With Big Plans, USA Goaltimate Holds First Event In Raleigh

The sport finds a new home – and its first champions – as part of USA Goaltimate.

Carolina Goaltimate Championship men's and women's champions. Photo: USA Goaltimate.
Carolina Goaltimate Championship men’s and women’s champions. Photo: USA Goaltimate.

While it perhaps has not kept up with the rapid growth of ultimate, the ultimate-subculture sport of goaltimate has been alive and well for nearly 40 years. Goaltimate has a loyal band of followers reminiscent of those who proliferated ultimate in its early stages: passionate, tight-knit, and willing to go to great lengths to seek out any and all opportunities to play the game. Now, born and seemingly forever engulfed in the expanding shadow of its big brother, goaltimate is finally making a bid to become its own entity. Through the recent formation of a parent organization aptly named USA Goaltimate, and a much larger support base than even the leaders themselves may have realized, it appears to have the tools to do so successfully on the heels of its first of two championships this month.

On March 12 and 13, well over 100 players gathered from across the country into eight men’s teams and seven women’s teams to participate in the league’s first ever tournament, the Eastern Conference Championships. Though officially dubbed the “Carolina Goaltimate Classic 2016,” the event did an outstanding job galvanizing players around the country. “Overall, I think the tournament was a great success,” said tournament director Sam Cooper. “We had players all the way from New York across to Seattle and down to Austin and Jacksonville.”

The gender balance was an equally important, if slightly unexpected, success of the weekend. The tournament directors, who are also on the leadership team of USA Goaltimate, did a lot of personal legwork to ensure that the event was well populated and evenly distributed. According to Cooper, “one concern we had was that it would be a male-dominated event since Noah [Saul, co-tournament director] and I are more connected within the male community than female. Luckily, some key women’s players in the Southeast were incredibly excited to bring teams and spread the word.”

The women’s champion was a North Carolina-based team called Just Meow-wied, populated with many big names familiar to those who follow women’s ultimate. Jessi Jones, Jinny Eun, and the one-day-only appearance of Liz Duffy dominated a hard-fought finals over a previously undefeated At Stall Six team from Charlotte to claim the first-ever women’s Eastern championship. In general, competition in the women’s division was tight across the board and featured few blowouts.

The Atlanta women were a strong group with great chemistry, and Charlotte, who cruised through bracket play before dropping their first game in the finals, had a lot of talent; June Lohner, in particular, brought goaltimate expertise and strategy – even running a few set plays! – to an already athletic team. The tournament, at NC State’s Miller Fields, also hosted a women’s all-star game, which proved to be highly entertaining and much more than a clever way to make use of an extra round of what would have otherwise been dead time for the ladies.

In the men’s division, the competition was fairly even with the exception of Arch Rival from Atlanta, who were clearly operating on a higher level than the rest of the field; at times they looked like they were playing a different game altogether. While on the women’s side having the best ultimate players and most athletic teams appeared to be the necessary ingredients to win games, ultimate-related skills were often rendered irrelevant by goaltimate know-how on the men’s.

“Florida and Raleigh did a great job using their athleticism to beat many teams, however, they didn’t seem to have a solidified strategy like Atlanta,“ said Cooper. The finals matched up an unbeaten Atlanta squad with Raleigh’s Mullen Sux at Goalty, led by the eponymous but absent Josh Mullen of Ring of Fire. After going 5-2 in bracket play, Raleigh avenged a Saturday loss to Florida alumni team AMBF with a win in semifinals to set up a rematch with Atlanta, a match familiar to many in the Southeastern ultimate community. Raleigh played Atlanta tight in the first half, but it would not last, as Atlanta went on a scoring tear and blanked the Triangle team in the second half en route to an 11-2 victory.

“We’re ultimate players playing goaltimate; they’re actual goaltimate players” was a statement uttered in some form throughout the weekend by multiple frustrated but wowed Atlanta opponents. There is no offsides rule in goaltimate, but Arch Rival would have fared just fine had the organizers attempted to experiment with one. Multiple Atlanta players threw goals that involved both the thrower and all the cutters on the upfield side of the goal, with the disc led into the scoring area first, seemingly suspended motionless in midair waiting for teammates to frolic untouched right underneath it from any of number of unforeseen angles.

Led by Matthew “Skip” Sewell, Director of Operations for USA Goaltimate and longtime goaltimate enthusiast, Atlanta was by far the most organized and prepared team. Sewell will also be attending the Western Conference Championships on March 26 and 27, where he will attempt to navigate a large field of other star-studded squads to become the sport’s first bicoastal champion.

None of this is to say that the tournament didn’t have its own challenges, or that it has completed goaltimate’s rise out of anonymity into the public eye.

One of the main reasons for the recent widespread proliferation of ultimate is the lack of complicated equipment required to play. The old adage of “all you need is a disc and a field,” however, no longer applies to goaltimate. Assembling a kit is not easy, and the USA Goaltimate website’s instructions on how to do so, while helpful and thorough, are anything but simple. Still, as more people start playing and owning their own kits, it follows naturally that someone will figure out a way to make financial sense out of assisting with this assembly. It isn’t hard to imagine a near future in which USA Goaltimate purchases the required items in bulk and then sells them to its members for the same price that it would cost them to put together a kit by themselves piece-by-piece.

RELATED: Skip Sewell Talks About USA Goaltimate On Deep Look

Standardizing the kits was an onerous focus for the tournament directors as well, and they even ended up trying out two different types of setups: one with the recommended metal stakes connecting the PVC to the ground, and one with weighted 5-gallon buckets holding the ends of the arch. The latter design turned out to be not nearly as effective, often requiring pausing the game for minutes at a time to reset the weights, and in general seemed like a bad injury waiting to happen.

Good to hear, however, that “this was partially by design,” according to Cooper, in the spirit of “creating a chance for people to experience different types of kits as they played throughout the day. This helps us at USAG gather in-the-moment feedback about various setups to better guide our standardization decisions in the future.” This is the kind of adaptable thinking that goaltimate will need to become popular and dislodge itself from its niche.

Other facets of the tournament ranged from successful to ready-for-immediate-implementation. The timing of the games was, by most accounts, exactly correct for all parties involved; two 15-minute halves seemed just the right amount of time to develop flow and declare a rightful winner. However, teams spent most of the allotted 5-minute half waiting around for the horn, in stark contrast to the attractive fast-paced element the sport brings. Goaltimate also has a distinct advantage of lending itself extremely well to mixed play, and the tournament directors say that there will be a mixed division “as early as next year.”

With the implementation of USAG and the ease of communication about rules and playing opportunities, the sport is in a good place moving forward. Pick-up goaltimate is more popular than ever, and leagues are beginning to take shape in some of the more goaltimate-saturated areas of the country. Next, the goaltimate-playing world looks forward to this weekend’s Western Conference Championships, where 19 teams, ten men’s and nine women’s, will compete in the second and final event of USA Goaltimate’s inaugural championship series.

While Sewell will have to discover where his allegiances lie if his Eastern champion team wants to test its mettle against what could be its Western counterpart, the rest of the players in the goaltimate community firmly inhabit the encouraging space of fertile ground for growth that is finally forming after such a long wait.

  1. Zachary Saffa

    Zachary Saffa began his ultimate career at Wake Forest University and now lives and works as a music educator in New York City. In addition to Mullen Sux at Goalty, he has played for Cash Crop, the AUDL's Charlotte Express, and Youngbloods.

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