The Ontario 4v4 Series kicks off this weekend with West Sectionals to decide who gets the three bids to Ontario Championships (O4UC). By my accounts there are 6 teams in the mix for the bids and the results may just be too close to call. Read on to learn more about each team, what to expect, why we’re even having a West Sectionals, and how Ray’s Balls got their name.
This past year, 2017, a total of 18 teams participated in the Ontario 4v4 Championships. Both Ontario Ultimate and The Ultimate Experience foresaw the demand and switched to a sectional model in 2018. Across the province there will be 27 team vying for a total of 12 bids to Ontario Championships (regionals for C4UC). The West Sectionals is the first of the four tournaments and features seven teams.
Teams will have to contend with an unorthodox schedule with the first day played from early morning to the afternoon in Guelph while the second day will be on Sunday evening in Brantford. Co-tournament director, Alyne Azucena, notes that this was due to facilities already being booked when scouting in October. Alyne also noted that as the tournament becomes more established, with more teams and consistent registrations, better facilities will become available by booking even earlier.
Captains and other team members, while finding the schedule strange, have not expressed negative sentiments with multiple locations. Some have welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with teammates between the two days to work on team building, synergy, and other buzzwords.
Regardless, there will be plenty of Ultimate to be played with a round robin format followed by elimination bracket for teams seeded 3-6 to determine the 3rd bid to Ontario Championships. As a result teams are fighting to finish first or second in the round robin as they guarantee themselves a spot and avoid the game to go.
The overwhelming favorite to take the top spot is the 1 seed Tune Squad who won Ontario Championships in 2017 and followed that up with a bronze at Canadian Championships. Joining the team this year are Melissa Dunbar (TC, PPF) and Megan Thomas (TC, PPF) who are well known International level players and will add considerable speed on both offense and defense. While new to the roster both Melissa and Megan have considerable chemistry with others on the team. Captain David Kaufman explains that the team is composed of friends that have toured together previously and that allows new players to integrate quickly. Still, there can be issues and this tournament is about fine tuning and incremental progress. This is a lesson they learned at Ontario Championships in 2017 when a failure to adjust led to a loss to Crazy Cat Ladies (CCL) during pool play. On Sunday they adjusted and handily defeated CCL in a final rematch to clinch the top seed to Nationals. Needless to say, Tune Squad is by far the most experienced team at Sectionals.
Close behind in experience and seed, #2, is Swift. Founded 7 years ago as a league team for the WODS indoor league they have, in the past 4 years, formed the core of Crash. With multiple CUC medals under their belt Swift is a force to be reckoned with. However, for the team, and captain Dan Balzerson, this is simply a fun tournament for them. Unlike other teams they have not given thought to regionals and they are simply focused on having fun. Unfortunately, fun for Swift can be frustrating for other teams due to their “grindy” style that capitalizes on the smallest of errors. Their cautious style on offense also forces opponents into longer points. In many ways Swift defeats equally matched teams through attrition. Despite their nonchalance about the tournament and results opponents should be concerned as Dan explains that their definition of fun is to “play hard and win”. Take it how you will but I have never seen this team or their players give up in any situation. If they are in finals on Sunday even vs Tune Squad spectators will have a difficult decision in watching that vs the game to go.
Seeded 3rd is a new entry: My Nemesis who despite their nascency has plenty of touring experience and chemistry. Co-captained by Alejandro Carrera (Maverick) and Neenah Navasero (PPF, Liquid) there is no doubt that this team will, as Alejandro says, play hard and smart. However, this team also has the largest target on their back. Seeded 3rd they currently occupy the final bid to Ontario Championships. To combat this the captains have developed plays specifically for this 4v4 format, having learned from other teams, and will utilize them as needed. Their most important games will be vs Swift and Puffins on Saturday as beating both is necessary for them to clinch the 2nd seed heading into eliminations. Helping them achieve this goal will be a contingent of players from London including Tawnya Gonzalez (PPF), who returned to play in 2017 after a year off, who provides additional leadership and on-field capability. It will be a tough call for them to beat Swift while they are holding off three other teams. However, they are well positioned to make O4UC through the elimination bracket.
Seeded 4th, the youngest, and the farthest west is Ray’s Balls. It is one of the few teams with video evidence of its origin and the name most reflective of the spirit of Ultimate. A new 4v4 team this group plays competitive tournaments, such as Poultry Days where they finished in the top 8, during the warmer months. The smaller roster, of 10, is due in part to the unavailability of players due to work placement for teachers college. Nevertheless, they have 4v4 experience in part due to players from Crazy Cat Ladies (2nd at O4UC in 2017) along with touring players from NADS and Atlantic Canada. The relative and inexperience of players is an advantage as they are unlikely to know or be intimidated by big name competitors. What may be working against them will be their huck happy nature. Nevertheless, their athleticism should allow them to convert quickly and teams would be well advised to keep their heads up during a defensive transition.
Seeded 5th are Puffins with a combination of players from Kitchener, Waterloo, and Guelph. Formed 3 years ago but having toured together under their current name since last year the team has significant chemistry and has strength and experience from PPF and Crash players. Having played the other teams, Captain Chris McKie believes that the tournament is going to be a battle and plan on battling for every point. Their focus on Saturday will be to build team chemistry and focus on their weaknesses. They’re a strong O team that’s relatively conservative which should create difficulties for other teams especially given their handler heaviness. Standout players to watch for are Andrew Savage (Crash) and Agnes Chu (PPF).
Seeded a surprising 6th is Perturbed Pachyderms who are most likely to upset other teams. Captained by Crash players Patrick and Laura Tuck, teams would be well advised to take them seriously as this is likely amongst the tallest, consistent, and smartest teams. Patrick believes that they will be contenders and they look to build upon their experience from Regionals last year. Two of the returning players, building up their experience, are mother and daughter duo Sandra and Ariel Howell. This tournament should provide all players with plenty of opportunity to improve as Perturbed Pachyderms are definitely in the mix and are poised for at least one upset if not two.
Finally, seeded 7th is 3+9 from St. Catherines and Hamilton with a relatively young roster of players from Crux. They’ve been participating in the local touring scene along with previous 7v7 CUC experience. They are most in danger of finishing 7th and being eliminated after the round robin on Sunday. Part of this is due to the relative isolation of the team with some Hamilton talent choosing to play in Toronto rather than locally. If the team builds chemistry and a good game plan on Saturday they have a chance for an upset which would put them into the elimination bracket. That said, this is 4v4 and a great 5 minutes can completely change the dynamic of a game.
Finals: Tune Squad vs Swift. Despite others gunning for the #2 spot I think Swift’s chemistry will be difficult to overcome. Speed point Ultimate is where they got their start and the small field is a core part of the team’s DNA. Tune Squad is at a whole another level with regards to how they are approaching this tournament. They may lose to Swift in the round robin but that’s a long shot.
Game to go: The 3 through 6 seed are quite comparable in terms of skills, power, and roster size (10 each). Any injury will significantly compromise the ability for a team to make to O4UC. They also have flaws that compromise their ability to play consistently in the short time allowed for each game. The outcomes rely heavily on captains and decision makers putting out the right pairs and selecting the appropriate coverage for defense. Two teams have an edge on that and I predict that My Nemesis and Perturbed Pachyderms will face each other in the game to go with My Nemesis clinching the final bid. This relies upon Perturbed Pachyderms gaining a seed during pool play and then winning the first round of elimination.
Final rankings prediction (original seed):
- Tune Squad (1)
- Swift (2)
- My Nemesis (3)
- Perturbed Pachyderms (6)
- Puffins (5)
- Ray’s Balls (6)
- 3+9 (7)