‘Ultimate’ tourney is high competition in the High Sierra
With dogs roaming the field and a roster of athletes that look more like a touring band, it’s a little hard to think of ultimate Frisbee as a professional sport. But don’t tell the competitors at last weekend’s Ta Ho Fest tournament in Truckee.
Ten teams, including Free Range of Reno, Thin Air of South Lake Tahoe, the North Shore’s own Donner Party, and squads from as far away as the Bay Area, came out to play with one thing on their minds – winning.
The clubs were divided into two groups of five, with Saturday’s play eliminating one team from each group and the remaining eight teams ranked into a single elimination format on Sunday.
And while the tournament seemed to be a laid-back affair with most teams fielding several players whose other favorite pastime is probably attending Phish concerts, the games are highly competitive and more structured than they first appear.
Ultimate Frisbee is kind of like hockey on grass with a Frisbee instead of a puck.
The field is 70 yards long with 25-yard end zones.
Teams advance the “disk” by passing it to each other. Once caught, a player has to stop, then has ten seconds, counted off by the opposing defender, to find a fellow teammate. If a bad pass is made or the Frisbee is dropped or knocked away, the other team takes possession.
Passes can be made in any direction, even backwards, but the disk must remain in the field of play.
A point is scored each time a player catches the disk in the other team’s end zone.
Teams have seven players each, and must have at least three players of one gender on the field at all times. Games are played to 13, but time “caps” are used after an hour and 20 minutes.
The team in the lead at that point wins. If tied, the first squad to score advances.
Thin Air bowed out on Saturday, Free Range in Sunday’s quarterfinals and the Donner Party lost a 10-9 “capped” game in the semifinals.
“It was a tight game, but it was time capped and they scored the first [goal],” said Jen Mader of the Donner Party. “We were hoping to play Red Fish in the final.”
While the local team didn’t make the finals, the tournament did serve as a crucial fundraiser and tune up for next months “Worlds” in Hawaii. The Donner Party is one of approximately 30 co-ed teams invited to compete for a world title.
“The fundraiser went great. We sold all our Frisbees … and we are going to Hawaii,” Mader said afterward.
Even without local representation, the final was still all you could ask for, with numerous lead changes, overtime and even controversy.
Two Bay Area teams, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Maquina De Fugo played to 15.
The teams employed different tactics throughout the championship match, with Maquina methodically moving down field with short precise passes to cutting players. It was the kind of passing that would have made a veteran Russian hockey team happy.
They built an early 6-4 lead, but the fish would come back.
Red Fish played a game of extremes, with tight defense forcing turnovers deep in the Maquina end that set up short scoring opportunities. When gaining possession deep in their own end, players passed often 50 yards or more to their teammates streaking down the middle of the field.
The run and gun approached worked to the tune of an 11-9 lead, but as the game wore on, fatigue became a factor.
Maquina’s short game worked well as the afternoon heat kicked in and legs became shaky. They drew even at 13 points apiece, then took a 14-13 lead, needing only a point for the Ta Ho Fest crown.
But with the score tied at 14 and Del Fugo deep in their own end, a pack of dogs raced across the field just as the first pass out of their end sailed over one of Maquina’s players head.
The play was disputed, but Red Fish eventually took over and needed only one pass to take a 15-14 lead.
Since it was the final, teams had to win by two points.
Maquina did manage another point to tie it again at 15, but Red Fish mustered enough energy for two diving catches in the end zone for a 17-15 win.
Red Fish wasn’t the only winner. The Boy’s and Girl’s Club of North Lake Tahoe also received some of the proceeds from the event.
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