No one can doubt Gunn Control now. The Ultimate Frisbee team based out of Gunn High showed its back-to-back-to-back state titles were no flukes and it has a national ranking to prove it.
Just as Stanford and UC Berkeley football teams meet each year at the "Big Game" to see who will commandeer the coveted axe, so too the "Gunn Control" and Berkeley High's "High Coup" Ultimate Frisbee teams are cross-bay rivals who duel each spring for the coveted California Division I High School Ultimate State Title.
Ultimate Frisbee, a fast-paced, self-refereed, non-contact international team sport, combines many of the best features of soccer, basketball, lacrosse and football.
Berkeley High Coup was virtually a dynasty for many years, with three State Championship titles between 2013-16. Gunn Control turned the tide with an upset win at the 2017 California State Ultimate Championship to take the title home to Palo Alto.
Gunn repeated in the 2018 championship contest in Sacramento, quickly followed by a regional championship title at the Mountain Invite in Colorado, where Gunn Control bested many of the top high school ultimate programs from Colorado and Utah.
Still some doubted Gunn Control could hold the state title for a third year, having graduated more than a few of their most experienced and talented players. Though High Coup also lost several of their more experienced seniors, they retained a very tight-knit core of talented and enthusiastic athletes who had been playing together since as early as middle school.
During fall 2018 and spring 2019 league play, High Coup seemed almost "untouchable," with Gunn Control finishing behind Berkeley and strong squads from Bentley Upper School and El Cerrito High School.
Then it was Gunn Control's turn. This year's state championship, held in Fresno in May, featured Gunn Control and High Coup meeting after both were undefeated into the finals. That's when nature took control.
Just before the final match, thunderstorms rolled through the Central Valley, resulting in several 45 minute lightning delays. The match was started, but had to be called off in the midst of the second point, when lightning struck only a few miles away from the fields.
Efforts to reschedule the championship match took nearly a month, allowing the athletes to take their final exams, finish their school years, and some graduated.
Finally, the match was scheduled for a Tuesday evening match at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
The skies were clear but gusty winds at field level challenged even the strongest throwers on both teams. Gunn Control coach John Ortberg III opted for a stifling "zone" defense, forcing High Coup to make lots of lateral "swing" passes and catches in the gusty conditions. This proved to be a winning strategy, and Gunn Control was able to convert several High Coup errors into break points.
Gunn Control held on to win 11-8 and take its third straight title. Less than 48 hours later, both teams boarded flights to out-of-state tournaments. Gunn Control headed to Colorado to defend their 2018 regional title at the Mountain Invite, while Berkeley High Coup traveled to the 2019 High School National Invite tournament in Rockford, IL.
In a stunning conclusion to the High School Ultimate season, High Coup, led by coach James Sheridan, shrugged off their loss to Gunn Control at state and claimed the 2019 High School National Championship title, vanquishing several higher-seeded teams including Edina (Minnesota), Grady (Georgia), and Lone Peak (Utah).
Berkeley ranks second nationally in ultiworld.com's final poll, which came out Thursday. Gunn Control ranks 10th.
In August, many of the top players from both Gunn Control and High Coup will be competing, not as opponents but as teammates at the Youth Club Championship, a national Ultimate tournament held in Blaine, Minnesota.
The Gunn Control and High Coup teams will both be honored for their achievements by the local American Ultimate Disc League Pro Ultimate team San José Spiders on Saturday during halftime of their 7 p.m. game against the Seattle Cascades at Foothill College Stadium in Los Altos Hills.