By Samantha Thompson

While many people fled to the beach to cool down on a blistering Sunday afternoon, UC Santa Cruz’s men’s ultimate Frisbee team was cranking up the heat, holding a three-hour practice to prepare for the upcoming spring season.

Men’s ultimate, the only year-round sport at UCSC, has held practice five days a week since the beginning of fall quarter to whip players into the demanding shape they need to be to compete with nationally ranked teams. The Slugs are currently ranked in the top 20 nationally.

“We got our team organized earlier than ever,” sophomore Finn Telles said. “There were so many people that came out this year that we were able to pick a solid group of people early.”

So many people try out for the team yearly that, in addition to fielding a competent A-team, the Slugs have been able to fill a B-team for several years.

“It’s like building an army,” Telles said. “[Which] helps for the years ahead.”

The team, established in 1986, has historically been strong, and even took the Ultimate Players Association (UPA) national title in 1991. In recent years, however, the team has struggled to match that success. But with the addition of several talented rookies to the squad this year, the Slugs see great potential to regain that status as an elite team.

“We’re turning it around and starting to get a lot more respect in our region,” co-captain T.J. Smith said. “This is my third year and it’s definitely the best team I’ve played on since I’ve been here. I think in the time that I’ve been here, this year and next year are when we are poised to do the best.”

The team has enjoyed a string of success in recent tournaments, beating the 2005 national champion Brown University at the Stanford Invitational and going 8-0 at a President’s Day tournament held at UC San Diego earlier this month. The Slugs are now 19-6 going into their spring season.

Much of the team’s success has been attributed to the presence of a more permanent coach, something the team has lacked for years. Dr. Daryl Nounnan, a local urgent care physician who has helped as an assistant coach in the past, is now lending a hand two to three times a week to help train the team.

“It’s really the first year where we’ve had a consistent coach, and he’s been a tremendous coach,” Smith said. “[He’s a] very good leader and motivator and [he’s] very good at relating to the players. He’s been a great thing for our team.”

Usually captains and core players run training and practice sessions, but with Nounnan on board, pressure has been taken off to teach newcomers the basics of the game.

“Essentially, you have to build a nationally competitive team out of people who have never played before and make them good players within a year or two,” Smith said. “You really [have] to train people and push people really hard to get them at the right level.”

Nounnan, who has coached for five years and played for 15, is impressed with the progress the team has made so far.

“Actually when I started coaching last year they weren’t very good,” Nounnan said. “But now we’re back in the top 20 in the nation, we made the finals of two tournaments and made the quarterfinals of [another]. So I think we’ll be good, and we’ll compete for a spot at nationals.”

The team hopes to keep in shape over the break, and emerge this season as one of the top programs in the nation.

“I think if we’re in [good] shape, I think the core guys on the team can take us to where we need to go,” senior and co-captain Danny Karlinsky said. “Which will be the top.”