We came into the tournament seeded sixth. Eight hours and many points later, we emerged as the B league champions. (And yes, we are named after a children’s book. See our mascot in the bottom right of our team picture below.)
This was my first season back after not playing ultimate frisbee for five years. I spent the majority of the season dusting off my skills, remembering how to play, getting my ass kicked by faster girls, and making mistakes. However, something clicked for me at the tournament and I played the best ultimate I’ve ever played. (I think everyone on the team was pleasantly surprised.)
Our team played four games in a row, beating the #1 and #3 ranked teams along the way. The beauty of a tourney situation is that it’s more of an endurance event than anything else. While there is a lot of strategy that goes into tournament playing, it really boils down to who is left standing at the end of the game. You have to push yourself harder and play when you’re beaten up. I had a mid-air collision with a big guy, a girl come down on my ankle with her cleat and I tumbled to the ground for the disc a few times. (And I was one of the LEAST physical players on our team!) People on my team were taking hits left and right, dusting themselves off and getting right back into the game. It was awe-inspiring, and slightly masochistic, seeing everyone fling themselves around the field. *
The beauty of playing a game, like Ultimate, with a group of others is that you become part of something larger than yourself. Besides the mental challenges, you have the physical challenges to deal with as well. Can I endure another point? Are there any girls to sub in for me? How am I going to survive ANOTHER game? Maybe it’s because I’ve been an individual sport gal for so long, but I had forgotten what it was like to be a part of a team, working hard together, sweating and bleeding to accomplish the unthinkable.
Our team consisted of a father-son combo (also the oldest and youngest members of the league), two brothers (one a national ultimate champion and the other our coach), a husband-wife, and two boyfriend-girlfriend duos. It was definitely a family affair and my belief that these connections added something deeper to our team, in terms of experience and trust while on the field. When Jake, the 18-year old, threw the disc to his dad in the end zone for a goal, I got chills. I have to thank everyone on Clifford for the continued guidance and help as I was figuring out my way around the field.** And many thanks for yelling at me from the sidelines as well. (Especially when I wasn’t asking for help. Matt, you’ve drilled it into me.)
At its most basic, we play for the fun of the game. The competition rekindles feelings of youth. You scream for your team, race until you can’t breathe, write cheers for the other team, and score points together. Ultimate players are geeky big kids and we certainly aren’t getting paid to play. (In fact, we pay the league a registration fee to play.) But when everyone is running around together on the field and a beautiful play comes together, everything makes sense. I lost myself in the moment, in the game, and in the season. Thanks Clifford for making my first season back a championship one!
*The day after the tournament, I was seriously sore in places I haven’t been in a long time. Every vertebrae in my spine, my rib cage, deep in my elbow joints…but surprisingly not my legs. That started two days after the tourney.
**Everyone on the team helped me, but I owe a lot to Julie Penner. Her unwavering confidence in me, screams of encouragement, and pre-game drills made all the difference. Our time on the field together gave me an opportunity to get to know her better and I feel like ultimate strengthened our friendship. Not to mention the fact that she’s an amazing athlete and I just loved watching her play. Thanks a lot Penner…you rock.