Recap: 2017 China Open Finals

This recap is a guest post from David Paulk (Huligans). 

This was the finals matchup everyone expected from Day 1. To take absolutely nothing away from the other teams at this tournament, there was a clear gap between these two powerhouses and the next-best squad — which, frankly, might have been Huligans. It was a hard match to predict, too. HuWa has experience, discipline, pedigree, all the intangibles… and a handler who vaguely resembles a truck driver with questionable grooming habits. Double T, meanwhile, has youth, athleticism, quickness, and an Asian dude named Elvis. Usually, when we see all of these attributes come together on one team, it’s a bunch of ringers from far-flung parts of Asia who rarely play together. Double T has all the attributes of a ringer team, but they also actually practice together: This is the squad Hong Kong hopes will be competitive in the A Pool at Manila Spirits in the fall. Still, the odds favored HuWa: For the last year and a half or so, all we’ve seen them do is win, regardless of what kind of opponent they’re facing.

The game started fairly evenly. HuWa’s O-Line looked like they were entirely unfamiliar with the concept of a turnover. “How many career points have Samuel, Nicholas, and Juan Carlos played together?” is a question I remember asking myself. The first big play of the game came on a two-thirds-field huck from Sam to a streaking JC (not that kind of streaking, thankfully). For perhaps the first time ever, it looked like Sam had overthrown his receiver. But JC, moving faster than any of us thought him capable of moving, launched himself into a full-speed layout into the endzone, getting a few fingers under the disc as it hovered inches above the ground and holding on. The cheers that followed grabbed the attention of anyone in the vicinity who wasn’t already watching the game.

But the momentum soon shifted. As confident as HuWa’s O-Line is, Double T’s speed, athleticism, and aggressive man defense presented matchup problems. Questionable calls started coming from both sides. King Wei, my former captain from Tainan, being assigned to mark Nick seemed like a stroke of genius. For the first time, it felt like HuWa’s cool-headedness was losing ground to Double T’s raw emotion after each big play, none bigger than a huck to Hubert that appeared to be sailing out the back of the endzone. But the Frenchman ran it down and laid out at full speed, dragging his feet just in bounds and nearly sliding into the tent where I and most of the Huligans were sitting.

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HuWa still managed to hold serve and take half 7-6, though they would start on defense after the intermission. The second half was plagued by unforced turnovers, including a handful of uncharacteristic drops, and a few more contentious calls. Even Dax called an egregious foul on Tom, though he did so with a smile and good nature that suggested he was amused by having to make the call in the first place.

There were several points during the game when it felt as though HuWa might have finally met their match. Their O-Line struggled at times, but Jessie, Pei, and Daisy kept giving them easy resets. Nick and Sam did an admirable job against their ridiculously tough marks, but Rosie was the one who bailed the offense out time and again. The O-Line gave up some breaks, but they did better against the defense than Double T’s O-Line did against Dax, Adam, Kerric, Owen, Taomy, Xing, Sky, Kristina, and Kat, who forced several breaks of their own.

After 豪豪, my other former captain from Tainan, assisted on a crazy no-look upside-down throw that I’m still struggling to identify (consensus seems to be thumber), it felt for a minute like Double T still had a chance to pull off the win — but alas, this would be last of their eye-popping plays. Up 11-10, HuWa’s D-Line pulled to Double T, forced a turn, and scored the break, ending the game with a win for the good guys.

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A few individual player notes:

As any veteran of mixed ultimate will tell you, girls are what separate good teams from great teams, and HuWa’s ladies proved this point loud and clear, whether it was Daisy, Jessie, and Pei helping out in handler sets, Sky playing monster defense, Xing and Maisy sneaking past the last-back for a cheeky score, or Kristina and Kat being reliable as all-purpose players who could get you 20 yards or crash the cup for an easy reset. I was a little surprised to see Taomy at deep-deep on most of the D-Lines — especially with freak-of-nature Liang Zhuang lurking in the open space — but as far as I remember, he never once got beat. I was really hoping Owen would get some time guarding King Wei, Double T’s MVP receiver from Taiwan; you’d be hard-pressed to find two players who expend more effort on the field. Impressively, HuWa’s D-Line matched Double T step for step, and the versatility of Dax, Adam, and Kerric meant that when it came to forcing breaks, HuWa had the better odds. One last shoutout: Despite having a wife, two kids, and a steady pension, James “Rosie” Anderson channeled his inner Vince Carter, defying Father Time in spectacular fashion and earning well-deserved MVP honors.

Congrats on repeating as China champs, HuWa!

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Recap: 2017 China Open Finals