First, let me apologize for my ~4 month blog entry hiatus. As it turns out, it's difficult to continue to write about something when you're not actively doing it, and this summer was the first year in my Ultimate career that I elected not to play some form of Club, and while I was sad to be to looking at results online rather than playing in the tournaments myself, it gave my body a chance to recover from some nagging injuries and for me to get some other life stuff in order.
However, now that the college season is back, and I'm working with a team that has 16 new faces, I'm going to attempt to make more regular blog entries again.
This entry is directed at those new guys, who, for the most part, will be attending their first college tournament this upcoming weekend. This is going to be very simple and straight forward...
1) What is a tournament?
Instead of playing one game at a time in Ultimate we compete at tournaments. This means that there is a format setup previously, and the teams play out the format over a 2-4 day period, which is usually anywhere from 6-10 games over the course of the tournament.
Why do we do this?
I couldn't tell you. I assume that back before Ultimate became as popular of a collegiate sport as it is, there were a limited amount of teams, so to save on travel and whatnot a bunch of teams would get together to play a bunch of games. Also, most teams don't have the funds to travel significantly more than 2-3 times a year, so this allows for a reasonable amount of competition for less money.
Here is an example of a tournament format.
2) What do I need to do to prepare?
Take care of your body. Eat a lot of good food and drink a lot of water the week leading up the tournament. Even if you're not playing a lot of points, being out in the sun from 7am until 5pm takes its toll on you.
Make sure you have all your Ultimate essentials, for me these include:
Jerseys (Green AND White)
Cold weather gear/rain gear
LOTS of Socks
Athletic Tape and Pre-wrap
Snack food (salty things, energy bars, pickle juice, honey etc)
Garbage bag for rain
Nail clippers (bring your own for a change Blue Chip)
Basically bring whatever it's going to take to keep you going for two entire days at 100% in whatever conditions we're going to face. The biggest things to watch out for are:
1) Heat stroke. Even just wearing a baseball cap goes a long way to preventing heat stroke. I need not mention regionals last year where an un-named Cincinnati mascot had to sit out our elimination game because he was puking on the sidelines from the heat.
2) Cold. We play in rain/snow, whatever. If you can't catch and throw because you were ill-prepared then you're a worthless bag of bones. Bring gloves for the sideline. Bring long sleeves of some kind. Keep your wrists covered so the circulation to your hands stays good and your fingers don't have trouble clenching and unclenching.
3) Why am I giving up my whole weekend for this?
This is a question that I can't answer for you myself. What I would tell you to do is to ask someone who has attended a tournament in the past to tell you a story; I guarantee you every single person has something compelling to tell you, both on and off the field, here's mine:
In the fall of 2003 I had come to several early Ultimate practices without much of an idea about the sport. I played a lot of disc golf and was working on moving up from amateur to pro status (ahhh young dreams), but I decided (for reasons I can't remember anymore), to attend an optional late season December tournament with the team in Tuscon, Arizona. This was a co-ed tournament with some members of the women's team and I was the only freshman that decided to go.
We rolled out in a single school van, in a group of 10 people that I didn't know, pretty much at all. I'll leave the off-the-field details of the trip for another time, but let me just say that by the time we were headed back I had 10 new best friends.
Saturday morning we warmed up and got ready to play with only four total subs. The fields, which we had scouted the day before, were mostly dirt and dead grass with some deadly rocks studded throughout.
We had 4 women and 7 guys at the start of the tournament. In the second game of Saturday one of our ladies made an awkward twist around to catch a disc and tore the ACL in both of her knees. The format being 4-3 our women played savage the rest of the weekend.
Despite our low numbers we won all our games on Saturday. Sunday morning we rolled into the quarterfinals with one of our guys lost to a strained quad. In that game on of our captains and another teammate both collided with each other on a huge D and both had to leave the game with injuries. Another teammate began cramping in the Arizona heat so badly that he couldn't stand and was lost for the rest of the day. We were now playing completely savage (our injured captain came back into the game so we wouldn't be playing with 6). Every guy and girl we had left (including me) played every point in the 2nd half of the quarters, which we won; then the first and second half of the semis, which we won.
The finals pitted us against the home team, Barrio. Barrio is an actual co-ed club team, who recently has been perennial club nationals quarter-finalist. At this point the rest of the teams were done so they lined the finals field to watch the savage college team from Fort Collins play against the home-team favorites.
The game started off intense with each team trading points almost straight up until half. As the crowd realized that we were playing savage and that we were all just college kids they slowly began to sway to our side. By halftime we had the majority of the crowd chanting our team name and throwing out heckles towards Barrio.
Keep in mind here, I'm a brand new freshmen. I've just recently learned about the force, mark, pivoting, and all that jazz. I essentially came on the trip because I'd wanted to take in some Arizona sun in December but I was having the time of my life, the energy of the crowd was just invigorating.
The only real play of note I can still remember, and probably my fondest early ultimate memory came on an offensive point for us. I cut hard underneath with the other teams best player covering me (don't ask me why he was on me, he was big, tall and fast and I wasn't big or tall, and probably not particularly fast either). One of our captains put the underneath throw up to me and (as it was described to me later) my defender got the look in his eyes where he knows he's going to get a D.
The throw was high and I jumped up and forward extending my hands out as my defender put down a huge bid over my left shoulder. I snatched the disc out of the air, and he went flying by, I didn't even notice. Markless, I threw the forehand break for the score. Immediately my semi-injured captain rushed me in the endzone, hoisted me up in his arms yelling out "That's our freshman, our FRESHMAN!" The crowd immediately reacted with a mix of cheers for me (I had no clue what was going on, oblivious to most everything), and heckles for the Barrio player. It was only later as it was put into context that I realized that it was a pretty cool play, but in all reality had I known he was right there bidding, I'd probably have dropped it, I was just too fatigued to care.
We ended up losing the finals 15-12 but the crowd loved us. The TD came over and thanked us for making the trip, and everyone on Barrio gave us props for the weekend's performance. We took home the second place prize, which I believe was a large tub of cheesy popcorn (yay ultimate).
The 15 hour drive back was an adventure in itself. The van smelled awful from 3 days of sitting in the sun with our blood, sweat and cleats. Everyone was unbelievable sore and bloodied from the crappy fields (I still have scars on my hips from laying out there). The culmination of it all was a stop for breakfast at Cracker Barrel just south of Denver. One of our guys was wandering around the gift shop portion and was walking so stiff-legged that an elderly women assumed he was mentally disabled. The conversation that they had had the rest of us dying in the van after he told us about it.
After this tournament, I was hooked and I have never in the nine years since then missed a single college tournament, nothing compares. For the rest of the off-the-field capers ask me about it in person some time and you'll get a whole other chapter to the story.