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Saturday, May 18, 2024
Young UW team ready to prove itself

Mark Zengerle: Sophomore forward Mark Zengerle will have to juggle leading Wisconsin while trying to improve his own game after many key players left the Badgers with little experience.

The ultimate experience -- Frisbee

Most Americans, students included, may see Ultimate Frisbee as a sport only played by hippies in sandals or even barefoot. 




But if one watches a college practice at the University Bay fields on the west end of campus, their opinion would change within five minutes of sprints, throws and layouts. 




\You can't go to city-league pick-up games and expect to view ultimate as a highly competitive sport,"" said UW women's team senior captain Jill Hutchinson. ""If they do see a high-level college game, people tend to respect the game a lot more. 




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Madison has a place for just about every level of Ultimate player, from random pickup games to college tournaments hosted by the defending national champion Madison Hodags and national qualifying women's team, Bella Donna. 










Ultimate, as the sport is officially known since Frisbee is trademarked, was invented by Joel Silver in 1967 at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. The first game was played in the school's parking lot. 




Lending to the hippie, free-spirit image is the lack of any official referees and the Spirit of the Game clause, which states, ""Ultimate has traditionally relied upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the player himself. Highly competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed-upon rules of the game or the basic joy of play."" 




However, a lot has changed since that first game. According to the World Flying Disc Federation, which is equivalent to soccer's FIFA, an estimated 100,000 individuals in over 30 countries are registered players.  




The sport is governed nationally by the Ultimate Players Association, which oversees the college and club series involving more than 13,000 members.  




""The UPA is like a governing body for college Frisbee, much like the NCAA,"" Hodags captain and UW-Madison senior Matt Ley said. 




Ultimate players are only allowed to play at the college level for five years after registering with the UPA. Players can compete after college at the club level for as long as they wish. 




Though Madison had a thriving Ultimate community since the mid '80s, the sport really took off after the city played host to the WFDF Ultimate World Championships in 1993. The tournament was organized by a newly formed group called the Madison Ultimate Frisbee Association and was a total success. 




Seventeen countries represented by 83 teams and 1,500 players took part in the week-long tournament, which had the city buzzing with excitement years later. 




From this inspiration Madison's Ultimate community grew to include a dominant men's college team that consistently is challenger for the national title, a college women's program that has grown into a burgeoning force in the region and many solid club teams. The city also boasts leagues for every season of the year, with MUFA's summer league claiming more than 1,000 players. 










Sharp cuts, soccer cleats, complex offensive and defensive sets run by former standout high school athletes who throw perfect full-field forehand hucks and an amazing level of intensity is what anyone will find if they visit the college teams' practices. 




The Hodags won the UPA's college series national championship last year over Oregon, 15-8. The loss of 10 players, however, has forced the team to reload.  




""The biggest thing has been incorporating different playing styles and getting everyone to work together and be on the same page,"" Ley said. ""We've got a lot of really good handlers who have stepped up.""  




A handler is like a point guard on a basketball team, always touching the disc, feeding it to teammates and running the offensive sets. 




The players have globetrotted across the United States on their own dime, travelling for tournaments from Louisiana to Georgia to Texas.  




The team has been practicing since late fall, averaging 10 to 15 hours a week of training between field practice and track workouts. 




The results seemed to be paying off down the stretch as the team rolled through its sectional last weekend in Milwaukee, after winning an impressive national tournament in Kansas a few weeks earlier. 




The team is now gearing up for the regional tournament May 8 to 9. The top three teams will then advance to nationals in Seattle, Wash., May 28 to 30. Only 16 teams from around the nation will make it to this elite weekend. 




""Our biggest competition [for regionals] will come from Carleton as it has in recent years. Our goal is to put up a substantial victory against them and win regionals,"" Ley said. ""Our goal for nationals is to have a top four seeding to have an easier road through nationals and our final goal is to win another national championship."" 




On the women's side, Bella Donna is looking to repeat as the regional champions but face a difficult path to their goal. The top two women's teams will also advance to nationals in Seattle. 




""We pretty much dominated our sectional; it wasn't really a very difficult tournament because a lot of the other teams are really new,"" Hutchinson said. ""Regionals will definitely be a lot harder. Carleton and Iowa are the two powerhouses in the region. We're hoping to just play good, hard games against them."" 




The cancellation of two tournaments added some bumps in the road before the championship series began, limiting the amount of actual games Bella Donna has played against high-level competition. 




Having gone to nationals two out of the past three years, Bella Donna is just beginning to form into a dominant regional team, according to Hutchinson. 




""I think we're definitely on our way. The program is growing and kind of coming into a new era. There was a quite a bit of time when we were new and there were only 10 to 12 girls on the team,"" she said. ""But last fall we had 45 girls come out for our first practice. The program is growing and girls are getting more experience, we're definitely on our way.""  




Despite the year-long practicing and the lack of funding, the balancing of school, jobs and the sport, the friendships and the level of competition is what seems to keep bringing back players year after year. 




""I like playing with the girls on my team, they're a cool bunch of people,"" UW-Madison junior Holly Greunke said.  










Madison has the highest percentage of league players in the nation, according to MUFA Vice President Robin Davies. 




He attributed such a large involvement to word-of-mouth publicity and the cheap league fee. 




""For $25 they get a disc, a shirt, the league and all the perks from the Great Dane,"" Davies said, referring to the two free pitchers of beer each team gets at The Great Dane, 123 E. Doty St., after every game. 




The summer league is divided into three divisions, which provide opportunities for players of every level. 




""The competitive league is definitely more experienced players or fairly good athletes,"" Davies said. ""The basic rec league is a really good starting point for anyone wanting to play. It's more about learning the basics of the game and being out with your friends and having a good time. And then there's a beginner rec league, which is really a great starting point for those who have never played Ultimate before."" 










1. The field - A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 25 yards deep. 




2. Initiate play - Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective end zone line. The defense throws (""pulls"") the disc to the offense. A regulation game has seven players per team.  




3. Scoring - Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense's end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score.  




4. Disc movement - The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc (""thrower"") has 10 seconds to throw. The defender guarding the thrower (""marker"") counts out loud.  




5. Change of possession - When a pass in not completed (e.g. thrown out of bounds, dropped, blocked or intercepted), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense.  




6. Substitutions - Players not in the game may substitute in after a score and during an injury timeout.  




7. Non-contact - No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited.  




8. Fouls - When a player initiates contact on another player a foul occurs. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees, the play is redone.  




9. Self-refereeing -- Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.  




10. Spirit of the Game - Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.

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