The word “frisbee” often conjures images of college kids casually tossing the disc across the quad while grilling up some burgers. The thought of Frisbee being “ultimate” seems a little lofty to most.
Yet men's Ultimate Frisbee is one of the many club sports at Northwestern. While eluding the credit it deserves, Northwestern Ultimate is a serious commitment with a strong sense of family.
“A lot of people don’t know the level of competition with [ultimate] in college,” says team captain and McCormick senior Ian Preston.
For whatever reason, ultimate frisbee has the reputation of being an “uncool” sport. While basketball, football and soccer are picked up at an early age, most kids don’t have early exposure to atypical sports like ultimate.
As a result, misconceptions run wild.
Ultimate players aren’t a bunch of unathletic scrubs that get together to just throw around. In fact, Northwestern’s men's ultimate team might have some of the quickest, most agile non-varsity athletes on campus. Just like any other serious club sport, Ultimate meets three to four times a week in season. One of those practices is three hours filled with drills, conditioning and sprints.
“[Ultimate] is not only athletically challenging but academically rigorous as well,” says McCormick junior and third-year player Drew Levorsen. The team is constantly learning new zone and man defenses. Just like basketball or soccer, communication is paramount to understanding where opposing players are positioned on the field at all times. For players who have never played the sport competitively before college, it takes time to develop an ultimate IQ.
For most, the natural progression is to start off on the B-team and work up to the A-team toward the end of freshman year. In the fall, about 80 kids tried out for the squad; only about 15 freshmen were kept on the roster, Levorsen says.
Normally, more freshman are recruited to play, but the team only lost a couple of seniors to graduation last year, a big reason why Weinberg senior and captain Chirag “Cheese” Modi believes 2013 could be special. Though Northwestern Ultimate has reached regional finals the last three years, the team has yet to reach the big time.
“If there is a year we are going to make Nationals, it’s this year,” he says.
First-year head coach Chuck Kindred said the team’s goal is to be playing a game on the second day of regionals. Lose that day and go home. Win, and it’s off to Nationals.
If anyone’s qualified to lead the charge, it’s Kindred.
After graduating from Northwestern in 2003, the two-year captain played competitive ultimate on the West Coast for 10 years. Over the summer Kindred came back to Evanston, saw the men's team needed a coach and took the opportunity to share his knowledge with his players.
“We have been a second-tier team, so we need to get up there and beat some of those top dogs,” he says, referring to schools like Michigan and Michigan State who typically make a run for men's Nationals.
The rookie coach talks to his players after every play. Then, after addressing those currently participating in the drill, Kindred walks to the sideline to make sure every other player understands what’s going on.
After only a few hours with the team, it’s easy to figure out the message Kindred wants to send to his players: teamwork and unity are vital to success.
Often exceeding the intensity of other club sports, Northwestern Ultimate practices what its coach preaches.
Levorsen said players usually never miss practices, even for a big test or paper. When asked how social responsibilities interfere, Levorsen explained, “We have a team-first mentality. The team is out here working their butt off, so why would you skip to go out and have fun?”
Every win is a team effort, says Kindred.
“No matter how well you play, you can only affect the game by about three points," he says. "There are no Kobe Bryants or Michael Jordans that can carry your team."
Whether it’s running or strength training, the team usually wraps up their practices with some conditioning. Saturday, the players participated in tough core exercises at the end of practice. During the last couple of sets, Town weaves in and out of the rows of players clapping and yelling, “Don’t quit on this team.”
Not one player stops or takes a break from his numerous reps. When some of the athletes start shaking, looking like they were about to quit, the rest of the team provides encouragement.
Practice ends with players arm in arm, united in a circle as they belt out their breakdown cheer. Regardless of club status or the misconceptions surrounding the sport, nobody’s quitting on this team.