How To Pull Off An Upset At Regionals (Or Die Trying)

Not for the fainthearted.

Ottawa Phoenix stunned Japan’s Buzz Bullets at the 2014 World Club Championships with a huck-heavy strategy. Photo: Brian Canniff —

This content is not for the major powers of the ultimate world. Avert your eyes Brute Squad and Sockeye. Stop reading this and go click on through to an article about new muscle rolling techniques or how to make your pre-workout green juices even greener.

For everyone else, I’ve got a secret for you.

Know what the sweetest thing is in life? It’s not making Nationals: seeing your team work hard for a goal all season and achieve it. No. The sweetest thing in life is going into Regionals against a team that has you woefully outgunned and outprepared, then ending their season with an incomprehensible-even-while-it’s-happening upset. Eliminating a team that has been doing 6 AM workouts for the past five months and weekly film sessions. Writing a surprise last chapter in a book that, until you showed up as an antagonist, was going to be titled “Hard work, zeal, and bootstraps, the keys to success!”

Regionals is the truest stage for this drama, because it is the place in frisbee where dreams go to die. It’s where a team can validate a season’s hard work, or find all of their inadequacies and unfulfilled dreams crash down around them. To see the life drain out a team’s eyes when they realize they are going to lose to a bunch of scallywags who had no business being in the game in the first place is…the Germans probably have a word for it.

Of course, the reason this masochism is so special is because it is unlikely and infrequent. The first step in pulling off a major Regionals upset is acknowledging upfront that your opponent is better than you at the sport of ultimate, has been working harder than you to be better at the sport of ultimate, and is going to beat you if you don’t do something drastic. But, much like how recognizing your own mortality is the key to truly being alive, accepting these truths can empower you to become something greater than yourself.

Understanding that you are at a disadvantage will allow you to lull these tops seeds into a false sense of security. This is crucial. They need to think that they can let their focus down, which gives you a window to strike.

Pull this wool over their eyes even before the game starts by not showing up to the field until two minutes before gametime. Especially if it is the first round of the day, it can really throw a team off to be warming up against an empty half of the field, glancing around looking for an opponent, talking in their four line drill about whether they are at the right fields, or if the other team is even coming. Then, when you ramble in 120 seconds before the pull, not only are they underestimating you, they aren’t prepared to play the way they usually are.

Now, this doesn’t mean don’t warm up yourself. Find an empty field somewhere else and get your stretches and throws in if you want, and then head over to your field just before the horn blows. This is the kind of mental warfare you’ll need to wage early and often to pull off this big upset, so get used to it. These are ‘break in case of emergency’ tactics and the mischief is just getting started.

Once the game starts, the thing you want to repeat over and over to yourself is “high variance.” You will not beat this team by dump swinging them to death. They are better at that than you, they’ve been practicing it three times a week for the past six months, and they did like two whole drills in warm ups working on it. You will maybe beat them by making the game a circus.

For starters, this means lots of hucking. Ultimate is a simple game sometimes, and you only need to play catch successfully 15 times to win. It also means doing a bunch of nonsense that will disorient your opponents into committing unforced errors and prevent them from getting into the flow of the game. They can’t gameplan for you if you don’t have a coherent gameplan.

So do weird stuff periodically. Send all your handlers deep off the pull. Throw zone, even a bad one, randomly and for no reason at all. If they call a timeout on the endzone, put a four person cup around the disc because, why on earth would they draw up an endzone play against a four person cup. High. Variance. And the whole time this is happening, make sure you’re being lunatics on the sideline. Brazenly speculate that if you win you’ll probably forfeit the next round because you don’t really want to play much more afterwards. This will drive the other team INSANE. Mr. Tryhard McPatagonia-Shorts will use it as a reason to dismiss you even if the score is suspiciously close. That’s his problem, not yours.

Of course, this could all go south really quick. That’s where the “or die trying” part comes in. But remember, no one will be impressed that you took the third best team in the region to 15-7. You are playing to win or lose so badly that everyone else can only conclude that you were playing with six people like a midseason fall league game.

The final realization that you’ll have to accept, the third act twist, is that you are actually the villain of this story. You’re using borderline tactics to subvert the intents and purposes of the game so that you can deny someone who has worked waaaayyyyy harder than you at something that they really want. They are going to actually cry when you beat them on that stall eight hammer into double coverage. This will set off an existential crisis that could lead to someone quitting the sport, because why would they invest all that time and effort just to have it end at the hands of a bunch of clowns.

And clowns you will be, because instead of respecting what you’ve done, people will write you off as “lucky” or “they just jacked it deep and played a bunch of zone.” This is the cost of victory. So before you try any of this, ask yourself: “Am I ready to wear the cloak of villainy? Am I ready to undermine the legitimacy of the game to ruin someone else’s season? Is it worth it?” Only you can answer that.

(Yes. Yes it is 100% worth it. Get out there and troll some tryhards into oblivion.)

  1. Patrick Stegemoeller

    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.


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