Mezclado: New York Gridlock Players Mix in with Santo Domingo Meclao’ for the Pan-American Ultimate Championships in the Dominican Republic

** Cross-posted from the New York Gridlock blog. Check it out there for superior formatting. **

In late November, I arrived along with 1,818 ultimate players to the tourist realm of Cap Cana. Here, palm trees lined the unsigned streets and half-submerged lounge chairs studded the swimming pools. Pizza and Wendy’s burgers outnumbered the mofongo (plantain bowls) and sancocho (cassava and beef stew) ten to one. A large polo complex bordered the town, which was, oddly, the reason we were here. We’d be usurping the grassy horse arena for our frisbee games. For this first time, the Dominican Republic was hosting the Pan-American Ultimate Championships, or PAUC.

With sponsorship from New York Gridlock, I was invited to play with the Dominican mixed team Meclao’ alongside Genny De Jesus, with coaching from Judy Jarvis and physio support from Rena Eleázar of MatchFit Performance.

Genny, Judy, Rena, and I present Gridlock jerseys to the Meclao’ captains: Manuel Arciniega and Chabeli Luna.

This was my first chance to play with Meclao’, but I’d learned about the team last summer when they had blown up at the 2022 World Ultimate Club Championships in Ohio. At Worlds, Meclao’ had been one of several teams screwed over by US immigration and the expense of international travel.

Fourteen players – more than half the team – had not made the trip, either because visas were denied or the cost was too high. Meclao’ had responded through resilience and community, reaching out to friends of friends and rapidly filling out their roster with US pick-ups. It was thanks to the strength of Meclao’s intense positivity, what coach Judy calls “joyfire,” that the team had gelled immediately and wreaked havoc.

Throughout Worlds, Meclao’ had livestreamed their games in shaky, eye-level footage for all the fans and players watching from the Dominican Republic, with more than 100 viewers at a time. It had felt like a nation was on the sidelines fueling Meclao’s tenacious play. Laughing off their last-place seed, they had gone undefeated in pool play. Their win over the reigning champion and first seed, Seattle BFG, had thrown the mixed bracket into chaos.

The morning after they upset BFG, Meclao’ had matched up against my team from London, Deep Space. (I spent the game guarding my Gridlock and XIST teammate, Genny, and remembering how glad I am to play with her in the regular season.) Meclao’ beat us 15-10 and went on to secure ninth place overall.

Genny De Jesus brings down a high catch.

Throwing an open-side flick against Apaches.

Coach Judy Jarvis calls a line.

On our first Zoom call preparing for PAUC, Meclao’ returner Cristóbal Díaz laid out the team’s goals: to represent the Dominican Republic and to win. Specifically, to win as a whole team. Hosting a tournament is always an honor (and a ton of work – thank you to our tournament leaders, Danilo Balaguer and Sophia Paredes!), but in this case, it was especially important. By hosting the tournament on their own sandy soil, Meclao’ was able to compete with their whole roster and welcome players from across the Americas.

As I walked to the huddle on the first morning of PAUC, my bag heavy with coconut waters, I appreciated the flags of the 12 participating nations with their suns, stars, leaves, eagles, and colorful stripes. I felt acutely aware of my own country’s restrictive and violent borders.

María Susana walking into PAUC on the first morning.

Judy Jarvis and María Susana with the flags of the 12 nations competing at the Pan-American Ultimate Championships.

Before the first pull, Johnnathan Wallach (better known as Findi) led a tutorial in the quintessential Meclao’ cheer. Imagine the sound of a rabbit growling, but at the volume of a bear. Try it: a guttural grunt in the very bottom of your throat, kind of in your belly, and with a rush of air over the top. In the team’s chaotic WhatsApp chat, my teammates tend to spell it, “Uuuffff,” but I think it’s more of a “OHHGGHH!!!”

Meclao’ cheers before a game, appreciating the rare layer of clouds between us and the intense sun.

Meclao’ cheers before a game, appreciating the rare layer of clouds between us and the intense sun.

We started our pool with three tight wins against Volta from Argentina, Clovers from Chile, and Apaches from Colombia, and one loss to Union from Canada. Over the five days of PAUC, I drank approximately 21 liters of Gatorade, electrolytes, and guava juice mixed with a hefty addition of table salt. I barely peed, which indicates I also produced approximately 21 liters of sweat...

A post-game photo with Clovers from Chile.

Bruises from an opponent’s cleat landing on my leg, the price of box-out defense.

Chabeli Luna gets up and I get out of the way.

Ernesto Pichardo and Teresa Pimentel celebrate a point against Clovers.

Genny De Jesus throws a backhand around her Union mark.

On Thursday, we were knocked out of the bracket in a sweltering midday crossover versus Avalon from Mexico. When Avalon scored the game-winning point, I was surprised to find myself crying. I was a guest on this team. I hadn’t been training in the outskirts of Santo Domingo for months or itching to wear this jersey again since Worlds. But in five days, I had absorbed the dream.

We exchanged thoughts in the spirit circle, handed over a gift of pilones candy with Josue Soto’s familiar admonition to share, and retreated to our square of tent shade. We didn’t have much to say. I’d watched my teammates give their all, getting scraped, sunburned, and drenched, and I knew how much it mattered, because I felt it too. We finished the tournament in eleventh place, after gritty losses to Zen from Colombia and TT from Canada.

Coach Judy Jarvis speaks in the huddle.

Coach Judy Jarvis celebrates with Arianna Suriel and Jennifer Rodriguez.

Sharonid López with a forehand huck against Avalon from Mexico.

Thank goodness for our team photographer, César Alcántara, because when I looked back on my phone, I realized the only photos I took were of algae and seaweeds... oops...

A chromist in the genus Sargassum.

Another chromist, blistered saucer leaf alga, Turbinaria turbinata.

To be fair, they were some spectacular seaweeds.

It wasn’t until the last day that I learned the origin of our team name: meclao’ is the way Dominicans pronounce the word mezclado, which means “mixed” and stands for our chosen division of ultimate where all genders play together.

Manuel Arciniegas and I high-five Cristobal Díaz for catching the score.

Since the tournament, Meclao’ teammates have hosted me in their homes, introduced me to their daughters and dogs, connected me with waterfall guides, and given me bolas across the island. We didn’t win every game, but we played as a whole team, hosted an international tournament in the Dominican Republic, and made connections that I hope will keep growing. To my Meclao’ teammates: if you ever plan a visit to New York, I expect to hear about it via a dozen WhatsApp memes and voice notes. I can’t wait to feed you bagels with whitefish, point out which subway lines to take, and toss a disc with you on Randall’s Island.

Hasta la proxima... OHHGGHH!!!