were up against the endlessly energetic team of East London Rebels. Consisting of mostly youngsters, what they lack in experience they more than make up for in enthusiasm, so we had to be on our guard.
True enough, Rebels made it difficult for us with lots of hard marking, making us work for every inch we needed to progress the disc. Maties, however, thawed quickly and rapidly gained moment against the Rebels.
The experience from the previous day, especially tweaking our cup and endzone stack, was implemented with great effect in the game, and we started racking up the points against Rebels.
At one point an energetic opponent was shadowing me closely and I found myself unable to outrun him or get to the disc. We were on the sideline when his teammate shouted “Yeah Mark, you’re dominating him!”
I realised, with a start, that yes, it did indeed appear as if Mark was dominating me, which means I was slacking – unfortunately for Mark, this was a wakeup call for me as much as encouragement for him.
On the next movement I took Mark for a deep, fast run. He stayed with me. I pivoted sharply, cut back, received the disc from the handler, pivoted back and put the disc around Mark and into the endzone for Pieter, who had cut exactly into place, to score. I stopped slacking after that.
Maties went on to play an effective offense, but a totally dominating defence, completely shutting the Rebels out and cashing in on their handling mistakes. We won the game 15 – 0.
High from our win and the first time Maties bagelled anyone, we collected our breakfast (coffee and a muffin) and hop-skip-and-jumped across the road to the far field where our next game would be taking place against Gale Force from Port Elizabeth.
Game #6: Maties v. Gale Force
By now we were peaking. Our stack was almost auto-snapping into position, and our cup defence was razor sharp and lethally effective, even in the still windless conditions.
The far fields, at the neighbouring primary school, appeared every so slightly smaller, which suited our style even better. In spite of stiff competition from Gale Force, we pushed them back gradually, but consistently. We had them trapped and try what they would, they just couldn’t get the disc into our endzone. Maties’ defence was water-tight, save for twice that Gale Force managed to score in the first half, which Maties took 7 – 2.
In the second half, however, Gale Force returned with fists a blazing and put a quick 3 points on the board. Maties were a little stirred, but not shaken, and regrouped to fight back. At least 4 of our points in the second half were scored off endzone stacks. We would pull, pressure Gale Force near the endzone, win the turnover, stack and score. Gale Force’s defence, even though they knew what would happen, just couldn’t stop it.
Beautiful score after beautiful score from the stacks aside, a memorable point for me was after Gale Force scored and they pulled to us, the disc got passed to Hendri who was still fairly near our endzone, while I legged it for the opposing endzone.
Hendri, seeing me run, fired off a beautiful huck that came sailing over my head. I remember looking up just as the disc came over, running at full speed. This is my Ultimate moment. The moments I live for when I play. Seeing the disc pass me, in one moment running with it, the next moment chasing it, not wanting it to stop flying, but not wanting it to leave the playing field either.
This field had a very defined edge. At the back of the endzone I was running into, only about 2 or 3m away from the field perimeter, was the clubhouse. I was aware of the shadow of the building as I reached the back of the endzone. The disc was about waist-high off the ground by now, and I realised if I didn’t take it, we would end up outside the endzone and possibly into a wall. But the disc was just out of reach.
So I dove. I wish I remember that flight, but I don’t. I wish somebody took a pic, but they didn’t.
Next thing my brain recorded was me leaping back to my feet at the back of the endzone, disc in hand. I howled in delight and turned around to see everyone had pretty much stopped where they were to watch the chase.
The layout had completely ripped open the hole on the right knee of my tights. Layout badge! It was awesome.
After this Maties pretty much had the game stitched up, except for 1, nearly impossible score that a player from Gale Force took. I think it was a hammer from down field, he was right behind me, but the disc pretty much fell from the sky, right on top of him with no way for me to reach it, even if I was nearer to him.
It was a well deserved score for Gale Force, but in the end Maties took the win 15 – 5.
We next had a long break with only our game against Salusa remaining, so we adjourned back to the main field and a well-deserved lunch.
Maties’ Final Game
Somewhere during our break East London decided it had been nice enough for long enough, and the wind picked up with a vengeance.
Maties v. Salusa
When 13:30 came and we started our game with Salusa, the wind was approaching, ironically, gale force. It made for a very interesting game, pitting Salusa’s handling experience against Maties’ near-boundless energy. These two traits in one team would make it unbeatable, but when pitted against each other, in the wind, just makes for really, really long points.
Although Maties excelled with defending in the wind, the wind blew sharply through cracks in our handling, causing a high turnover count in most points. Thanks to our now finely tuned cup however, we managed to mitigate the damage caused by our handling and, in spite of trailing for most of the match, stayed within striking range of Salusa.
Nearing the end, we had run Salusa ragged, and even with their superior skills we were catching up, albeit slowly.
By soft-cap we were 11-8 behind pretty much camped out in front of their endzone, but just unable to get the score. We had cracked the shell, but just couldn’t eat the nut.
What turned out to be the last point of the game, lasted a good 10 minutes.
Maties would get the turnover, but lose it again in the wind. Eventually, after what started as a long-pass point, the passes grew shorter and shorter, and at last we managed to score the point with a series of 5m passes and a 7m pass into the endzone.
As always against what is pretty much our sister team, the spirit in the Maties v. Salusa game was of the highest quality and standard, which out-shined even the immense disappointment Maties felt at coming so close without beating Salusa.
Having wrapped up our own play, all that was left to do in the SA Nationals was to kick back and watch the final between Ghost and Chilli. I was on duty with my camera, so enjoyed the game from the sideline, while the majority of the crowd watched from the grand-stand behind the playing field.
After Ghost beat Chilli in the finals (congrats!) the prize giving still had surprises install for Maties.
Jami, one of Maties 3 killer Ultimate women (more!), paid truth to the rumour of having had a spectacular tournament, when she walked away with the Top Scoring Female prize. As if that wasn’t enough, Maties won the Best Spirit Award! We got 2 trays of Hunters Extreme and a Spirits Hamper from Distell. Well played, Maties, well played!
The SA Nationals Ultimate Tournament delivered spectacular Ultimate by awesome teams made up of quality players. I am addicted as ever and am very much looking forward to my next Ultimate tournament.
Hopefully, it won’t involve a 12 hour drive to get there and back.
SA Nationals Ultimate Tournament Final Results
1st: Ghost – Cape Town
2nd: Chilli – Cape Town
3rd: UCT Tigers – Cape Town
4th: Long Donkeys – Pietermaritzburg
5th: Ultitude Biscuit – Johannesburg
6th: Prawn Bunnies – Durban
7th: Hammerheads – East London
8th: Khayoba – Cape Town
9th: Salusa – Cape Town
10th: Maties – Stellenbosch
11th: Ultitude Excelsior - Johannesburg
12th: Gale Force – Port Elizabeth
13th: UCT Cookie Monsters – Cape Town
14th: WITS – Johannesburg
15th: Rebels – East London