UBC TSC Men’s Ultimate: Underdogs Still Bite

We went down to the Santa Barbara Invite as underdogs. It feels good to be the underdogs. No weight of expectation, no fear of being upset or embarrassed. We were seeded 20th. Dead last. It’s almost as if they’d forgotten that just two years earlier, UBC had been in Mason, OH, competing at College Nationals.

But it’s understandable. We had an underwhelming season last year, losing our chance to make the show after a heartbreaking universe point loss to WWU at Regionals. We had a lot of turnover this season, bidding farewell to Team Canada vets like Nick Yun and Hugh Knapp, and taking on nearly half a roster’s worth of rookies. Santa Barbara was our first chance to see where we currently sit against other teams in our region.

Our first game against BYU was arguably our most difficult. In the past few years, they have gained notoriety as a threat in the Men’s Division. We went out and got some early breaks, and we were feeling good. We took half, and it looked like we were poised to continue with our success through to the end. And then BYU scored a break. And then another break. And all that momentum seemed to come to a halt. Being a fresh team, it’s easy to let emotions swing your performance, and unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten our legs under us quite yet. We fell short and lost our first game of the season, 13-10.

It didn’t feel like a loss though. We played well. We played really well. Our O-line was firing on all cylinders, our D-line was making enormous defensive stands, and rookies – like Yu Chi Lin and Karim Jamal – were stepping up and filling roles with confidence. We felt good.

Our next game was against UC Santa Clara. We didn’t know much about the team, other than they had just lost to Colorado State in a blowout. Our match was about the same. We won 13-6.

We played Colorado State next. They were big, they loved to layout, and they had some gusto behind them after earning a bid for their region last season. It would be a matter of patient and precise handler movement that would win us the game, coupled with a few big men of our own going deep and ripping down hucks. And we executed that plan, knocking off Colorado State 13-10.

Our schedule for the first day of competition was gruelling. We started at 8am, and were projected to finish at 7pm. We went into our 5pm match against UCLA, our 4thof the day, with a lot of confidence. Too much confidence, perhaps. And that’s why this game, for many who were in Santa Barbara that weekend, is the defining game of the tournament.

We went down early, and we went down by a lot. At one point, we were down 10-5. We knew we were better than this team. The pregame banter wasn’t about howwe were going to beat this team, but by how much. Now, our illusions of grandeur broken, the sideline was quiet and the frustration was palpable. We were hucking into defenders, looking off open players, and not clicking like we had been all day. We didn’t look like a team trying to win, we looked like a team who was trying not to lose.

At 12-9 in a game to 13, it’s easy to look at where you are and write off the result. It’s easy to give up and move on to the next. As we stood there, one point away from our second loss of the day, someone on the line said, “well, what have we got to lose?” Either we score this point, or we lose the game, so why worry about the result? The sentiment was echoed, as they often are by those on the line. What have we got to lose? The pull came up, and we held to push the game to 12-10. The same line went out, and we broke to 12-11. The same line went out, and we broke to tie the game at 12-12.

As the universe point ensemble took their positions on the line, our hearts were pounding. Our lungs were heaving. The words “tight man-defence” hung on our lips, and we broke into a sprint as the pull went up. The pressure was all on them. What have we got to lose? Our lane defence forced UCLA to swing the disc. They went from one sideline to the other once. Twice. The third time, after a centering pass, Ryan Hoy took an extra step out, forcing UCLA’s handler to reach a bit further to get the throw off. The disc was going straight for the sideline. Their cutter caught it, but with one foot on the line, he was called out and the result was a turnover. UBC possession. It was in our hands now. We worked a patient endzone, maybe a full minute of hunting for the perfect look, and when the throw went up – a leading pass to the open side – we exploded.

13-12 for UBC.

It felt like we had just won the tournament. We had fought through a physical, mental, and immensely emotional battle, and came out on top. Unlike our first game of the day against BYU, where we let our emotions get the better of us, we came together and mastered them, coming out with a win and a renewed sense of self-confidence. We made that happen.

Due to religious observances, BYU does not play on Sundays, and we were able to take their spot as the top seed in our pool. Championship Sunday started off with a bang against host team UC Santa Barbara. Phenomenal defensive pressure held UCSB Black Tide on their own red zone, with huge layouts from Colin Herrington and big bids from Singaporean exchange student Shaun Tan, who battled through a knee injury all weekend. A few sky balls went up and were brought back to earth by guys like JinLoong Lee, another Singaporean rookie, and Vince Bulloch, who seems to have just now hit his growth spurt. UBC won with a convincing 13-9 finish.

Going into the semi-final match, opponents USC caused ripples after upsetting the 1st seed UW in pool play, and 3rd seeded Stanford in the quarter-finals match. We knew we had to come out firing and set the tone for the match, and that this would be a game to be won on our overwhelming defense. Unrelenting pressure on USC’s handlers allowed us to control the pace of the match, forcing difficult throws and pushing them backwards over and over again. We kept breaking, but never let off the gas as we cruised to a 13-7 victory and a spot in the finals match against the winner of Cal Poly-SLO vs UVic*.

Our match against SLO felt different than any other match we’d played all weekend. There was pressure, there was a crowd, and it was in the opening few points that our team’s relative inexperience really showed. SLO put on far more defensive pressure than we’d seen all weekend, utilizing a wrap mark to lock us up on the sideline, and fielding big men who could compete with us in the air. Victor Cheng took over the field, commanding the troops and demanding the disc, while Connor McFadyen was a defensive bulldog, chasing after everything and doing all he could to stop SLO’s advances. We went down 4-0 at the beginning of the game before finally beginning to adjust, but it was too little too late. The effort was there, the heart was there, and UBC fought hard despite the heat and exhaustion. The result was a 13-9 loss, and a 2nd place finish.

This weekend was something to learn from. A moment of revelation, as we saw where we currently stand compared to other teams, and the level of excellence that we should expect as the season wears on. Beginning the weekend seeded dead last at 20th, and battling all the way to the championship game, we’ve seen our strengths, identified our weaknesses, and are collectively looking forward to the rest of the season.

Our next tournament will be President’s Day Invite, on February 16-18.

* An all-Canadian final would have been a sweet end to the tournament. Unfortunately, UVic somehow fell short in the semi-finals match, even after going up 5-2 at the beginning of the game. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all!

Written by Jonah Lee-Ash