College Ultimate is not like other sports. There are certainly dynasties and perennial powerhouses but they do not come from your typical places. In Division I sports you can always expect Florida, Sourthern California, Ohio State and the like to excel at any sport. However, when it comes to Ultimate there are several dynasties that come from some of the most unlikely of places.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington is one of those places. The Seamen began as a team in 1988 and since then have made a name for themselves as one of the best and most physical teams in the nation. UNC-W has been to Nationals several times and this year’s team looks to repeat the performances of their predecessors. However, when this year’s senior class arrived as freshmen, not all was well in the world of Seamen Ultimate.
“When the senior class started four years ago the team was at a level that wasn’t competitive and hadn’t been for some years before,” Senior captain Brian Casey wrote in an e-mail to us.
There have been a lot of steps taken between then and now to get UNC-W back on the map. One of the largest steps was the arrival of a very special player, senior Rusty Ingold-Smith.
“Rusty was one of the missing pieces that needed to be in place in order for this team to become a contender again,” Casey wrote. “Rusty has a relentless work ethic and is a great teammate and is one of those players who makes players around him better by his sheer field presence.”
Ingold-Smith has been recognized all over the country as a game changing player and his presence has certainly brought the Seamen to a level which they haven’t seen in some time.
UNC-W is 25-11 on the season and have aims to go to Nationals this season but first have to fight through a talented field at the UPA Atlantic Coast Regionals. Ingold-Smith will be a key component to their success but Casey is quick to remind people that this season hasn’t been 100% easy-going for the Seamen.
UNC-W began the season with a performance that could be described as nothing less than abysmal and heartbreaking at Florida Warm Up. The Seamen won one game over the course of the weekend and lost six, including universe point losses to South Carolina and Florida.
“That weekend in Florida something was off and it started with opening the tournament with a big loss to Iowa,” Casey wrote. “We came into the game complacent and with an undeserved confidence and we paid the price for it. The lack of focus entering into the first game on Saturday carried over into our other games and this is one of those times that one game can make or break a tournament for a team.”
The Seamen collected themselves after the tournament. Casey said that the team emphasized that there was no better time to have the worst tournament it would have all season. Casey collected his team and decided to focus on building what it had already. The Seamen would set their sights on Regionals and build to that.
“This season we have empasized the importance of trying to gel together and peak at the right time of the season,” Casey wrote. “In years past we have put too much stock in early season wins and this year (we) decided to refocus our strategy.”
It appears that the Seamen’s new strategy worked because, although the team had not won a tournament all season, UNC-W pulled out a tournament victory at the North Carolina Sectionals, a section that many considered to be the best in the country.
“Like I said before, it is important to come together at the right time and start reaching your peak around April and Sectionals was the first tournament that we absolutely had to win,” Casey wrote. “The urgency for the seniors to win a state championship for the first time since 2002 was a legacy we wanted to leave. The Sunday winning experience will be huge at Regionals and I believe that it is better to have your first tournament win come two weeks before Regionals rather than two months before.”
Casey describes the Seamen’s offense as a spread offense that is based on creating simultaneous cuts downfield that allow UNC-W’s handlers to have multiple options. In order for this offense to work the Seamen rely on downfield cuts from seniors Todd Dorowski and Matt Roberts along with junior Jarrett Brown.
On defense UNC-W focuses on a simple defense that relys on holding the mark in combination with quick, smart switches and sideline communication with the downfield defenders. Casey wrote that freshman Tommy Lamar has made a name for himself with a great mark that plays right into the Seamen’s defensive style.
Essentially, UNC-W is the perfect example of a team. Both on offense and defense, the Seamen rely on the other players on and off the field to communicate and create in a group effort towards victory. All told, that team mentality is what Casey expects to see this weekend and, if he does see it, he will be happy whether the Seamen go to UPA Nationals or not.
“This weekend our expectations are to play the best Ultimate that is possible and to leave it all on the field,” Casey said. “A quote comes to min from Gary Gaines, coach of Odessa-Permia in the 2004 film Friday Night Lights, ‘Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down beacuse you told them the truth and that truth is you did everything you could. There wasn’t one more thing you could’ve done.’ I feel like if we live by this quite this weekend then we will be happy with ourselves as a team regardless of if it lands us a ticket to Ohio or not.”