In their Regional tournament this past weekend, the Colorado College men’s club Ultimate team (Wasabi, ranked #43) matched up against national competition like #6 University of Texas and #32 University of Kansas to fight for a spot in the Division I Nationals tournament.
Driving 10 hours into Kansas City, riding with the Colorado College women’s club Ultimate team, Strata, Wasabi had high hopes to place 1st or 2nd for a bid to Nationals. The men knew it was imperative to beat teams like Texas in order to receive the national bid.
Wasabi began play Saturday morning against #64 Washington University in St. Louis, winning handily 15-10 with great zone defense as the players played through swampy conditions.
Wasabi moved into the next game against Texas (Tuff) knowing it would be their most important game of the tournament. CC needed to beat Texas in hopes of playing a rematch with #10 University of Colorado Boulder after last weekend’s loss. After a well-fought first half and comeback into the second half, the athleticism and speed of Tuff unfortunately overcame Wasabi 15-13.
“We wanted to be aggressive and use a lot of the stuff we had been practicing against their vertical stack [offense],” senior Henry McKenna said. “That didn’t work well, but luckily our man defense was effective; we held ourselves close, got a couple of breaks near the end, but didn’t get the win.”
With only one loss before elimination, CC needed to win the rest of their games in order to play Sunday and keep Nationals hopes alive.
After the exhausting Tuff game, Wasabi rallied to face #86 Kansas State. Mentally and physically tired, CC went down early with some amazing catches by Kansas State as a result of defensive lapses. In the second half, with the season on the line, Wasabi came back with a series of defensive stops and offensive breaks in order to win 15-13.
Game four, against #32 University of Kansas, started around 5 p.m. as evening crept in, and CC needed to step up the mental intensity from the Kansas State game. After another slow first half, Wasabi sharpened their defense in order to spark their offense. Clawing back to tie 14-14 going into universe point, CC held its breath as a throw went up for a KU cutter in the end zone.
“[We were] kind of hoping that they’d make mistakes like they had been all game,” McKenna said. “They overthrew a guy in the end zone, but he made an amazing layout grab. [Junior] Nick Brown was in his face laying out too, so there’s not much you can do.”
“When it got to the point where it’s 7:30 at night, your mental state isn’t quite there, you’ve been up all day; it’s very challenging,” sophomore Felix Braun said.
With no consolation bracket, CC lost 15-14 to the University of Kansas and took seventh place at the tournament, tied with #106 Colorado State University (Hibida). Despite losing the bid to Nationals, Wasabi emerged from the tournament proud and hopeful for next season.
“A big goal for the season was preparing ourselves to be able to play considerably better than we when we started the season,” junior captain Conor Crowley said. “We worked harder than we have any other year to the goal of being considerably better at Regionals. We wouldn’t have put 13 points on Texas at the beginning of the year.”
“I think the biggest change happened at Centex, our second tournament,” junior captain Gavin Nachbar said. “The team turned from a team of kids who had just come together playing frisbee to an actual team where you could win games against high end teams.”
With a fairly young team, CC achieved the goal of improving steadily over the entire year, rather than previous years’ goals of peaking at each tournament. Despite sharing in the disappointment over not beating UT and KU, CC executed great offensive flow and unprecedented defensive intensity compared to previous tournaments.
“No matter which game it was, we always reached that next gear to match the level of the team we were playing,” Braun said. “We played Texas the closest of any other team, so we found that extra gear, but it just ended up being not quite enough. An ultimate tournament is a long day, and so ups and downs are bound to happen.”
In particular, the seniors on the team helped fuel the second half pushes against UT and KU. Seniors Alex Whiting, McKenna, Dan Eppstein, and Ben Lawrence were vital in bringing intensity and pride into extending their final seasons. With countless layout defensive stops, especially in the end zone, the seniors revitalized the team and sidelines to believe in Wasabi’s comeback ability.
“I’m really proud of the team,” senior captain Eppstein said. “We did all the right things. Ultimate is a game of runs, and we have to know that we can come back from the start instead of believing it only after the second half.”
“We proved to ourselves that we are a comeback team, which is something that Wasabi historically has never been,” McKenna said. “We haven’t been a team that could come back from big deficits and we did that a lot this weekend. It was pretty electric in a lot of the second halves of each game.”
Incorporating new players this year into the team has been a seamless transition despite the challenges of learning a new sport, and the team looks forward to next year’s goal of making Nationals.
“Joining the team has been a great experience,” freshman Ian Adams said. “It was a lot of fun learning a new sport, and [this weekend] I think I showed myself that I could play at a higher level than I had played all year long.”
Wasabi has also established itself as a national competitor. Two years ago the team made Nationals with a core of four or five senior veterans, but now with depth in their lineup and underclassman talent, CC looks to contend in Nationals next season.
“It’d be a lie to say anything but that we’re a program,” Nachbar said. “It’s only going up from here, and we don’t have to start from scratch with a team like we have now.”
“This team is going to win more games because we’re willing to wait for our series of breaks and our run to come during the game,” Crowley said. “Everyone knows we can be one of the best teams in the country next year, and I don’t think anyone’s going to have to be sold on that. That’s where we’re starting.”