Janin Steps Up for Sweets

Tristan Gavin

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Skeptics of the 2013 Whitman Sweets will point to the void of leadership and star power after graduating a strong class last spring. That is where Jacob Janin comes in.

Besides being a star player, Janin also serves as the team's coach.  Photos by Brennan Johnson.

Besides being a star player, Jacob Janin ’13 also serves as the team’s coach. Photos by Brennan Johnson.

Janin, a senior, is one of the team captains and brings extensive experience at high levels of club Ultimate. While the Eugene native has played for the Portland Rhino club team for years, he was given the chance to play against them last summer while touring with a collegiate all-star team called NexGen. With NexGen, Janin was able to compete with his top collegiate competition while touring the nation to play club teams.

“One of the things that I took from it that I have tried to bring to the Sweets is the importance of being a selfless player. On an all-star team like that, everyone is so good that at times it can be hard to work together … What was evident was that no matter how talented you are, if you don’t work together and trust each other and your system, you aren’t going to be very good as a team,” said Janin.

This year, more than any in recent memory, Whitman has really had to rely on selfless teamwork to overcome the serious depletion of their roster last May that did not go unnoticed on the national stage.

“A lot of people expected us to be a much weaker team this year after graduating such a talented senior class. Because of that we didn’t get invited to any of the elite level tournaments,” said Janin.

In order to make a splash nationally, Whitman had to claw and scratch its way into the Stanford Invite by winning the Stanford Open in February. Once Whitman got their foot in the door, they turned a lot of heads and, in doing so, showed the nation’s top Ultimate teams that Whitman deserves to be named alongside them.

Go Sweets

No moment captured Whitman’s sense of belonging better than when the team rallied to defeat a top-ranked Wisconsin Hodag team that was undefeated leading up to the game. Although the Sweets are often depicted as an underdog in matchups against schools 10 times as large as Whitman, Janin maintains that their success is not a surprise.

“We were only more of an underdog this year because those expectations were even lower. Being an underdog, however, is contingent on continually losing games. Even though we are such a small team, we win enough games that I don’t really consider us underdogs unless we’re playing the very best teams,” said Janin.

One team Whitman seems to always be playing the underdog against is University of Oregon’s “Ego,” whom Janin knows quite well. Janin’s brother and father have both played Ultimate for the University of Oregon and his father is now the coach of the perennial national championship contenders. Although it maintains a friendly rivalry, Ego has been a tough team to match up with for Whitman, who hasn’t beat the team in over five years.

“The only time we have beaten them was back in 2007, I think. We have been really close the last two years but still haven’t won a game since then,” said Janin. At the start of the spring, Whitman lost an intense scrimmage to Ego in Eugene, Ore. on the final point.

Oregon has shown countless times this spring that the Sweets have the potential to hang with high levels of competition, but they will have to do more than hang around to make it to the national tournament this year. The path to nationals is difficult and mandates that Whitman establish itself as a top regional team.

“Some of it depends on how many bids to nationals our region gets. Most of it depends on how focused we are over the next few weeks and whether or not we can be smart and consistent when it counts. We can’t afford to be satisfied with where we are right now,” said Janin.

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Whether they make nationals or not, the end of this year for the Sweets will mark the end of Janin’s Frisbee career at the collegiate level, after which he plans to return to playing for Portland Rhino.

“I haven’t really had an off-season in a while. This will be my second year in a row of playing college, NexGen and club in succession. So in general when I have time in between I just rest. When I do have a big chunk of time off I hit the gym and try to put on weight,” said Janin.

Two pieces of memorabilia from Jacob's frisbee career: a bag from Nexgen (a college all-star team) and a warm-up from Portland's club team Rhino.

Two pieces of memorabilia from Jacob’s Frisbee career: a bag from Nexgen (a college all-star team) and a warm-up from Portland’s club team Rhino.

Although the newly formed Major League Ultimate (MLU) has numerous teams that would be interested in inking Janin into their semi-professional rosters, Janin is skeptical of the league’s new take on his sport.

“I don’t mind the semi-pro model for Ultimate but MLU has taken the approach of tying to cater to people who don’t know anything about Ultimate. They’ve arbitrarily put Ultimate on a football field, added yardage penalties, a shot clock and refs. That’s not Ultimate to me,” said Janin.

The growth of the sport is always a contentious issue because of the heavy tradition and community Janin has been immersed in since middle school.

Janin's car sports two frisbee stickers: the Nexgen "X" and a USA Ultimate "Play Ultimate" sticker.

Janin’s car sports two frisbee stickers: the Nexgen “X” and a USA Ultimate “Play Ultimate” sticker.

“As its popularity continues to grow, media coverage will increase and it will become more and more profitable. NexGen was actually one of the first to start that. I think that is inevitable and I have no problem with that. I just don’t think we have to conform [to] other people’s expectations in order to do it,” said Janin.

Regardless of the direction Ultimate takes for Janin, he will always have his place at Whitman, where, like most alumni, he plans on returning to rich traditions like Onion Fest to check up on the program he has helped shape in his four years as a Sweet.

“I will most definitely be back in years to come,” said Janin.

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