During the regionals tournament last weekend, the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee team was able to accomplish something never done before: advance to nationals.
To get to where they are now, the team had to earn top advancing spots in both sectionals and then regionals, a feat they have been able to do every year. The team first began to realize and gain confidence in their potential during sectionals when they swept pool play, beating highly ranked teams such as Wheaton, earning them a first place position.
Having advanced to regionals the past three years, the team’s sights were set on finally making it to nationals. Two main factors proved the tipping point for this year: regional bids and level of talent on the team.
With 10 regions in the country, each one with a single bid, or slot for advancing, there are six additional super bids that are dispersed to the strongest regions based upon the number of highly ranked teams within them. The region that Knox Frisbee competed in received three bids. These were anticipated to go to Wheaton, Indiana Wesleyan and Valparaiso. The team knew it was a now-or-never opportunity.
Practicing four times a week and watching videos of successful frisbee teams in their spare time, Knox Frisbee felt confident in their abilities due to a strong cohesive team understanding of the game. With no coaches or outside leadership, three senior captains have worked to create a team environment in which all levels feel welcome and useful to the team’s play.
“It has been a culture shift,” senior captain Harper Garvey said. “I think there has been a huge change in the team since our freshman year. We’ve come a long way in creating a culture that finds a good balance between working hard and having fun.”
All three captains agree that changing the way the team integrated new players has been crucial for this season’s success.
“You can come and feel free to not know anything [about Ultimate] and within a year or two or three I have confidence that people can really come up through this program and improve and become big players on the field,” senior captain Adam Schrag said. “And I don’t think that was always the case.”
Regionals, held in Fair Oaks, Ind., proved much more difficult than sectionals for the team. Succumbing to the 45-degree rainy and windy conditions on Saturday, the self-titled Knox River Rats ended the day 1-3. Priding themselves on being scrappy, the team was unable to overcome physical and mental obstacles presented by the weather.
Rallying on Sunday, the team found themselves competing in the third place bracket final against Valparaiso, a team they had already beaten earlier that day and a team that was predicted to advance. In the last game of the tournament Knox “dug deep,” according to senior captain Ben Stanger, and managed to clinch the third nationals bid for their region.
“I remember I was on the field, we won starting on defense, and I didn’t see how the disc got turned over,” junior Sean Tracey said. “Then the observer called it [winning point] and I remember Ben just fell down on the ground, and I remember looking around and our whole sideline was erupting and rushing the field. It’s kind of surreal and it hits me in waves.”
As the team begins to prepare and look forward to nationals, held May 21 and 22 in North Carolina, the general concensus is to continue training like they have all season, feeling that it has served them well to this point.
“We just say ‘focus on the mission’,” sophomore Jack Harman said. “That’s become something that is very forward in our minds, this idea of just focusing on what we’re doing and whether that’s big picture and that’s going to nationals, or more recently it has been focusing on the mission of this point. Focus on the mission of these 10 seconds of defense, focus on what you can do in this point to help the team.”
Having now reached their long-time goal of nationals, the team’s new goal is to prove themselves contenders among the other 15 teams competing. Having successfully competed against the other two teams from their region, Wheaton and Indiana Wesleyan, who rank high even amongst the nationals competition, gives Knox confidence in their abilities. At the very least, Knox Men’s Frisbee will end their season ranked 16th in the nation for Division III Ultimate.
The team is hopeful for a higher ranking: Junior Jonathan Yeoh concluded, “If we don’t lose our focus, I could see us placing in the top five teams.”