On Saturday, we rolled up to the fields to find that Corvallis, Oregon is not nearly as sunny and warm as San Francisco. Amidst some good-natured grumbling from the Bay Area teams about why we don't have Regionals at home, we warmed up in 40-50 degree weather, leaving footprints in the frost.
We expected our first two pool play games to be fairly easy, and they were. We came out as fired up and on top of our game as any of us can ever remember starting a tournament, and forced 3 turnovers to take a quick 4-0 lead on Night Train from Sacramento. They eventually worked in a score, but our offense couldn't be contained and our defense went back to work, taking half 8-2. We cruised in the second half as much of our sideline was watching the other game in our pool on the next field, looking for scouting information, and closed out the game 15-8.
Having watched some of the other game, we expected our second game to involve some questionable hucking from the other team, and we had also identified a few women who were weak throwers that we could pick on. After some scolding from our captains about losing intensity and focus in the second half of the previous game, we poured it on all game and took it pretty easily, 15-4.
The last game of pool play was against a team of pickups, mostly from Carleton College. We didn't know anything about this team, except that they had blown through their section and there were rumors of some very strong ringers playing with them. Luckily for us, they weren't taking the tournament very seriously and hadn't quite gelled yet, and we made sure to keep on our heads on straight and play them seriously. They seemed disappointed that their good-natured heckling was largely ignored by us (apparently we've gotten a reputation for being less fun-loving as other mixed teams), but we made sure not to let them feel like they had a chance at this game, keeping their ringers unmotivated and off the field. Final score of this one was 15-6 but it could have been a lot closer.
That set up a semi-final game to go against Shazam Remains, the 2007 National Champion and Worlds runner-up. They've lost some personnel since Worlds, but they pretty much owned us all last year, and we'd only barely eked out a 16-14 win in our last meeting in Seattle. As expected, this game was tight; we mostly traded in the first half, with their offense having several quick scores off hucks from mainly two throwers. They broke us on offense to take half 8-6, and did it again on the first point out of half to put us in a 9-6 hole.
For some other teams, things would be looking grim at this point, needing to score 3 times on defense just to get the lead back. But this team is full of heart and fight, and we managed to get a turnover near the opposing end zone. We spotted a mismatch, with one of our fastest cutters being covered by a slower handler, and called a play for him. The Shazam defender committed a pretty egregious foul to stop the cut, and then contested, which only made us more determined. We called the same play, and this time our cutter roasted him to the front cone, caught the goal, and spiked the disc...accidentally hitting one of their players in the chest.
Tempers flared and everyone eventually settled down, but that was the turning point for us. The handler who'd gotten beat had thrown several of their big hucks, and getting beat so badly (twice) took him out of his game -- he didn't play but one or two more points the rest of the way. We also did a better job of forcing their cutters to come underneath, and making them throw more than three or four passes to score gave us multiple chances to get a D. We went on a 9-3 run, and closed out this game 15-12 to earn a trip to the finals, two byes to start the next day, and most importantly, a guaranteed spot at Nationals!
Our coach and captains allow us to celebrate just for a few moments, and then remind us that we aren't satisfied merely to get back to Nationals, but that we should remain motivated to capture the #1 seed. We institute a rule that anyone caught celebrating our win may be summarily tackled, Terry Tate (Office Linebacker)-style.
Sunday comes a little earlier for some of us, who choose to come to the fields to watch some of the 11 am games. Nevertheless, our captains have done a great job keeping everyone focused, and we are there on time and ready to warm up for a finals game against Mental Toss Flycoons, from Montana. Flycoons goes back a long way with us -- we beat them in the game to go in 2005 to earn our first-ever trip to Nationals, they made it the next year, and both teams have been back to The Show ever since. Tall, fast, and athletic, they've been improving steadily over the years, and remind us a lot of ourselves. While some might consider their semifinal win over D'oh an upset, we know we're in for a game.
And what a game it is! Much like yesterday's semi-final, we are down 3 at one point, mostly owing to some great handler movement on their part, followed by pinpoint hucks to monstrously athletic receivers. The points are long, with many turnovers, as both teams are going full-bore on defense, but we battle back, and eventually it is 11-10 Mischief, soft-capped game to 12. We force a bad huck, work it up the field, and a floaty break-side throw goes to captain Mark Smith, who hauls it in despite a broken throwing hand for our first-ever Regionals win!
We're not sure what we'll be seeded at Nationals, but we're pretty confident we will be one of the top four seeds. There've been a lot of upsets this year, and the teams we've played who have qualifed have all been tough, but we've been steadily improving and I think we'll have a good shot if we play up to our potential for the tournament.
We hope to have more good news to report in three weeks -- stay tuned!