Autumn is in the air, and the Sweets, Whitman’s Ultimate Frisbee team, are off and running–a fact known by almost anyone who crosses Ankeny Field these days.
“Every week we have three lifting sessions, three throwing practices, two coed practices and three hour practices on Saturdays before team brunch,” said first-year player Ben Harris.
Why all the preparation in the fall for a sport whose biggest tournaments are in the spring? After a heartbreaking end to the 2009-2010 season for both the men’s and women’s teams, the Sweets have their eyes set on national success, and are prepared to work hard to achieve it.
“We’re hoping to make a real impression. Last year we went to D3 nationals and came in second, but this year we have a shot to make it to D1 nationals,” said senior Chris Saxby. “To go to D1 nationals would be a huge accomplishment for a team like ours with limited funding, no coach and a smaller student-body to draw from.”
The Sweets, whose men’s team fell in the Division 3 national championship to Carleton College last year, are looking forward to a chance to avenge their loss, said Harris.
“Carleton’s always our big rival, I guess. The team had a good chance to win nationals last year. I don’t know exactly what happened; it was a very close game. Unfortunately for Whitman and fortunately for Carleton they won, but from what I understand, our net gain in talent this year was greater than theirs was because they lost their two best players, and our freshmen class may be more athletic than theirs.”
The women’s team, which won the Division 3 national championship two years ago, is recovering from a heartbreaking loss of a different sort. Due to a freak rostering error, the female Sweets were unable to compete for the championship in the 2009-2010 season; but in a spirit emblematic of the Sweets as a whole, first year Celine Valentin said expectations for a return to glory have never invaded fall practices.
“We actually haven’t talked about that once, which is actually really nice. It’s really refreshing. We’re really working on the fundamentals of everything.”
Valentin, like many members of the Sweets, had never played ultimate Frisbee prior to coming to Whitman, and her experience learning the sport has been entirely positive.
“Everyone is just so opening and welcoming and helpful. They were like, ‘Oh, you’ve never played before? Great! Well this is how you start.’ They have this incredible enthusiastic and helpful attitude all the time, and it’s all about having fun no matter what. The Frisbee team is honestly the nicest group of people I’ve met at Whitman.”
While the men’s and women’s teams this year are led by seasoned veterans, both teams are also padding their ranks with an unusually large number of first-year players, a fact Harris said will take some adjusting to.
“Right now we’re focusing primarily on team chemistry and getting the freshmen situated on the team. At our first tournament this year in Burlington, a lot of our better players didn’t go, so it was primarily a tournament to get less experienced players more accustomed to playing in this level of competition, and we had some pretty great moments and some beautiful Frisbee.”
Questions of experience aside, things are looking good for the Sweets, who were recently featured in an issue of “Ultimate Magazine” for their stellar performance in last year’s national championship. With experience, focus and motivation on their side, the Sweets are looking to make this season a banner year for Ultimate Frisbee at Whitman.