Ultimate frisbee provides UM with competitive college experience

Sophomore Aaren Sirak flicks a frisbee to a teammate during Club Ultimate Frisbee practice Tuesday night on the IM Fields. Matt Bernanke // Staff Photographer
Sophomore Aaren Sirak flicks a frisbee to a teammate during Club Ultimate Frisbee practice Tuesday night on the IM Fields. Matt Bernanke // Staff Photographer

Seven players stood parallel to each other on the painted white line. They pointed their index fingers to the sky and charged down the field as one of them launched a thin, white disk through the air.

One of the seven athletes running on the opposite side of the field caught it, and the game commenced.

This sport may sound familiar – maybe even a little bit like football. As it turns out, it’s a mix of football, soccer and even basketball. We are talking about ultimate frisbee, or just “ultimate,” as it’s often called.

Four to five times a semester, the University of Miami club ultimate team travels all across the state and country to compete against some of the best teams from other colleges. To prepare for these tournaments, the team meets four times a week on the campus intramural fields to practice, which entails drills and scrimmages.

The players spend nearly an hour and a half working on the fundamentals, including individual throws, cutting (making quick moves with the feet to create space from defenders) and running specific routes.

“Our most important drill is probably the dump-swing drill – someone throws it to the sideline and you need to get it off that sideline,” junior President Joachim Lopez said after practice Monday. “It’s one of the most important parts of ultimate because it works on us moving the disk across the field and we’re not jammed up on the sideline.”

After running drills, the team scrimmages for an hour, either against each other or against local club players who have competed on the national and international levels. Many UM players hadn’t been on an ultimate team in high school, so this is a consistent way for them to get better.

“It’s a new game for a lot of these guys, so we like to expose them to different styles of play,” said Assistant Coach Connor Smith, who is an alumnus of Miami. “Only a third of us played in high school. A lot of our guys have played different sports, but there is a unique mentality for this sport. We just need to help them transfer [the skills] over.”

Even those who haven’t played in high school can become good at the sport with practice – Smith being a prime example. There is often a misconception about its difficulty.

“A lot of people come in and say ‘Hey, I can throw a disk,’” Smith said. “Well you can throw it one way out of the two main ways, but there are probably around 12 ways to throw a disk.”

Ultimate requires players to not only know how to throw a Frisbee while standing still, but to also hit others in stride while under pressure and on the run. Stamina is vital in this situation, with the athletes sprinting 70 percent of the time.

UM isn’t the tallest team, but what it lacks in height is made up by its work ethic and speed – what Smith calls its biggest strength.

Regardless of tournament results, what the players gain from the sport goes beyond just the logistics. They become a family, both on and off the field. The relationships grow to a point where the athletes can work together to achieve a common goal.

“With this sport more than others, you really need to rely on your teammates,” sophomore Jordan Hill said. “You have to anticipate what your teammates want to do. It’s difficult and it takes a lot of time to master, but once you do, it’s a lot of fun.”

As physically demanding as ultimate can be, members of the club team enjoy it so much that they don’t find it grueling.

“It’s a fun way to stay fit,” junior captain Ben Caplan said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of running. But, when you’re playing with the guys you’re close with, just chasing a disk around, it’s no work at all.”

The team looks forward to playing its next tournament, hosted by the University of South Florida in Tampa on the weekend of Feb. 17, and awaits its biggest trip of the semester when the players travel to Austin to participate in an ultimate tournament sponsored by Centex and hosted by the University of Texas on the weekend of March 10.