Sweets throw their way into offseason

Cole Anderson

Though the Ultimate Frisbee season will not start until next semester, the men’s and women’s Ultimate teams at Whitman are already hard at work prepping for what they hope will be yet another successful season for both programs. With emerging new talent poised to fill voids left by graduating seniors and upperclassmen hungry for a spot at nationals, the upcoming season should see great competition and success from both squads.

Men

The men’s Ultimate team will likely be fighting an uphill battle with this coming season. Coming off of a successful last year driven in large part by a successful group of now-graduated seniors, senior Captains Peter O’Rourke and Russell Arkin spoke of the road ahead of their team.

“The team is doing well. It has been a little difficult because we graduated 10 players last year, at least six or seven of whom played quite a bit,” said O’Rourke.

He was, however, adamant about the fact that this wouldn’t be a down year.

“Some might call it a rebuilding year but that’s not how we look at it. I think we have the talent, especially at the top end of the roster, and our goals this year are just to get some of the younger guys up to speed and willing and able to step into those places left by graduating seniors,” said O’Rourke.

Arkin touched on the importance of the captains’ coaching abilities in bringing the younger players up to speed with the rest of the team.

“We’re having a bigger focus on bringing the younger guys up, and Pete and I have really tried to emphasize our coaching as well for those younger players. Last year that was a bit lacking,” said Arkin.

Two players poised for breakout years are sophomores Reed Hendrickson and Nathan Gruenberg, both hard working and athletic players, according to O’Rourke.

“Another player to mention in talking about younger guys stepping up would have to be [sophomore] Henry Phillips. He’s probably the most dedicated to the team in terms of time commitment, and I would definitely look for him to step into a leadership role in the future,” said Arkin.

Another weakness this year, but not one that is new to the team, is the size of their roster. Playing large universities with rosters upwards of 40 in some cases has always been a difficulty facing the much smaller Whitman team.

“A weakness in the past has been conditioning. With the lower numbers that we have compared to other teams, our guys play more often and by that get tired at tournaments faster. So a goal this year is going to be making fitness one of our strong suits rather than a weakness,” said O’Rourke.

Despite the challenges ahead of them, both captains are optimistic about what their team is capable of and continue to reach for their biggest goal of making nationals.

“We want to go to nationals. What that’s going to mean is peaking at the right time and having all of our guys healthy come regionals, so we are trying to establish that idea of steady growth rather than trying to be perfect right away,” Arkin said.

 

Women

Photo by Nikki Antenucci.
Photo by Nikki Antenucci.

The Lady Sweets are in a different situation. Though last year’s seniors will be missed, the much younger women’s team will look for continued improvement rather than a need for younger players to step up.

“Though we lost some good seniors, the core of our team is pretty young, so the younger players are just continuing to get better and add a lot to the team,” said senior captain Julia Bladin.

Ari Lozano, a junior captain for the team, also shared her excitement about the talent pool on the team.

“It’s really exciting, how much talent we have coming in this year and the talent we have returning from last season,” said Lozano.

That incoming talent has not just been noticed within the team either. Outside of Whitman, in the greater Ultimate community, there is quite the buzz surrounding this year’s Lady Sweets.

“Right now there’s been a lot of hype about us, but we’re trying to focus on setting our own goals and expectations and exceed those goals. One of those being improving more on our mental toughness,” said Bladin.

In a recent preseason ranking, Whitman snagged the number five spot in the nation. That is no small achievement for a small liberal arts school, who shares the top five with names like Virginia, Stanford and Oregon. But Bladin hopes this doesn’t change her team’s mindset.

Photo by Nikki Antenucci.
Photo by Nikki Antenucci.

“Over the years we’ve been able to establish a mental toughness and grit that I think really sets us apart from other teams. We don’t focus so much on rankings or wins and losses but rather we look at every point we play as only that point. Our motto this year is just to play point by point, in the moment,” said Bladin.

Lozano spoke to the significance of the rankings as well.

“I think it depends on how we see it ourselves. It could go one of two ways: We could live up to those expectations, or we could not. And we have to set ourselves to that standard. Within the team we need to focus on ourselves, not what other articles and rankings are saying about us,” said Lozano.

So what makes a team from a school of just 1,500 a national contender? Bladin praised her team’s unique mindset. They rarely worry about rankings, or wins and losses, or whatever else is going on in the ultimate world. They focus on themselves and their own improvement, and to Bladin, that is what makes this team special.

Photo by Nikki Antenucci.
Photo by Nikki Antenucci.

“Each and every girl who plays on this team and what they contribute individually is really what makes the Lady Sweets who we are. I’m curious to see what happens this year regarding the hype around us. In the past we haven’t focused on rankings, we focus on what we’re doing individually within the team,” said Bladin.