Written by Zack Smith
Founded back in 1973, the Tufts Varsity Frisbee Team is one of the original college ultimate teams. The Elephant Men attended the first official Nationals tournament in 1984 and have made it back 7 times since then, having never failed to qualify for Regionals in the process. The winning reputation accustomed with Tufts along with their extensive coaching staff has allowed the E-Men to be continuously successful despite the fact that they only have a pool of five thousand underclassmen to draw talent from. The coaching staff is filled with elite club experience and stands at four men strong. Mike Zalisk and Dan Forseter both play for Boston’s Ironside and deal with the strategy for the E-Men, while Death or Glory’s Jeff Brown provides strong sideline motivation. This core is completed with Mike Bright, who keeps the E-Men focused and performing at a high level of consistency.
Teams undergoing a rebuilding process seemed to be a common thread of discussion leading up to the 2011 college ultimate season. Tufts was no exception to this chatter, having lost emotional leader and Callahan nominee Andrew Hollingworth at the end of 2010. However, the E-Men wasted no time moving past this fact as they strived to utilize the fall season as a way to bring their replacement talent up to speed. Since many of Tufts’ new recruits tend to be high school players from Amherst, Stuyvesant and Northwest, the E-Men were able to focus more heavily on strategy, rather than just on fundamentals in their early months. With their experiences from the UOA Ivy League Conference Tournament as well as their tournament win at the Huck A Hunk O’ Burning Pumpkin tournament, Tufts was ready to make their move in the spring, and take the nation by storm.
Spring 2011 for the E-Men started with the prestigious Stanford Invite. This would be the first and only elite regular season event that Tufts would attend and they would not waste their opportunity to learn and develop new talent. As with all northern teams playing in their first spring tournament, there was an expected adjustment period associated with the unfamiliarity of playing outdoors. The E-Men started their season on a high note, upsetting a higher ranked Texas team 13-11 in pool play. Unfortunately, Tufts would fall in their next two games against strong California-Santa Cruz and Carleton teams. The E-Men next had a bye, which gave their leadership and coaches time to provide perspective and refocus the squad. This would pay dividends, as Tufts pulled off a victory against California-Santa Barbara, earning them the right to play in Sunday’s Pre-Quarters. After a 15-6 loss against Pittsburgh, Tufts would open up their lines to give their depth some much needed experience. Their tournament concluded with two more losses to Stanford and San Diego State. When asked about the tournament as a whole, Captain Alex Cooper said the following,
“I think a lot of people look at our 2-5 record at Stanford and say we had a rough weekend, but we really played pretty well and got a lot out of the tournament. We made pre-quarters despite being seeded second-to-last in the field, and lost to Stanford and San Diego State by a combined three points on Sunday. We opened up our lines a lot on Sunday, and the results didn’t go our way, but we learned a lot about what things we were good at and what we needed to work on in practice. We also really got to integrate the newer guys into our system, and overall built a solid base that helped us get to where we are now.”
After the Stanford Invite, Tufts knew that they were going to have to work hard in order to compete with the top tier of competition that the
college scene had to offer. The E-Men approached their spring break with an attitude of hard work, rather than a week of rest and relaxation. This would pay off as Tufts would go on a rampage, finishing the regular season on a month long, 18 game winning streak. This would begin at College Southerns in Statesboro, Georgia, where the E-Men would roll through competition until the Finals, where they were matched up against a Central Florida team that was turning heads all season. The E-Men went into halftime, down 7-3 to the Dogs of War, but rallied to take the game 13-10 on the heels of a layout Callahan. Next, Tufts ventured south once again to play in the weather shortened College Terminus. In their second game of the day, the E-Men faced their regional rival, the Middlebury Pranksters. Similarly to the UCF game, Tufts went down early 7-3 to Middlebury, but would eventually rally to win 15-13. “We learned how to finish games and come from behind” said Cooper in regard to the importance of Southerns and Terminus.
The regular season would culminate in Farmington, Connecticut, at the One Nightstand tournament. On Saturday, the E-Men held seed, besting the Pranksters for the second time and beat Vermont in the Semi-Finals. Tufts squared off to play Harvard in the finals and perhaps their most important game of the season, which they would win 15-9. This win was vital, as it gave them a high enough rise in the rankings to earn the Northeast Region a second bid to Nationals.
Two weeks later, the Metro Boston Conference Championships were held in Cambridge Massachusetts. Tufts won two of three, as Harvard took revenge and first place, snapping Tufts 20 game win streak. The E-Men then made short work of a tired Northeastern team, who beat Boston College on universe point to earn the right to play for second place. On May 7th and 8th, sixteen teams met to do battle for the right to play on Memorial Day weekend in Boulder. Tufts powered through competition, including a 15-9 win over Middlebury, leading to a heavily anticipated finals match with Harvard. This game was a battle from start to finish, Harvard would prove to be too much. With Red Line finally able to dress a healthy squad and the E-Men suffering a key injury to Jack Hatchett, who was charged with guarding George Stubbs, Tufts lost 11-8. Cooper said the following about losing the finals game and preparing for the backdoor game to go:
“Losing to Harvard was tough, but our focus is always on the present: this game, this point. Whether we win or lose, we’ve been pretty good at forgetting about the past and staying in the moment, so we went into Dartmouth thinking only about the game at hand, one point at a time. We knew all we had to do was execute our game plan, play Tufts ultimate, and the result would take care of itself.”
Tufts stayed true to their mantra, starting the game against Dartmouth’s Pain Train with two breaks and eventually extended their lead to 6-1. The game was characterized by wind and lots of zone defense by both teams . As the temperature would drop and the rain started falling, the E-Men seemed fully in control, coming out of half on offense with an 8-3 lead. Tufts would break two more times before Cooper would find Sam K-S for the 15-7 win.
Now that the E-Men have booked their tickets to Boulder, they are pushing to improve on their 2009 Pre-Quarters appearance. “In terms of two years ago, we’re a completely different team. We are going into Nationals with the mindset that we’re definitely going to make some noise show that Tufts can do work late in the tournament” said Cooper. Despite this being their 7th trip to College Nationals, the E-Men have never made it farther than the Quarterfinals and a championship is the only thing missing from their success as a dynasty. Tufts is going into Memorial Day weekend confident and with the belief that they have yet to peak. As an added bonus, the recent seeding discussion has added more fuel to the E-Men’s fire, and they are ready to make some people eat their words.
Photos Courtesy of David Nelson