This March, Superfly, the Yale men’s Ultimate Frisbee team, is hoping that one of the sport’s first tournaments — the Yale Cup — will be a step on its road to a national championship.
Yale’s Superfly team is one of the oldest college Ultimate teams in the country. Yale was home to the nation’s first collegiate Ultimate Frisbee championship in 1975 — then called the Intercollegiate Ultimate Frisbee Championship and later renamed the Yale Cup. Legend has it that the sport originated when Yale students threw pie tins from the Frisbee pie company around the quad, although most Ultimate fans trace its beginnings to Columbia High School in New Jersey. Columbia High School alumnus Joel Silver introduced the idea in 1968 and brought the sport to Yale in the 1970s. Since then the team, and the sport, have grown and widened in their appeal, yet players retain many of the same traditions, including the annual Yale Cup.
This year, the tournament, which draws men’s and women’s teams from the Northeast, will take place on March 24 and 25 on Yale’s intramural fields, although organizers on the team are still waiting for final confirmation of the venue from Yale Athletics. Yale’s opponents will come from throughout the Metro East and New England regions of the College Division of USA Ultimate — the governing body of Ultimate Frisbee in the U.S.
“Hopefully we’ll get some interesting Ivy League matchups,” tournament director Kan Chen ’13 said. “We’re trying to get the word out at Yale, and anyone can come and watch.”
USA Ultimate sets the rules, divides teams into conferences and hosts nationals each year at a different school. Each team will play about three games each day at the Yale Cup. The scheduled pool games will take place on Saturday, while the bracket games — qualifying and consolation matches — will be held Sunday.
Head coach Jake Taylor said the team has a chance to meet that goal and compete in the national championships, but the road ahead will not be easy. Last year, he added, Yale lost a tight game to Columbia University in the regional quarterfinals.
“I believe if we have a decent tournament, we’ll end up in the regional finals against UConn, which will be very difficult, as they’ve had great results already this year,” Taylor said. “But we are not without a chance.”
Superfly will play in a tournament every weekend until mid-April, when the top two or three teams in each section will go on to play in the Metro East regionals. Yale’s region, Metro East, which includes New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, only sends one team to nationals, although larger regions may send up to four teams.
The team has made it to regionals every year since 2008, and it reached nationals four out of five times from 1995-’99.
“Nationals is our goal this year,” Chen said. “We have a great core of seasoned players as well as some talented new ones. We have a great coach, a good system and lots of discipline.”
In 2011, the team tied for fifth place at regionals — its best record since 2004.
The team has been dedicated to training hard over the winter season, he added, and two of the top players in the region, Ray Xi ’12 and Raffi Greenburg ’12, play for the Elis.
While Superfly is one of the top teams in its section, along with UConn, regionals will bring some tough competition, Chen said. Cornell has represented the region at nationals for the past several years, and NYU is particularly strong, he added.
Team captain Will Desmond ’12 said Ultimate Frisbee is one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports. While traditionally popular in the Northeast, Desmond said big state schools such as Florida State and Wisconsin are now “perennial powerhouses.” Desmond added that the first pro Ultimate league, American Ultimate Disc League, is on the horizon. The AUDL will have teams from across the country, but primarily from the East.
“The sport is starting to shake the stereotype of being a hippie sport,” Desmond said.
He said that most people join the team with no previous Ultimate Frisbee experience, but in recent years, the number of experienced players joining the team is increasing.
“Most of the guys who play now have backgrounds in track, cross country, soccer, lacrosse,” Desmond said. “Most played at the varsity level in high school and wanted to change it up.”
Many people do not realize Ultimate Frisbee is a legitimate sport, Desmond added, but anyone who knows a player or watches a game quickly learns that the sport involves both fitness and skill. Players run for the entire game and often sprint to intercept passes, and the Ultimate technique has a steep learning curve. It typically takes new players a semester before they can throw forehands and backhands consistantly, he said.
“We had a football player play with us for a bit one time, and he was like, ‘Dude, this is exhausting,’” Desmond recounted.
During the fall and spring, the team practices three times a week and competes in games on Saturdays and Sundays. In the winter, Superfly focuses on conditioning. The team’s workouts include lifts, running, suicide runs on the basketball court and indoor practices at Cox Cage.
Since only the spring results count towards sectional, regional, and national standings, the fall season is dedicated to tryouts and teaching, Chen said.
This year, 20 players made the Superfly A team, with approximately 20 making the less competitive B team, Desmond said. One of the team’s first tournaments in the fall is Yale’s “Coffee Cup,” when teammates take on Ultimate alumns for one of the games.
Desmond said he enjoys seeing alumni who appreciate the traditions of the team. They play same game and know the same Yale Frisbee cheers.
“The one thing I hope never changes about the Ultimate community is that people are there first and foremost to have fun and be relaxed,” Desmond said. “It does get competitive, and since there are no refs and you call your own fouls, you can win through lying. But for that reason, players value honesty — we call it ‘spirit of the game.’ It allows Frisbee to be sustainable, and it is at the core of what it means to play Ultimate.”