Ryan Thompson has come from the original home of Ultimate, or Columbia High School. Now playing for Bloodthirsty, Thompson is a big fan of the Jersey Shore.
What was your introduction to Ultimate?
I played disorganized ultimate at summer camp at CTY after 7th and 8th grade (with Harvard’s Jack Marsh and Cornell’s Bo Li), but didn’t startplaying organized ultimate until the spring of my freshman year at Columbia High School. Columbia is where ultimate was invented in 1968, and we had a strong team throughout high school and still do today. Fortunately so many of the 20-some freshmen who played in the fall quit the team, so I was one of three freshmen who played with the A team that spring because we didn’t have enough numbers for a B team. Columbia was a great place to learn ultimate, with a rich program history, a lot of experienced players to look up to and match up against at practice, and a great coach in Anthony Nunez. My freshman year I played exactly 1 point at NJ States, then my sophomore and junior years I played on the D line, and my senior year I got to play as much as I could physically stand on a young and hungry team.
It’s a lot of fun to play against and run into people I played with in high school at ultimate tournaments. Last year there were 7 of us at Stanford Invite, and we’ve had similar numbers at Centex in the past.
What sports did you play before and how did the skills translate into Ultimate?
As a kid I played pretty much every sport I could get my parents to sign me up for – soccer, baseball, and basketball were the main three. As I got older I focused on soccer, and in high school I played soccer all four years, ultimate all four years, and I ran indoor track for two years. I initially started running track to keep me in shape between soccer and ultimate seasons, but I liked it a lot and actually got to run at States my senior year.
I think that the individual defensive matchups of soccer definitely carry over to ultimate, especially since I played as a stopper for most of my high school career, assigned to man mark the other team’s most dangerous forward or attacking midfielder. I also played as a distributer from the back, and scanning the soccer field for an open space to attack with a pass is a lot like choosing which throw to make as a handler. Track, obviously, has some natural benefits to ultimate.
What has your career at Stanford been like from the beginning?
Inspirational figures, coaches, etc. I came to Stanford with a fractured pelvis from my senior indoor track season, and I played my last high school ultimate season on it without actually knowing that it was a fractured pelvis (doctors all thought it was a groin strain). So I sat out four months between HS graduation and Halloween of my freshman year of college, leaving me with two weeks and one tournament to impress the Bloodthirsty vets at tryouts despite being horribly out of shape. Fortunately, I made the team, and the four months of injury and nothing but throwing improved my throws to the level that I was asked to be a 3rd handler on the D line of the 2007 Bloodthirsty team – sitting behind two of Mark Sherwood, Nan Gao, and Will Chen was an easy position to play, and it helped me make a smooth transition to college ultimate.
I’ve had a lot of role models on the team – Mark Sherwood always pushed me at practice and in tournaments to play better, play harder, and to take more difficult matchups. He also trusted me completely when I was coming back from injury, which helped me regain my confidence after a long layoff. Jit Bhattacharyya is one of the most intense and fiery defensive coaches in the country, and he helped me discover my identity as a physical defender when I was still just a freshman. And both as a teammate when I was a freshman, and as a coach when I was a captain my junior year, Will Chen has always challenged me to do more. Even when I disagreed with him about something in the moment, as soon as I calmed down and thought about it later, he was always right. Mostly.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been without my injuries – I sprained my ankle and tore ligaments two weeks before Nationals my freshman year, so I was unable to play in any games during Stanford’s semifinal run that year. The next year I broke my right wrist at Santa Barbara in January, then had surgery a week later and came back left-handed, with a huge cast on my right hand, and played at Stanford Invite and Centex. By the time Nationals rolled around, I was comfortable as a cutter on the D line, and I could throw backhands with both hands.
But no injury compares to the low of not making Nationals last year. It was an up and down year – we had horrible losses to teams who didn’t go
to Nationals, and we lost to Colorado on universe point at Santa Barbara. We lost to runners-up Carleton 13-1 at Vegas, then beat them 14-3 at Centex. We thought we had a decent chance to go to Nationals, but wound up foundering against Cal and UC-Davis at Regionals, leaving us without meaningful games to play on Sunday. That stuck with us this year, and the team leadership forged a new team identity centered around how much fun we have together, our lovably nerdy nature, and our overwhelming desire to go back to Nationals, and we finally put it all together when it counted most, on the Sunday of Regionals.
What do you do outside of Ultimate? Hobbies, Major?
I got my BS at Stanford in Management Science & Engineering, with a concentration in Operations Research. I’m finishing up my Masters in Computer Science, with a concentration in Artificial Intelligence. Ultimate and Engineering don’t leave much room for other hobbies, but my two favorite non-exercise-related distractions are dance parties (ask Cassidy about Kaimana) and cooking for large groups of people. Also Jersey Shore.
What is your plan for Ultimate after College?
I’m moving to Washington, DC to work as an Analyst for DC Energy, and I’m planning to play with Southpaw this upcoming club season. Afterwards, I’ll try to play with either Southpaw or Truck Stop and get into youth or college coaching in the DC area. I’ve got a lifetime membership, so I need to last until I get to Masters so that I can finally stop being a Masters player in the College division. I’m also on the USAU Youth Advisory Committee, and I plan to continue helping grow youth ultimate in that respect.