In addition to having one of the best team names in all of college Ultimate, the Clemson Joint Chiefs also have one of the more driven leaders. Graduate student captain Ben Slade has spent three years at Clemson attempting to take the Joint Chiefs from being just another Ultimate program, to a team with a solid farm system and an even more solid product on the field.
“Without going into too much detail, we are trying to build an ultimate team that is committed to fitness, to sustainable infrastructure, and to supporting a deep, balanced roster,” Slade wrote to us in an e-mail.
The Joint Chiefs have spent most of their existence in the same state that most Ultimate programs do. They finish well at Sectionals, some years well enough to go to Regionals, some years not, and they have never been to Nationals. However, when Slade arrived on the scene, he and several other Clemson players realized that they wanted more out of their Ultimate experience and that they wanted more for Clemson in the future.
However, as the Ultimate scene grows, so too does the college Ultimate scene. This means that Clemson has to do a lot of growing in order to catch up to the established powerhouses that surround it, Florida, Georgia, UNCW, NC State, UNC and Virginia all come to mind.
Though this isn’t a trend that is specific to college Ultimate. Slade pointed us to this article from the New York Times that points to growing interest and participation in all college club sports.
“At Clemson we understand full well that college ultimate is getting better quickly,” Slade wrote. “If a team takes a full step forwards, it’s barely keeping pace with your section or region. Rather than trying to jump to the top immediately, we are trying to build an ultimate program that will be able to grow more quickly than its competition and consistently deliver a quality product. ”
Over the last three years Clemson has tried to build the program up by focusing on an improved tryout process, intramural fall league and a B team that can compete in its own right. Slade believes these have paid obvious dividends by creating Clemson’s best rookie class, according to Slade, ever as well as the team’s deepest roster in recent memory.
On top of creating more talent, Clemson has put forth a lot of effort to improve that talent once it does get to the A team.
“Clemson ultimate players have always loved the game and made sacrifices to play,” Slade wrote. “I think in recent years, we have done a better job of channeling our energy into productive practices and workouts. We’ve always tried to play and travel on a budget so that more people can afford to play- and we live in a part of the country that allows us to patronize excellent local tournaments.”
All of these things have combined to produce actual, tangible results. A simple look at Clemson’s score reporter from 2009 compared to this year’s page show’s a tangible difference in ability to compete. In 2009, at this point in the spring, Clemson was 7-9, with a none too impressive victory margin against competitive teams. However, including the fall of 2009, Clemson has put together a more impressive record, 8-7, and ended its two tournaments in bracket play losses to either the eventual champions or the eventual runners up of the tournaments. (An important thing to keep in mind is that Slade didn’t see the field all day Saturday at Joint Chief Summit) Slade attributes this success to a willingness to keep the lines more open and trust in younger players to get the job done.
“We made a commitment this season to open up our rotation,” Slade wrote. “Our best players are playing 60% of the time instead of 80%. Our young guns are getting valuable crunch time repetitions, and our veterans have something left in the tank when it’s time to win the game (including the fall, we are 9-3 on double game point).”
Clemson is riding the backs of Slade’s favorite for AC FOTY James Cox, recovered senior Wes Hall, senior Keenan Watson and Slade himself to better finishes and performances this season. The Joint Chiefs are flying under the national radar and though they may not be winning every tournament they play in this season, they are improving quickly and giving every team their hardest game possible. For the Tally Classic this weekend, that means a couple of different things for Slade.
“I want us to compete under the lights on Saturday night and take our best shot at the cash on Sunday,” Slade wrote.