by Paul Kennedy (Catch 22)
This is a story about magic. About how a group of individuals can be transmogrified, through trust and hard work, into a unit that moves as one, talks as one, even thinks as one. This is Catch 22’s Rocktober journey, from Cape Town to Joburg, but also from many to one. And from my point of view, it was nothing but magical.
This year’s squad was what you might call ‘wet behind the ears’, even by Catch 22’s standards. We’re a young team (founded in 2015), with a mix of old hands and young rookies. For many of us, this was our first Rocktober. For a few, it was their first tournament.
Training started seven weeks before the tournament, and as our squad took shape the leadership realised that we would have to readjust our expectations. Many of the experienced players that we brought to Rocktober 2015 and Nationals 2016 would not be joining us, and our goals had to shift accordingly. So we focussed on building skills and developing towards a competitive Nationals next year.
About month before Rocktober, we hit a low point. A friendly game went disastrously wrong, and the squad ran into a number of on- and off-field issues. Our plays were falling apart, we just weren’t gelling and it felt like we were going backwards. We powered through, focussed on communication and gradually things started to look up. Nevertheless, our expectations for Rocktober remained low.
Saturday 1 October arrived, all too suddenly. Bleary-eyed but thrilled to be playing after certain students threatened to ruin the party, we faced Chilli first up. We played well, but lost to one of South Africa’s best teams. A scrappy, nail-bitingly close game against UCT Roaring Tigers saw us snatch a win from the claws (ahem) of defeat on universe point.
After a messy win against Soweto Ultimate, we faced the Zone Rangers for the last game of the day. We were tired, struggling with the altitude. Before the game, we talked about trust. We talked about having faith in the person next to you, no matter their gender, their experience, or their ability. And that was when the magic happened.
Just like that, we ceased to be individuals and became a unit. Faith in each other was rewarded as every player outplayed themselves, point after point. I’m not sure what Zone Rangers were expecting, but we surprised ourselves that game. We won with aggressive, committed zones and offensive play that flowed like never before. It was an incredible feeling; every one of us played better than we ever had.
Day two started with a game against our old frenemies, Ghost, and we brought the magic with us. We came out with full intensity from point one and matched points with them up to 4-4. Ghost turned it on after that, exploiting holes in our defense and using some great zones to nerf our attacks. Despite a resounding loss, we finished that game with the sense of trust, unity and belief in ourselves and each other intact.
We carried that confidence into our game against Skyveld. An incredibly hard-fought game ensued, personally my favourite of the tournament. We traded points for a while before our zones forced one too many errors and we took a few consecutive points to clinch the half. Skyveld showed incredible intensity, with several points going past 10 minutes. In the end we took the game and secured a spot for a 5th place playoff against Ultitude.
Finding ourselves in the same position as last year, against the same opposition, felt a little surreal – none of us believed we would get there at the start of the tournament. Despite several injuries in their squad, Ultitude showed us why they are Gauteng’s best team, exploiting our tired legs, ripping up our zones and consistently beating us deep. We were never really in the game.
And there, you might think, the journey ended. But you’d be wrong. Despite a resounding loss, every person in that squad walked away feeling like a winner. We consistently played above our ability, thanks to that trust, and that will stay with us. We will carry the magic of Rocktober into 2017 and beyond. South African Ultimate, you have been warned.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the RocTOC for pulling the rabbit out of the hat under extreme duress this weekend past. Despite many setbacks, the tournament was a resounding success and all of us at Catch are extremely grateful for the work, seen and unseen, that went into it.