A wild and wonderful weekend with a few surprises wrapped up last Sunday at Sunnybrook Park in Toronto. Many teams took their first steps towards Regionals, Nationals, or Prague. Just mentioning Prague excites me as some teams have spent the last three years preparing for their chance to play with the best in the world. Prague is a hot topic in North America this year since teams that finish well at CUC (Canadian Ultimate Championships) and UPA Finals will be favoured by their National Organizations to head overseas in 2010.
The Toronto Ultimate Festival (or TUF) is the start of season tournament in Ontario for Open, Women’s, and Mixed teams. TUF is of particular importance because it is the last tournament before final cuts for most teams are made. The pressure from tryouts and a winter of pent up energy leads to Ultimate that can be both more conservative and explosive than what’s found at most mid-season tournaments.
Tryouts are hard enough with the combination of nerves and winter rust but a pleasant surprise for all involved was the thunderstorm on Saturday morning. After the first few points had been played lightning forced a 15 minute delay which extended into a 45 minute delay once marble sized hail starting falling (hail remained on the ground for at least another two hours). A break in the storm allowed two games to be completed before the trailing edge brought 40 km/h winds (60 km/h gusts) torrential downpours and fears of cancellation. Fortunately the storm broke and the fields were dry enough for play. Players from Team Canada and GLOATUS (Toronto All-Stars) were the first to take to the fields as they warmed up for the showcase match (game commentary as Twittered live).
Since the Mixed was the most competitive of divisions I’ll start by covering the other two divisions.
In past years Open teams from Ottawa and Montreal (Phoenix and Mephisto) have attended but this year only two non-Toronto teams (NADS-North Bay and Magma-Montreal) trekked down (WWW from Waterloo-Wellington-Wentworth regions also considered entering a team but most players were attending Mixed tryouts). As Monster decided not to enter a Mixed team (with their tryouts finishing the week before) they entered both an Open team (MANSTER) and a Women’s team (Muffin Tops, perhaps a reference to “30 Rock”). Given the talent on MANSTER they were given a number one seed followed by two GOAT teams followed by the rest of the rabble. Interestingly both GOAT teams were placed in the same pool meaning a head to head matchup on both Saturday and Sunday at the finals (shrewd planning by the TSSC organizers). The only major “upset” was with MANSTER falling to both GT and Too Bad due to a combination of weather and injuries (MANSTER also indicated that they too considered that they were seeded far too high).
Open will be interesting at CUC (Canadian Ultimate Championships) this year as Furious, GOAT, and maybe a few other top Canadian teams will attend ECC over CUC. The Ontario door to CUC is now wide open with Too Bad, GT, ROY, Phoenix, and Firebird all fighting for a berth in Winnipeg. Regionals seem inevitable with four spots open and five teams vying for them but one or two wildcard spots (one from BC and one from Atlantic) may open up allowing all five teams a spot.
The Women’s division structure was as straightforward as Open with 8 teams total of which only two were from outside of Toronto: Scarlett from Ottawa and a hybrid Waterloo+Toronto team (PPF) returning for a second year. Many expected Sage to easily take first but both Lotus and PPF proved to be extermely strong teams and gave us a glimpse of the competition we’ll see throughout the season. Beginning of season tournaments are tough to seed as teams are similar only in name to years past. Changing rosters and a lack of chemistry can cause teams to defeat themselves early in the season; feelings which can carry forward throughout the season if they’re not careful. Expect to see a Women’s Regionals as well with only four bids available from Ontario and at least six teams vying for a spot to CUC.
By far the most exciting division was Mixed. The most watched and talked about team was Liquid due to their 5th place finish at CUC 2008 (best finish for an Ontario team) and a 2nd seed ranking after RIP at TUF. All of the top teams played in the A Flight pool with RIP and Liquid receiving the easiest set of games on Saturday. The only major upset on Saturday was BFC losing to Shuk (one half of the Tundra tryout team). Talking to Geofford Seaborn (captain of BFC) revealed that they had fielded a weaker team without primary handlers and cutters as they were unable to travel from Ottawa. Expect BFC to be much stronger later in this season especially at their home tournament (Mixed Up) at the start of August (1st and 2nd).
