The Sundodgers gather in a circle during halftime of a scrimmage practice.
The Sundodgers gather in a circle during halftime of a scrimmage practice.Photo by Joshua Bessex
Walking through the Quad on a sunny day, one might see some UW Ultimate players casually throwing around a Frisbee.
What many do not see is that, for UW’s Ultimate teams, this sport is beyond recreational.
On the field, players adopt a down-to-business attitude that propelled the men’s team, the Sundodgers, and the women’s team, Element, to the USA Ultimate College Championships this past Memorial Day Weekend. This is the third consecutive year that the men’s team has qualified, and the sixth consecutive year for the women’s team, which won the national title in 2012.
However, the game means more to these teams than just trophies and titles; it’s a way to compete, have fun, and create lasting friendships with teammates.
On the field
Each of the two Ultimate clubs at the UW have an A team — the Sundodgers for men and Element for women — and a B team. Those on the A team are selected at tryouts each year and have increased time, travel, and monetary commitments.
The B team does not hold tryouts and consists of students interested in playing in more local tournaments and a less competitive setting.
The school year starts with a preseason during fall quarter, when new players are recruited and taught the basics of the game. At the end of the preseason, tryouts take place to determine the roster for the A teams.
Then the regular season starts. The A teams practice three times a week, with two off-day workouts, and travel to several tournaments across the nation.
The postseason takes place during spring quarter, when the A teams compete in bracket play during sectionals, regionals, and then nationals.
The 23 members of the men’s team, about half of whom are new to the team this year, started the season trying to gain their footing and build team chemistry.
“This season’s especially satisfying, because there are a bunch of blogs online about college Ultimate, and on every one of them, nobody really thought that we were going to do well this year,” said senior Julian Peterson, co-captain of the Sundodgers. “Nobody expected us to even make nationals.”
However, during the month leading up to the regional competition on April 27, the Sundodgers pushed themselves harder, and the team clicked. Their hard work paid off when they qualified for nationals, following a two-day emotional rollercoaster of wins, losses, and finally coming from behind to win the nationals qualifier.
“We were crying when we won that game, that’s how excited we were,” Peterson said. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt, just making nationals. It’s a huge accomplishment for this team.”
The women’s team, Element, had some struggles of its own at its regional tournament in May. Despite having to acclimate to the heat of Eugene, Ore., during the tournament and dealing with some close losses during the second day of competition, Element survived to secure a spot at nationals by placing first in its pool.
At the four-day national tournament this past weekend in Madison, Wis., the Sundodgers went 1-5 in the first two days of the tournament, tying for 13th out of 20 teams.
Element advanced past pool play of the first two days but ended up falling to Carleton College 15-9 in the quarterfinals, tying for fifth place out of 20.
“On-field miscues and lapses dug us into a mental hole that was hard to get out of,” senior Sarah Davis, Element co-captain, said via email, after losing her voice during the tournament. “Ending a season is a heartbreak … after this night, Element 2013 will never exist again. That is heartbreaking, and yet I can’t wait to do it again.”
And there are plenty of reasons why she feels this way.
“Spirit of the game”
Ultimate, according to USAUltimate.org, developed in 1968. While incorporating many elements of other competitive sports in skill and athleticism, it stands out for its basis in sportsmanship. Instead of having referees to govern and make calls during the game, the players are each held accountable to follow rules and make their own calls, a concept called “spirit of the game.”
Several players on UW’s Ultimate teams find this to be part of the allure and intrigue of the sport.
Freshman Grace Noah, who competes with Element, said, “The fact that it’s a sport with such an emphasis with sportsmanship and spirit of the game — it’s taught me to be a better competitor.”
This spirit has since caught on throughout the nation.
Davis, who has played for Element all four years of her college career, has noticed an increasing turnout for the UW team each year, and the sport is increasing in popularity and prevalence around the nation.
The national championships this year partnered with ESPN, creating a bigger media presence than any other Ultimate tournament and making the sport more TV-accessible.
“There are now sportscasters where their thing is Ultimate, which is so bizarre,” she said. “When I played in Colorado, there were like 10 high school teams total, and now every middle school in Seattle has a Frisbee team. … It’s like the next evolution of this really fast-growing thing.”
As the sport’s popularity grows at the national level, UW Ultimate has meanwhile fostered the growth of personal relationships.
Off the field, the teams have built more than just a respectable reputation for Ultimate. Throughout the season, the teams have formed personal bonds that have held steadfast through wins and losses.
“It’s always weird going from one season to the next, because at the end of every season, you’re like, ‘How can there be a team that I’m closer with than this team?’” Peterson said. “We got so close [this year] that, again, it’s the end of this season, and I’m thinking, ‘How can next year’s team possibly be this close?’”
Many maintain their bonds even after graduation. Some of the UW Ultimate alumni return to stay involved with the club after graduating, either coaching for the clubs or just stopping by during practice to scrimmage.
Newer players benefit from this ambiance as well. Noah experienced a strong sense of connection with her fellow teammates this past season, even though it was her first year on the team.
“As a freshman in college, it’s kind of a big scary place, and they’ve basically become my second family,” she said. “These are the people who I turn to if I’m having a rough time with something, and they’ll be there for me no matter what, on and off the field.”
Reach reporter Shirley Qiu at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @callmeshirleyq
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