Flatball nationals: Ultimate weekend away

Photo: Ultimate Frisbee St Andrews

It’s 3pm on Friday afternoon, the sun is beating down like it hasn’t done in weeks and classes are winding down for the weekend. Listening closely as I wander down Market Street, I hear of plans for the evening, and for mak ing the most of the wonderful weather to come. My plan, however, has been penned into my diary for some time. A lot of what I’ve worked towards all year comes down to this weekend, for I am about to clamber into a car for around six hours to head south for Ultimate Frisbee Outdoor Nationals 2013.

Ultimate, as if weren’t distinct enough as a sport, also differs in that we don’t really have one off matches throughout the semester. All our training, and all our effort depends on a few intense weekends, typically regionals and nationals.

So, needless to say, I was a little nervous as we sped down the M6 towards Nottingham, and even more nervous after a restless night’s sleep, but the anxiety soon turned into excitement. The sky was clear blue, the sun was out and I hadn’t felt such heat on my face for months. Best of all, the scene that stretched out in front of me included all this and hundreds of the best Frisbee players in the country. I gazed in amazement at some of the throws I saw pulled off and even more at the layouts (see feature image). I have played for the women’s first team at St Andrews for the past 4 years (with one year off as I was gallivanting abroad), and I can say with some conviction that the mixture of dread and thrill that mingles inside me before every game never diminishes in intensity. But here I still was, on the line, waiting for the ‘pull’ (a pitch-length throw that starts the point), glancing sideways at my teammates as we decided which positions to play.

We came out pretty aggressively, only just missing out on a victorious first in a sudden death point against Durham. You can imagine how intense that was – it really could have gone either way. I bet you can also imagine the awkwardness at the end of that game: the glee of the victors confronted with the frustration of those who had just missed out on a win. Except it was nothing like that. Ultimate, a self-refereed sport has at its core the notion of the ‘spirit of the game’. This includes calling fellow players out on fouls, or judging if someone’s feet really were within bounds. However, it also includes a ‘no hard feelings’ approach to how games end. The two teams will convene, sit in a circle and each captain will, in turn, offer a few words about the match and the performance of the other team. Then the two teams participate in a game, or two, to ease the mood. Such games can be as simple as wink murder, or more enthralling, like one-move-ninja.

By the end of the first day I was well and truly worn out after two wins, two losses, some incredible sunburn on my face and high hopes for the next day. The women’s first team had been seeded fifth and we had just beaten the number two seed. We traipsed back to the hotel, loaded up on carbs and crawled into bed.

I awoke on Sunday morning with no part of my body being spared from aches and pains, chowed down on some muesli and Nurofen, and set off to play another day of Ultimate. The whole team was anxious as we discovered we were to play Aberdeen, our Scottish rivals and a team notorious for their aggression. Our nerves soon went away as we came up with a three-point lead and pushed through for the win. This success, however, meant that we were to face Durham, the team who had beaten us in our very first game of the tournament in a sudden death point. We knew we had to push it, and push it we did, with some of the longest points I’ve ever played. A single point lasted 25 minutes, causing us to play overtime.

Although a physical and mental struggle, the win was comfortable and we were now placed third, going straight into our semi final against another Scottish rival, Edinburgh. If Aberdeen is known for aggression, Edinburgh is known for fearlessness on top of unmatchable skill. My hopes of a final sunk as I heard we were to play them. I never expected the match that unfolded in front of my eyes. We traded points throughout the game, due to a hefty and continuous gust of wind billowing towards one end of the pitch, and Edinburgh managed to snag the win in a sudden death point.

All that was left to do was to play our 3v4 match and the weekend would soon be over, except for the long car journey home. We unfortunately didn’t quite get the final victory we were hoping for, but as I saw the beaming faces of all my teammates, I knew, and they did too, that fourth place was something to be proud of. 25 teams headed to Nottingham this weekend with the same goal in mind and only three teams had managed to make it that little bit closer than us.

The teammates I learnt Ultimate with, and with whom I have partied, trained and competed with for the past four years are all sadly leaving as they graduate from St Andrews this summer. Despite the tears running down my face as the prospect of never playing with these girls again became a reality, I just had to remind myself that I was the lucky one: I get to do this all again next year, and I can’t wait.


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