Sunday, November 12, 2006

A dream realized

Montucky Recipe Corner

MTF Surprise


3 Full Sarasota days (partly cloudy to sunny is best)
32 Finely manicured fields (with Frisbee central, gear central, first aid, food and beer tents)
60 Ultimate teams (using 16 mixed teams leads to the sweetest taste)
200 + Missoula Ultimate community supporters
7 Family & friend support crews on-site
26 Mental Toss Flycoons players (big smiles, big ups and hot defenders required)


Start by nurturing free-spirited, athletic and Ultimate Frisbee loving players in the early spring to begin training (this can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, so mix gently at this stage). Next, slowly add conditioning and some structure to the mix; blend well with Ultimate tournament appearances in Montana, Utah, Washington, Alberta, Wyoming and Oregon: for best results win as many of these as possible. While some recipes in the past have called for setting this mix aside, to get the real surprise, throw in some activities like parties, hiking and camping trips to remove any lumps. Now add a sectional win and a fabulous showing at regionals to get the Mental Toss Flycoons batter ready for the rest of the recipe.

Gather the players from Missoula, Helena, Cody, Edmonton, NYC and Jamaica and show incredible support (this often overlooked and never thanked enough component of the recipe is crucial) by helping to send them to the Sunshine state. Set them up in a team hotel near the ocean and allow the mix to bubble for 12 to 24 hours. In the early morning, while dew is still glistening on the Sarasota Polo Club fields, throw the team into the 16 team mixed division of the UPA championships; allow this mixture to be in contact with the other 44 teams playing in the Open, Women'’s and Masters divisions while the sun dries the dew...begin to stir in an intense fashion.

Now taste the fruits of your labor:

Missoula'’s Mental Toss Flycoons(MTF) team represented our town, our State and our section in a big way over the past four days, exceeding seed and coming within a hairs breath of making the championship bracket. In the topsy-turvy world of elite Ultimate, MTF managed to finish the season 11th in the country; not bad for a Montucky team predicted to finish no higher than 13th at the start of the tourney and predicted not to qualify at all by many in the Northwest region.

MTF was placed in what turned out to be the toughest pool to start the tourney, with both the eventual runner-up ("‘Slow White"’ from Boston, Northeast region #1) and 3/4 team as their first and second games of day one ("Gendors" from Santa Barbara, southwest region #2). The first game was against Slow White and they rolled us; of course we helped them immensely with 7 unforced drops and 5 throw-aways in the first half alone. They were disciplined, patient and used their talent well all weekendÂ…we were their appetizer. First game jitters, a slight wind and mental toss breakdowns ensued, allowing Slow White to hand us our worst defeat of the season, 15-6. Game two matched us against the #4 team in the tourney and one of the top teams in the country, Santa BarbaraÂ’s Gendors, a team loaded with talent. The first half was a complete opposite of our first game, with everyone clicking on all cylinders; amazing catches by Skyla Sisco, the darling of the tourney photographers, sick defensive plays and cool heads allowed us to go ahead 8-6 at half. After the break we came out strong, scoring twice more, the last score coming on a blade to go up 10-6;it looked as if we were ready to post a major upset. Alas, there was a good reason the Gendors were ranked so high and had been winning tourney after tourney all summer; they don'’t get rattled and they don'’t give up. With a chance to go up 11-6 we stumbled, allowing them to get the disc back and drive the length of the field to make it 10-7. They never looked back and we only realized later that we totally changed our game plan. Our player rotation tightened, we got nervous and they ratcheted up every aspect of their game on the way to a 15-1 run and a15-11 victory. It was a shocker but not a downer for this well mixed surprise. With one more game to play on day one, any other team might have simply mailed in the last game of the day to allow the tourney seedings to play out, but MTF is not any other team.

The last game of day one pitted MTF against Atlanta'’s "‘Rival"’, the #1 seed out of the south. Rival had two hard fought games and was also 0-2 on the day, so they were determined to hold seed. What they did not know was MTF was about to open up a can of Big Sky sumpin'’ sumpin'’ on them (USA, USA). I have to say this game was simply tremendous. Kerr "“I'’ve been sick as a dog but am on the upswing" Rasmussen was incredible and put on an athletic performance that was to be mirrored throughout the rest of the tournament. The team clicked, all the jitters were gone, the sting of the Gendors loss was put in the back of our minds (thanks to the ever present encouragement and positive attitude of all around all-star Fast Johnny McLean) and we showed those Peach city folks what mountain Ultimate is all about; gut, grit and determination. The first half was nip and tuck, back and forth with MTF breaking Rival and Rival breaking back but there was just a sense that we were in control. Rival has some amazing athletes, including a great core of women with serious disc skills, and it appeared to me they felt confident they would win the game, so it came as no surprise to me they began to melt down in the second half as our defensive intensity increased. In the end, we were way too much for them and pulled away to win the game 15-12 and finish our day 1-2 with a shot to fight our way back into the top 8.

