Ultimate. This word both names the sport and describes it.
Although some might see Frisbee as the game in which dogs do the running, there is never a standstill moment in ultimate Frisbee – ultimate for short.
The game seems straightforward, with few rules and one goal: to catch the disc in the opposing end zone. Yet, there are many layers of strategy and constant physical beatings that make the sport so, well, ultimate.
Games are played to fifteen. Some teams can score goals in a matter of seconds, while others may battle several minutes for a single point. Whether stuck in a defensive struggle or battling in a high-scoring shootout, ultimate Frisbee requires a great deal of work and endurance.
To most, this is not an attractive prospect. To the UC Davis club ultimate team, this is a way of life.
As any member of the Davis Dogs will tell you, the game is lightning fast and the only walking involved is the walk of shame to the other side of the field after having been scored on.
Junior co-captain Robby Merk says the game is rather simple, taking minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.
“The fundamentals are throwing and catching, and any athlete can do that,” he said. “But when you get to the next level, it gets faster and more intense. You have to be physically more aggressive – there are people sprinting on offense and defense.”
Sheer athleticism, Merk said, can go a long way in the sport, which is why practices are open to everyone. Still, Merk strongly emphasized the importance of experience, as did fellow captain, senior Taylor Lahey.
Graduating twelve seniors from the roster last season was a big hit to the team, but as younger players began to step into larger role, the Dogs found their stride in the middle of the 2010-11 campaign.
“[This year’s team] was extremely athletic and very dedicated to playing the best Frisbee we could,” Taylor Lahey said. “The thing we struggled with early on was playing intelligently, because we have such a young team.”
Merk says the Dogs’ coach, Kevin Cissna, has helped all players improve, regardless of their Frisbee-playing backgrounds.
“[Cissna] played at a very advanced level and helped us a lot with strategy,” Merk said. “He helped us play zone defense and develop a more versatile playing style.”
Being a club sport, the ultimate team does not have the resources of a varsity Intercollegiate Athletics team. Still, they go through the same process in trying to put together a good squad, which requires a mixture of walk-on athletes and players who participated on club teams in high school.
Like other sports, there is a community of club players in high school, and it is sometimes the prestige and reputation of the college ultimate team that attracts incoming freshman.
Still, outside of those with playing experience, the game is relatively unknown, and Frisbee is recognized as little more than an easygoing game of catch and throw.
Merk attributes this perception to the fact that people can go out and play catch with a Frisbee as a laid- back activity.
“Its background is as a hippie thing,” he said.
Despite the cliché, the sport requires physical prowess, endurance and practice. The Davis Dogs train in three-hour increments a couple times a week.
The club’s top team, also known as the A-team, wrapped up a grueling season at itstheir regional tournament, where teams from all over the Wwest Ccoast competed including squads from Arizona and Mexico. Despite being added as an at-large bid because other teams were unable to attend, the Dogs took fifth place.
“It was a successful weekend, having gotten fifth and beating UC Santa Barbara, who placed second in the Southern California section was a huge upset,” said Patrick Lahey, the sophomore younger brother of captain Taylor.
The team went 3-3 at the event. According to Patrick Lahey, two of the three losses could have gone either way, as a single point decided them.
Taylor, a fifth year veteran on the team, commends this year’s team as the most solid one team he has played on.
“Even if we weren’t the most polished team, this group of guys knew what it took to win Frisbee games,” he said. “That is what made this team special compared to other years.”
Patrick Lahey, is looking forward to the seasons to come, as half the A-team is first years.
“We can’t wait to see what we can do with our young upstart team,” he said. “We have a lot of time to mature and grow.”
So why is ultimate an attractive sport? Why do the Dogs choose to chase a flying disc around like…dogs?
“I like the mix of intensity of fun…whether you’re watching it or playing it with a group of awesome friends, it all makes for a great time,” Patrick Lahey said. “The way the disc stays in the air allows for so many sick highlights.”
The Davis Dogs hold open practices. Anyone interested should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Yuen can be reached at email@example.com.