The University of California Santa-Cruz is one of the few ultimate programs to own a championship. In 1991 the Slugs beat UNCW for the title, and made it to final in 1995. They are making their ninth trip and first since 2008 this season after beating San Diego State in the finals of the new Southwest Region. According to Joaqin Nagle, an assistant Coach for the Slugs, tradition is a big part of the program, “This past February the current Slugs went to Kaimana, where there was also a team of Slug Alumni. At the tournament there were UCSC ultimate players representing every team since the 1991 championship.”
One of the figures that has helped in continuing the tradition is Coach Daryl Nounnan. Nagle, “He has played for Jam, Rhino, Kaos, and Revolver, just to name a few teams (he played for Revolver when he was 44). He’s very level headed and puts a lot of emphasis on work ethic and effort. I’d say he’s more Sir Alex Ferguson than Jose Mourinho.” That philosophy has worked so far, especially in the unique relationship between Coach and Captains. “At the start of every fall Daryl talks with the captains to figure out what they would like for the team, and develops his coaching plans from there.”, said Nagle.
The bond between Coaches and Captains can be very critical to the success of any club, and on Santa Cruz the bond is incredibly close. Nagle, “There is a very good dynamic between the coaches and the captains. The captains of this years team are 5th year Alex Grande, 4th year Cassidy Rasmusen, and 3rd year Jordan Sheffield. Alex’s freshman year was 2007, and that was Daryl’s second year coaching the Slugs. Cassidy played high school ultimate in Santa Cruz (at my alma mater), and played club ultimate with both Daryl and myself the summer before his freshman season. Cassidy and Daryl were also teammates on Revolver in 2009. Jordan and Alex both played club with Daryl and I this past summer for Cruz Club, a team designed to help the Slug program. Also of note, two players who were captains last year, Max Finch and Russell Wynne, are still with the team. Max played club with Cruz Club this past summer, and Russell played with Revolver. In short, the team leadership and the coaches are very close.”
One of the benefits of having a sideline presence is letting the Captains worry about playing. I’ve seen many clubs suffer from having their captains attempt to make substitutions instead of concentrating on the play on the field. Daryl and Joaq help take that pressure off the captains, “Before a tournament Daryl and I review the roster and decide what we’re going to tell the guys about how much they’ll play (mind you, this can change game to game).”, Nagle said. I was lucky enough to get a look into how the players are split up into 5 distinct groups for line calls.
- The guys who get to play any point they want
- The guys who get to play any D point they want
- The guys who get to play any O point they want
- The guys who get called in on D
- The guys who get called in on O
These groups can change from game to game, and tournament to tournament, according to Nagle, “If the game gets tight, the rotation can tighten up. In the end, Daryl and I have the final say on who plays when. I think having Daryl and I around very much helps the captains focus on their own play.”
With the Captains being able to focus, Cassidy Rasmussen, Jordan Sheffield, and Alex Grande have been able to lead the the Slugs through a great regular season. Their only losses game to Washington, UBC, Carleton, and Colorado, all of which qualified for nationals. While Rasmussen and Russell Wynne are the big names from Revolver, there is also a strong depth presence. According to Grande and Rasmussen, “There are a number of Junior and Seniors who fill very important roles. Dillon Webster is a rock behind the disk for us. He is a solid possession handler who keeps the disc moving very well. Andrew Marsh, a new grad student this year, has filled a role as a defensive specialist, taking the hardest match-ups to free up Cassidy and Russell’s legs. Travis Ladd has moved upfield from behind the disc in order to make better use of his speed and quickness. The depth of our cutting core gives the team confidence that there is always enough in the tank no matter how hard one person pushes at any point.”
After cruising through Conference and Regional play, Santa Cruz met San Diego State in the Finals. Rather than use my own words, I’ll let Cassidy Rasmussen describe the game.
“That game was one of the most memorable for me. That says a lot considering I have been in a National Championship and a World Championship game. It was played in front of a ton of people I have played against for 4 years and respect a lot. People were yelling and screaming as we mounted our comeback, it was intense. We started on defense and got a turn on the first point, however a throw away cost us the chance to break and they worked it back in. They then came down in a zone that shut us down for 4 points in a row because of simple mental mistakes, throw aways and drops. We called a time out and regrouped. Daryl and I told everyone to calm down down and run the offense we knew. We scored, then broke to get our feet back on the ground. We broke one more time to make it 8-5 at halftime. We started on O and came out of half strong bringing it to 8-7, then SDSU went on a run again to make it 11-7. At this point I went over to Daryl and asked if he wanted to rest our starters for the next game to go. He said “lets make one more run at it” we scored and broke 4 times to take the lead 12-11. We then traded a few then went up 14-12, they scored, broke us to make it an exciting DGP finish. We had a throw away and they had a drop and then we punched it in for the win.”
With that 15-14 win, Santa Cruz is back once again to compete at Boulder. Rasmussen, “We are handling Nationals like we would any other tournament. We know were not the favorite so there is somewhat of a chip, but we know that there is no team out there that can shut down our cutters and so its all on us. If we play our top game we can beat anyone and we know that. Its going to be tough with the altitude change and, as we are on the quarter system, finals coming up right after the tourney. But luckily we are all pretty good students and are coming in a little early to acclimate. We are less worried about who we are playing than how we are playing.”
In the end, when asked what the philosophy and schedule was going to be towards Nationals, Nagle told me this.
Sunday May 8th – Celebrate
Monday May 9th – Do what you want, don’t think about frisbee if you don’t want to
Tuesday May 10th – Renewed focus, we build as a team toward the championships
The tradition continues.
Photos courtesy of Andrew Davis.