After twelve straight years as a nationals participant in the Open division (1997-2008), in 2009 as a masters player was a different experience. First, few people, and really nobody outside the division itself, care much about the Masters division. That's not to say it isn't competitive, or even that there isn't good Ultimate being played there, it's just that when you have the Open nationals to watch, why would you watch Masters? So even I couldn't focus much on the Masters division, and spent as much time as possible catching the Open games.
If there's one thing I've learned from playing on Sunday in Sarasota (and once in San Diego), it's that few people outside the team can get an accurate read on what is going on inside the team.
Outsiders to Jam's success would say it was a bunch of veteran players who were able to put it together at the right time. While that wouldn't be entirely wrong, I would say there was also a subtle defensive adjustment, a return of our leader and arguably best player who had missed parts of the season (including Regionals), and a new found resolve that hardened the questionably soft Jam.
The Condors had great players who had spent years playing together at the top levels, paying their dues, and knew how to rise up when the pressure was toughest. While outsiders saw a great huck game, or individual excellence, the team always believed in a system that put people in a position to do their jobs; a system that was built on at least half a decade of experience and tweaks together.
Anyhow, one element that can undermine, or enhance, a team's chances in Sarasota is the weather. This year was no different. The heat was the worst I can recall, and I heard that the first day saw the largest single-day consumption of water at nationals. Yes, everyone is playing in the same weather, but the teams that play in that weather consistently have developed strategies to minimize the effects. These teams are most effective at ignoring the impacts that weather has on their body and mind. In addition to the heat and humidity, there was a near-total absence of wind. This certainly helped Chain's successful deep game. While I heard that their underneath game was equally effective, I'm sure it would have taken a few turnovers to realize that the wind was affecting their hucks and those few possessions could have changed the complexion of the game.
From what I saw, Chain played an outstanding game with strong offense and hard-nosed defense. This is very similar to the game they've brought to Florida the last few years when they've come up a bit short. Were they an improved team this year? I don't doubt it. Did they have a great season, and impressive run at nationals? Absolutely. Did they get an assist from the weather? It's the same answer I would give for my championships...it didn't hurt. Chain would have had a great chance of winning in any weather, but the weather they got gave them a boost. I'm sure the other semifinalists would have preferred cold (Boston), wet (Seattle) or brisk (Revolver) conditions.