Over the last weekend, Kris and I traveled together with the rest of our Ultimate team to compete in the final round of league play in the ROK-U Spring 2016 season. Games were hosted on Dadaepo beach in Busan. Some of you may recall that Busan was the home of victory in our previous season in ROK-U. This time around, the Wonju Knights headed to the southern tip of Korea with the goal of doing our best and having fun. And boy, did we do so.
Like most destinations in Korea, Busan is a fair commute from Wonju. We sat for 4 hours on a bus and an additional hour in a taxi before we arrived at Dadaepo itself. We kitted up, warmed up, and mentally prepared for our first game. We knew that our games on Saturday would be tough, especially considering that the majority of our team had never played competitive Ultimate on the beach before. The most notable effect of sand (apart from getting literally everywhere and needing to be washed out for days) is that everyone generally accelerates and runs slower. For the players on our team used to using their athleticism to outclass their opponents, it was a challenge. For players like me who are slow to begin with, we enjoy seeing everyone else on our level for a little bit.
The adjustment wasn’t easy, and we lost our first game quite severely. We did not make too many mistakes, but the experience from the other team allowed them to capitalise and score from every opportunity we gave them. After the game was over, we picked our heads up, gathered ourselves, and prepared for the second game. This game was played against the team currently at the top of the league standings. We should have been destroyed. But we weren’t! We learned from our mistakes in the first game and made them work for every point they scored. We ended up equalling our highest goal tally as well, showing that we could break the defense of the best teams in the league. We still lost, but it was a game where everyone played their hearts out.
Immediately after the game and post-game celebrations and discussions were finished, our team all took off their shirts and ran into the ocean to cool off. It may sound like a simple thing, but it was one of the moments that I’ve felt closest as a team. That refreshing swim began an afternoon and evening filled with revelry, smiles, and shouting far too loudly along with music. I mean, look at those fools in the cover photo. Do we look like we lost two games? Not a chance. Because we know that the most important things to us are growing as a team, giving everything we have, and having fun. And we did that.
As the sun dawned on Sunday (far too early for us that stayed out rather late), with some of the team nursing hangovers, we returned to Dadaepo for our third game of the weekend. The effects of the night before were clearly felt, as players on both sides were slower and tired more easily than they would have been on Saturday. Once more, we fought hard. Once more, we were defeated. But our minds were not entirely in the game. We were saving ourselves for the second game of the day.
This game was played against the team just above us in the standings. They were also from the same region as us. We had even trained with them before. Needless to say, there was a tense atmosphere in the air. Both teams knew that this was going to be a good game. And it most definitely was.
It was a back-and-forth game, with good play and mistakes present on both sides. Every player on both sides was giving their all. Points were long and obtained through continued strings of good play – no cheesy full-field hucks here. Our team managed to pull to a 2-point lead with around fifteen minutes to go. We thought we had it. Then our opponents turned it up a gear. They passed quicker. They cut harder. They found something deep within themselves, and pulled it back to even as the last minutes of the game approached. On what would be the last point, both teams were screaming from the sidelines, trying to give their players on the field whatever inspiration and energy they could muster. With one last break-side throw, the defense was broken. An inspired cut into the end zone. A score. We had lost, 4-5. We should have been gutted.
Instead, we were filled with pride. Pride at ourselves for giving it everything we had. Pride at the other team for doing the same. The loss stung, but that sting quickly faded away. Kris and I had never been more proud of our team. In that game, we showed how far we had come. From a team made up largely of people that had never played Ultimate before, we had become a calm, collected unit, capable of solid defense and flowing, devastating offense. Sure, we aren’t the most consistent, and our mistakes cost us, but as we sat on the beach afterwards, we knew that we had played our best. And that next time, our best will be even better.