By Samantha Thompson
Four days out of the week, about 20 students can be seen running up, down and around the East Field, flinging a Frisbee at each other with almost impeccable precision.
This is no ordinary or relaxing game for a sunny afternoon.
This is the UC Santa Cruz’s men’s ultimate Frisbee team, a top-ranked team looking for a national title.
Men’s ultimate, now ranked in the top 15 nationally, has kicked into high gear, training especially hard now that it is deep into the season.
“We’ve been slow to build up,” senior and captain Danny Karlinsky said. “But we expect ourselves to be very good and to be a top-10 team in the nation.”
The team, which has been historically strong, has not recently seen the same success as it used to.
But this year, with 11 returning players and a number of talented rookies, the team is confident it has the ability to go all the way to the top.
“This is definitely the best team that’s come out of Santa Cruz in probably the last eight or nine years,” senior and co-captain Nick Chapman said. “We expect to do well at every tournament we go to.”
The Slugs have had a tougher time at tournaments than anticipated this season, but made headway even though their record doesn’t show it.
Despite going one for five in a Santa Barbara open, the one win came from the Slugs’ defeat over the team that won the whole competition.
And in their most recent tournament in Las Vegas, the men took eighth place in a pool of nearly 120 teams.
“We’ve taken big leads on every huge team out there,” Karlinsky said. “We just have a problem with finishing. I think that’s something that we’re going to take on in our last tournament, and we’ll do a much better job.”
The final tournament the team has its sights set on is the Series, which consists of the sectional, regional, and national playoffs.
But the real test will come at regionals, where only two teams will be able to take a spot at nationals.
UCSC’s region has four of the top 15 teams in the nation.
Because of the quality of this year’s team and the number of experienced players, the team is ready to face the challenge.
“We have a solid core of guys who have playing together for our entire college career,” co-captain senior T.J. Smith said, “so we expect a lot of ourselves.”
But the men’s ultimate A-team isn’t the only one en route to success.
The B-team, which made it all the way to the finals of the Santa Barbara tournament, has really started to make a name for itself and hopes to take it further by becoming the first UCSC men’s ultimate B-team to make regionals.
The B-team’s growth has also been something to watch.
In previous years, the team was lucky to have a dozen people out to practice and now has approximately 30 experienced members coming out to play.
“Ten years ago, there wasn’t even a B-team [here],” Smith said, “so it’s nice to see the sport growing here at our school and across the country. It’s really taking off with a lot of new teams popping up across the country, so it’s good to see that for the future of our sport.”
Now the members of the A-team are looking for their big break, intensifying practices and focusing to be sure that they’re ready to take on all the top teams.
“The last couple years, we’ve done well, but we haven’t been a powerhouse team,” Smith said, “so we’re sort of trying to get into that mentality.”
The team has its mind set on nationals and is just keeping up with training and staying healthy in hopes that everything will come together when it matters most.
“This is our best chance — and my last chance,” Smith said. “I know myself and the other captains and the other seniors are going to do anything we can to make our dream into a reality.”
Smith is hopeful.
“All four years we’ve been hoping to get to nationals and finally this is our year,” he said. “This is our chance, so we’re definitely on edge and excited to see what happens. And I think we have a good shot if we stay strong.”