Sunday, April 13, 2014

Looking Back and Learning

I was originally going to make this a TriTip (because I've been neglecting that thread, you see). But after some consideration, I decided to turn this into a full post because it's an important topic to address and I don't believe that I would be able to in a concise manner.

Yesterday, our Ultimate Frisbee team, Luther Pound, traveled to our conference tournament. Here's how a typical tournament works: teams play Saturday in what's called "pool play." That determines who they'll play on Sunday in a bracket. However, because no one likes to make an hour and half drive four times in two days, the decision was made by captains to turn conferences into a one day tournament and replicate the scores produced for Sunday's score report. There were five teams in our conference, four would qualify for regionals. Then Creighton dropped out. At the time, it seemed like a blessing. We were scheduled to have about a two hour wait between our third game and the Creighton game. This way, we could leave at 2:30pm instead of 6pm or later after facing Creighton. With Creighton out, four bids for five teams turned into three bids for four teams.

We hadn't done much scouting, but we knew Grinnell was good. Real good. That was to be expected. Drake was supposed to be an okay team, and Loras was supposed to be the bottom of the conference. We were seeded third and came in confident that we would be at regionals in less than a month.

It was supposed to be raining and windy yesterday. Only half that was right, it was windy. Really windy, like constant twenty miles an hour wind windy. Still, we were unfazed, pretty happy that it wasn't raining, and ready to grab a spot at regionals and hit the road.

Grinnell was tough, we knew. Still, optimism was the word. Pound was riding high off of a win at the Southerns tournament, in which we had won the B-team bracket. Yet the Grinnell game was a different one from the start. We knew they were good, we came out with the idea that we would give it our best shot, but that it was acceptable to lose. It was still relatively cold at this point, and the wind was gusting up to 40mph from one end of the field to the other. That meant that one team always had the wind and the other had to face a murderous headwind. It would remain this way for the rest of the day. Grinnell sent us off with a loss (13-10), the first for Pound in four games going back to spring break and Southerns.

We came out fired up for the second game against Drake, but it seemed like moral ebbed and flowed with the wind. Downwind scores by Pound were celebrated with enthusiasm while downwind scores by Drake were shrugged off with the mentality that we would get the disc back and score downwind.

Until we didn't. The O-line turned the disc five yards from the end zone and we on the sideline could only watch as Drake methodically worked the disc up the field for an upwind break. That was the difference in the game. With that point, which tied the game, we had to face the murderous wind on an offensive point, which hadn't happened yet. We lost that game 8-10 in a do or die situation with soft cap on.

Still, we remained confident that it was mostly bad luck that Drake had pulled out a win and that Loras was manageable. With only five subs, and having played two games like we had, they were sure to be toast. An easy win would secure our spot in regionals.

Which is right when bad luck struck us again, this time in the form of a bad coin flip which had Loras starting on offense going downwind. For the rest of the game, we traded points, but couldn't secure the upwind break that would have put us in the lead and essentially won us the game. No upwind breaks were scored that game, but it didn't matter because Loras had started on offense and traded us points, but always with the advantage. In something that stunned most of our team, Loras secured their first bid to regionals and we failed to qualify after a 9-10 loss with another soft cap on.

In the post game huddle, emotions ran high. Tears flowed freely as seniors recounted their best memories of the past four years and many of us sat there stunned, not quite believing that we had failed in what was supposed to be an easy win.

Later, after emotions settled and tears had subsided, it was easier to see what went wrong. We may have failed to do what we had set out to, but there were lessons to be learned from this experience and concrete reasons why we didn't secure our regionals bid.

1. Mentality: Personally, it felt like we had the day planned out. Lose to Grinnell, win or lose to Drake, then destroy Loras for the easy win and a bid. When things started going south, we didn't know how to respond.

2. Attitude: Yes, this could also be part of mentality, but it merits another point. We walked onto the field to face Loras with a "we're here to win" attitude, but also the attitude that upwind points didn't matter. We weren't going to score on them if Loras turned to disc over going downwind. So until crunch time, we played hard, but if we lost a downwind point, it wasn't a heartbreaker. We were going to get the disc back and it would be our turn to play downwind and score.

3. Fundamentals: There were those there who were super fired up to play. I mean, they were raring to go. Esteban was ready to go on at any time, even with his broken foot. And sometimes that can hurt us. Yes, we played hard, but there were also some drops even if the disc hit our cutter in the chest. Being fired up doesn't compensate for not coming to many practices and then making basic mistakes.

When the dust settles, our season is over. Done. No more practices, no more scrimmages or drills until the fall. Yet the season should never be remembered for losses, failed bids, or turfed hucks. No, the season can and will be remembered for the 50 yard Boyband hucks, the incessant Esteban sideline heckling, and the massive Isaac skies. There will be lessons learned, toasts made, and fond memories looked back upon.

Pound in the fall of 2013
Boyband, our captain for the past three years, summed it up best in the post game huddle when he said two simple words: Sh*t happens. It happens to everyone. Discs aren't caught, races aren't won, records aren't broken, baskets aren't made. But looking back, there is always something to learn from, and growth as an athlete and as a person to be made.

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