Ultimate frisbee marathon season ends with strong finish

by Jean Bredeche and Jakob von Moltke | 5/10/02 5:00am

The Dartmouth men's ultimate frisbee team ended its 2002 campaign last weekend with a strong fifth-place finish at New England regionals, billed as this year's toughest in the country and featuring the top-16 teams fighting for only one bid to nationals.

The success in regionals capped one of Dartmouth ultimate's best seasons since its founding in 1978. Led by co-captains Jakob von Moltke '02 and Mike Nowak '02, the team played 59 games, more than any other ultimate frisbee team in the country. The rigorous schedule combined with hard work in practice paid off as Dartmouth steadily improved throughout the season and proved that it belongs among the country's elite ultimate frisbee programs.

The team's season began in mid-January with a weekend trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., where Dartmouth Ultimate played against the West Coast's top teams at the Santa Barbara Invitational. The weekend provided not only a chance to play on grass while Hanover still lay buried under the snow, but was also a great learning experience as Dartmouth played Stanford, the country's best team this year. Dartmouth ended the weekend, which was shortened by rain, at 3-3, defeating a strong Texas squad and nearly upsetting UCSD, another of the country's top-10 teams.

Returning to Hanover, the team was once again snow-bound, but made the best of the remaining winter with conditioning and many late-night practices before heading out on its annual spring break trip. The nine-day tour featured 24 games in tournaments in Atlanta, Savannah and Statesboro, Ga. Although exhausting, the marathon schedule provided Dartmouth ultimate with the opportunity to find its identity as a team and the results were promising as Dartmouth made the semi-finals in all three tournaments.

After a brief respite, Dartmouth took to the road for three consecutive weekends, at the University of Massachusetts, Yale and Bowdoin. The UMass. tourney, played in cold and windy conditions on still-frozen ground, featured a strong contingent of 25 teams from the Northeast. Dartmouth played well, but could not overcome the difficult conditions and a determined George Washington team, losing 15-13 in the quarterfinals.

Dartmouth ultimate faced its biggest challenge to date the following weekend in the Yale Cup, one of the country's premiere tournaments, which features the Northeast's top-20 teams.

Dartmouth began its run during Saturday's pool play as the team went 3-1 to move from fourth to second in the pool, just behind Tufts and ahead of perennial rival Harvard. On Sunday, Dartmouth came out gunning in the championship bracket with an easy 13-7 win over Princeton in the pre-quarters and then found itself matched up with UMass., the No. 6 team in the country, in the quarterfinals.

With offensive contributions from everyone on the team, Dartmouth surprised UMass. and ran out to a 7-6 halftime lead. In the second half, Dartmouth's zone defense clamped down to stop an athletic UMass. squad and give Dartmouth the 13-9 win and a spot in the semi-finals against Brown, the top team in New England and the No. 5 team in the country.

Dartmouth put up a gutsy performance, but couldn't shut down a well-rested and disciplined Brown team. The semi-final finish capped an exciting 5-2 weekend in which the Big Green jumped from the 13th seed to a tie for third place, matching the team's best ever performance at Yale Cup. A long season of hard work was paying off as Dartmouth peaked just before postseason play.

Dartmouth began its postseason play with a dominant performance at East New England sectionals hosted by Bowdoin on April 21. The team went 5-0 on the day, outscoring opponents 65-13 to win its fifth-straight sectional title and a bid to New England regionals.

Regionals, hosted by Dartmouth on May 4-5, featured New England's top-16 teams all fighting for a single bid to nationals. Dartmouth began the weekend with two easy pool play wins over Boston University and Connecticut College before once again facing Brown, now No. 3 in the country, to decide first and second place in the pool.

Brown began the game strong, while the Big Green made several unforced mistakes. Finding itself down 3-8 at halftime, Dartmouth fought back with a run of its own to bring the score to 10-12 before Brown righted itself and closed out the game 12-15. Although disappointing, the loss again proved that Dartmouth could challenge the country's top teams.

Taking second in the pool, Dartmouth had to play a crossover game against Middlebury for a spot in the quarterfinals. The game was close throughout, but Dartmouth's consistent offense, led in this game by an outstanding performance from Mike Nowak, allowed it to gain and then maintain a slight edge all the way to a 15-12 victory.

On Sunday morning, the Big Green found itself matched up with Tufts for a berth in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, this game proved to be Dartmouth's last of the season as it was eliminated with a 15-9 defeat. The loss placed Dartmouth in a tie for fifth in the region, matching the team's best performance ever.

Although unable to gain a spot at nationals, Dartmouth ultimate improved all season long to become one of the top teams in the region and country. In the last four weeks of competition, the Big Green went 13-4, losing only to Brown and Tufts, the region's top two teams. Although the team is losing several key players, Dartmouth ultimate will again be among the country's elite next year as a strong '03 class assumes leadership.

With at least two, and possibly three bids to nationals being awarded to the New England Region next year, 2003 might finally be Dartmouth ultimate's breakthrough year.

Jean Bredeche and Jakob von Moltke are members of the Dartmouth Ultimate Frisbee Team.