Sean Colfer talks to the South African Wild Dogs about their journey to London
The South African Under 23 Mixed team found support from around the world in their journey to make it to London for these championships. Their Indiegogo campaign raised enough money to pay for the kit for whole squad and made it easier for the student-heavy side to compete for the first time at this level.
Now that they’re here, they intend to make sure people sit up and take notice. In their first game they did just that by taking Japan, who placed third in Toronto, to sudden-death having been down for the whole game.
Much of the team has been playing together for several years in the Ultimate capital of the country, Cape Town, where there has been a strong scene for the better part of 20 years. Coach Jonathan Aronson, 30, has known many of his players for just under four years, having coached them previously.
“We have a core group based in Cape Town, most of the at them University of Cape Town,” said Jonathan. “We had weekly practices up until April, when our national championships were held. After that, we had practices twice a week.”
Captains Oliver Goosen and Thulie Mayaba, both 22, play for the University of Cape Town Flying Tigers, though Thulie started playing before university. Oliver has been playing for “almost three and a half years after starting at university”, while Thulie started playing in Durban and has been playing for “around four years now”.
As Thulie’s experience shows, there are players from outside Cape Town. These players attended monthly training camps from across the country; Durban and Johannesburg are both around 800 miles away from Cape Town, while Polokwane is even farther away at around 1000 miles.
One example is Jarrod ‘JB’ Banks, 22, who made a number of excellent plays in the Japan game including a layout block followed by a score to bring the game to sudden-death.
Jonathan said: “I knew of JB through the community for a while but as he’s from Durban, I never knew him until I started coaching him for this tournament, in December last year.”
The Ultimate scene in Durban that JB is part of is very young; the first team was started only around seven years ago:
“Durban is a bit different as we don’t have a university team, we have a club team called Prawn Bunnies. I was introduced to the game by Ryan Martin, who played for South Africa at WUGC 2012 and persuaded me to go to practice. That was three and a half years ago.”
Due to the lack of tournaments in South Africa, the Wild Dogs’ competitive preparation was limited to the Mother City Invitational in Cape Town (which they won), a friendly victory against Germany under-23 in the last few days and scrimmages against home club teams.
Though the national championships this year featured a record 20 teams, there is still plenty of room for development in South African Ultimate. They have been to every WUGC but have only recently split their season into Open and Women’s, as there have only ever been enough players for Mixed before.
They also still have very few schools playing Ultimate and a very small Junior scene that Jonathan describes as “almost non-existent”. A large majority of players start at university, including Nicole McComb, 21, who has been playing for two years after starting at university.
One player with more experience is Lehlohonolo ‘Lucky’ Mosola, 23, who is originally from Houston, Texas and started playing in high school. “I’ve only been in South Africa since around September,” he explained. “I was much more used to playing Open so it’s been a transition to playing Mixed but I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a really close community so you get to know everyone pretty quickly. It’s been a ton of fun.”
Despite the fact that the community is still developing and growing, the players and coaches are confident they can turn some heads. “South Africa is on the Ultimate map, as people saw from the result with the Japan today and our win against Germany in our warm up,” said Jonathan (by destefanis). “We’re ranked 13th at the moment which is not too bad considering how many people we have playing. Every year we get better, and every year we become more and more of a force to be reckoned with on the international scene.”
They struggled in their second game against a strong Australia team, but if South Africa can replicate the performance from the Japan game they have a real chance to be the Mixed division’s surprise package.