Recap: Shanghai Huligans @ China Open 2017

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

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As anyone who talked to me on Friday will tell you, I was bummed going into the weekend. Luke had a work thing come up last-minute and wasn’t going to make it. Because his work ethic and positive attitude are so irreplaceable on the field, I wasn’t confident that we’d be able to reach our full potential without him. Of our five (FIVE!) games on Saturday, I expected easy wins against the teams I hadn’t heard of and close games against UFO and Dalian. Despite playing well, UFO — quite possibly the team I’ve faced most often in China — could not advance the disc upfield against our zone defense, and we blew them out 11-2.

Fortunately, this became a trend: With some combination of veteran tacticians Alec, Brad, Nads, and Jud managing us from the sidelines, the pressure our cup applied was stifling. And with Xiao Fei at deep-deep, me or Tanner on the break side wing preventing the around to the third handler, and a Monster clogging things up in the middle, there wasn’t much teams could do besides crash, dump-swing, and lose yards. The sideline trap was especially effective, with Sydney or Xiaomao switching to mark while the previous mark, Jeremy or Pan, faceguarded the dump and made sure they didn’t get the disc back. Meanwhile, no one seemed eager to throw desperation hucks or cross-field hammers with Xiao Fei looming deep. I think I can say without hyperbole that defense alone won us nearly all of our games.

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We came into the tourney as the #7 seed out of 23 teams. We knew Dalian (the #11 seed) on Saturday and Beifang (the #4 seed) on Sunday would be our must-win games, and they did not disappoint. In both cases, scores at halftime differed by a single point. And in both cases, we went on inspired runs in the second half — a credit to the strength of our mental game. We knew objectively that these were two games we could easily lose, but for whatever reason it never felt like we were going to. Needless to say, Captain Alec was very proud.

As anticipated, we lost Saturday against #2 seed Double T and Sunday against #1 seed HuWa, scoring just 3 points in each game. But these losses were still encouraging: There were times when we made HuWa’s I-do-this-in-my-sleep O-Line of Samuel, Nicholas, Juan Carlos, James (Rosie), Jessie, and co. throw 50 or more passes against our zone before they finally scored. As deep threats, Xiao Fei and Kevin were as formidable as any other receivers at the tourney. Despite being injured and out of the HuWa family loop for some time now, Alec’s experience, leadership, and calm demeanor were the reason we never panicked when the momentum started to shift against us. Brad was the player we looked to for strategy, the architect of our “pods” scheme. He also had one of the best layout scores of the tourney — certainly the best from a player over 40. Jeremy’s energy was ridiculous; if you felt stressed out watching his defense from the sideline, imagine how the opposing handlers felt when he was in the cup. For some inexplicable reason, Jud was a magnet for plastic — it was as if the other teams felt an irresistible compulsion to throw the disc into his outstretched arms. He may very well have led the team in Ds. Mike Nads proved his worth by encouraging the younger guys and by anchoring many of our handler sets. It baffled me to have to tell him to play more; I don’t know if it’s an old-person thing or what, but he needed to realize he’s still one of the best players we’ve got. Tanner was the token shirtless guy, playing with a sense of discipline that belied the modest amount of time that’s passed since he was introduced to the sport. Monster lived up to his name. Along with Pan, he was our highlight-reel guy, the person who always bailed you out on an in-cut when everyone else was tired. Speaking of Pan, he has truly turned the corner. Whether frustrating handlers in the cup, handling himself when our other handlers had trouble making dump cuts against quick marks, or streaking downfield to lay out for a huck, Pan proved his versatility time and again. My vote for male MVP, if I had one.

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And finally the girls, who I’m convinced scored half of all our points over the weekend. Vicky, our lone dedicated female handler, was such a relief to have on nearly every O-Line; her break throws created countless opportunities for us. Daisy and Nadine, too, stepped up when called upon and got valuable experience handling against a zone and made all the right decisions with the disc. As a cutter, Daisy always seemed to be open, as if her defender had completely forgotten about her. Nadine, our sweet, mild-mannered Brit who paradoxically built her reputation as a player on fearless, aggressive defense, showed that she is also well on her way to becoming a goal-scoring machine. Something that’s still fresh in my mind: After advancing the disc to the front of the other team’s endzone, we took a timeout, and Alec called a play for her: The stack would not move, and Nadine would make an up-line cut from the dump position for the score. It worked like a charm, the sideline erupting with cheers. Sydney and Xiaomao were probably our two least-experienced players, though you would never have guessed it. They ran cup after cup after cup, never once complaining, and when Sydney got the disc on offense, she always managed to find Xiaomao upfield for a dead-on 20-yarder. (The first time this happened, we were surprised; less so by the fourth time.) Last but not least, our *female MVP* Yohanna, who is finally using her height and speed to become a dominant player, whether going deep for hucks or stepping up to guard the opposing team’s strongest girl.

All in all, the Shanghai Ultimate Players Association couldn’t have asked for better results from the weekend. Stay tuned for updates on how the teams fare at the Shanghai Open on June 10-11.

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Recap: Shanghai Huligans @ China Open 2017