For most of our time in Korea thus far, playing Ultimate in the Seoul Spring League has been a regular feature of our Sundays. It has given us much needed exercise, forced us out of our anti-social cave of a home, and a host of new friends. This past Sunday, the season came to an end. However, it did not end with a whimper, but with a string of tense matches and more chicken than we could have hoped to eat. In short, it was an eventful, memorable end to a fantastic season of Ultimate.
We started the morning with hope – the playoffs were elimination rounds, so if we won two games, we could compete in the final against the top-ranked team from the league, and challenge for the title. Uncommonly for our team, we had enough players to field a full team with several reserves before the game even started. We warmed up, threw a bit of disc to get our throwing arms ready, and stepped onto the field for our first game.
We were facing Gaksi, a team that we had previously defeated in two very close games. Both of these games had gone down to Universal Point, the Ultimate equivalent of Golden Goal in football. We were fairly evenly-matched, and this showed in our game. We dominated the first few points, quickly rising to a 7-3 lead with some quick, surprisingly co-ordinated manoeuvres. We then got complacent, and Gaksi fought back with some of their own slick inter-play between their handlers and cutters. As time ran out, the game went to universal point once more. This time, we were not able to stop their momentum, and we lost the game 8-7. We were gutted.
Despite our heads drooping slightly from the loss, we had no time to rest, as we were set to play the bottom-ranked team of the league five minutes after our loss to Gaksi. No rest for the wicked, indeed. Again, we quickly gained a lead over the other team, and let it slip slightly in the middle of the game. This time, however, we rallied and managed to close out the game with a win.
This allowed us to reach the third-/fourth-place play-off game against Choraengi. They were known for fierce yet fun games, and for managing to consistently field a horde of players. The game lived up to its reputation, and both teams fought hard. As was common with our team, the game went down to Universal Point. Everyone attending watched as both teams ran on their last legs to try catch every disk, to make every possible cut, in the hope that it would be the difference between victory and defeat. In the end, Choraengi had one amazing passage of play left in them, and we lost the game. We finished fourth place out of five teams. While we were a little downhearted, we had still had a great day filled with Ultimate. And great things were still coming.
Once we had finished our game, we sat and watched the final between Gaksi and the league-toppers Imae. It was a tight game, with both teams truly on form. Imae proved a little too strong, as they had done all season. The game dragged on, and as the sun rose high in the sky, there was but one phrase dominating the chants from the sidelines: “CHICKEN!” For once the final was complete, there was said to be a feast of chicken and beer waiting at a nearby restaurant. Everyone was tired, hungry, hot, and the feast called to us, promising to soothe all of our ills. With the cheers for poultry pushing them on, Imae managed to secure the win and the league as a whole. Chicken was soon to be upon us all.
We all packed our things and walked what felt like forever in the stifling sun, until we reached our oasis of umbrellas. Once we were all seated, pitchers of ice cold beer and frosted glasses were handed out, and we all heartily grabbed our first (and, for some including me, last) mugs of the cool amber liquid. Promptly after that, mountains of Korean fried chicken were placed on every table, and we all ate like the kings and queens of obscure sporting achievement.
There was a brief but well-put-together awards ceremony, celebrating the best of the league during the season. Kris was crowned Female Rookie of the Year! Once this was finished, we all returned to mingling, talking with former comrades and former adversaries alike. It was a wonderful bonding experience, and showed once again the unique power of Ultimate to bring people together.
As the day wound on, Kris and I ate and talked our fill, and we left amongst the last few stragglers. We left behind buckets filled with chicken bones, plates wiped clean of their delicious chicken sauce, and many empty pitchers. More importantly, we looked back and saw friends that we will see both on and off the field in the future. Friends we did not have when we first arrived. Friends that gave us memories that will be among the happiest we have from Korea so far.