Sunday was as exciting as everybody had expected for Mixed Ultimate. The morning matchups saw BFC facing Mayhem. BFC opened a wide margin (4-0) before taking half with an 8-2 lead. Mayhem got their act together and rolled back to make it as close as 9-6 before the horn sounded and BFC escaped with a 10-8 victory. From the sideline the game was very messy with handlers and cutters/strikers not communicating as well as rushing throws. I expect that both teams have improved even in the time it’s taken to write this article as Mayhem was in tryouts during the tournament. Mayhem continues to be led by their larger than life Captain and 1st/2nd/3rd option handler Chris Mackie who had injured his leg earlier this year. Sandra Hill returns to play as a primary lady striker and shows no signs of problems due to a wrist injury sustained at Snowplate in March. Damian Kwok returns as cutter/striker extraordinaire for BFC while Geoff Seaford takes on the reins as the sole captain. There has also been chatter of Jamieson McKay joining BFC later in the season depending upon his physical conditioning (he is listed on the roster).
In post-quarters (pre-finals) Liquid faced Shuk and BFC took on RIP (the fourth place CUC finishers from 2008). Liquid would have been forgiven for considering it an easy game considering their win over Nuk on Saturday as well as their height advantage. Nevertheless Shuk used their short and quick handlers to keep it within one point. Unfortunately Shuk’s inexperience caught up with them at 5-4 (Liquid) and a few creative throws fell short of their targets. Liquid made short work of the turns and took half 8-4. In a surprising second half Shuk regrouped and clawed back to tie it up at 8-8 before disaster struck. During a Liquid possession a lady handler, on Liquid, broke her leg and play halted while she was tended to (luckily Sunnybrook Park is adjacent to Sunnybrook Hospital).
While a great loss for Liquid recent conversations indicate that it might be too early to discount the aforementioned lady for the season. Liquid has also developed their ladies in the off-season to be more comfortable in a handling role; expect to see Liquid use more male handlers. After a delay of 30 to 40 minutes the two teams decided to play the final point as a Universe point and it was diving layout grab to pluck the disc inches off of the ground by Andrew Higgins (one of four Liquid Captains) that finally ended the game.
In a rematch of CUC 2008 quarter-finals RIP and Liquid headed to the finals. RIP had provent to be very strong with their women handlers and strikers on Saturday and I had wondered at the time how their opponents would respond. Liquid had the perfect weapon in a lady named Brae. Teams take note, she is a lady you need to watch out for. In the Winter seasons I play Ultimate in Waterloo, Guelph, and Toronto. In the Guelph leagues Brae and her boyfriend (Matt) are the two of the fastest players I’ve ever played against or with (expect Matt to enter touring Ultimate in 2010).
I bring up the above in order to segway to the speed and athleticism that Liquid brought in the finals against RIP. Both teams made plenty of errors but the conditioning and power of Liquid far surpassed that of RIP. RIP has some very strong lady handlers as well as powerful players of their own but they seemed tired and disconnected when under pressure. By far the greatest number of unforced turnovers were by RIP and it was likely due to inexperienced handlers subbing into positions that they are not yet comfortable with. Liquid had their own share of turnovers but defensively speaking were strong in their one on ones. Liquid defeated their rivals from CUC 2008 by a score of 15-12 and are now the team to beat in Ontario. I look forward to a matchup between Liquid and Onyx at Mixed Up in Ottawa (or earlier if possible).
Expect Liquid to get better as the season progresses and as they continue to develop team chemistry. Liquid has also picked up (during tryouts at least) two former Bronco players who bring plenty of experience and focus needed for a team clearly intent on going to Prague. Andrew Higgins, Andy Rae, Craig Hyatt, and Matt Snow continue to be constant threats on the field while the pickup of Brae adds even more speed to their roster.
Good luck to all the teams that are playing this summer, I wish you all well and be sure to let me know what you’re doing or if there’s info that I need to know.
Special thanks to Toronto Sport and Social Club who ran an excellent tournament.