Photo by Sean Carpenter – UltiPhotos.com
Sometimes, a chip on your shoulder is all you need.
From the first possession of the game, I could feel the elevated energy and focus on our sideline. Boston was missing a few key players, their beast was wounded and our guys smelled the blood early on. Even after a few sloppy defensive possessions, we managed to make it out of the first quarter without falling to a large deficit, and we knew we were primed to ramp up. Then the lightning came.
This was the first time in a while I’ve had a lightning delay in Ultimate, and I forgot how miserable they were. Even with Dan Heijman doing air guitar performances and Jonathan Cox throwing me salted almonds from across the locker room, being at the whim of the weather and a few guys with whistles is really tough. Oddly enough, the weather got worse, the lightning got better, and then they decided to re-start the game.
Once it started pouring, I saw an incredible characteristic trait in the New York players that I hadn’t witnessed first hand yet: grit. It reminded me of how we saw ourselves back at Pitt. We’d always love the bad weather, the driving wind, the rain; it just meant we could play scrappy. I felt that again with these guys. They loved it. Suddenly the Rumble turned into a group of large angry children playing their favorite sport in the park. We decided in that weather, under the circumstances of our season, there was no other option but to send Boston home soaking wet with a loss on their record. And we did just that.
Saturday’s win over the Whitecaps was both monumental and expected.
On one hand, we had a huddle full of people who have rarely if ever beaten an elite level Boston or Massachusetts based team. They represent one of the strongest and most talented hot spots of Ultimate in the world, and they were at the top of the MLU Power Rankings.
On the other hand, we knew Boston was coming into our house down a few of their big names and probably expecting to see a similar team show up that did Week 1. It felt good to show them that wasn’t who we were, but it felt even better to step onto that field knowing we were poised for a big win. Our team, as talented as it is, has played sloppy and inconsistent Ultimate that’s been defined by our cluttered and frantic end zone offense: There is either too many people trying to do one thing or nobody doing the thing we need.
Saturday, that changed. At practice this week our O- and D-lines made strict commitments to each other about who would be doing what during the most important moments of the game. Chris Mazur and Joe Smash, undoubtedly our emotional leaders, were clear and concise about their expectations for the team. Everyone responded.
But Saturday wasn’t just special because we took down the best team in the league, at least not for me. Nothing focused me quicker during pre-game warm-ups this season than seeing my college coach Nick Kaczmarek stroll into the stadium an hour before game time. Kaz has not just been a huge part of my growth as a handler and a leader, but he’s also been responsible for my improvement as a defender and an intelligent decision maker. Before Nick set the expectations for me he did in college, I felt comfortable taking high-risk shots and playing “don’t get beat” defense. With him watching I was extra-motivated to generate turnovers (not much luck there) and control the tempo without turning the disc over.
It was that focus and motivation that I felt spread like wildfire through our team, and it looked to me like our first real glimpse of who we could be. Perhaps most fitting was the explosion of Mazur, our and the league’s reigning MVP, who led the way on offense and defense all night. I’d been waiting to see that look in his eyes where he knew he wasn’t going to be slowed down, and he had it Saturday night.
After we fell to Philadelphia in double overtime last week, I was so distraught I decided not to write. It wasn’t just a frustration over losing a game we knew we could have won, it was also losing a game that meant so much to me playing in front of a ton of my friends and family in my backyard. I remember when we broke it down after the loss. As the stands were emptying, Coach Nuñez looked everyone in the eyes and said, “I feel bad for Boston.” He knew they’d get our wrath. He was right.
Let’s just hope that chip on our shoulder doesn’t dissipate with one nice win.