After over a decade of falling short on the podium, the men’s ultimate team finally tasted glory, winning the Canadian University Ultimate Championship (CUUC) this past weekend.
Through six tough games, the Gaels battled against the top competition in Canada, upsetting the nation’s top team from the University of Manitoba.
While most championships are run through the OUA or the CIS, university ultimate teams go through the Ultimate Canada organization for tournaments. To qualify for nationals, teams travel across their region and to compete against other local universities. Only two teams receive automatic bids from Ontario, leaving a small margin of error for teams.
In the Steeltown Classic tournament in Hamilton, the Gaels had their first chance to qualify for the national championship
in Ottawa. After sweeping round-robin play, the team would combine to score 26 points against McMaster and Western, punching their ticket in the tournament final against the University of Toronto. Despite holding the lead earlier, the team faltered in the final few minutes of the game, losing 11-10.
In last ditch effort to qualify for nationals, the Gaels took part in the Canadian Eastern University Ultimate Championships in Kingston at the beginning of October. The team rolled through the competition, going 6-0 on the weekend, with a 82-29 point spread overall.
While most teams tailor their practice schedule only a few weeks prior to the national championship, club president and offensive line leader Steven Jefferys, said the ultimate team has had this planned for a while.
“We have had a practice plan since before try-outs,” Jefferys said. “It breaks down to pretty much every single day down to the drills with the goal of leading up to the final game.”
To keep fresh, the team broke their final two weeks into complete opposite schedules. They spent the first week with high intensity workouts, including conditioning and weightlifting. In the second, the Gaels tapered things down. Starting at a two-hour workout, they worked their way down to only 45 minutes, strictly focusing on throwing.
Jefferys believed that having a head coach like former player Pete Galbraith separated the team from others across Canada.
“He is very knowledgeable about coaching and conditioning,” Jefferys said. “His strategy [was] to get us — by the time we got to the tournament — to be so hungry to play, because the last week of practice was so nonchalant. By the time we got to the tournament we were fired up and ready to go.”
Jefferys believes the team’s biggest strength is within the roster’s depth.
“We can afford to move players around the field, rather than stick to one position,” Jefferys said. While most teams only use 11 players in a single match, the Gaels often play their whole roster.
“It gives those top seven a chance to rest more points than they usually would in a tournament, so by the last point we have our top seven fresh, while on the other side of the field they are tired.”
After they were seeded second in the tournament, the Gaels faced-off against Western in their first match-up. Despite beating them earlier in the season, Queen’s dropped their first game 11-9.
Most teams would panic, but the Gaels remained confident.
“Every tournament we play, it is all about building to the last game on Sunday. As long as we are improving and building every game we aren’t too worried with the scores,” Jefferys said.
Following this defeat, the team finished out their round-robin with two wins against #8 York (11-8) and #4 Toronto (14-10). With Queen’s, Toronto and Western all now tied at 2-1, first in the group would be decided by point differential. With a score of +5, the Gaels were seeded first, getting them ready for a quarterfinal match-up against Sherbrooke.
After getting out to a 10-4 dominant lead, the Gaels let their foot off the gas, finishing with a 10-8 win. The team felt the final score didn’t reflect their performance, as they relaxed in the final few minutes. Regardless of the score, the Gaels knew they would have to set-up their intensity for their rematch with the University of Toronto.
While these teams appear to have similar backgrounds, they couldn’t
Within the ultimate community, Toronto is considered to be a team with very talented players that play on the top club teams in Canada.
“We are a team that is kind of the opposite,” Jefferys said. “We work through our systems and through our strategy with communication, a lot of effort and some athleticism.”
“They rely on raw talent to carry them through. We kind of throw weird things at them that can confuse them.”
The Gaels dominated them for the first half of the game, jumping out to a 10-4 lead. While the game would get close, the Gaels held on to win 14-12, sealing a rematch of the 2014 final against the University of Manitoba.
In a back-and-forth final, Manitoba would win by one. For Jefferys, a lot of players came back for fifth year to have another chance at glory.
“A lot of our older players, who came back just to play, said multiple times throughout the season — just to get the other guys excited — that this team has a shot,” said Jefferys. “We always say that we are going for gold, but this was the first year it wasn’t just an ideal, everyone believed it.”
With the game a 90-minute match, the Gaels knew they were in for a battle. After 85 minutes the game was capped at 12-11 for the Gaels, putting them in a double game point situation (see below for explanation). This meant that if they scored, the team would avenge last year’s sorrows, but if Manitoba scored, they would extend the game.
In the dying embers of the game, with Manitoba driving the field, the Gaels looked to change the momentum. In a battle for the airborne disc, defensive line player Jason Duiella challenged a Manitoba player, and came down with the disc. The Gaels then drive the field and score, winning the National Championship.
For Jefferys, Duiella’s sky battle was key.
“You don’t want to rely on them [players] to have to do that ,” he said. “But when it comes down to situations where you see the disc go up, you know he is going to get it.”
With the season now over, Jefferys’ mindset shifts from athlete to club president, as he tries to secure funds for the team. For their season, Queen’s Athletics provides $400 to the team — which only covers the cost of one tournament.
“I started to write a newsletter to put through Athletics to send to alumni, keeping them updated and trying to get them involved in the program, and still have them care about the team they played on.”
Later this month, the team is hosting an alumni ultimate tournament. Here, former and current players will collide on the field, and bond together. Jefferys hopes this will help the team start a donation base.
“A lot of this year has been spent on trying to start an alumni program,” Jefferys said. “We are hoping that our alumni game next weekend will hopefully kickstart that. A lot of them are really high quality players now. They play on professional teams.”
Monetary value isn’t the only thing Jefferys is chasing. Ultimate is also trying to gain more of a brand recognition. One of the first steps in this was Jefferys being named Queen’s male athlete of the week this past week.
“People have been congratulating me about it and I’m just happy that it is Frisbee, since I don’t think we’ve won it before.”
For the ultimate team, alumni recognition could bring them more student-athletes. If alumni are excited that the team is doing well, Jefferys said they can in turn get high school students excited about Queen’s.
“The ideal world has Queen’s seen as their potential school to play ultimate,” he said. “Right now it isn’t, but that is where we are looking down the road in the future.”
Double game point
A typical game of ultimate frisbee plays to a designated point total, most often decided at 15. If they don’t reach the point total, there’s also a time limit, usually set at 90 minutes.
After 80 minutes, they add a soft cap to the game. This rule states that teams will now play to two more points, instead of 15. In the Gaels’ case, with the game at 12-11, they would play to 14.
If the match isn’t settled there, the game is set to a hard cap. Instead of adding two to the final score, teams play to the highest score. For example, if the score in a game is 10-8 and the hard cap is reached, the teams will play to 11.
The last decider in an ultimate match-up is the double game point. In this instance, when the hard cap has been called, a final play-to score has been set and the teams need to reach this score. In the Gaels’ instance, this means if Manitoba scored two consecutive points and tied the game, whichever team scored next would win the game. While the scoring team would receive the disc after converting in a normal situation, during double game point the leading team would take possession.
— Joseph Cattana
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