Endurance to Another Level
The game requires the speed and endurance of a soccer midfielder, the quickness and defensive savvy of a basketball point guard and the hands of a football receiver.
The game is Ultimate Frisbee, and the team is UCLA’s club team, Smaug.
The team has ranked consistently in the Top 50 in the nation since its founding in 1996, has never lost to USC and has guys known as Oddjob, Bruce Wayne and Air Baron.
The season runs for the entire year," said team captain Sam Hanig, a fourth-year applied mathematics student. "Pre-season tournaments are during fall quarter and rankings are kept starting in January. They don’t count ultimately until spring quarter when there are sectionals."
Ultimate Frisbee is played on a 70-by-30-yard field, and each team’s goal is to advance the disc into its endzone with a series of passes upfield to teammates. Running while in possession of the disc is prohibited, and the sport is non-contact. Each team fields seven players at once, and games are usually played to 11, 13 or 15, depending on the tournament.
"(Ultimate) is literally the most aerobic sport around," said Jason Schissel, a first-year physics graduate student. "It’s even more aerobic than soccer because all seven players are running all the time. It is so much fun, you don’t even (realize) that you are working out."
On tournament weekends, the team drives to the tournament location. When possible, they stay with families of team members who live near tournament venues instead of paying for hotels.
"In San Diego at Sam Hanig’s house, every time, fifteen or sixteen guys will crash at his parents place," said Matt Brady, a third-year political science student. "They’re great people, they feed us really well."
Tournaments are usually two-day affairs. In most tournaments, teams play four games on Saturday, and then the number of games a team plays on Sunday depend on their record. Tournaments range in size from eight to 40 teams
Saturday tournaments are extremely demanding, especially for those new to the sport.
"Our last game everyone was worn down and everyone was playing on fumes," Brady said of his first tournament. "Everyone just left it on the field. After the game, everyone across the board was just dead tired. It was memorable in that I’ll never feel so accomplished and so drained at the same time."
Due to the intense nature of the sport, the team spends much of its practice time conditioning.
"It’s a lot of sprinting and interval work," said Smaug head coach Dave Adelson, a post-doctorate researcher. "In the course of a game, if you are one of the top players, you will run between three and five miles at an intermediate sprint, and you have to be able to do that three or four games per day."
The Smaug players share a unique camaraderie and have several traditions that have helped them bond as a team. One is that all of the players get nicknames.
"When you implement nicknames, it’s harder (for a defender) to remember a nickname," Hanig said. "Plus it’s something special that everybody gets. You have to earn your nickname on this team."
Nicknames are given to players based on their personalities or unique quirks that they may have.
"We have an initiation ceremony and we give all of the players nicknames," said Gautam Sood, a fourth-year political science student whose nickname is "Bruce Wayne."
"It makes us feel like more of a team," he added.
Ultimate is different from virtually all other college sports in that it is run by the players.
The second rule in the Ultimate Players Association’s official Rules of the Game is titled "Spirit of the Game," and it states in part, "Ultimate has traditionally relied on a spirit of sportsmanship, which places the responsibility for fair play on the player. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players."
The "Spirit of the Game" is part of what makes the sport popular.
"There are no referees," Hanig said. "So everyone has a mutual respect that when you play a team you beat them with your athletic ability, you don’t cheat to win."
This year’s team has set lofty goals for itself. Only two teams from this region go to nationals each year, and this year Smaug hopes to be one of those teams. They will however face stiff competition from the region’s top teams.
"We play in the toughest region in the nation," Sood said. "We compete against UCSB, Colorado and UCSD, and in any given year those three teams can finish in the top ten in the nation."
Smaug’s goal this year is to beat UCSD and earn the team’s first ever trip to nationals.
"We’re one athletic, tall guy away from being a contender for nationals," Adelson said.
About the Author
Brian Kiley is a Daily Bruin Contributor, the on-campus newspaper for the University of California, Los Angeles.