The hotel was about an hour from the fields and many of the 1300 plus players and support people were staying on or near Siesta Key. The ride home that night was raucous, with various team cars passing each other, exchanging players, dancing at draw bridges and generally letting it all hang out,so to speak. MTF had a team dinner in one of the efficiency rooms (Pablo is a mean cook and the burritos were on the money) and everyone headed off for some much deserved rest. Because of traffic and travel time, we were up at 6:30 each morning ready to do it again.

Day two put us in the "“H"” bracket, reseeded as the second seed ahead of Minnesota'’s '‘Salsa Police'’, and Rival but behind New York'’s '‘Puppet Regime'’. The brackets allowed us to carry over our win from the day before, so we started the day 1-0. The Salsa Police had quite possibly the most obnoxious jerseys I saw in the whole tournament but this team was the eventual Spirit Award winner for the mixed division. We knew they were made up of some young guns, many from college Ultimate Mecca Carleton College. IÂ’m not sure what they expected, as they got to the fields late and seemed to be surprised by a team from Montana warming up, stretching and actually getting ready to play; it showed in the first half of the game, with us rolling, and I do mean rolling, to an 8-1 halftime lead. We were on top of our game and executed both our structured offense and our Markie Mark huck game. Despite a call from one of their captains to “show some pride”, the MTF machine just kept a rollinÂ' and we crushed them 15-6. This set us up to play our second Northeast team, Puppet Regime. ItÂ’s funny how nationals works, because despite the fact you can only have one winner, teams from pools, regions and other divisions all give each other tips and suggestions on how to beat other teams, rivals and so and so'’s from other pools or sections. Our game against Puppet was a fantastic game, with both teams fighting hard and desperate to climb back up the bracket. We both played huge downwind hucks and traded points through the first half. The second half started much the same way, with both teams trading break points but some incredible defensive plays by our ladies and stick to you like glue defense by Russ and Will allowed us to start to spread the game open. Puppet tried valiantly to counter our precision offense, but our defensive line never let up and we won the game 15-12 and the pool 3-0.

So there we were, exactly where we wanted to be and ahead of where all the prognosticators expected us to be. We were sitting in the pre-quarter final play-in game against the overall 8 seed, Tandem (the last place finisher of the spirit award if that tells you anything). All three of the other Northwest teams were cheering for usÂ…as a matter of fact everyone we talked to was cheering for us. It seemed Tandem came with a reputation for bad-spirited play. We heard they liked to huck and they showed it on the first play when they hucked deep to one of their tall dudes and he showed us what Tandem would bring by chasing the disc down and laying out the back of the end zone in an attempt to score; he was out but his effort set the tone. This was one of the better games of the tourney, in my opinion. The level of play was outstanding and we were able to amp up our game to match their intensity. Kerr and Nate, in particular, for the guys and Skyla and Kasi for the gals were just plain nasty on defense. Skyla matched her defensive efforts with superior offense. She was joined by Fast Johnny, James and many others who stepped up big in the game. As in the puppet game, the first half was true to form, with Tandem taking half 8-7. After a pep talk from the wise sage (Michael Faris) we actually came out strong and took the lead 11-10 and again at 13-12, but Tandem scored and then broke us off of a costly turnover to get to game point. At game point we decided to huck and the disc just barely went off the fingertips allowing them to work up the field and huck for the win. It was a devastating loss that knocked us from the championship bracket for good. The van ride back to Siesta key was not quite as eventful as the night before, but we managed to have a good team dinner and regain the feeling of why we were at nationals; to fight another day.

Day three, the final day of Ultimate for us, was placement day. We were two points away from being able to compete for the championship and all knew we'd probably have finished in the top 6 had we won the game against Tandem. This effect showed on us Saturday morning, as we came out of the gate slow against the central region #1 seed, flaming Moe. they were young and fast and our hearts weren't in it. To their credit, they had a sweet isolation offense and used the long game well. Despite our lackluster effort, we stayed in the game the whole way but lost 15-12 dropping us down to the 11-12 game against another central region team, this one from Chicago...Mr. Briefcase. this was a game for pride and we weren't about to leave Sarasota with a losing record. We trounced them, 15-5 and I was lucky enough to get a defensive block and the winning score on the final point.

Afterwards, we all had time to reflect and be satisfied that we went to Florida and faced the best teams in the country and competed well. We finished higher than seed, showed great ahtleticism and spirit and maintained our great feelings towards each other. A dream come true indeed.