Ten teams square off in Africa's second ever continental championship tournament.
June 16, 2017 by Graham Gerhart in Recap with 0 comments
African ultimate is on the rise. While the continent may not be on par with the rest of the world in regard to the abundance of tournaments and active players, the passion and love of ultimate is just as prevalent in those that do compete. This was on full display throughout the recent All African Ultimate Club Championships, held on the first weekend in June in Nairobi, Kenya.
In its second installment,1 the AAUCC 2017 tournament hosted ten mixed teams from across the continent, with three club teams coming in from Uganda, two from both South Africa and Kenya, one from each of Egypt and Tanzania, as well as an Africa United team that combined players from each and every region.
Over the course of three days in Nairobi, teams battled it out for continental supremacy.
With such a small number of teams in attendance, the tournament scheduled a full round robin pool play, providing teams with plenty reps and the opportunity to compete against each available opponent. While there was some stratification of skill among the teams, several games throughout pool play were closely contested, with five matches decided on double game point. Entebbe from Uganda were unfortunate to be on the wrong end of three such games in pool play, but still professed to be very happy with how they played and the level of competition they faced at the tournament.
After an exhausting eight hours of ultimate on each of the first two days, South Africa’s Ghost Ultimate and UCT Flying Tigers, Uganda’s Kampala Impala, and Kisumu Ultimate — representing the host country, Kenya — finished in the top four spots from the round robin and qualified for the championship bracket.
In the semifinals, the Flying Tigers matched up with Impala while Ghost took on Kisumu. While both games were competitive, the two South African squads showed their international experience and defeated their Central African competition quite handily. And so, in the end, the tournament final saw two local rivals from Cape Town squaring off against each other for the continental crown.
Ghost Ultimate and the Flying Tigers are both legendary programs in South Africa — the former having represented the country at WUCC 2014 in Lecco while the latter just earned a bid to WUCC 2018 by capturing the national title in May. While the two programs share quite a bit in common, their respective journeys to the final at AAUCC were quite different. The Flying Tigers opened the weekend with two straight losses on the tournament’s first day — including one on double game point against Ghost — before rebounding with a run of seven straight wins to earn a spot in the bracket. Their crosstown counterparts, on the other hand, had not lost a game heading into the semis and remained confident.
It would be easy to simply recount what happened in the game but perhaps the best way to understand the energy, excitement, and talent displayed is by hearing it through the words of the UCT captain, Jarid North:
“We started off this tournament playing Ghost and we would finish off playing against our Cape Town rivals — a team that had attended WUCC2014, a team that flew on the same flight as us to get here, a team that had been training alongside us in the weeks leading up to this tournament.
Ghost came out of the blocks with steam on their cleats. They took a very fast lead, leaving us staggering as the scoreboard read 4-0. I was shocked. We had come all this way and were getting white-washed by a team that showed no sign of tiredness even after playing ten games in two and a half days.
We used a timeout to recollect ourselves with a quick team talk to remind the Tigers we came here to have fun and, right then, we weren’t having fun. Back on the field, we secured the next point comfortably to finally put ourselves onto the board. A quick break brought us back within two. From there we traded until the half time cap was called at 6-4 to Ghost.
We came out of O in the second half and an almost dropped pull from Dylan Giffard sent me into flat panic. He recovered, catching the disc just centimetres from the tall grass. We held our O point to get within one. Two more traded points saw the score at 7-6 with cap fast approaching. UCT would find its way to our second break, tying the game up and sending it to double game point.
A quick time out got the team fired up as I asked who is going to get this disc back to a resounding response of “WE ARE!” This was it, no other point mattered this tournament. No other point mattered after this point. Bergen Massyn (my co-captain) and I had fortuitously discussed who we would be calling to our universe point line earlier that day and were quick to put it into effect. Once the players were on the line getting ready to pull, I looked to them and only smiled. I couldn’t even call what I wanted them to do — all I had to say was, “you know what to do, show them what we got.”
