The teams of China Ultimate

Most of these jerseys created by Five Ultimate

The champions (from Perkin Chai’s album)

Congratulations to Hong Kong, winners of China Nationals 2009

Picture by Mike Shyu

Hong Kong began its tournament with 13-1 and 13-2 wins — the latter against the Beijing Ugly Trolls, a Big Brother split-squad — and never looked back en route to capturing the No. 1 overall seed and winning its first team championship in Asia Ultimate in quite a while. (Someone know how many years it’s been?)

It was a redemptive weekend for Hong Kong captain Mike Hsu, who was part of an epic meltdown in the first China Nationals in 2007, when HK took half 7-1 in the finals only to give up seven unanswered and eventually lose. He was all smiles this time around — when his teammates doused him with ice water during a combined team picture with Beijing Bang, when the awards were being presented in the stands, when he was handed the trophy, when he drank out of it… sweet and satisfying.

His team won with defense and precision on offense, two areas of the game the Chinese teams can still improve on. It didn’t hurt that they added Kwong from Ringers of Fire, who made the tourney’s eight-member all-star team, and a couple other key foreigners. For the most part, though, Hong Kong was a squad of local players, and their pride and determination showed. Their only blemish came in pool play against Shanghai Y in the third game. It didn’t matter: they still finished its four pool games with a plus-24 point differential. They were pushed in only two other games, both against Tianjin Five Star, the tourney’s 1-seed going in. In the semis on Sunday, Hong Kong led 7-2 and 8-3, only to see Tianjin roar back and tie the game at 9. Hong Kong prevailed only after a dramatic universe point, setting up its finals against Beijing Bang.

Yes, Beijing Bang: the sixth seed entering the weekend and seventh seed after pool play, a team that had to play a fifth game Saturday (pre-quarters) and beat the second and third seeds to reach finals. It was, needless to say, one of the most improbable runs anyone’s seen in a long time, especially considering they lost to the Dalian Smurfs and Tianjin Speed in back-to-back games on Saturday.

The upset of the year, against No. 2 Shenzhen, was aided by gusting winds and a solid cup zone — and also because Shenzhen’s best player, Gareth, injured his hand on a layout catch. Bang’s zone carried them to another two-point victory against the 3-seed, Air Kazak, whose two-year run as China’s best team ended most shockingly. Let it be said here for the record, however, that they wore the crown well.

The finals started out close, with Bang’s Mike Shyu making a couple spectacular catches and Ds. It was 3-3* when Hong Kong called a timeout and Bang’s captain, Ken Su, delivered one of the more entertaining and hilarious team speeches anyone’s heard in a while (you’ll have to ask them what he said). It wasn’t enough: behind a zone of its own, Hong Kong reeled off 10 of the next 11 points to win 13-4.

*I’ve been informed Bang was up 3-2.

A big congratulations and thank you to tournament director Jeff Orcutt, who spent hundreds of hours preparing, and Five Ultimate co-owner Zahlen Titcomb, whose organization has more or less made China Nationals happen in each of its three years. This year we had 20 teams — up from 15 in 2008 — and about 250 players, by far the best turnout thus far. We only expect this tournament to grow.

We’ll have pictures up as soon as China unblocks Blogspot (we’re writing this via proxy, so: no hyperlinks, no picture uploading), which could take a couple days or weeks, if the history of YouTube censorship has taught us anything. In the meantime, here are some links to Facebook albums:

Duff Douglas, player-coach of the International School of Beijing Dragons (Red), a team of high school students who really played above their heads and beat Shanghai X in the quarters on Sunday before pushing Beijing Ugly to universe point in the semis:

From that album, this is a photo of Joe fouling the sh** out of a high school student in the end zone.

Stephanie Kwan:

–Some nice action shots:

–Saturday night party and Sunday showcase and finals (Joe’s sweet layout

–Mostly group and team pics:

Much more coverage later. We should note, for posterity’s sake, that Beijing’s combined team beat Shanghai’s combined team in a shortened showcase game, 6-4. Perhaps they’ll meet again in the Shanghai tourney in four weeks.