It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not after such an incredible season. As Captain Tim Gilligan walked off the field in Morgan Hill, CA at the 2011 Southwest Regionals, he and his SDSU Federalis had to face the simple truth. Their season was over.
“It tore the team to shreds. Absolutely obliterated everyone emotionally,” said Gilligan. “I couldn’t believe it. I felt hopeless. It was the worst way to end a tragic day. The lowest moment in our entire sports career. There were several 22+ year old men bawling their eyes out.”
“I was heartbroken,” says fellow Senior Richard Prodan. “My college career was over. We didn’t make Nationals.”
After going undefeated on Saturday, and going up five breaks on UC Santa Cruz, the Federalis believed that their first Nationals appearance was in their hand. But Santa Cruz battled back taking lead in the second half 13-11. SDSU made one last push and forced a universe point. Tim even got a D on universe. “My most memorable D of the year was Tim’s d on universe point in the Regional final,” noted Prodan. “That image will stay in my mind for a while.”
But it was not enough. UC Santa Cruz punched its ticket to Nationals 15-14 as SDSU was rushed into the backdoor game against Stanford.
“Well we didn’t really have time to think about the loss but I could tell that everyone was down,” said Gilligan. “We knew we gave that away. We did 99% of the things right to achieve our goal of winning Regionals. Then that 1 fucking percent got us. We couldn’t look past it and take it to Stanford. Having a 2 minute rest in between games didn’t help either. Then things just fell apart.”
The Feds lost the backdoor game to Stanford 15-8.
The SDSU program has always churned out good individual players. Steven Prodan was heralded as one of the best handlers on the west coast by Johnny Bravo. However, they have yet to make it to the big show, in the past trading in hard work for a more party-centric focus. That culture has begun to change. “Since this program has been established it has always been about having fun,” reflects Gilligan. “That may sound cheesy and cliché but I always took the opinion that if you’re not having fun then what’s the point of putting in so much work. As our team got better and gained legitimacy, we embraced hard work and attempted to tie fun in with work.”
Last year, the Feds finished fifth at Regionals, two spots away from qualifying for the Championships. This loss fueled both Gilligan and Prodan. “I remember flying home from Colorado excited for my upcoming season with Street Gang cause I knew it was going to make me better which would, in turn, make the Feds better,” explains Tim. “Everything I did last summer in regards to Ultimate was to make myself better so that the Feds could go to Nationals. I just knew the opportunity we had to do something special and I wasn’t going to let it pass me by.”
The Feds have always been in the shadow of their cross-town rivals, the UCSD Air Squids. The Squids have made it to Nationals many times and have a storied program. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that the Feds beat the Squids. This would not be the only surprise. The Feds would travel to the Santa Barbra Invite, Presidents Day Invite, and the Stanford Invite before the USAU series. In the regular season they lost only to Championship bound teams leaving the Feds feeling how special this season was.
Coach Clif noticed the special bond of his players. “Having been around Ultimate for as long as I have, I would say the one thing that separates this team from any other team I have had the pleasure of playing with is the friendship that these guys have for one another. These guys truly like one another and are willing to do the work necessary to play on a team that competes at the highest levels. “
Stanford ended those hopes and dreams and has changed the way Gilligan and Prodan see the game.
“As a player, I figure there’s a few ways I can respond,” reflected Gilligan. “I can run away from Ultimate and pursue my disc golf career or I can use this loss as motivation. My career is still young. I believe that I’ll be in other big games like that and some of them will turn my way.”
“It took a lot of me,” says Prodan.” My only plans for future ultimate is Potlatch 2011 and that might be it for me.”
Despite the life changing loss, there is hope for years to come.
“Steven Milardovic will be the new face and name in SDSU Ultimate,” says Prodan. “Although he is going to be a fourth year player, I believe he will be next year’s captain and run the d-line. Big guy in the air on o and d. Lucas Dillow who should be rookie of the region this year will be a baller and make all region teams multiple times. Dominic Leggio is going to continue to be the work horse of the team.”
Cliff notes, “I’d much rather be home with these guys after witnessing their love, sacrifice, and commitment for one an another then with any team in Boulder.”
Former captain Tim Gilligan believes in the program that he has left behind. “Things are looking bright for the future of SDSU Ultimate. Like building blocks, each year is going to build on the other,” said Gilligan. “Maybe there are some quacks here and there with ‘rebuilding years’ and whatnot, but I fully believe that the Federalis will be at Nationals soon. And that shit makes me so fucking proud to be an alumni.”
Feature photo by Andrew Davis