This past weekend, the Knox Ultimate Frisbee teams hosted their annual Winter Whiteout tournament. The Knox A team managed to win the entire tournament over Bradley University in the championship on Sunday, Feb. 18.
The tournament, formally named the Natalie Veneziano ’98 Memorial Winter Whiteout tournament, was held for the 24th straight year. It was named in honor of Veneziano, who passed away after battling leukemia in 2004.
There were eight teams competing in the tournament, including the Knox A and B teams, Bradley University club, Lawrence University, the Knox Alumni team, the Western Illinois club team Mass Hysteria, the DePaul alumni club team General Heathens, and Busse, a club team from Chicago.
The Knox A team lost to Bradley University on Saturday, before defeating Busse and the Alumni team to close the day. They got the second seed in their pool for the second day and defeated all three of their opponents, including the Alumni team again and figured out how to defeat Bradley 14-12 in the final round.
Freshman Isaac Hughes was excited to watch the intense matchup.
“It got a little bit physical at times and it was very fun to watch. The A team managed to win, it was very inspiring to see them going at it,” Hughes said.
Senior and one of Knox Ultimate’s six captains Will Ensign-Church said the most fun he had in the tournament was playing against the Alumni team.
“That’s always the most fun. That’s the stress of the tournament, having fun with these old alumni who you know and don’t know but who are here to support this weird sport and program,” Ensign-Church said.
Another senior captain, Lily Sronkoski, said the win was well-earned.
“It was really exciting. We worked really hard and took a lot of things that happened the first day, Saturday, and we made a lot of visible change for the next day and managed to really pull through,” Sronkoski said.
Something that excited the Knox program was the fact that Ultimate Frisbee is growing and becoming a more popular sport at the collegiate level now, which was seen in the teams that attended the tournament.
“Lawrence University came for the first time, they’re a very young program and kind of new to the world of Frisbee so it was super cool to have them there, learning and playing for the first time around,” Sronkoski said.
The men and women play “mixed” until their spring season when they divide into individual men and women’s teams. Ensign-Church says the men’s team is looking very good for the spring. Though most of the players have only played for a short while, the men’s team historically has mostly been comprised of players who only picked up the sport when they arrived at Knox.
“Our men’s team is looking huge. We have a huge freshman and sophomore class which is really exciting,” Ensign-Church said. “Just the fact that we have a ton of people engaged and interested in this sport and are willing to work harder is very exciting for me as a captain and a senior on the team. . . we’re looking like a very big and cohesive team.”
Sronkoski said the women are looking strong as well.
“I think things are looking really great. Even during mixed season, I’m focused on my ladies and fostering them and making sure they’re throwing and getting better and feeling supported. I think we look good, I think that we have a good chance to play some really quality Ultimate Frisbee in the spring and that’s what it’s about,” Sronkoski said.
In the tournament, the men and women played as a cohesive unit, which was something that really helped them be successful. Ensign-Church says the team utilized their teamwork better than their opponents and that helped them gain an advantage over the other teams.
“I think we really used our ladies really effectively who are more skilled than the women on other teams so that was our big advantage this weekend,” Ensign-Church said.
Though the B team didn’t manage to pick up any wins over the weekend, the team managed to stay positive and appreciate the growth they had made together. Sophomore Kylie Hoang shared this perspective, observing from the B Team.
“[The] A team is super competitive whereas B team is more of a learning experience. The people who are on A team have been playing for awhile. They’ve been playing for a few years whereas [in] B team, we’re all just starting out,” Hoang said. “We’re still learning, and by putting us on a team with people of similar playing levels, we get forced into these leadership roles that usually A team members take over so we learned a lot this weekend.”
Hoang began playing during the fall term of 2016, her freshman year. At first, she didn’t take it too seriously because she had a lot going on as a first-term freshman but has begun to accept her role as a component of a team and part of a bigger picture including the Frisbee program and community as a whole.
“It’s the team spirit that really sticks with me. Team spirit is huge in ultimate, meaning that you should never take yourself too seriously. It’s all about coming out, having fun, playing a little Frisbee. I’m super into that, I don’t like taking myself too seriously or anything too seriously. Just making sure we’re all having fun is a big part of it,” Hoang said.
Hoang also mentions the importance of both teams showing support for one another, explaining that the A team stays for all of the B team games and vice versa. The support from the A team has helped the B team’s growth immensely.
“An ultimate sideline is a really big part of the game, because even when you’re not physically on the field playing, you’re supposed to be on the sideline telling your teammates where everybody else is on the field, where they’re looking, who else is ready to receive a pass,” Hoang said. “Just having that support from A team is really important to our development because they aren’t on the field but they’re still in our ears and make sure we know what’s going on.”
Both being captains for the first time, Ensign-Church and Sronkoski share similar struggles but agree it’s a rewarding experience.
“I think the hardest part about being a captain is cooperating and communicating with the other [five] captains . . . so the hardest part is being on one page and expressing that same mentality to the whole team,” Ensign-Church said. “We’ve definitely had communication errors this year but I think we’ve learned a lot. We’re all new captains this year; none of us have done it before.”
Sronkoski touched on the more logistical side of things, since the captains are in charge of arranging travel and balancing the budget.
“I never thought I’d be a captain, but the opportunity arose this year and I took it and have been running with it,” Sronkoski said. “I think it’s a lot of balance between making sure people are keeping their heads in the game, making sure to be there for emotional support, leading by example and taking care of the logistical side of things as well because we organize all our hotels, cars and travel for tournaments.”
The men’s and women’s teams will start their competitive seasons in the spring and have high hopes of playing well against top teams.
Hughes is ready for the spring practices to start and looks forward to what’s to come for the program.
“There’s a lot of talent and excitement. I can tell that once spring term comes along, things are going to get more exciting. I’m ready to see where the team goes from here,” Hughes said.