Feature photo by Scott George
“Do not put that in there!” someone yelled, as Tim Wise was about to pour soap into the jacuzzi as it filled with cold water and ice. The next hours were occupied with a three-at-a-time team bubble-filled ice jacuzzi as Heads of State recovered from a successful second day at the Australian Ultimate Championships, about an hour west of Sydney. The day before had been much of the same, with additional antics that included winning a meat tray from a local rugby team raffle, and once again team pilings into the ice jacuzzi. It was moments like these that defined the HoS experience. It’s a camaraderie that has been developed for over a decade, even before the boys started playing ultimate and manifested as a world-class team.
Melbourne’s HoS formed with a five-year plan in mind, the culmination of which was to win an Australian National Championship. Other goals included playing Worlds and reaching new competitive heights. All of those goals had been accomplished except for the championship. Now eight years in and overdue, HoS looked to claim what they believed was rightfully theirs, focusing a talented roster that was peaking at the right time.
Playing with HoS had become like homecoming for me. Although it took a little while for me to adjust (mostly because I didn’t understand what they talking about most of the time), I felt welcomed into some secret society that had been waiting there for me all along. From the start, I felt that I was a valued member of the team, which is an atmosphere that is hard to create — especially considering everyone on the team is constantly giving each other shit for hooking up with someone or not hooking up with someone or how worthless their preferred footy team is. It’s that sort of thing that makes HoS so special. Anyone could call me a “wretched bastard” to my face and I knew deep down that what they meant is that I wasn’t only a wretched bastard, I was HoS’s wretched bastard, and that is a very important difference.
Many times throughout my travels over the past eight weeks I did my best to set an example of a good teammate, trying to offer support and suggestions. It was like falling onto a bed of fresh sheets to receive the same sense of support and care from my HoS teammates. Even wretched bastards like Mark “Woodley” Isherwood were quick to help me refocus when a game wasn’t starting great for me. I would hear my name shouted on the sideline and wanted to push even harder on the field when I saw the effort Geof Grundy and Joshi Inzy made on the field. I found inspiration in Seb Barr’s direct and supportive leadership, which any team would be honored to receive. I found confidence in Pissy’s perceptiveness as his coaching mind grows and threatens to challenge the world.
The time off the field was just further example of HoS helping to make their home my own. Seb and Joshi treated me to a trip down the Great Ocean Road. Along the way we found wild koalas hanging in trees, stopped on at Torquay Beach where Seb and Joshi showed me how to surf and enjoy some meat pies. I was taken to multiple footy games and spent a few days camping at Wilsons Promontory with some of the team. Along the way, I was exposed to the closeness that this team shares. That closeness continued throughout Nationals.
HoS had found themselves in quarters after going undefeated in pool play on day one and losing only a universe point game to Fyshwick in the showcase. Still, HoS ended the day confidently, having been tested and knowing what to improve. On the first day, HoS found themselves behind in a game against a hungry Sublime from Perth. Defense was able to step it up and force break after break to go on a significant run in the final quarter, finishing the game two ahead. On Friday, the second day of play, HoS faced one of their principal rivals in Colony Plunder, one of the teams that had haunted them for years. This year was different: HoS’s defense stepped up and pulled far ahead, holding off a last minute surge to close out the game. The end of the day’s showcase under soft lighting only furthered HoS’s cause, despite a single point loss to Fyshwick. And they felt confident that their second gear would kick-in when it counted.
The Australian Nationals format relies heavily on the initial draw to determine where teams end up and this showed that, despite seedings, any team was vulnerable. Phat Chilly (#5) fell to French (#10), Colony Plunder (#2) fell to Fyshwick (#8) and Colony Pillage (#1) fell to Phat Chilly on only the first day. Despite undefeated records, HoS and Fyshwick found themselves in the same power pool. Fyshwick would take the #1 seed in power pool A, and Phat Chilly would take the #1 seed in power pool B. An upset of Firestorm (#6) over Colony Pillage would pit Pillage against HoS in the quarter-finals.
