Air Squids Miss Nationals

Ultimate Frisbee is a multifaceted sport that incorporates different aspects of other mainstream sports with one big difference – a flick of the wrist is the magic maker. Though it is a bit of an obscure sport, it is gaining a great deal of popularity all over the nation, and especially in San Diego.

Hillary Elder/Guardian
The UCSD ultimate Frisbee team finished another spectacular season with a third-place finish, but failed to earn a bid to the national tournament for the first time in three years.

The UCSD men’s ultimate Frisbee team, also known as the Air Squids, has consistently been ranked in the nation’s top 25 teams, including a No. 5 position last year and third in 2005. This year was the first time in three years that the Air Squids did not earn a bid to nationals, finishing in third place behind UC Santa Barbara and tournament winners University of Colorado at regionals on May 5 and 6 in Tempe, Ariz.

These three teams, and others, compete in the Ultimate Players Association representing the southwest region. On average, the region is given three bids to nationals, depending on size and overall skill level, but this year only one bid was granted, meaning the University of Colorado advances to nationals while UCSD and UC Santa Barbara stay at home.

“”The goal for the entire season was to advance to nationals,”” senior Jeff Elliott said. “”We knew it was going to be very difficult, but we could tell by the way we were playing at the end of the season that we had a chance but it just didn’t happen this time.””

Despite the letdown at the end of their season, the Air Squids had many impressive achievements throughout the season, and are proud of their third-place spot at regionals, especially considering that nine of the 24 “”A”” Team members graduated last year and that this year’s teams have been carried entirely by two captains without the guidance of a coach, unlike many of their competitors.

“”Most of us started out thinking that this was going to have to be a rebuilding year,”” Elliott said, “”But people stepped up and took on leadership roles and we moved up some solid new rookies who developed on the team really quickly.””

The game of ultimate is extremely fast-paced but rather simple and includes elements from numerous sports. A regular game, which usually takes an hour and a half to finish, consists of a seven-on-seven battle with the first team to 15 points as the victor. Like football or soccer, players can be subbed in after every point or timeout, but in ultimate, every person must take on an offensive and defensive role by either blocking a thrower on the opposite team or intercepting the Frisbee and moving it toward the end zone. Speed, height, reaction time, arm strength, accuracy and overall good athleticism are all important qualities for any good ultimate player.

“”Our teams are mainly built up of a variety of athletes that were good at a particular sport in high school and either didn’t want to or couldn’t play at the NCAA level but still want to stay active,”” Elliott said. “”Starting out, as long as you can throw a Frisbee somewhat decently, we build off their athletic capabilities to create ultimate players.””

At regionals, the top 16 teams in each region are broken up into four pools of four teams, and compete in a two-day tournament. UCSD was seeded fourth overall going into the tournament and won all three of its games, beating UC Irvine 15-6, Northern Arizona University 15-5 and University of Arizona 12-11 in a dogfight final match to earn the first seed in the pool.

By winning the top seed, UCSD advanced automatically to the semifinal round, while the remaining second-, third- and fourth-place teams competed in a final game for entry into day two. The Air Squids earned some downtime for the remainder of the day and prepared to face UCLA and the University of Colorado in the semifinals.

One of the most prized highlights from the season for the Air Squids was when they dominated UCLA 15-0 at the Southern California Sectionals on April 15, which gave UCSD a bit more confidence going into the game and a chance to prove themselves again.

“”The UCLA win was arguably one of the best games I have ever been a part of,”” Elliott said. “”They definitely came out with a chip on their shoulder and we knew that now it was elimination time and that it was going to be an intense game.””

The Air Squids matchup with UCLA in the semifinal round began at 8:30 a.m. and was neck-and-neck through out the entire game. UCSD gained a slight lead around halftime, but it proved difficult to hold on to as the game rolled on. The momentum looked like it was going UCSD’s way when the Air Squids’ 6-foot-5-inch freshman Josh Nickerson jumped over one of UCLA’s best players to grab the Frisbee for an interception.

The Air Squids ended up winning by a narrow margin, 14-12, and moved on to compete against the No. 1 seed, the University of Colorado. In the second semifinal game, UCSD fell 15-9 to earn their third-place spot. Though hopes for a national bid were crushed and the season came to a shorter close than previous seasons, the Air Squids ended proud and optimistic for next season.

“”We kept close to them as long as we could, but we never got the good defensive play we were looking for to come back,”” Elliott said. “”They were faster and taller, but we played our hearts out. It was not easy to say ‘OK, we are done,’ when moving on is something that most of us are accustomed to, but we walked off of that field with our heads up.””