This summer marks fifteen years since D first picked up a disc and started playing ultimate frisbee, a trajectory that has taken him from his New England college team to pick-up games in Spain and Costa Rica, tournaments throughout East Africa, and most recently the role of field captain for Moldova’s Flying Mamaligas.
Unlike Moldova, whose sole frisbee team sometimes struggles to maintain a steady roster, Ukraine has a well-developed ultimate scene. This month’s beach ultimate tournament was just one of the many frisbee competitions organized throughout the year. In addition to the Flying Mamaligas, twelve Ukrainian teams from all over the country — Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Odessa — made the defunct sanatorium at Illichivsk their playground for the weekend.
The teams were divided into 3 groups, with the 8 highest-seeded teams split between groups A and B, and the remaining 5 teams, including the Flying Mamaligas, filling out group C. Whereas the top two teams in groups A and B automatically qualified for the quarterfinals, the teams in group C would have a much longer road to the playoffs. Ukraine’s top teams are all-male, but there were a handful of female players sprinkled throughout the other teams, and there were even two all-women squads in group C.
First up for the Moldovans was Rainbow — the B squad of Kyiv’s Gigolo, whose A team would eventually win the tournament. The game started sloppily, but the Flying Mamaligas managed to pull themselves together after a few back-and-forth points and came away with a 7-4 victory.
The next match, against Re:mix — the all-women team from Kharkiv, was probably the most important of the first day for the Flying Mamaligas. Buoyed by the win in game one and overconfident as a result of the size and speed mismatch with regards to the opposing squad, the Mamaligas played half-heartedly. Re:mix, on the other hand, was focused and disciplined, earning a well-deserved 3-6 win over the Mamaligas. The loss was sobering and much-needed.
After an uncompetitive 10-0 victory over Gamble, a recently formed all-female team from Kyiv, the Flying Mamaligas regrouped and played their best game of the tournament against the Madcaps from Ivano-Frankivsk. When D could not get enough players to join him at previous Ukrainian tournaments, he joined the Madcaps as a pick-up player. The team has a handful of strong players and finished the tournament in fourth place. Nevertheless, the Flying Mamaligas carried the game from the outset, leading 6-2 as time expired. The Madcaps scored on their last possession, which forced an extra point to be played.
The 7-3 win over the Madcaps ensured that the Flying Mamaligas finished atop group C, but the day was not over yet. After four hard-fought group games, played on scalding sand and under a scorching sun in 100-degree heat, the Flying Mamaligas faced the XS-Tigers from Kharkiv, the fourth-place finisher in group A. The winner would advance to the quarterfinals on Sunday. The Mamaligas carried the intensity of their last group game to the knockout round, forcing turnovers and then patiently marching the disc up the field and into the endzone. The 11-1 win over the Kharkiv squad and the 7-3 victory over the Madcaps were about as good as D had seen the Flying Mamaligas play during his two years with the team.
Unfortunately, though the Mamaligas’ strong play carried over to the second day of the tournament, a lack of team discipline left the Moldovans just short of all-out success. Some of the team members were just arriving at the field as the quarterfinal started, and Lviv’s Valar Morghulis quickly grabbed a 2-0 lead. With games only lasting 30 minutes, turning the tide proved challenging, and though the Mamaligas tied the game 4-4 with time expiring, Lviv scored the last two points to pull away 4-6. Valar Morghulis wound up finishing the tournament in third place.
A similar fate befell the Flying Mamaligas in the following game. After leading 2-1, some sloppy play and unforced turnovers left the Mamaligas in a 2-6 hole against the XL-Tigers, Kharkiv’s A team. With time ticking down and the hard cap on, the Flying Mamaligas managed a mini-comeback, but ultimately fell short and lost the game 5-7. The team rebounded in a closely-contested consolation game, beating Rainbow again to finish in 7th place.
Much more important than the team’s 5-3 record and 7th place finish is how much everyone learned and improved throughout the tournament, and this was especially evident for some of the newer players. After sparsely-attended indoor scrimmages in the winter and spring, the Mamaligas’ numbers have swelled dramatically during the summer with new, young faces. D does not have much coaching experience, but he has been doing his part to try to impart a bit of his knowledge before we leave Moldova.
After yesterday’s practice, one of the new girls asked D how long he had been playing. “How old are you?” D asked in return. “Almost fifteen.”
The fantastic photos in this post are the work of Ilya Shipunov.