The Saturday morning of the quarter-finals was mild. The skies were patchy with sun and there was a light breeze. HoS took the fields, warming-up to face the one team they hadn’t beaten this season, Colony Pillage. Despite being competitive at the Brisbane Canbrae Invitational early in the month, it was clear that HoS had some hesitation going into this game. Expectations were that Pillage was a team we wouldn’t see until the semis or finals. Had the tournament gone closer to seed, HoS would have had an easier match-up. But nevertheless, their road to a championship went through Pillage.
HoS knew that Pillage was beatable. The losses they had sustained thus far and the quality of play that HoS had displayed might have made this game a toss-up and in the first points, a toss-up it was. Pillage broke in the first point after a long back and forth, with neither offenses able to get comfortable. From there, HoS held, getting their offense back in sync. Their defense, however, was being punished deep and were unable to stop Pillage’s long game. By the time half rolled around, Pillage had held their lead and was able to extend it by another break just after half. HoS’s defense never fully switched-on, and was unable to display the dominance it showed earlier in the tournament. Pillage would cruise to a victory, knocking HoS into the 5th play bracket.
To put it lightly, the boys from Melbourne were devastated. Eight years of fighting for a championship and this is where it ended. We were at the furthest point from another opportunity to win gold. What hurt the most is that we believed we had it in ourselves, and simply failed to find a way to awaken the beast.
I expected the team to be down and out for the rest of the tournament. After all, we still had a couple games left to claim 5th. To my surprise, after a short break, the team was back in proper spirits again. Despite disappointment, they relished in the opportunity to roll as a team once again, especially in light of facing their crosstown rivals, Phat Chilly, who had been dropped by Auckland’s Magon in a surprise quarter. And roll, HoS did, easily handing a loss to Phat Chilly and moving on to the 5th place game.
The next day, HoS faced the Victoria Wildcats, a familiar opponent from New Zealand nationals. Exhausted and starting to feel a lack of motivation, HoS was still confident in their abilities and maintained control for most of the game. Though Heads of State would end up skating by on a universe point game, they were sublimely confident that they would’ve prevailed one way or another. And then the tournament was over. Fyshwick made their way through the other half of the championship bracket and were to face Pillage in the finals: the only two teams Heads of State had lost to now facing off against each other in the finals. For HoS, this only served as further vindication of their quality, despite a 5th place showing. And HoS had beaten the team that ended up in 3rd, and felt that this had also proven their top tier status.
Watching the final, Fyshwick never really got started, and Pillage’s consistency led to an easy win and another championship. HoS watched/heckled, while holding on to the belief that we could have been there, and we could have won this tournament.
All told, Australian Nationals was an excellent experience. I saw the fire within the belly of the juggernaut that is Heads of State and it was truly a force to be reckoned with. I was proud of the ultimate I played personally, and was impressed by the talented HoS roster over and over again. In interviewing players from the team, it was clear that the tournament serves as the petrol that fuels HoS’s national competitiveness. HoS could have beaten any team in Australia. HoS could have crushed any team at that tournament. Now it’s just about sharpening those mental skills and not just playing out of their mind, but knowing how to get there and controlling it. Becoming the stampede that only ends in victory! A victory that the gang from Melbourne (and this lone representative from Seattle) was ready to fight to claim again next year. Although when the dust settled, despite having no medals to claim, HoS knew where we had landed and were primed to move ahead.
HoS now has been around for eight years now. Eight years of friendships. Eight years of forging a tested and true bond of brotherhood. It is that brotherhood which I found most impressive about my time in Melbourne. Though, HoS seeks their final goal, they have created something truly precious — a brotherhood which is something to be cherished and recognized. When I look around the huddle at the eyes of my teammates and brothers, I know that in life there are few opportunities to create such amazing bonds. Few places where such mutual respect, and drive for a common goal can be reached. Despite the battles, HoS knows that, one day, they will be crowned king of the hill. But in life, there are no medals for the things that matter most. Look around yourselves boys. Look around.