UCSD Ultimate traveled to Denver this past weekend to compete at Southwest Regional Tournament and, ultimately, for one of 3 bids to Nationals. All year the team worked toward this tournament – this Regionals was the most important tournament of evey team members’ Ultimate careers.
The Squids go into the weekend with the major advantage of good seed because of their dominant performance at Southern California Sectionals two weeks previous. Saturday’s first game at 9:00am featured biting cold not seen all year in San Diego – I’ve gone skiing in warmer weather. Thanks to a quality warm-up directed by Coach Kevin Stuart and the luxury of our first game being against a less skilled team, the Squids were able to raise their level gradually through the day.
Air Force had many athletic players which allowed them to play tight defense on our cutters but we were able to work the disc, albeit with some difficulty. The cold really was an issue and while we made some conditions related turnovers, they seemed to have the same amount or more despite the fact they are used to playing in such conditions (they are located in Colorado Springs). Our D runs away with this one, 15-6.
Everyone agrees that we must raise our level against the next team which we know little about. Colorado College was vastly under seeded due to a fluke underperformance at their Sectionals tournament which was apparently played in a blizzard. They give us a great game but we always seem to be in control. While the wind and cold were still a factor, our throwers such as Brooks "Cork" LaComte, Mark "Dibs" Johnston, and Stephen "Pumba" Hubbard chose their risks wisely with calculated attention to how the particular wind direction would affect the disc. Colorado’s out-of-bounds pulls were a great help to our offense and served as a reminder for the importance of working to keep our own pulls in bounds. Final score: UCSD wins 14-10.
The last game of pool play was against Azusa Pacific who were shaping up to be the Cinderella team of the tournament. It was not to be against the Squids however as we jumped out to an early lead with pretty looking throws to and from Dibs, Hyzer, Monstro and absolutely filthy D’s from Cork and Soda. Our D recognizes that they rely on their one superstar’s throws to score and effectively shut him down. Dibs finishes the game with a 70 yard backhand to a ridiculously open Soda after he breaks his defender’s ankles with sharp cutting. 15-3
Such a swift victory affords us the time to rest before the next game and watch the UCSB/Arizona battle who’s winner would be our next opponent. Arizona pulls out a difficult double game point win over UCSB and so are matched up with a rested Squid team to determine seeding in the elimination bracket.
This game verse Arizona may well be our best and most complete game this season. Although they are notorious for their great throws, our defense was forcing them to cough up the disc and was persistent in converting. It was plainly clear that they did not have the legs run with us when we were on O and had to resort to putting up prayers when they had it because their cutters could not get open. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, different teams learn to play Zone O differently and one of our Zone D sets gave them absolute fits. We routinely backed them up into their own endzone with this containment zone with a turn coming eventually after their pass count skyrocketed. The marks in this zone, Didj, Bitusa, and Threeve seemed absolutely impenetrable and generated many of the turned in this setup including a crafty layout by Didj and a handblock by Bitusa. Junior Captain Bobble made sure to remind everyone that he has the biggest flick on the team with an utterly monster jack upwind to Kattan . Everyone seemed to doing the right things and we run away with it 15-8. This game is certainly a statement to many across the nation as Arizona is held to be a very good team after their Quarterfinals appearance at last year’s National Championship. Additionally, we proved to ourselves the value of our depth and stamina (which we must credit to all those lifting sessions and Monday night track practices.)
4-0 on the day makes you feel good and a buffet dinner afterwards makes you feel even better.
Our first matchup of Sunday was against cross-town rivals SDSU. Admittedly, we were looking past them and such a mental state is just asking for disaster. The game started well with us breaking them often – Monstro has an amazing reception for one of those breaks - we kept scoring and the mental energy settled and that’s when they pounced. Instead of breaking when down like other teams, SDSU forced 3 turns in 3 points and scored each possession. We took half ahead by one but we could have taken half with an impressive margin if not for our opponent’s surge. We obviously did not fix whatever problem we had over half. The O line continued to turn the disc verse their zone until we stopped playing around with the disc and went for the harder but rewarding throws – our own zone continued to be shredded. We received the disc at 12-12 with the soft cap about to go on – all we had to do was continue to score our O points and we would win. We couldn’t do that though and their Doffense had the quick strike to score the upwinder. 12-13, game to 15. Going up wind we seemed shaky at first, especially pushed into our own endzone, but the disc was moved passed most of their players with a good looking over-the-top throw from Bobble. Unfortunately though, we turned the disc on an in-cut reception. We prepare to play D and eventually force them into a floaty hospital pass into the endzone but they somehow come down with it.
