May 13, 2022 | SPORTS | By Lorea Zabaleta | Photo by Anil Jergens
Colorado College men’s ultimate frisbee team, also known as Wasabi, won the South Central Region tournament, earning an automatic bid to play at the 2022 Ultimate College Championships on May 21-22.
Due to a rearranging of the regular championship competition schedule by USA Ultimate following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, this marks the second time Wasabi will be going to nationals this academic year.
In a typical year, there is only one official College Championship series held during the spring. However, with the last few years being anything but typical, USA Ultimate also hosted a fall championship series as a make-up season.
The fall championship allowed players that missed out on the spring 2020 and 2021 seasons to compete in the college division, per Wasabi’s Head Coach, Jimmy Donnellon. Additionally, USAU allowed players who had already graduated to compete this fall, including CC’s Sam Pfeifer ’21, who now helps coach the team.
Donnellon has been coaching Wasabi since 2020 after years of involvement with the sport of ultimate frisbee. He said he was excited to be part of a program with such a great history of success and fun.
It’s no surprise the team has been performing so well. Even during the 2020-21 school year when all was thrown into COVID-19 chaos, Wasabi continued to hold practices. In such a time of isolation for so many, the team also provided much-needed social interaction.
Leo Fowler ’22 said that it was an “incredible piece of consistent happiness” in his life during that time.
Fowler said he joined Wasabi his freshman year after burning out on track and cross-country in high school.
“They made me want to come to practice every time,” he said. “Everybody on the team is easy to be around, and a friend on and off-field.”
“It really feels like all the guys I play with are my best friends and that’s really special. I think we’re a Frisbee team but we’re also a family, which is nice,” said Lincoln Grench ’23, one of Wasabi’s three captains.
During the fall season, the team’s first official competition was a part of the Championship series and Donnellon said he was “unsure” how good the team would be, but any doubts were soon put to rest.
“When I first saw the team compete at Conferences, I knew we had potential to perform well on the national stage,” he said.
Donnellon also said that the tournament was a great learning experience.
“We were a bit disappointed for we expected to be in at least the quarterfinals, yet we finished the tournament well. I think the disappointment led to a renewed commitment to return to Nationals this spring season and try to perform even better,” he said.
This spring season was a return to the standard cycle of competition for the college division, and Wasabi is once again going to nationals after winning the Men’s Division-3 South Central regional championships.
On the heels of last season’s successes, Grench said there was an “expectation” they would go to nationals again, but that it was not a given as they still had to beat many talented teams at regionals to move on. There were only two bids to nationals coming out of the region with four teams ranked on Ultiworld’s top 10 and two more in the top 20 competing, Donnellon said.
In the regular season, Wasabi went 12-5, only losing to Division-1 teams, and going undefeated at both Conferences and regionals, Donnellon said.
Wasabi won the finals game at regionals on May 2, 15-14 against Missouri S&T Ultimate and a celebratory tweet from the team’s account stated “REGIONAL CHAMPS BABY! onto Milwaukee.”
On May 21-22 CC’s spiciest boys will be vying for a top spot in the nation in Men’s Division-3 Ultimate. To those at CC, these dates may sound familiar as that is Commencement Weekend. With eight graduating seniors on the team (nine if we include injured reserve member Sam Rodriguez), it’s no small thing that the two events are coinciding.
Fowler said that nationals being held over the same weekend during which CC is holding graduation creates “a difficult scenario” but the mere fact that the graduating seniors are missing the ceremony “speaks volumes” about the team. Grench said the team has known the tournament would clash with Commencement for some time, but has stayed committed and resolute despite the conflict.
“I think that’s just like another sign that these people really care about the team and they’re willing to skip their college graduation in order to play for this team. So I think that’s pretty awesome,” Grench said.
Fowler added on that for him in particular the location of the tournament is a unique opportunity as it’s occurring in his hometown.
“I feel really stoked to be able to show my family and friends from home… who these people are that I’ve been spending so much time [with],” Fowler said.
As for expectations at the tournament, Donnellon said he believes they can “compete with any D-3 team in the country.”
As of May 10, the team was currently ranked fourth in their division.
“I think we’re definitely a national champ contender… we came out of the hardest region in the nation, winning that region to be able to go to nationals,” said Fowler. “I really like our chances against pretty much anybody.”
Grench said his goal is always to win but “ultimately” the goal is to have fun.
“When we’re having more fun on the field, we’re winning a lot more,” he said. “You know, when it gets not fun, we start to lose and that’s no good. I think realistically, my goal is to be in the top four teams at nationals.”