The first thing I thought after seeing the results of Northwest Regionals was “The Polar Bears didn’t win it?” followed quickly by “Who are these Wolverines?” A team shrouded by rumors of lack of practice and studly roster debuted to the national ultimate world a few weekends ago. They strolled through Oregon sectionals, not letting anyone score more than 5 points on them until a close game against Dogfight, where they won 15-14. They continued to prove their strength at Northwest Regionals, with wins over historically perennial Nationals contenders Mental Toss Flycoos, last year’s champs Polar Bears, and Bay Area’s Blackbird, a dominant team new to the Mixed scene just like Wolverines. This team has proved they can be competitive with the best, and relies on their athleticism and years of experience playing together to pull ahead. So far, it’s been working, and we can expect a team like this to make magic on the fields of Sarasota. I sat down with Chelsea Putnam to put to bed some of the gossip and find out what makes the top team coming out of arguably the toughest region in the country tick.
Maya Ziv (No Look Scoober): First, tell me about the name. Is this an X-men thing, or what?
Chelsea Putnam: [laughs] Jason Kropf, our old guy who won Masters last year, was resilient in getting the name Wolverines. He is borderline obsessed with the movie Red Dawn (I was 2 when it came out) and no one else could come up with something else, so there you go. However, after some thought, we found out it rhymes with a lot of cool words: trampoline, time machine, Billy Jean and therefore everyone was smiling.
Rumors have it that though your team has had one practice together as Wolverines, you’ve actually been playing together for a long time.
Chelsea: The short answer is yes, we practiced once before Regionals. But we’ve been playing together on mixed teams for over ten years. In 2005, at least a third of our team played together as Vagabonds at Potlatch and beat Team USA. That was pretty sweet. Our team is composed almost completely of an Oregon crew that has been traveling to fun, local ultimate tourneys for years. We are a bunch of former Schwa girls and Rhino boys who love to compete and have fun.
Having come together so late in the season, what did you guys agree on as team goals?
Chelsea: For us, the attitude is that we love to compete together, have fun, and we’re friends outside of ultimate. It’s awesome to have that balance because most of us played elite ultimate for years practicing every weekend. It’s fun to come back and play competitively again, but not have it take over the rest of your life. Some of us are playing to compete and have fun, and some really want to compete and are too competitive. Now that we’re going to Nationals, we want to represent the Northwest region well. It is an honor to make it out of such a tough region!
Right, now you’ve qualified for the Big Show. Any changes to that relaxed mentality?
Chelsea: Going into Nationals we’re going to stick with what we’ve been doing, which is not over thinking it and relying on our athleticism. Wind is going to be a factor, and we’re now trying to get into the best ultimate shape as possible. We’re all in good physical shape, but there’s a difference between that and ultimate shape. There is no way that in one month we could get in the kind of shape that teams who have been practicing and have been on the track all season are in, but luckily we have a ton of players who just like to run. At the point where we are, with the majority of us having played ultimate for 10+ years, you don’t really need to practice anymore, just set up a basic structure and go. That being said, there were times at Regionals when it was difficult without that structure to fall back on, so we’ll see how we do in Sarasota.
Tell us about your roster. Who should we look out for?
Chelsea: Pretty much everyone on our team has played high level open and women’s ultimate on either Rhino or Schwa. Individually, if you’ve been playing ultimate for the last 10 years, at least in Oregon, you should know our team. Doug McKenzie, Aaron Richards, Brian Henrickson, and Adam Ferrea. All four would be able to match up in the elite Open games on some of the best players, but people don’t know who they are. Aaron Richards is probably the best not-known player that exists. He’s sort of like Beau, he’s strong and athletic, really good in the air, really fast. He dominates. The same could be said for Brian. Eli Janin actually picked up the weekend before Sectionals after getting cut from Revolver, and has become a huge cog in the offense. We only have 8 girls, but if you don’t know who Val Hamm or Nora Brodnicki are then you haven’t had the struggle of them defending you. Fierce is the word for these two studs. At sectionals, Nora had a nasty collision with a guy and she bounced up off the ground before he did. I mean, the average age of our roster is probably 33. We’re just all people from Oregon who love to compete and are friends regardless of what happens on the field.
Did Wolverines have a coach, or someone who wasn’t playing making strategic calls?
Chelsea: We don’t have a coach, and whatever strategy we do have is decided mainly by Chris Talarico and Paterson Seaton. They are our awesome captains, and both happen to be ridiculously good players. The three of us have been talking about putting this team together for years. I think we’re different than what a typical team will be like, mostly because the majority of the Wolverines haven’t been playing club for anywhere from 2-5 years. As far as playing time goes or calling lines, at Regionals, we didn’t talk subbing strategy, but occasionally if we threw a zone we’d call some specific people on.
How did you feel going into Regionals?
Chelsea: We were ranked third going in, and feeling confident. We wanted to make it to Nationals, but didn’t necessarily think we’d win the region. But we really clicked as a team, and got lucky with having good weather, which is not typically true of Burlington in October.
Does being an unknown team give you an advantage?
Chelsea: Yeah. It was nice going into Regionals because other teams didn’t know who we were. I think not having been a team before this year, we didn’t have the pressure of expectations. It is certainly easier to play to win than to play not to lose.
What is your opinion on the Polar Bears this year?
Chelsea: They are a great team, young and athletic. We had an awesome game with them on Saturday afternoon. I actually got the opportunity to commentate at last year’s finals, and I was extremely impressed with the Polar Bears. We were definitely pumped to play them. Any true competitor would want the opportunity to beat the National champs, and we brought it to another level in that game. Another great team was the [Mental Toss] Flycoons. They were super athletic and fun to play. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Skyla Sisco, who used to play in the WNBA, make sure you get a chance. She is a beast. We had a great game with them and basically traded points to 15-12.
So you’ve just qualified for the finals, are you going to the daiquiri deck?
Chelsea: [laughs] Well with this crew we will probably be playing soccer on the beach and making fun of each other. I’ll tell you this, we are going to take care of business and then enjoy ourselves.