What makes a champion?
The Connecticut College Ultimate club team is headed for the Division III College Ultimate Championships, to be held May 21-22 in Buffalo, N.Y. For the uninitiated, Ultimate is a bit like a combination of soccer and football, with two seven-player squads passing a plastic disc as they advance down a field in an effort to make a catch in the opponent's end zone. (For those initiated in the sport years ago, a word of warning: don't refer to it by its former name. It's called, simply, Ultimate. "Discs are what we call those flying contraptions we play with," said co-captain Max Weigert '13. "Calling it Frisbee® is most frowned upon.")
The College's Ultimate team - named Dasein, a term used by German philosophers to indicate "being" or "existence" - plays year-round, but spring is the official season, with weekend tournaments organized by governing body USA Ultimate. This is only the second year that USA Ultimate will host a national collegiate championship tournament for Division III. To qualify for it, Dasein played both Division III and Division I teams during the regular season, and Weigert says they got off to a slow start.
But, he explained, "Things started turning around for us at a good time. At sectionals, we beat Marist to secure a spot at Division III regionals, and then beat Wesleyan, the No. 1 seed at the tournament, 14 to 12. At regionals, we were predicted to be knocked out the first round. Not only did we do better than that, we went 6-0 on the weekend, beating Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the finals 16 to 15. Despite our funk earlier in the season, we woke up and realized we were a great team." Both Weigert and co-captain Jonah Guerin feel good about their chances, speaking enthusiastically about the team's strengths, including an unstoppable offense and a level of fitness they've never had before, thanks to a new off-season training program. This might surprise those with preconceived ideas about the sport and the athletes who play it.
"Ultimate started as a 'hippie' sport, and has struggled to strip away the moniker," explained Guerin. "Ultimate today is a much, much different sport than it was in the late 20th century. More and more athletes are switching sports and becoming Ultimate players. We work just as hard as any other sport, practicing five days a week in the spring and fall, and playing two-day tournaments nearly every weekend. All it takes for an observer to see what Ultimate is about is to come watch a game. You'll see the skill and athleticism necessary to succeed in our sport." Connecticut College President Leo I. Higdon Jr. is certainly a believer.
So much so that his visage now graces the team's flying discs. Said Weigert, "President Higdon has been great. Every year he comes out to talk to us and ensures us of his support. To repay him, we figured, why not put him on a disc?" The team hopes his support - and all their efforts - will pay off in Buffalo. "After a bumpy fall and early spring, we really played up to our potential at sectionals and regionals," said Guerin. "Everyone on this team has improved greatly over the past few years, and I am so happy to end my college Ultimate career by playing with Dasein at nationals."