Come rain or shine, it's always Ultimate Frisbee time

By Pete Steele

If someone were to ask about the most popular sport at Macalester, you couldn’t blame a student for replying “soccer” or “football.” After all, these are the sports that bring the fans to the stands and sell the most “Scot Dogs.” But while it lacks the spectators that come with powerhouse varsity programs, there is another sport that boasts at least an equal amount of participants: the dynamic and addictive sport of Ultimate Frisbee. Almost anywhere you go on campus, particularly after classes let out on a weekday afternoon, there is somebody tossing a disc around. Most likely, there are many groups of somebodies, some of whom are gals, some of whom are gents, some mixed. Sometimes, they’re standing in a simple circle in front of Old Main, snapping off lazy but crisp forehands across the quad. Sometimes they’re out back on Shaw Field, executing precise cuts into and out of formation. They may appear intense-furiously chasing the action as it moves up and down the field-or it may be a mellow affair, where players laugh about “thumbers” gone awry or play points where they are only allowed to run backwards. These outward variations underlie the dual nature of Ultimate Frisbee at Macalester: it’s part competitive endeavor, part fun in the sun.

“Not all the people you see throwing Frisbees around are on a team, but definitely the vast majority are,” said Dan Herrera ’09, senior captain of the Blue Monkeys, the men’s Ultimate team. “But it’s not just people interested in a sport; it’s a club as well. The people in it become your friends. There’s a social atmosphere.”

Hannah Pallmeyer ’09, captain of the women’s team, echoed these sentiments.

“We’re a pretty laid-back bunch,” Pallmeyer said. ” It’s not that we don’t like winning games (we do!) but we’re also all about having a good time, both on and off the field. If you hear some tunes and beats coming from Shaw Field on Friday afternoons, you’ve probably found us.”

Most Frisbee players, whether upper or underclassmen, will agree that it is this self-created, relaxed atmosphere that originally drew them to the sport. While according to Herrera the Frisbee culture “changes pretty quickly, not even year-to-year, but semester to semester,” there seems to be a feeling of acceptance of varying degrees of athleticism and competitiveness that is in line with how the sport is perceived on many high school and college campuses across the country. In the end, the key is for the players to enjoy themselves.

“You need to be really smiley. The game itself rewards being happy,” Herrera said.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the Frisbee faithful don’t like to be the best at what they do. Both captains cited rigorous early season practices and competitions as evidence that they have high hopes for the fall season and the official season in the spring. Two weeks ago, a numerous contingent of both men and women trekked down to Grinnell to play in Elephantitis, an invitational featuring teams from many colleges in the region. In muddy conditions reminiscent of a pig sty (“you couldn’t really change directions” Herrera said), the men’s team lost three close games. However, the results couldn’t muddy signs of encouragement for the squad. For one thing, each of the losses was by less than three points. Secondly, one of them was 13-12 to Iowa State, a historically strong team from a much bigger school. Also, many of the strongest players on the men’s side are juniors who are studying abroad and will be rejoining the team for the spring semester.

“It was nice to be playing in close games despite having most of our players gone, but it’s also mentally draining to lose close games over and over,” Herrera said of the tournament experience.

For the women’s team, the main success of the tournament was breaking seed by beating host Grinnell twice. The Pursesnatchers are also facing the challenge of having many of their strong players abroad, such as junior captain Julie Green. They used Elephantitis as a rust-buster to help ready themselves for more important competitions later in the season, such as the Mac-Tommie Cup played annually between Macalester and St. Thomas.

“It was our second year at that tournament, and we did pretty well,” Pallmeyer said. “And that’s after only two official practices. [At this point in the season,] our team is looking awesome. The newcomers to the team add a lot: they are such quick-learners, and really go balls-out on the field. The returners are amazing: leading on the field and proposing all sorts of new tricks to try out during games.”

For those unfamiliar with the women’s Frisbee program at Macalester, Pallmeyer also commented on the origin of the team’s name:

“During a frisbee roadtrip before my time, one of the captains went to use a bathroom in a gas station or restaurant. There were hooks outside of the stalls to leave your purse, but a sign said: ‘Caution, beware of pursesnatchers.’ She tore the note off the wall and put it on the inside of her disc, and that’s how we became the Pursesnatchers.”

For the men, the main focus is still on the spring, when their showdown with the Tommies will occur, and when the team will make their usual spring break pilgrimage to Savannah, Ga., for a weeklong tournament.

“Savannah’s a great place to play Frisbee,” Herrera said. “It’s an epic journey.