If you wander past Noyes Circle on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday afternoon, you will notice a peculiar group of breathless and dirty men and women. Perhaps you’ve wondered about them: who are they, where do they come from, and why don’t they have a field of their own to practice on?
This is Vassar’s Ultimate Frisbee Team: a team of committed Vassar students, who are self-run and mostly self-taught. They operate outside of the Vassar Athletics Department but still compete against other schools and in national competitions. A keystone of the Vassar community for decades, both the men and women’s teams have represented the College at one time or another at nationals.
Though the team describes itself as relaxed, the practices are still competitive. Elise Symer, senior and one of the captains of the women’s team, said, “There’s often a theme to practice, an offensive or defensive strategy. There’s always a goal in mind to learn a new strategy of the game, so we’ll do drills that mirror it and will use it in our scrimmage if we’ve talked about it and practiced it that practice.”
The level of practice difficulty is really up to the individual player according to Symer; “It’s on an individual basis, but we take it as seriously as it permits us to still have fun while playing. That doesn’t negate a level of competitiveness and every spring we talk about how far we want to go.”
It’s important to note that the fall season is really more of an education in the game for new players, and so, though there are a few tournaments, the official season doesn’t start until spring. What makes this so beneficial for the team is that it gives time for new players to get some experience playing competitively and learning the basics of the game. Sam Plotkin, senior and four-year player, said “The captains coach, but there’s a general understanding that the older players are responsible for guiding younger players, showing them how to throw and making sure they catch with two hands.”
As far as competitions go, the team set out for their first competition two weeks ago, on the weekend beginning with the 10th of October. They had forty-four players go, with a lot of new members making up the numbers. It was hosted by Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Symer said, “We brought two mixed teams, we purposefully made the teams equal and we had a bunch of rooks, so it was a learning tournament, and we didn’t do great.”
Symer conceded that the results were representative of this learning process, “We didn’t win a lot. There were a lot of close games. We didn’t get crushed by anyone, and they were fairly even scores. One of our teams won one game, and the other won two over the course of the two days.”
An interesting facet of Ultimate Frisbee, which distinguishes it from any other competitive sport offered at Vassar, is that men and women can compete together at tournaments, though it seems this occurs less rather than more often. This most recent tournament happened to be coed. Plotkin, when talking about the recent tournament, expressed her enjoyment when the teams were mixed, saying, “Frisbee, at least the way that we choose to play, is about having fun more than being the dominant team on the field, especially when it’s coed because it’s fun to play with everyone on the team.”
There is only one additional rule when the game is coed: the team starting on offense at the beginning of each point decides the ratio of men to women. Though it’s true that both the men and women’s team enjoy the chance to play together, both Plotkin and Symer admitted that the play got more competitive when the teams separated into men and women. Symer acknowledged that, “Whether it’s coed or not depends on the tournament but it’s not uncommon. We usually play separately. In general, we don’t have a lot of chemistry when we play together since we don’t practice together.“
Symer’s very excited about the women’s team this year, although they’re lacking all their junior players, who decided to go on a semester abroad forgoing their commitments to Vassar and the Frisbee team. Luckily for the team, they will be back in the spring, to join the new recruits. Symer understands her role as a captain for these new players, “It’s great getting to know them and making friends with them, and it’s mine and Sasha’s [Fisher-Zwiebel, senior and other women’s captain] job to keep them involved and make sure they know that they’re the future of the team.” It’s the constant battle all non-varsity sports fight, getting and keeping new recruits, but, given that, as Plotkin proudly states, “The important thing to note is we have one of the largest orgs on campus and we’re also disproportionately large for a Frisbee team.”
Though they have plenty of players, they’re always looking for more. The team is an organization and not part of the Vassar Athletics department, which has its pros and cons, perhaps one of the biggest cons being they don’t have a real field to practice on and have to work around the athletics department when trying to find space to host tournaments. On the other hand, literally anyone can start playing at any point. Plotkin noted that sometimes people will just stop by and ask to join in, and the team is built on exactly that kind of relaxed and inclusive attitude. Symer believes that “The reason we’re successful as a team is because we all want to be friends with each other and we’re always welcoming.”