By Melody Chu
Ultimate Frisbee is not just a sport for hippies.
"I came out the first day in bare feet," said George Van Pelt, a fifth-year UC Santa Cruz ultimate player and now graduate student. "I thought it would be a bunch of hippies, but then everyone had their cleats on."He added, "I ran back to my room to grab my cleats, and the rest is history."
The UCSC men’s ultimate team hosted the Sean Ryan Memorial preseason tournament last weekend, drawing 15 West Coast teams. UCSC made it all the way to the championship round before losing to Stanford, 15-8.
Although the team fell just short of winning it all, the second-place finish was still considered a huge success.
"It was incredible," junior Conor Ranahan said. "It was the best we’ve ever done in recent years."
Entering with a first-round bye, the Slugs didn’t have to play their first game until 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and were able to avoid the early morning rain. The team went undefeated in five games before losing to Stanford in the finals.
While Ultimate Frisbee isn’t technically a contact sport-the game is without referees and players call their own fouls-these boys aren’t exactly known to follow the rules.
"Saying the game is based on no contact is about as far as it goes," Van Pelt said.
Knee problems, broken collarbones, and head injuries all come with the territory; although no intentional physical contact is allowed between competing teams, the Slugs do whatever it takes to make impossible diving catches in order to prevent the Frisbee from touching the ground.
Team co-captain TJ Smith definitely recognizes the allure of ultimate.
"When you see the Frisbee flying over your head, everything else goes away and you run as hard as you can. In that moment it’s your entire world," Smith said. "You’re not thinking about school, you’re not thinking about your girlfriend, you just think about how badly you want that piece of plastic in your hand."
Case in point: Thomas Pineda, a 2006 graduate and ultimate alumnus who returned to cheer on his team. Pineda broke his leg in two places during last year’s Sean Ryan Memorial tournament, and had to sit out the majority of the season. Still, it didn’t stop him from returning this year, cleats in hand, of course.
Parties, alcohol and pot are perhaps as rooted in the Slugs’ ultimate tradition as much as winning is, and on occasion, the sport does live up to its reputation of being fun and laid back.
"It’s about the spirit of the game," Pineda said during a relaxing break between matches.
But nonetheless, the UCSC ultimate team has quite a list of accomplishments, including six national appearances in the past 11 years, and notches an incredible amount of miles traveled for tournaments. Last year the team competed in Hawaii and then went to Vancouver for the regional tournament.
The team is expected to play well this year, as the majority of players are returnees from last year’s playoff-caliber team. The Slugs also made cuts earlier this season, and the group that the team fielded during the tournament is expected to be the A-team for the year.
"It’s competitive and intense, but it’s super fun," rookie Luke Winspur said of his first ultimate tournament. "The ultimate atmosphere is fun. Everyone is smiling and having a good time."