The stereotype of ultimate frisbee is that it’s just a sport for leisure; the kind of activity reserved for hot days on the beach or the park with friends.
But it can actually be quite serious. So serious, in fact, that it has a fully-functioning governing body for colleges with tournaments and regional competitions and national rankings. The University of Portland has a men’s and women’s club team.
And if the men win and the women get to the finals of the Northwest Division III conference championships over Easter weekend, both teams would qualify for May’s national championships in Lexington, Ky.
Despite having been around for a decade, this would be both clubs first time making it to nationals.
“It would be a big stepping stone for both teams and to build the (ultimate frisbee) program and to establish ourselves,” senior Sara Meisburger said, who is in her third year on the girl’s team.
Through three tournaments so far this season, both teams have shown promise. ‘UPRise,’ the men’s team, is looking to get over the hump of recent disappointment. In 2015, they were two games from qualifying for nationals; last year, just one. They’re hopeful for better fortunes this year as they head into sectionals with a 12-4 record and no. 18 national ranking.
‘UPRoar,’ the women’s side, is the favorite heading into their tournament and are ranked no. 7 in the country. They have not lost to a USA Ultimate DIII competitor— schools with 7,500 students or less— this season.
“When I joined (the team), we’d go into a tournament and just walk in expecting to lose, but you’d just go to have fun,” Meisburger said. “And now, to be on the other side of things, we’re winning consistently and it’s crazy just how much we’ve grown in that amount of time.”
Just two years ago, UPRoar had only eight players — meaning only one sub for tournaments where five games in a day is typical. UPRise had its struggles in years past, too. Captain Duncan McNally, a graduate student in his fifth year on the team, says the squad was ‘significantly worse’ when he joined as a freshman on the Bluff.
But the narrative has slowly changed for both programs from being ‘just for fun’ to being fun and competitive. Players are encouraged to play and do sprinting workouts outside of the two mandatory practices a week. Both teams have seen huge improvements the last few years with paid coaches that have played semipro ultimate frisbee— the highest level offered in the sport.
And through it all, strong relationships have blossomed.
The women hang out together after practices. Bowling nights aren’t uncommon. All three of Meisburger’s housemates play with her on the team.
Junior Taylor Ellensohn says a similar camaraderie exists on the men’s side.
“The group of guys is probably the main reason why I stayed (on the team),” Ellensohn said. “All of them are really good friends of mine. It’s definitely like a family so we always have each other’s backs and we can come to each other outside of ultimate (frisbee).”
Both teams are hopeful that a nationals appearance would bring visibility to ultimate frisbee on campus and set a precedent for success in the years to come.
“You think of people just on the quad throwing the disc, but you don’t realize that it’s an actual sport,” Meisburger said.
The conference championships will take place in Puyallup, Wash. on April 15 and 16.