Down 12-14, its time for the gloves to come off. We score our O point and then send out our stacked D line 13-14. Our sidelines are loud as our on field players desperately look for a turn. It came almost too easily as Cork smacks down a poach D after only a few throws and then breaks the mark to a blazing Biel for the conversion. 14-14. Pulling downwind on double game point, our D appears to be getting beaten. SDSU works the disc the entire length of the field but we are holding our ground at our endzone. A speeding pass goes up but is beyond their outstretched player and our fully laid-out defender, Hutch. SDSU doesn’t even have time to regret the chance they mucked up before our players get the disc gets moving and then Cork gets his missile lock set on his favorite receiver, Biel. The massive forehand huck is quickly heading OB but Biel shows why people can’t even pretend to guard him: our fastest player by far chases the pass down and makes the difficult catch at the last moment. Clutch. 15-14 Squids! The second amazing comeback in 2 weeks!
With intensity and energy the highest its ever been all year, I almost felt sorry for the next team in our path, UCSB. Almost.
UCSB is our most storied rival. The continual fight between the UCSD Air Squids and the UCSB Black Tide has been raging for as long as we have had a program and we have only recently begun to assert our dominance against what is the winningist team in all of college Ultimate history. Our teams’ 2 previous matches this year are split 1-1.
The wind maintained a 10-15 mph average with sporadic gusts for the entire Semifinal match and thus zone D was standard for both teams. Instead of being flustered by the zone as we were in the previous game however, we immediately go for the throat with blades, hammers and floaty hucks to our big guys for them to gobble up over their deep defenders. Yui starts the fun with a zippy backhand down wind which was the model for the rest of our shots. Kattan, Forge, Bobble and Hyzer are playing well down wind. Getting breaks upwind, however, was what won this game. Biel has some tricky grabs on messy upwind deep throws. Dibs has a long IO forehand break across the face of the endzone to end another up winder. We all were pretty sure the game was in the bag when Forge makes the most ridiculous grab I have ever seen for an upwind score, skying a 5 person pile including our own best receivers.
The Offesne receives the disc, going down wind, to finish the game. We start well but an up-the-line pass is a tad too far and Tide converts. There are a few jitters but shake it off and receive again. This time however, every pass is smooth, cutters are open, and the Squids will not be stopped. Our downfield moves the disc so well that the last throw from Bobbke to Biel is a easy, completely open forehand. THE SQUIDS ARE GOING TO NATIONALS!!!!
Pure elation. Cloud Nine. Indescribable.
Our goals for the season had been accomplished and we made a definite statement with the commanding 14-9 win over our long-time rival.
The final game against University of Colorado at Boulder was to determine the winner of the region but we were both guaranteed bids to Nationals. Right before the game started the wind picked up to 30mph and the Squids are just not trained to play in such conditions while Colorado practices in similar wind often. They could throw and catch, we couldn’t period. We really didn’t really do anything well in this game (although Hutch and Threeve played well) but such a whopping will certainly show us what we have to work on in the coming weeks to shore up our weaknesses.
We left Colorado cold, wet, and tired but it is going to be a few weeks before the unwavering smile fades from our faces. Perhaps the best part of going to Nationals is that it gives us another month to spend together. From here on out we can focus on getting better and having fun. And fundraising – tickets to Columbus are expensive.
Finally, I’d like to personally say that I have never been more proud of a group of teammates. I’ve never been more proud to be a part of any group in any setting – we all worked incredibly hard the entire season. Thank you Squids.
-Stephen “Pumba” Hubbard