NSW Coach and Green and Gold Selector, Gus Macdonald, on the boys AYUC final and the future of Youth Ultimate in Australia.
Adelaide forged future stars and broke young hearts this past weekend, as the City of Churches and Sideways Rain played host to the sixth iteration of the Australian Youth Ultimate Championships. There were high-octane hucks and highlight worthy bids and yet another dose of east coast dominance. AYUC produced many moments of magic to get excited about, rapid growth for us all to fear, and a very deep list of names to remember.
While this is ostensibly a tournament summary, I’ll be focused mainly on the boys’ final because it was the division I was most concerned about (and it was an absolute corker). I'll also have a look at the future of the Australian Youth Ultimate Championship structure. A more official and general wrap up of the tournament is available here: https://afda.com/p/2018-australian-youth-ultimate-championships-wrap-up.
Also, tournament games and highlights (highly recommended) are available here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkNGHu2-8eFq1ik2gCKahaQ.
The girls division had only four teams this year, and their schedule consisted of a full round robin before semi finals. Victoria established a clear dominance in pool play, finishing with a combined score of 37-8 against the other three teams. Reigning champions New South Wales and the always dependable ACT team seemed a fairly evenly matched 2nd and 3rd, while South Australia (featuring some Queensland and WA girls) struggled at the start.
Victoria edged out SA 12-8 in the semi final and faced NSW, who had come out on top of another tight tussle against the ACT. The final featured an emphatic VIC performance, with an impenetrable zone and effective deep-looks on offence. They won gold with an Ellipsis-esque margin of victory, 15-2. NSW took home silver and ACT snatched Spirit and the bronze.
The five-team draw for the boys division meant 1st place from pool play went straight to the final, with a 2v3 major semi and 4v5 minor semi. Victoria and New South Wales established their dominance in pool-play, finishing a clear first and second, respectively. The ACT edged out WA and looked comfortable against the hosts to secure the third spot. Western Australia triumphed over South Australia in a very exciting pool play game, and then repeated the score in the 4v5 semi straight after. NSW survived an early scare against the ACT to meet Victoria in the final, and ACT came away with the bronze after a "burn burning" match on the final morning. Spirit went to the hosts, South Australia.
There have been plenty of double game points at the Australian Youth Ultimate Championships since it’s birth in 2013, but I’m inclined to say there has never been a game like this. It was not a game of brute force or excessive, unbreakable zones or flukish pack grabs like so many at this tournament have been in the past. The 2018 AYUC gold medal match was a very special 100 minutes of Ultimate.
It started inconspicuously. It ebbed and flowed like any other game, with breaks for both sides and plenty of nervous fumbles. Unlike in pool play, neither team really got on a roll big enough to feel ahead. Things started to change around 7-4. New South Wales had scored back to back to back to be on the cusp of taking half, and the following point lasted for thirteen minutes. There was only one cold drop among twelve turnovers, the rest coming from high stall throwaways, choking under-options and pressure around the disc. Victoria scored, it became 7-5, and there was a tangible difference in the Adelaide air. Few spectators were sitting down. The Victorian and New South Wales’ girls shot cheers at each other across the field. There seemed to be generally more noise and energy around the ground as it became increasingly clear that something was about to happen.
Oliver Loughnan wears a white hat. He’s one of those kids Victorians are always telling you to keep an eye out for. He’s one of those kids whose age is mentioned at least four times in any conversation about his throwing ability. He’s one of those kids that can change a game through sheer force of will. He’s sixteen. Loughnan and his Thunder teammates were crucial in grinding it back to 7’s, but NSW prevailed to take half.
There were only four points to be had in the second period of play. Each was crucial and painful and eternal in a different way. Then at 9-8, in the 75th minute, we saw something we have never, ever seen at Youth Nationals: unfathomable patience. Victoria came down in an arrowhead, a frustration zone for a critical point when tensions were high and mums on the sideline were quickly becoming beside themselves. The point, if you haven’t seen it, lasted almost twenty minutes. There was one time out and only three turnovers. In NSW’s first possession, which lasted for TWELVE minutes, there was in the region of 160 completed passes. The level of maturity, patience and execution required to sustain twelve minutes of high-pressure offence is confounding. The level of endurance, field-awareness and grit required to defensively maintain a frustration zone for twelve minutes is equally confounding. This twenty-minute point took the game to Universe. A true Universe as well – none of this double game point garbage.
What transpired was some of the crispest offence of the game. Dish, dish, hammer, swing, dish, swing, goal – more or less. There was something anticlimactic, but undeniably mature, about how clinical the last point was. It was one of the best games of Ultimate I’ve seen with my own two eyes. It is exactly the kind of game this program was designed to create and it is the culmination of the five AYUC’s before it.
Where to next?
The seventh Australian Youth Ultimate Championships will be a whole new ball/disc game. Anna Haynes broke down the plan for me:
U18’s AYUC will feature a boys, girls and mixed division.
AYUC will also feature an U16’s tournament, held parallel to U18’s, with all three divisions.
It may be difficult to field a team in all three divisions for U16’s, so there will be a focus on mixed to encourage equal gender participation.
There must be four states in any division for it to go ahead.
A possible option to send two mixed teams is being discussed.
Expect more information to come as the details of the new look Australian Youth Ultimate Championships are ironed out. The biggest takeaway is that this growth is exciting, it speaks to the increasing presence of Ultimate in high schools and could have a real impact on junior national team results in the coming years.
Changes to AYUC are great, but the tournament only happens once a year. As a coach, my biggest concern is that any of my players might not play high-level ultimate again. I worry that the infrastructure isn’t there for high school kids to improve until next year’s tournament. I’m afraid kids who don’t go to good Ultimate Universities or who can’t find a club willing to grow them seriously will get lost in the system and go back to soccer. I want all of the athletes who played in this tournament to be able to keep playing, to keep improving and filter through the U16 (!), U18, U20, U22 and U24 teams, because that’s how Australian Ultimate will improve. If you can do anything in your state administration, university set up, local league, club team, or school to give these kids a chance to develop, please do.
It makes me so happy to see how good some of these players are. I love to see 14 year-old’s throw greatests and flick bombs, I love to see teenagers who can’t vote layout at heights that make me dizzy. But, as a player only a few years ahead of them in the system who will be vying for selection on the same teams, it’s also deeply terrifying.
I am equally excited and afraid of the day that the Olly Loughnans and Lucy Dellers and Tom Butlers of the world have come to fruition.