For those that have never been, Dream Cup in Fuji City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan lives up to its name as a totally surreal experience.
WFDF rules are in place and to facilitate the incredible number of players in attendance, games are capped at 50 minutes, game stops on the buzzer. The tournament structure is just a massive bracket, if you lose, you're playing consolation games the rest of the weekend. Spirit Of The Game is relied on to ensure limited breaks between points and to prevent teams gaming the time cap. The games are hurried affairs, and if you go down a break early there is a real sense of urgency to get it back.
Japan is one of the world’s most densely populated countries and open green space is extremely limited, the climate making it very difficult to maintain grass year-round. More often, grass sports like soccer and Ultimate are played on dirt fields. Dream Cup is no different and you just hope it doesn’t rain.
Last weekend from the 9-11 March, 144 teams(!) faced off under the shadow of Mt Fuji and it rained.
So much so that Day 1, where the just college teams play (before the knockout), was cancelled due to swimming-pool like appearance of the ‘fields’. However, the rain (and ensuing mud) did nothing to dampen the spirits of the two Aussies, Mish Phillips and Tom ‘Cupcake’ Tulett, representing the APAC region on the men’s and women’s ‘World All-Star’ teams attending Dream Cup.
A lot of up-and-coming players would probably be interested in learning a little more about how to get selected for an all-star team like this. Short answer: get real good and then go play overseas. Both Mish and Cupcake recently returned from relatively successful US nationals campaigns, and have garnered international recognition off the back of this and of course, their previous Ultimate achievements.
We had a little chat with Cupcake and Mish last night after the post-tournament festivities had concluded. His inclusion in the team was relatively effortless, “Club JR reached out to me and I jumped at the opportunity to play.” said Cupcake, “[I] had no idea on who was involved when they asked, it was an honour to play with those guys.” Mish had a similar experience. "I was invited by Club Jr," she said, "they invited a number of top players from around the world. Unfortunately, not many European players are known in Japan, but I hope future World All-Stars teams will include some women from these countries."
The All-Star teams were extremely strong, made up of the top US talent and a few of the best from around the world. Both ended up winning their divisions. "It was so easy playing together!" said Mish, having enjoyed the experience. "Even when we were playing hard opponents, for example in the final against #1 Japanese team HUCK, playing on a team with so many strong players felt easy. You could rely on everyone."
The men's side was equally talented. “We had a small roster (12) which made it pretty hard going in the end, but ground out a win against the Buzz Bullets in the final.” continued Cupcake, grinding one of his favourite activities, both on and off the field. “Super stoked to play them again in Japan after the Dingoes lost to them in 2016 Dream Cup.”
Reference to that universe point loss to Japan in 2016 stings at this particular writer, who has never had much luck playing the Japanese. Big, lumbering Australians are poorly suited to oppose the quick, sharp style of the Japanese but the tides are slowly turning. “I find it super challenging,” said Cupcake and Mish agreed, also full of admiration at the challenge the Japanese style provided. "They are quick on their feet, and quick with releasing throws," added Mish, "to play effective defence against a style like this, you need to let go of many of your assumptions of where the disc will or won't be thrown. Because the style of play is so fast, you often feel out of control on defence. This can make you feel quite stressed! Actually, quick movement does not need to mean "no defensive control", if you choose where that movement occurs. As a result, you must know your defensive priorities very well when playing against Japanese style."
As Australia begins to find its feet on the international stage, not just in All-Star teams like this, but also with strong results at recent world tournaments, it’s worth asking the question what is it Australians can bring to the world Ultimate table?
“Gone are the days of the typical Australian style of ‘big shots to big receivers’, we’re developing a much more well rounded skill set across the board.” Cupcake said in reference to Australia’s current global Ultimate stereotype, “Australia is going through a zone and transition defence renaissance, so I was definitely drawing on that knowledge through the tournament. It’s exciting to see what teams in Australia are doing differently defensively at the moment. Looking forward to playing against a bunch of different styles this season.”
Mish took a different angle to Australia's national Ultimate identity. "One important factor about Australian Ultimate is our attention to SOTG at every tournament and league, no matter what level," said Mish proudly. "In my travels around the world, I have been disappointed to see that in many other places, spirit circles and SOTG scores are only done at the major tournaments. There were no SOTG scores taken at Dream Cup, and no spirit awarded for the tournament. Things change when people realise they can be done a different way, so I think Australian players can benefit global Ultimate by sharing our high detail approach to spirit."