Fun, first-years invigorate fall UItimate season

Matt Tesmond

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As happens every fall, a flurry of color, yelling and fun has enveloped Ankeny Field. It can mean only one thing: Ultimate Frisbee  is back. The men and women’s teams return to action, preparing for an extremely important fall season. The team must address the issue of keeping practice focused to develop a large group of new players, while keeping the atmosphere light and fun. Not an easy task.

Credit: Catie Bergman

Composed mostly of relaxed co-ed tournaments, the fall is a time for the teams to try new strategies and focus on fun.

“In the fall season, the social part [of the team] is primary, and in the spring, the social part is secondary,” explains junior Beth Davies.

As is true with every year, fun will be a recurring and important theme with the appropriately named Whitman College Sweets, as they continue throughout the season.

The men’s team had a magical 2010 campaign, capped off by their first ever trip to the USA Ultimate D-I National Championships in Boulder, Colorado. The amount of success achieved surprised even the team.

“We had no idea we’d be aiming at D-I nationals,” remembered sophomore Ben Harris.

The Sweets proved they deserved to be there, breaking seed and finishing as the 15th best team in all of collegiate ultimate.

The women’s team had a successful season as well, winning their conference tournament and the Pacific Lutheran University BBQ Tournament. Unfortunately, their trip to the D-I Regional Tournament: the qualifier for Nationals: wasn’t quite as successful as they would have hoped.

“We made a cocky decision [deciding to compete at the D-I level], but we hadn’t had the opportunity to play a higher level team,” remembers Davies.

A small army of new players has presented a new challenge for the Sweets. The team must attempt to give each player the attention they need to develop, which is not easy when it seems all of Jewett Hall wants to play.   As the only team at Nationals without a full time coach, the Sweets’ development as a team  falls on the talented returning players. The quick development of young players is especially important considering the Sweets are attempting to implement a “flow offense” in which the line between cutters (agile players who specialize in receiving) and handlers (players adept at throwing the frisbee) blur. This requires a lot of attention to detail from returning players and first-years.

“We don’t want to be intimidating because of our success. We are making a real effort to be a team,” says Harris.

Luckily costumes, friendship and shenanigans forming the team’s defining feature, “Calculated Goofiness,” will keep things lighthearted.  Making a cohesive team means keeping practices fun to draw in the new players in a comfortable way. Goofiness is just as important for the returning players to stave off any frustration that comes from teaching the game.

“We are struggling with an accelerated program,” said Harris with regards to the large freshman class.

“We need to keep people focused and lighthearted,” asserted senior captain Stephen Stradley.

With strong, experienced leadership, the men’s team is well equipped to handle the task.

This season’s women are especially excited to see so many players out, after a showing of only four new players last year. This is thanks to a new recruiting strategy: the women went viral, creating a Facebook group to connect with people early and a website with the men’s team to get the team’s name out there.

“One of our goals was to recruit more students. We see ourselves as a defining feature of Whitman College,” team captain Natalie Jamerson explained. “We focus on the spirit of the game and the team being supportive.”

Competition started this past weekend with the annual Hat Tournament. The next date of competition will be Oct. 14 for the Angels and Devils Tournament, held at Whitman. Both tournaments consist of co-ed exhibition play among local college teams and some non-collegiate club teams.   Although the results do not matter for national seeding, the tournaments are ideal times for the team to track their season’s progress.

It seems that this year the Ultimate Gods will once again be smiling on the Sweets.

Info on the teams can be found at their respective websites:  http://www.wix.com/benharris09/whitmanultimate  (Men’s team),
http://www.wix.com/sweetscaptain5/sweetshome  (Women’s team)