Sitting wide awake at 4am staring at a computer screen, waiting for the stream to kick in. Rugged up in bed, fighting to keep my eyes open at halftime of the college quarter finals. Driving across Sydney to bunker down with friends for the night and catch eight hours straight of UPA ultimate. This was a common occurrence, tuning in to watch any ultimate streaming out of North America at whatever the hour it was back in Australia. It didn't matter what it was, this was what we did, this was the level we aspired to play at. It culminated in countless sleepless nights, but it also ended up inspiring me to be here.
Here I am, two weeks out from my second USAU National Championships playing for Denver Johnny Bravo. Apart from the endless days of tired eyes and childhood aspirations, how did I end up here? I could trace it back a fair way, but for simplicity it was a case of me over sharing my dreams to a bunch of American friends on a night out after a Manila Spirits 2015. This was followed up with a lot of regret and inaction, and then a game against The US National Team at TEP in Colombia the following year. I got chatting about the prospect to Jimmy Mickle; Bravo might of needed a defensive handler and all of a sudden the lead was hot again.
The next month was filled with nervous unknowing, waiting for the go ahead. Jimmy, not so great at facebook messaging, sends through a message saying ‘you’re in’, and then nothing for a month or so. No details of tournaments, linking me to team emails, uniform orders, nothing. Great, so I did what anyone would do, book flights to Cincinnati to join the team for the first tournament of the season. Things worked out, it wasn’t an elaborate joke, I was playing a season in the USA. I was living my dream.
Adjusting to the differences of playing for a US club team took some time. In all honesty it probably took longer second time round. My first impressions were that practices were brutal, longer and more intense. Every mistake made, defensive or offensive, was met with a short troubleshooting session with our coach. How did it happen? Why did it happen? What was your thought process, here is what I saw, try this next time. This was daunting, never had I experience such critique, was it all because I was new?
A few practices in and the critique was still there, but I realised that it was team-wide, and all geared at trying to make us better. It was a way of gaining the trust of the coach, and of the team. Receive feedback, reflect, adjust, implement. Take the shots you were told to take, perform the fundamentals of the defense, put in your work.
A few practices in I also realised that we had run the same session each practice, this was not going to change. Practices were spent improving team structures and strategy, there was little room for specific individual skill development. This was left to the athlete and the time they wanted to invest in improving themselves, and in turn improving the team. Everyone knew which way to turn on defense, everyone knew when to cut and what that cut was meant to look like, technique didn’t need to be taught which allowed the team to solely focus on becoming the best team possible.
In the end the season is all about playing and performing at tournaments. They are a different beast altogether. Each tournament tougher than the one before, each tournament a more consistent higher level of competition than I have ever played at before. In a season you might play as many as five tournaments with a higher standard than worlds. Every game at every tournament is important as it effects over team ranking and seeding at nationals. Your team has a small amount of games throughout the season to prove that they deserve a bid to nationals, and then has to go out and win that bid through sectionals and regionals.
Last year Bravo outperformed all expectations. Making a run to finals in two of the three regular season tournaments, and falling short in semis in the third. We clinched the South Central regional championships and went to Nationals three weeks later full of confidence, but as a clear underdog. Our structures held up in strong winds on day one and we came away with three tight wins. We continually joked that this was a re-building year, no one expects us to win, and I think this shifted a lot of pressure off our shoulders. Day 2, we overcame regional rivals Austin Doublewide in the quarterfinals, and were set up for a semi final the next day against Boston Ironside. We fell short in that semifinals game against the eventual champions, but not before proving that we belonged on that stage and we could match it with the best.
This year Bravo is rolling into nationals off a rocky season. Two regular season semi final appearances, one close defeat, one not so close. We have had inconsistent performances at all three tournaments and most teams we have come up against have adapted how they are playing defense against our new offensive structures and that has made goings tough. Practices in the first half of the season were heavily disrupted due to AUDL commitments which was a contributing factor to our inconsistency. We know we can compete against the best, we know what it looks and feels like to perform to our potential, we are coming to nationals hungry to return to the stage we faulted on and go one step further to compete for a championship on Sunday.