The ultimate college sports experience

This article is the first in a two-part series.

By now, most of UVic’s sports teams have wrapped up their 2013/14 seasons, packed up their gear and headed home for the summer. The UVic women’s ultimate team (UVixens) has done the same for every year of the club’s history. But not this year. On May 4, the UVic women’s ultimate team secured a spot at the pinnacle of college ultimate competition: the USAU College Championships.

My involvement in this rapidly growing sport began when I was a shy, unfortunately hair-styled grade sixer. At the beginning I remember the disc in going every direction except the one I wanted it to. Catching was probably quite the scene as I closed my fumbling hands and hoped that the disc was between them. I was determined to get better so I kept practicing and I have been in love with it ever since.

Ever since elementary school, I had always played a sport (if you count searching the field for four leaf clovers while your team hurries past chasing a soccer ball). Throughout middle and high school, whether on the court, the ice, or the field, I was always happiest when surrounded by my teammates, so why not play a sport at university? I had managed to balance overlapping school sport seasons with studying in high school, so I should be able to do the same here. Besides, how much of my time could this team really take up anyway?

When I first stepped into an ultimate practice on the UVic turf, I had no idea what I was about to become a part of. A few days before that first practice, I had been dropped off at my new room in Ring Road residence. My hometown was halfway across the country and I was alone. I knew a grand total of two people at the university, one of whom was my cousin.

Although the vixens were all friendly and welcoming, I couldn’t get past the fact that these girls were a well-formed group and I felt like a newbie at this practice. The joy of the men’s and women’s teams’ reunion after a summer apart was clear from the moment I arrived. I wanted in on it, so I tried not to mess up. I didn’t want to lose my shot at fooling them into accepting me as a part of what seemed more like a family than a team. Luckily for me, this was early enough in the team’s existence that there were no official tryouts, only open practices. Technically, they couldn’t get rid of me even if they wanted to.

The UVixens had their humble beginning in 2008, a few years before my time. Back then, the season began in September and didn’t continue much past winter break. Although the team attended tournaments in the fall, subs were hard to come by.

“We took nine players to Sundodger, and maybe twelve or thirteen to Canadian Nationals,” says captain Allie Short, recalling her first season. Even with those low starting numbers, they dropped off quickly. “By spring we had about five people coming out to practice.”

In the fall of my rookie year, the captains, Allie, Danie, and Jessie, asked two local ultimate players to join our team as coaches. This dedicated duo structured practices three times a week. They were there, rain (too often) or shine (rarely). With well thought-out fitness regimes and injury prevention training, the UVixens grew.

By the start of the next season, the team’s relentless recruiting locked in a solid roster for the 2012/2013 season. The key to hooking new players on this game was not just the basic guarantee of any school club. People joined looking for a few hours a week to get some exercise in. Many were high school athletes looking for a way to continue their active lifestyle or satisfy their competitive side. What they ending up getting was much more than that.

The captains planned team events, made hilarious videos, and spread the love throughout the team in any way they could. It was near impossible for anyone to resist this kind of community. The men and women of UVic Ultimate share a common love for the game, but the camaraderie off the field made it so unique and captivating.

That season it was clear that the UVixens had leapt over a major hurdle. Their leaders had constructed an organized team with plenty of interested athletes and had the means to teach them the sport of ultimate. Now there was a solid base to work from. The next step was to improve in skill. And so we did. And fast.

The fall brought immediate success as the UVixens met teams from all over Canada and took home the national title at the Canadian University Ultimate Championships.

Encouraged by this winning feeling, the team trained hard through the cold and rainy winter. Team practice was three times per week, including the dreaded Wednesdays at 7:00 a.m.

Those early morning practices bring were tough but worth it. Waking up in the dark to the sound of rain on the windows made me question why I stuck with this sport. Classes immediately after practice required me to thaw my hands for at least 10 minutes to write legibly. Yet most of these mornings gave a feeling of accomplishment. An added bonus: there was now a legitimate reason to wear sweatpants all day.

In January of 2013, we all looked forward to a break from playing in the rain and headed off to California with the men’s team for the Santa Barbara Invitational Tournament. Spending 28 hours on a cramped bus each way is something you wouldn’t ever choose to do just for the fun of it. Still, I wouldn’t have picked another group to share the ride with, which says a lot.

The wind was gusting; we had pressure on us that we were not quite used to yet, and we had our men’s team cheering us on from the sidelines.The UVixens ended up winning the Santa Barbara tournament, defeating some of the strongest teams in the Northwest including UC Santa Barbara and Stanford who are ranked fifth and seventh going into the college championships this year.

While we were swimming at the beach, (to the amazement of the sweater-laden locals) a couple of the rookies mentioned their plans to live together with another teammate the next year, and they invited me to join. Saying “yes” was unquestionably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We soon found that we were equally matched in oddball behaviours and ideals of fun. Maybe it was luck, but I know that sharing the same love for ultimate gave us a strong connection to start with. After living with those three for a year I can confidently say that they are the reason that I stayed sane (but adequately insane to meet the household quota).

We all make sacrifices to be able to play this sport with the teammates we love. Each player has devoted endlessly to this team. The freezing early morning practices, late nights cramming after tournament weekends, pricey traveling, uncomfortably long bus rides, and crushing losses. Playing for this team might have cost me a few letter grades here and there, but no amount of A+’s could substitute the experience.

With my third year over, I sometimes think about what my life would be like if I hadn’t joined the ultimate team. My mind draws a blank every time. Being a part of this team has shaped every aspect of my life in Victoria and I am thankful for it.

The UVixens have come so far as a team and as a family. We took the long road to qualify for the USAU College Championships. Of around 200 teams across North America, we are one of only 20 that will meet in Mason, Ohio on May 23 for the biggest tournament of our college ultimate careers. As if the pressure wasn’t enough, our devoted coaches that helped bring us here are about to be parents and will not be able to join us.

Our mental game will be tested as we face the best teams in the continent. The upcoming tournament will showcase not only the UVixens’ hard work but also the incredible journey we have made together.

The USAU championships were held from May 23-26, 2014. Check back for part two in a week’s time.

Follow the UVixens on Twitter: twitter.com/uvixensultimate

 

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