Ultimate Frisbee has long been considered the perfect recreational activity — a light-hearted game seen practiced most heavily among close friend groups and fraternities.
The women’s team at the University of Idaho has taken the joyous, fun-loving attitude of the sport to heart and sprinkled in a heavy dose athleticism and competitive nature.
Senior captain Sierra Christie said the combination of the sport’s relaxed nature, coupled with a team aspect and a good amount of spirited play drew her in.
“I’ve been playing for four years now,” Christie said. “Coming from an athletic background, I played volleyball and soccer and, when I got to college, I still wanted something competitive, but not to the point where people were destroying each other. Although sometimes, we still do destroy.”
Head coach Jess Stitt, a former coach and player at Cornell and Columbia universities, said her goal for the team has been to impact each player’s character in a positive manner. Stitt said she is trying to build up self-confidence amongst her players by pushing for positive-mental space.
“I really want the players to be in touch with themselves,” Stitt said. “Obviously, I have them compete, because it’s fun to compete hard. But I also understand that a lot of them come out to escape stress, so we keep it light-hearted.”
The team’s goal is not to simply have fun, though. At one time, the players on the team never expected to have a coach and often struggled to field seven players, the required number for play.
Five years ago, the sport at the university was disorganized, seen mostly as recreation. Although ultimate Frisbee is considered a legitimate sport in some areas in California and along the East Coast, the Big Sky region is still transitioning it into a respected sport.
“Five years ago we, weren’t officially a team. We were merged with Boise State and Montana, I think, it wasn’t legitimate at all,” Christie said. “We finally drew in a team large enough to compete in tournaments four years ago, although someone’s wife was on the team. But it really improved three years ago, that’s when we made it to sectionals.”
Now averaging a turnout of about 10 players per game, the team is making a legitimate case. USA Ultimate, the governing body for competitive college play, has Idaho placed within the Northwest, Big Sky region division with schools such as Montana, Boise State, Gonzaga and Whitman. Idaho would play Whitman in sectional play last year, getting edged out by the team that would eventually lose in the national championship.
The primary goal is to recruit a team large and serious enough to qualify for regionals. The organizational structure for college Frisbee is quite simple. Groupings of teams are organized into sectionals and the best, sometimes best two, teams in each section will advance to regionals. The best from each region advances to nationals, where the final teams across the nation compete.
To reach this pinnacle challenge, recruiting is necessary. If 20 or more players were recruited, the team would most likely be able to field an A and B team.
The A team would be comprised of players with the utmost athletic ability and a B team would be more for developmental and recreational purposes
Recruiting for a lesser-known sport at a not-so-large university still poses a problem, Stitt said.
Stitt said the main problem stems from the lack of knowledge of the sport, as several potential recruits expect nothing more than Frisbee-tossing. Although played recreationally, the sport has positions, rules and strategy.
Earlier this season the team competed in the Boise Brawl. The Vandals entered the seven-team competition with a last place ranking. Idaho would go on to place first in the tournament, securing its first ever tournament win.
USA Ultimate preaches an aspect called “Spirit of the Game,” and players and coaches take this to heart. A part of the official rulebook for organized ultimate Frisbee is a responsibility that ensures sportsmanship comes first. No officials are present on an field, and each player is expected to call fouls.
With only a few non-sanctioned tournaments left, the season has pretty much wrapped up for the Vandals. After steady improvements over the last few years, Idaho looks poised to finally make the jump to regional-play next season. Look out for announcements on upcoming tournaments, held on the Sprint Turf.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95