Stifling person defense forced a wayward pass from Ghost about three quarters of the way down the field, resulting in a drop and our turn on O. Peter Jessop picked up the disc close to the sideline and, knowing his propensity for big 50/50 hucks, I told him to keep calm as we could work it up all day. Low and behold, with Thulie Mayaba going deep and the stall count short of reaching five, he launches a cheeky backhand, the sound of fingers nicking the disc making my heart plummet. I look downfield to where the disc is sailing and see a tight mark on the back of “gecko-hands” Thulie — Lauren Immelman, a player sizeably taller than her. They bid together. Thulie comes down with the disc in her hand.
From there things get a bit blurry. There was shouting. Cheering. Jumping. Hugging. Crying. Gloves were thrown. Hats were in the air. People were collapsing. All I know is we had won, we were African Champions.”
With the Flying Tigers in jubilee, Ghost’s weekend ended bittersweetly after a dominant weekend came up a point short of victory.
“While Ghost was gutted to lose at the final hurdle, the sheer fun of the weekend and the creation of so many new friendships masked much of the pain,” said Ghost’s Doug Mattushek.
The third place game between Kisumu and Impala similarly proved to be a very entertaining contest. While the Kenyans took an early lead that they maintained through most of the game, their reliance on hucks and athleticism so far into a three-day tournament eventually proved to be their undoing. Impala started gaining traction — led by some big plays from Umar Katumba — and their structured play coupled with patient offensive resets got them straight back into the game and eventually led Impala to a 9-8 victory, earning the Ugandans a spot on the AAUCC podium.
Progress For African Ultimate
While ten teams for a continental championship event may seem small, it very much represents progress for the growing sport and the emergence of African ultimate. For many of the teams that competed in Kenya, the AAUCC is the only time all year that they will play competition outside of their own cities — let alone their country.
The AAUCC tournament is technically open to more than 54 potential countries across the continent. In reality, even though this opportunity exists, there’s a lot that prevents many teams around Africa from attempting to participate in the event. Many that play the sport could not afford the visas, flights, and accommodation costs necessary to compete in Nairobi. Transportation across and between the many countries of the continent is difficult, as many players do not own cars and many nations do not have a strong enough currency to pay for flights. For some players, it may have been the first time they’ve ever traveled outside their own country.
Despite these challenges, the African ultimate community recognizes the importance of hosting a continental tournament, as it is a necessary step for the growth of the sport. In addition to serving as a cornerstone playing opportunity as clubs try to grow internationally, it also provides a venue and forum to exchange ideas, tips, and encouragement between disparate ultimate communities across the continent. The players that compete in international tournaments not only gain these advantages for themselves, they bring them back home so much more of the wealth of knowledge and understanding of the sport can be shared with other programs in their own communities.
Eleanor Shadwell of the Flying Tigers spoke to the incredible value she and her team gained from the experience at AAUCC.
“Flying to another African country just to play in an ultimate tournament was a first in many ways. To hear many people, many cultures, many languages being spoken and playing disc with each other in teams from the North, East, and South of Africa was fantastic. Although the experience amongst majority of the teams averaged 1 to 2 years — particularly with the female players — the athleticism and sheer talent shown on the field (and dance skills off the field!) prove that within a very short amount of time and more exposure, African ultimate will be a force to be reckoned in the world scene. The exposure to different styles of play — zone defense being new to many — and relying on women in all positions on the field are the keys to winning in mixed ultimate. The second AAUCC provided this opportunity and will continue to bring it each time. I definitely think that most players at the tournament went away from it with hunger for more ultimate.”
By all accounts, the Kenyan organizers put together an amazing experience for all participants. Mattushek echoed a similar appreciation for the opportunity provided by AAUCC and saved particular praise for the tournament’s hosts.
“From the bowls of fresh fruit to the athletic plays and the wild party, AAUCC was a fantastic success. Our long journey up from Cape Town was made worth it as we were met with broad smiles on and off the field. This attitude was backed up by competitive play and electric spirit, a testament to the brand of ultimate Central Africa has to offer… Nairobi, it was an absolute pleasure.”
The first AAUCC was held in 2015 in Uganda. ↩