With snow flurries flying with their discs in the chill of a recent January evening, the College of William and Mary men's ultimate Frisbee team ran through drills and scrimmaged in preparation for this weekend’s Mid-Atlantic Ultimate, which kicks off its spring season for the club team.
Twenty college club teams from Virginia, the northeast, as well as Ohio State and Illinois, will converge at the Warhill Sports Complex Saturday for four games of pool play before Sunday’s championship round matchups.
William and Mary’s senior-laden A-team, nicknamed Darkhorse, is the fourth-seed in the tournament and among the favorites. A B-team is called Seahorse, and there are two women’s ultimate Frisbee teams, the A-team Mother Huckers and the B-team’s Woolly Mammoths.
“Based on the seniors we have, and the team we have this year, we do have high expectations,” said senior captain Taylor Gilman. “We ended our fall season pretty strong, and as far as our team is concerned, we’re making the push to do as well as we can.”
Most players on the team have backgrounds in other sports such as track or soccer, freshman David Hill said.
Coming from other sports, the biggest skill players have to master is throwing the disc.
“My piece of advice to anyone like me who didn’t play before college is always to throw as much as you can, throw every single day,” Gilman said. “That’s what’s makes people better the fastest.”
Without as much structure as a university sport — the team has no coach and the sport has no referees — it also gives those uninitiated to ultimate Frisbee a chance to play.
“The majority of the guys on the team who are upperclassmen started just like them without any experience coming into college,” Gilman said.
Without scholarships or other perks of being an official NCAA sport, members of William and Mary’s team say they play because they enjoy the sport and the camaraderie among the teammates.
“That’s actually a point of pride for us,” said junior David Jensen. “We call ourselves the most serious, non-NCAA sport. We think that we are the most serious club sport — that we work the hardest, that we care the most. I think that’s a point of pride that we aren’t an NCAA sport.
“We aren’t somewhere where professional athletes are coming in. It's very accessible. You can have someone who’s never played before jump in. You can have a really tiny, skinny guy can be a great player. A big, slow guy can be a great player if he has great throws. I think that accessibility and that egalitarian aspect is something we hold very highly.”
The team practices at least three times per week, with tournaments on weekends during the spring. Jensen said it’s much the same as an NCAA sport in that ultimate Frisbee players need to do conditioning drills — running and lifting — in addition to practicing.
“There’s no secret sauce,” Jensen said.
Darkhorse players cite Virginia, Illinois, Ohio State and Richmond as teams to watch, besides their own. The top four seeds in the tournament are Virginia, Richmond, George Washington and William and Mary. Illinois is seeded fifth and Ohio State seventh.
Last season, in the Virginia I conference — with teams such as Virginia, James Madison, Virginia Tech — William and Mary topped them all and reached the Division I regional last season, finishing as the 45th best team in the country. The regular season goes through April, with the conference championships taking place April 14-15, and regional championships April 28-29 and May 5-6 before the Division I championships May 25-28 in Milwaukee.
“This is something we all really enjoy,” Jensen said. “And it’s a big part of everyone’s lives. We all hang out together. We all live together. There’s the playing aspect. We’re all in it for the game.”
The team’s best season came in 2002 when it reached the national semifinals. In its only home appearance of the season, the team is looking to represent well.
“We like to think we have a pretty good chance at winning the tournament,” Gilman said. “But we’ll definitely see a lot of quality competition.”
Want to go?
What: Mid-Atlantic Warmup
When: Saturday and Sunday, all day
Where: Warhill Sports Complex, 4900 Stadium Rd.
Live updates: @WMUltimate on Twitter
Teams: Virginia, Illinois, Boston University, Duke, Dartmouth, George Washington, Villanova, Ohio State, VCU, Georgetown, Liberty, Rutgers, Drexel, Maryland-Baltimore, Syracuse, Richmond, Williams, Haverford, Elon, and William and Mary.
The top four seeds are Virginia, Richmond, George Washington and William and Mary.
Note: Each team will play four games in their pool on Saturday, and then another two to four playoff or consolation games Sunday. William and Mary competes in USA Ultimate’s Division I level, while Richmond won the Division III national championship in 2017.
How to watch? For the uninitiated, teams play seven-a-side and there are two main positions — cutters and handlers. Cutters don’t throw the disc as much but try for yardage-gaining catches, while handlers throw the disc more. Senior captain Taylor Gillman says to pay attention to what’s going on further down the field and not just where the disc is.
Event Website: play.usaultimate.org/events/Mid-Atlantic-Warmup-2018/
William and Mary game schedule — Saturday, Feb. 3 (all games on Field 7)
8:30 a.m. — vs. Syracuse
10:15 a.m. — vs. Williams
1:45 p.m. — vs. Drexel
3:30 p.m. — vs. Illinois
Sunday games begin at 8 a.m. in the consolation bracket, and quarterfinal games begin at 10 a.m.
Ultimate frisbee rules
- The field: A rectangular shape with end zones at each end. A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 20 yards deep.
- Initiate play: Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective end zone line. The defense throws ("pulls") the disc to the offense. A regulation game has seven players per team.
- Scoring: Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense's end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score.
- Movement of the disc: The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc ("thrower") has ten seconds to throw the disc. The defender guarding the thrower ("marker") counts out the stall count.
- Change of possession: When a pass is not completed (e.g. out of bounds, drop, block, interception, stalled), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense.
- Substitutions: Players not in the game may replace players in the game after a score and during an injury timeout.
- Non-contact: No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited. A foul occurs when contact is made.
- Fouls: When a player initiates contact on another player a foul occurs. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with the foul call, the play is redone.
- Self-officiating: Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.
- Spirit of the game: Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.
Source: USA Ultimate