The Hamilton College men’s and women’s Ultimate Frisbee teams competed in recent weeks at the annual Western New York Division III sectionals tournament. While the women’s team competed April 11-12, the men’s portion of the tournament was postponed until April 18-19 due to lack of field availability associated with weather damages. Both teams had strong showings, with the men’s squad holding a record of 5-2 for a third place finish, and the women’s team going undefeated to win their section. They'll both continue on to regionals in Saratoga Springs on April 24-25 to compete for spots in the national championship tournament.
Ultimate Frisbee as a competitive college-level sport has seen an explosion of popularity in recent years, with over 14,000 student athletes on over 700 teams currently competing at the college level across the United States. This expansion has fundamentally altered the level of competition at which the game is played; a shift that has altered expectations of first-year and veteran players alike.
“Hamilton is a microcosm for a national trend in Ultimate,” claims Jonah Boucher ’17, one of three captains for the men’s squad. “People are coming into college with more knowledge of the game and it allows a team to get more momentum early in the year,” he said. “As a team we’ve also taken more of a commitment to training like athletes -- people have been much more involved in lifting and conditioning in the offseason, which is again a part of the national trend.”
One of the elements that has led to Hamilton Ultimate’s strong showing this year has been the record involvement of first-year players in the fall 2014-spring 2015 season. “We’ve had a lot of injuries this year,” says Boucher, himself recovering from an injury that has robbed him of much of the spring 2015 season, “so there’s been a ton of room for first-years to step up. This is the kind of sport where if you’re given the opportunity and you put in the time you can really make a difference for the team.”
The rapid growth of the Ultimate program at Hamilton has put certain pressures on the organization as a whole, however. “That’s one of the biggest problems,” says Boucher, “the size of the team, and the variety of skill levels. Maintaining the fun atmosphere of the team while also pursuing higher competition and success is a work in progress, but something we've definitely spent a lot of time thinking about.… keeping the team small and fun while focusing on competitiveness is going to be one of the main challenges moving forward.”
Moving into regionals, both teams seem well positioned to give strong performances. “The women are the favorites in their region, and are poised to make another trip to Nationals. The men will be seeded behind Geneseo, Fredonia and Stevens,” Boucher explained, “but we’re looking to pull off a few upsets that would surprise our competition a lot more than it would surprise us.”
According to Boucher, the Hamilton program is becoming increasingly relevant on the national stage. “For both teams, men’s and women’s, we’re just starting to get our feet wet in terms of beating teams who are national contenders. We’ve beaten Amherst three times this year, and they’re ranked number two in the country (for Division III), so we aren’t in the national conversation quite yet, but we’re getting there.”