In a previous post I wondered about the survival Capitals as a team that draws talent from a large geographic area. My wondering received quite a bit of private feedback both in support of the current system as well as in support of a breakup. Both sides were quite passionate but for different reasons and it’s important to understand the landscape as you consider forming your own opinions.
The history of the Capitals is one of success, at times mixed, but an overwhelming success. Even after changes in leadership and a major changes to the roster the team has had great success. Managing a team across a large geographic region is difficult enough, to become, and stay, a globally recognized elite team is extraordinary. So, why even form such a team? Vancouver.
For the first five years of Women’s Ultimate at CUC the championship was won by a team from the east, the first four by See Jane Run (Toronto) and then Horizont’elle (Ottawa). All that changed in 1994 when Guests of Oprah (Vancouver) won four years in a row taking a break in 1998 (no Worlds in 1999) before Prime (Vancouver) took over in 1999. In 2000 and 2004 the Women’s team from Vancouver formed most of the Canadian team that went to WUGC. Despite the strengths of Stella (Ottawa) and Lotus (Toronto), they each won a gold and silver at CUC in 2005 and 2006, neither team could stand up to Vancouver. So in 2007 the top talent from each of the teams formed to create Capitals and stand up to Vancouver. They lost in the finals to Traffic (Vancouver).
The formation of a strong provincial team is not uncommon. For such a team to exist beyond a single year is rare, especially after a loss, yet that’s what the Capitals did. Despite them not reaching their goals in 2007 they stuck together and kept getting better. They played in the USA Ultimate Club series and finished 2nd in 2010 and 3rd in 2011. They got better with each tournament and by 2011 their record against Traffic was a 3:1 ratio in Ontario’s favor. By the time the teams met in again at the CUC 2011 finals, in Ottawa, the Capitals were the favorites and wrested the right to pick Team Canada away from the west for the first time in 15 years.
This year at CUC 2015, in Winnipeg, there was an expectation that the Capitals and Traffic would meet again in the finals. That didn’t happen. Iris (Québec) stunned them with a victory in pool play and as a result Traffic and Capitals met in a semi final from which Traffic emerged the victor. It was an incredible turn of events and wholly unexpected by many, including me.
Looking back my initial question is not a fair one. It’s not fair to use the results from one tournament to judge a team and program. It’s not fair to use a stumble and say that one cannot walk. It is fair to question why such a system exists and the necessity for it.
The result is simple: success. Since forming the Capitals have become one of Canada’s most successful teams and moved Ultimate farther forward than would have been possible without them. By providing players a higher level to compete at the development of the sport in Ontario has grown by leaps and bounds. That the season extends to the USA Ultimate Club Championships and that the players are consistently there means additional knowledge and capability that is then available to the next generation of players.
The reason why is a bit more complex: population. Looking at whom the Capitals compete against also gives an indication of why pulling talent from a larger region is important. Aside from the North West Region almost all elite Ultimate teams come from regions with populations greater than 7 million people. Larger populations mean more available talent and no greater city region in Canada has such a base to pull from. In order to compete, and stay competitive, teams must pull from as large a population base as is possible. Small market teams are falling behind quickly or have already sent players to the larger population centers. A Capitals breakup is a move back to a smaller market and we’re unlikely to see positive results.
The model that the Capitals have has also been replicated successfully in Québec. Whereas the Ontario teams did it without the help of the PSO in Québec the FQU has a province wide initiative to create stronger teams. Iris is an indication that what the Capitals did and are doing results in success. That Iris shall stick around also points to a much stronger presence out of the east that can compete with both Ontario and BC.
So it’s not so much a question of whether the Capitals should continue their program but one of how can we formalize it and support it to a greater degree. If pulling players from a larger region is important how large a region can we pull from? For International tournaments we pull from the full country so why not a combination Ontario+Québec team for CUC? Or is a provincial team the largest for the near future?
The reality is that while some may speak of a breakup of Capitals we need to support it as best we can. It was innovative and it’s now the model for how Canada needs to operate if we are to produce the best teams and be the best in the world. Our teams need to play in the USA Ultimate Club series, we need to send strong teams to WUCC, and we need to find a way to travel globally. All of these are expensive prospects and the teams cannot do it without the support of strong Regional organizations.
While provincial support in Ontario is a distant possibility there is a reality that is much closer to today. We’re about to see the two programs from Ontario and Québec face off at North East Regionals this weekend in pool play. Regardless of the outcome, regardless of whether Capitals have a good tournament or a bad tournament, regardless of how the players may feel afterwards, regardless of the feelings of players in Toronto and Ottawa that are not on the team, the Capitals program is the model for the future and the team that all players in Ontario should aspire to play on.