Medium Well

CEUUC Sunday was as exciting as any tournament Sunday but made even more exciting by watching the talented youth (and some old fogies like Rob Gillis) of our College system battle it out for bragging rights ahead of CUUC 2009 (if there are any bragging rights to be had).

Before I continue any further I’d like to apologize for not covering Women’s Ultimate more extensively.  Heading to tournaments I find just one of me and people reluctant to help cover an event.  Most of the time you’ll find me running around between games (as I did at CUC in Winnipeg) but in London I couldn’t turn away from the games that the Western Men were playing.  Going forward I’m making an effort to cover Women’s Ultimate in more detail when on location.

Onwards!

My day started out by arriving to coach the UW men’s B squad who gelled while playing the McGill Open squad (a 13-6 loss) on Saturday.  Playing better as a team they achieved their goal to play in the 9th place game against, surprisingly, the UW men’s A squad.

UW has lost many A players in the past few months (Andrew Rae and Yaacov Illand of Liquid are the most noteworthy) and the lack of veteran players can be felt.  Teams need clear direction both on and off the field and players like Andy and Yaacov have provided that leadership in the past.  I’m hesitant to write them off at Nationals at this point but it takes quite a bit to recover from downhill momentum.  Nevertheless I do expect this squad to do well next year as they reorganize their leadership and tryout system.

Adjacent to the UW men’s games the UW Women played a talented UWO team.  UWO took half 8-1 and the problems that UW faced were not one of speed or strength but general flow.  Western simply seemed to be able to move the disc with more ease and my feeling is that it was a combination of a short roster on the UW side and more experience on the Western side.

While UW was playing with eleven ladies Western seemed capable of three full lines that included Nationals level players (Junior’s and Women’s such as Jordan Meron, Tawyna Jackson, and Rebecca MacPherson).  Regardless, it was a hard fought game on both sides as the UW and UWO rookies garnered much needed field time and experience.

Then, my attention shifted, to a cheer from the southwest fields; the semifinals had begun.

Two battles raged side by side:  Toronto vs Carleton on one, Western vs Guelph on the other.  Each of these four teams has strong talent with both GOAT and Phoenix players on the starting line.  Each of these four teams finished well on Saturday.  However, I’d only written a glowing review of one of the teams on Saturday:  Western.

I focused on Western simply because I wanted to see if they’d play as well as they did on Saturday; the results were mixed.

The first cheer from the Guelph vs Western game was a Callahan break by Western.  They followed it up with another break and an already confident Western team was boosted into a 2-0 lead.  Guelph however was not one to back down and figured out Western’s zone with an easy hammer for their first point.

While Western scored again to make it 3-1 Guelph exploited the weak break-side coverage to tie the game at 3-3 with two more hammers.  This is when Western’s core strength in the fundamentals started to show as they slowly drew away from Guelph.  Western was throwing things away but their young defensive cup was forcing more passes that Guelph seemed comfortable with.

Guelph adjusted by removing the week side handler and placing Dan Dantzig, Cam Harris, and PG (Paul Guerra) firmly in the backfield continually providing instructions.   I apologize as there were two more handlers that I do not know the names of but the confident handling paid dividends and Guelph came within two twice (6-4 and 7-5) before Sharks took half.

After half Western scored first and didn’t look back.  Guelph appeared to be slightly deflated as they realized that their long game only worked when Cam went deep.  Western didn’t have great chances going deep but their numbers were much better than Guelph and in the end that was the difference.  In a game decided by hucks the final score was 11-7, not as close as expected but with good reason.

Guelph was lacking Josh Meron, a tall striker, who would have been a game changer.  Josh was injured at Stall Fall and his injury (similar to my knee injury) prevented him from playing in a game that Guelph could have won.  Hopefully he’s ready for Nationals but I would not be disappointed if he sat out CUUC due to his knee.

With Western having won my attention shifted to the Carleton vs Toronto game which had entered Universe point; Toronto pulling.  Carleton fielded a line similar to Phoenix at Nationals while Toronto replied in kind with GOAT players dominating their line.  Nervous chatter punctuated by laughter filled the sidelines.  Players from both teams looked on wishing they were on the field making.  Nate looked at his paper, chewed a bit on his pen, and returned to his thoughts.  Western players gathered on the sideline awaiting the victor.

Immediately after the pull Toronto sprinted and put a hard man mark on the disc.  Rather than back away and take away the break safely the marks came perilously close to fouling the handler.  Only one or two passes into the point there Carleton turned it and gave Toronto their first shot at the endzone.  First of many.

As is true in most games that go to Universe point both teams were well balanced and both turned it plenty of times.  Fortunately for Toronto Albert Wu rescued them on more than one occasion.  In then end a short past to Adrian took the game and a chance in the finals against the Sharks.

A rematch between Carleton and Toronto seems inevitable at CUUC and will be one of the games to watch.

So began a rather unremarkable finals match.  Both teams played well from the start but once again Western slowly drew away with monstrous break points (including a Callahan by Kevin Horgan).  Toronto seemed like a capable team but weren’t able to capitalize on some drops by nervous Western handlers.

Western as a team was, in practical terms, unbeatable at CEUCC.  They came in with focus, home town advantage, and an attitude that wasn’t so much “can win” but “will win”.  The Sharks didn’t make the mistake that so many top teams do and attempt to coast but rather they worked in each and every game, as a team.  Certain individuals on Sunday seemed to lose focus and started making mistakes.

Mistakes you ask?  Or even more importantly who are these individuals?  I’m not going to sugarcoat it, they were amongst the top players on the team.  During the Sharks game against Guelph the top players started hucking on whim rather than attempting to use the open in-cuts.  Unfortunately their hucks lacked the finesse and quality that we’re used to from the National and International calibre players.

The frustration was not evident on the sideline because as a team the Sharks are composed and the players that so often the backbone embody the true spirit of the team.  The backbone is what earned the Sharks their victory with consistent play.  When others hucked it away they came to the rescue with pressure D turnovers (Trevor, Max, and everybody else that played in the cup), incredible full out layouts (Horgan and Siy), fully stretched head height layouts (Watts), and finely composed strikes (Higgins).

It would have been easy for me to write another gushing review of the Sharks but the top players simply didn’t have as good a day.  Now is not the time to brush it off but to concentrate at Nationals.  It’s a whole other game when you’re playing for, as Taylor Martin said and I’m paraphrasing here, “something real”.

Western has an abundance of capable handlers and part of the problem with so many handlers is that they’re not all mentally in the game.  The finals match had a few handlers that were cold as they hadn’t played much in previous matches and it showed in through their cold play and timing.

The games on Sunday were really won through standard back to basics plays by the Sharks backbone and some of their veteran players (Hislop, Higgins, Horgan).  If the other players can get their act together there’s no doubt that they will crush at Nationals.  However, if the top players don’t have focus and continue to make their way onto the field then there’s a slight opening for a team wanting to steal the CUUC 2009 title.