triumphant return to the seven hills
Despite fielding three full teams at this year’s beach tournament, which we host, putting together a team for the 7Hills Classic, East Africa’s other major Ultimate frisbee tournament, is like pulling teeth. Last year, we only had half a dozen Nairobi players, with the rest of the team composed of a grab bag of players from all over Western Kenya. This year, D spent two months pestering people to make the financial and time commitment to travel to Kampala for the tournament. Last year’s heart-breaking loss left a bitter aftertaste and we wanted another shot at the championship.
We started our day with back-to-back games against Kampala’s A and B teams. Our first match – against the B team – was scored as a forfeit in our favor, as only four of their players showed up to play. We volunteered a few of our players and scrimmaged until their reinforcements arrived. The next game was quite a bit tougher. We conceded a few break points early and though we played better as the game went on, we couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole and wound up losing 6-9. The third match – against a team from Makindye (a suburb of Kampala) – was the most fiercely-contested of our first day games. We traded points and, though we scored the last goal, time ran out and we lost the match 6-7. Throughout the day we had been practicing a 1-3-3 zone defense and the practice paid off in our fourth match. The team from Kigali, which had lost a close game to tournament favorites Kampala A, could not figure out how to break the zone and we romped to a 13-1 victory. Our last game was against the One Acre squad from Western Kenya. By that point, quite a few of us were running on fumes, but we pulled it together for a 12-6 victory. Our 3-2 record placed us 3rd, behind Kampala A (2nd), and Makindye, which beat Kampala 9-8 in a nail-biter to claim the top spot with a 5-0 mark in group play.
With the top two teams receiving byes, our first match on the second day was against 6th-seeded Kampala B, a game we won 13-1. This set up a rematch against Makindye in the first semifinal, while Kampala A squared off against Kigali for the other finals spot. We threw on our 1-3-3 zone and for a while it looked like we would have an easy route to the finals. We stormed out to a 3-0 lead, but our fourth point was called off on a pick and Makindye countered with several quick scores off our turnovers to knot the game at 3-3. We scored the next point and got a chance to set our zone again, forcing enough turnovers to take half 7-3. We traded points after the break and were up 10-6 with time running out when our top handler floated a low disc into the endzone. One of our players dove, as did his defender. They landed in an awkward heap, which unfortunately left our friend with a bruised eye, bloody nose, and broken clavicle. After sending him to the hospital, we closed out the game 12-7, which set up a finals rematch against our hosts, who had cruised 13-1 against Kigali.
Again, we started off strong, leading 3-1, 5-2, and 6-3 before a couple of bad turnovers brought Kampala within a point. The wind picked up and it started drizzling when we took the half 7-5. Having pulled to start the game, we received the disc at the start of the second half and scored a downwind point for an 8-5 lead. Our injuries (cramps) started piling up as the wind blew harder, making it all but impossible to score upwind points. The rainy final evoked memories of last year’s sloppy affair, which we led 7-3 before losing 8-9. The weather further deteriorated and we traded points to find ourselves up 12-9, one point away from victory. But Kampala stormed back, scoring a downwind point and working it up the field for a tough up-winder and a 12-11 score. We received the disc and worked it half-way up the field before one of our handlers put up a huck into the wind. The intended receiver and his defender bumped each other in the endzone before our player came down with a two-handed catch to give us the win.
It was a thrilling end to a long, exhausting, and hard-fought tournament. We were happy to win, of course, but it was also awesome to see the change from last year’s tournament to this one. Last year was essentially a horse-race between us and the Kampala team. This year, both the Makindye and Kigali squads had improved considerably, and the tournament was a lot more competitive as a result. Best of all, there were dozens of young Ugandan kids at the fields, watching the games and practicing their throws. The future of Ultimate frisbee in East Africa looks bright.
Thanks to Katrina for sharing her photos.