With ECC in the books and the Fall Series on the not-too-distant horizon, I know that it’s about time for me to stop waving my gold AND platinum medals in the collective face of the Ultimate community. I know that I can only brag about being the best AND the nicest for so long before another team comes along to prove that they are the best and/or nicest (Brute Squad knows dancing to Taylor Swift and stealing Ebae makes them pretty darn nice. We know that move, you guys.).
So I’ll use this post as my final reflection on the brilliant experience that was the WUCC in Lecco, Italy.
Sitting under strings of white lights during a warm night in Lecco, the last of the Riots enjoyed a final Italian dinner just down the street from the Castello del Drago, our cherished abode during our week-long adventure. As we ate, Dom raised her glass and said, “Remember that time when we had to play UNO in quarters?” and then a little later, again raising her glass, “Remember when we had to win Worlds twice?” We toasted to these memories, and laughed and shook our heads. Dom’s words stuck with me, though, as we left the restaurant and even as we flew across the ocean on our way back home. This is how I remember Worlds.
Remember when we had to play UNO in quarters?
After our last pool-play game against HUCK, one of the Japanese teams, we thought we would be playing Texas Showdown for our quarterfinals game. We made our way across the expansive complex to the field we’d been assigned to, dragging coolers and gear and stopping to chat with friends and acquaintances along the way. As we neared the grove of trees near our field, news of the quarters switch began to spread. We would be playing UNO in our quarterfinals game, not Showdown. UNO who had won the WUCC in Prague in 2010, UNO who made up the core of the Japanese team that defeated the USA in the WUGC finals in 2012, and UNO who Riot had not matched up against this season and had not strategized for after our game against HUCK. I allowed myself one moment of dry-mouthed, wide-eyed panic then let it go and took comfort in the steely resolve residing in the words of Alyssa: “Oh, well. Gotta beat ’em all.”
Offensively, UNO played a near-perfect game. As near to perfect as I’ve ever faced. Their intensity and skill punished any mental lapses we had, and we were forced to fight physically and mentally for every point. Unfortunately, we let our guard down at 15-15, and they broke us to go up 15-16 in a game to 17. I’m not embarrassed to say that I thought our road to the finals was done. I walked to the sideline and felt hopeless. I stood there with my hands on my hips and let one small, terrible thought in, “We are going to lose.” Andy called in an offensive line and I again let the thought go. We had a chance, even if it seemed impossible. We scored our next offensive point, and started the universe point on defense – We started on defense against an offense that had been close to unstoppable throughout the game. Andy called 7 on the line: Kawai, Griffith, Titcomb, Boyden, Johnson, Mercer, Cardenas. As a competitor, this was a moment you hoped for, that you trained for, that you waited for. And here we were, on double-game point. Which brings me to my next memory…
Remember when Geli beat UNO?
This is a team sport. Every win is a team win, and every loss is a team loss. I’m a firm and steadfast believer that the turnover that happens in the first point holds equal weight with the turnover that happens on game point. There’s no doubt in my mind that Riot, as a whole, won the tournament. But there is also no doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t have gotten there without Geli.
16-16, game to 17. UNO on offense, exactly where they wanted to be, and Riot on defense, not where we planned to be. The disc goes up, an UNO handler catches the pull, and they start moving the disc with the quick, precise throws that we had so much trouble defending the entire game. I keep my eyes on my girl, and all of my focus is on staying within an arm’s distance of her. Unexpectedly, the noise from the crowd ratchets up. I look over my shoulder and see Geli getting up off the ground with the disc in her hand. Though I didn’t see the play in real-time, Luke Johnson got it all on video.
Geli Boyden: Hero.
Remember when we thought we won Worlds, then had to keep playing?
Our competition schedule at Worlds grew in intensity each day. Fusion, a young team from Canada, played with a fire that took us off guard. HUCK chipped away at us with energy and precision as they always do. In addition to UNO’s perfection on the field, they also had a sideline presence full of an energy that felt both overwhelming and baffling at times (some Riots are still convinced that we lost in the quarterfinals). Scandal gave us a physical, smart game with their characteristic athleticism shining through. And then there was Fury. I re-watched our finals game recently, and even though I knew the outcome, I felt anxious the entire time. Fury played so well and showed so much grit and determination. It was a privilege and honor to play them in the finals.
From point to grueling point over the course of six days, we had to maintain focus and positivity and keep our minds always on the process. Between points we had to be present for our teammates and stay tuned into our own bodies so that we would be fresh for the next battle. Every single point was exhausting, grueling, exhilarating.
Then we were told we won. The game was not to 17, and Dom had just caught a beautiful score for the goal, and we had just won Worlds. The relief of that moment felt unreal. And it was. The Worlds not-observer came over to clarify that the cap had gone on, but it was still a game to 17.
So we had to keep playing. We had just lifted the lid of the pressure cooker we had willingly put ourselves in, and now we had to go back in.
I’m still raising a glass to this team for heading back into that cooker with the enthusiasm and positivity that we had during our first game against Cosmic Girls on Day 1 (or Day 2… Remember when the first game of Worlds got rained out?).
Seriously, Riot. That was a damn fine moment.
Remember when Smalls immediately transformed into an Italian driver when we got our rental car?
She killed it. And totally out-drove Dutchy on the way out of the airport. Yes, we pointed and laughed.
Remember when we celebrated in that locker room?
Remember when we won Worlds AND the Spirit Award?
That was tight.
Remember when we outran a lightning storm?
Fortunately no one got hurt, though it was an incredibly frightening experience for those staying in the dorms. Riot and Sockeye happened to be out on the edge of a lake the night of the finals. We watched the lightning storm raging behind the mountains across the lake for a long time – a beautiful, awesome way to end Worlds. But just as Lecco greeted us with rain, it decided to chase us out with it. As the night wore on, someone noticed that the lights of the town across the lake had disappeared and we quickly realized that the storm was moving across the water. Fast. Three of us started running back toward our car, which was about halfway around the lake. As I ran, I took it all in. The increasing wind, the medals clinking against my chest, my friends laughing and screaming as we watched the storm race toward us. As we reached the car, the storm hit. Lightning, rain, driving wind blasting trash cans and small bushes around us. We gathered up another Sockeye and one more Riot and started driving, passing a couple staggering Sockeyes on the way. In a wonderful moment of team solidarity, the Sockeye with us, Julian Hausmann, decided to get out of the car to weather the storm with The Kraken and Tyler (everyone ended up safe!). We spent the next hour navigating the streets of Lecco, running into huge downed trees and flooded roads. A few times we stopped the car completely because of the overwhelming amount of rain, wind, and hail.
The sheer force of the storm and the fact that everyone made it home safely made this the perfect adventure and the perfect way to end the week.
That was Worlds for Riot. A series of unexpected, challenging, beautiful, unforgettable moments. These were moments that we faced together, sometimes with laughter and eye-rolls, sometimes with complaints and tears (so many tears #fragilebirds), sometimes with resolve and passion, and always together.
This is my final Worlds toast:
To Riot. The best and the nicest team in the World.