by Jenna Larsen and Thomas Morris (GaleFORCE)
Getting GaleFORCE to this tournament was not easy. Numerous injuries, financial strain and inexperience had us on the edge of our seats, wondering if we’d even be able to make it. Realizing the development potential, this Rocktober tournament was the best way to develop our players and the team – to put them up against the country’s best. This made GaleFORCE’s leadership determined to make it work. During the beginning stages of preparations, we had a squad of 14, in the end, this had dropped to 4 ladies, 5 men and one lady pick-up (from Durban). This small team was made up of a few veterans, with a wealth of experience, and a few rookies, most having only played for the past 2 months.
GaleFORCE has been around for a couple of years (since the beginning of 2013) from the windy city of Port Elizabeth. We went to our first nationals that year after only forming less than 2 months earlier. We have always struggled with numbers. For some reason finding and recruiting people to play in PE is challenging. In 2014 and 2016 we took a team to nationals where we combined with our neighbours in Grahamstown in order to have enough numbers. In 2015, we did not have enough from either side to go. This is why, going to this tourney was so important to the team, it’s the first time GaleFORCE has been able to take a team to a tournament in 3.5 years!
Early Saturday morning of the Rocktober tournament (5:30 am to be exact), we piled into our hired vehicles and drove the hour from our backpackers to the fields. We were not only the first team to arrive, we were even there before the tournament organisers. I’m not sure if this speaks to our eagerness to participate in the tournament or the fact that we always seemed to be the last ones to get the memo. Our kit arrived during our warm-up (talk about cutting it close!). This is significant as this was the first time our team had official kit and boy were we excited when it arrived. Once the kit was distributed and we got to feel the smooth material against our bodies, the story of this team coming together began to shape. We had an image. We looked and felt invincible. And that is all that mattered.
DAY 1: We were in a tough pool with Ghost, ELUF Knights and Ultitude 2. We were fired up for our first game against Ultitude 2. Something to note is that this was one of the first times that we were able to play with 7v7 structure. Usually during our training, we have enough for 4v4, 5v5, occasionally 6v6 – therefore, a steep learning curve. We played well (all things considered). We were finding our feet, working on our various structures and testing the roles we had set out during training. We pushed Ultitude 2 to soft cap, but they beat us with better chemistry and a capitalization off our offensive mistakes. Our second game was against our cross-province rivals, ELUF Knights. As much as we wanted to win, we knew it was going to be tough. We scored more points against them than we did against Ultitude, but their deeper squad and athleticism got the better of us. Our last game was against one of the best teams in the country. We knew this was an opportunity to learn and we embraced this fact. With some effective handler movement against defences we had never seen before, we often worked it into the red zones, yet the Ghost defence was stifling. On one of these occasions, near the end of the game, we worked it up to just outside the end zone, got very excited, called a time out, and eventually punched it in for our first and only score against Ghost. According to GaleFORCE, we had won! There were tears, there was relief, as being bageled is never a pleasant experience.
The first day was an immense wake-up call for our team. We have players who have never played at a tournament before and the first 3 games had forced us to grow together. We were looking forward to the second day, knowing that we would be playing teams that would be on our level of competitiveness, and this gave us confidence and drive to succeed.
Day 2: We were excited to play Orange Farm, Wits and Soweto. Our game with Orange Farm got off to a difficult start with transportation issues forcing a late first pull. Orange Farm is new to the sport and still learning the rules making it a challenging match. We were disappointed with how the game progressed, and this made our first win as a team feel very bittersweet. With a Wits alum on our squad (Robyn), our next game was incredibly exciting. This team is known for being a fun, spirited and highly dynamic team. It was a tough and competitive match up with many points drawing out longer than was necessary due to the defensive pressures. In the end, we dug into our experienced players and were able to rack up a win, but our small and shallow squad was catching up with us. Our 3rd and final game was against Soweto Ultimate. Having followed Soweto’s meteoric rise into South African Ultimate through various news agencies and having watched part of their game against Catch 22 the previous day, we were prepared for their incredible athleticism, speed and spirit. It was an incredibly fun, high spirited game with some incredibly close match ups … This was the team to beat. Our bodies were already broken, our concentration wavering and after one particularly long point, the team was asked to give one last push … to leave it all in Johannesburg and deal with the consequences later. When the final point was scored and GaleFORCE racked up its third win of the tournament, we collapsed.
Rocktober 2016, we had done it! Our bodies were broken and exhausted but we finished the tournament with our heads held high. Each teammate had had an incredible experience. They have each grown to appreciate this incredible sport and have formed lasting friendships within this incredible community. We will never forget the memories we created and we will endeavour to take this momentum forward into our next season and hope that it won’t be another 3.5 years until you see GaleFORCE again!
P.S: to the Rocktober TOC. You all had a Herculean task set before you. Well done on making this an incredibly successful tournament … this is for you…
“Did I ever tell you you’re my frisbee hero, you’re everything that I would like to be. Our score might have well have been a zero, But you are the wind beneath my wings”
(To the tune of Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath my Wings)