By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa and Toronto are often fierce rivals in just about all sports, but in the self-refereed game known for its cooperative nature, a group of 22 ultimate frisbee players proved the merits of joining forces this past weekend.
The Capitals women’s team – made up of an equal number of members from the provincial and national capitals – were rewarded with a trip to next July’s world championships in Japan after winning the Canadian title at the Aug. 11-14 nationals event held at Ultimate Parks Inc. in Manotick and Carleton University.
“We came together to try to put together a strong team to compete with American teams, to start,” explains Carla Di Filippo, noting the Ottawa and Toronto clubs usually only play together in the fall, except in the summer before worlds, which are every four years. “You also need a strong team to compete against the west coast. So in an attempt to try to be Team Canada next year, the Capitals formed.”
It’s still quite the challenge for a team to live in different cities, but they alternate visits for practice weekends and the captains of each city’s group are constantly communicating with one another.
“It’s not easy, but we are doing the same practices, we have the same plays, everything’s the same except we’re just miles apart,” Di Filippo adds. “When we come together, that’s when the magic happens.”
That magic was certainly on display at nationals as the Capitals scored the maximum 15 points in all their preliminary-round games en route to a 5-0 record. They then downed Vancouver’s Traffic 14-12 to earn an easier path to the final, where the rematch with Traffic produced a convincing 15-6 victory for the Ontario ladies.
“We’re big on fitness,” Di Filippo says, identifying the keys to her squad’s success. “It’s a lot of practice, and you’ve got to train really hard – there’s no secret. And we want it. We’re very determined.”
The Capitals weren’t the only local national medallists. GLUM picked up a silver medal in the Masters category, handling all challengers except for Victoria, B.C.’s Nomads.
Ottawa occupied half of the podium’s three steps in the Open division, with the Ottawa/Toronto GOAT team taking silver behind Vancouver’s Furious George, and the Phoenix earning bronze.
The Phoenix, for their part, enjoyed home-field advantage for all it was worth.
“I had two perfect cups of coffee each morning of the tournament. That’s a big deal,” smiles captain Luke Phelan, highlighting a good night’s sleep, comfortable surroundings and nutritious meals when they want it as other hometown benefits. “And you can’t complain about perfect weather and perfect fields. It doesn’t get much better.”
With a 5:30 a.m. start to each day, and three high-intensity, hour-and-a-half games per day in the heat, the four-day nationals can be a downright exhausting competition.
“It’s one of the most physically demanding sports I’ve ever played,” notes Phelan, whose squad compiled a 7-2 overall record at nationals. “There is a lot of jostling and a lot of impact with the ground all the time. And there’s the wear and tear because of the constant running.”
With bodies flying left and right at full speed, the nationals certainly displayed a very strong competitive wing to a sport that is largely viewed as a recreational activity, and the Phoenix are also proof of that.
Minus the original crew of friends – Ben Haig, Matt Cole and Ramsey Wright – that formed the Phoenix over a decade ago when they were at Nepean High School, the connection between players is simply that they’re the city’s best.
“We’ve played together for awhile, a lot of guys train hard, and you know what? We take it seriously,” explains Phelan, noting that off-season training and coaching in the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association’s junior ranks to build a new generation of talent is all part of the package. “This isn’t running around in the sun in our flip-flops. We treat it like a real sport, and everyone that joins the team takes it seriously. We put in the time and the work.”
Over 1,450 players competed on 68 teams in the nationals’ five divisions, which also included the Mixed category – where Montreal and Vancouver teams took gold and silver – and Junior, where Vancouver’s Shock topped Toronto’s Overdrive.
The tournament returned to its Ottawa roots for the 25th edition of the event that began with 10 teams in 1987.
“Ottawa is the best place to hold a national tournament,” says Di Filippo of Toronto. “Having UPI – a set of fields made for ultimate – is amazing. It should always be here. It’s a great venue, there’s friendly people, and the fields are the best in the country.”