Lehlohonolo ‘Lucky’ Mosola is set to become the second South African to play in the American Ultimate Disc League. (The title of first went to Gavin Sing of the now defunct Seattle Raptors.)
Lucky was born to an American mother and South African father in Boston, Massachusetts. He moved to South Africa as an infant but returned to the States when he was four-years-old, where he has spent most of his life since.
It was in 2009 when Lucky first discovered ultimate, or like it was for so many of us – a form of ultimate. While in Mexico attending his Spanish language course for high school, his study group played in a park full of trees and a stone pathway. Scores were marked by catching the disc in the streets at either end and the only rule was that you couldn’t run with the disc.
Fast forward to 2015 and Lucky was selected to be part of something new: the first South African team to play at the U23 World Championships in London. The team was called the Wild Dogs and they were the start of his journey to the AUDL.
“In the lead up to U23 Worlds, I read online that there were two AUDL teams starting in Texas,” recalled the Ohio Wesleyan graduate.
“Reading that was the first time I seriously considered the possibility of trying to play professionally. I grew up in Texas, had friends living in Austin where one of the new teams was forming and was about to play for the SA U23 national team. With that in mind, I emailed the owner of the Austin Sol franchise to request information about trials and playing for the team.
“That really set the ball rolling. I was put in contact with one of the coaches, and found out the date of the trials as soon as it was released. After the success of U23 Worlds, [SA came sixth after wins over third seed Japan and fourth seed Ireland] I committed to moving back to the States so I could go to the trials, and even if I didn’t make it, play club in Austin so I could make the team the following year. Fortunately, I made the team and am now a player.”
Lucky is a great example of how size doesn’t matter. At 5ft 9in and 145 pounds, there isn’t a lot of him. With the likes of Matt Rehder, Beau Kittredge and Simon Higgins throwing their considerable height and mass around, one would be forgiven for thinking that there is no space for short folk at high level ultimate. But after months of training and sacrifice, Lucky punched above his weight and pushed his way into the Austin Sol squad.
“When the coach called to tell me I was on the team he mentioned that my speed, defence, work ethic and openness to coaching were what pushed me on to the team and made me valuable to them,” revealed Lucky.
“It is not without reason that these were the critical qualities. I personally have committed a lot to improving myself as an athlete and ultimate player. In university I trained with a weighted vest to increase my vertical. I used interval training to increase my speed and sprint endurance. I used protein powder and weightlifting to increase my upper-body mass so that I could handle harder contact and layouts.
“All this meant that when trials came, I was one of the fastest people there in the timed sprints and agility drills. In the full field scrimmage with AUDL referees, my mark never touched the disc more than once a point. In 1v1 drills, I was a tight and aggressive defender. Like all my teammates, it’s not just a single quality, but rather a combination of them that convinced the coaches I should make the team over other candidates.”
Michael Natenburg, Sol’s head coach, revealed that Lucky would form part of the teams’ cutters.
“The coach has designated me as a deep cutter,” added the 24-year-old.
“Given the size of the AUDL fields the hope is to use my speed to chase long throws down that no one else can catch. O-line and D-line haven’t been determined yet, but I highly expect I’ll be playing D-line.”
Lucky acknowledges that there will be quite a jump in the level of play from U23 Worlds, but also concedes that his experience with the South African team has undoubtedly been a stepping stone to the pinnacle of the sport.
“The AUDL will eclipse U23 Worlds in skill and competitiveness by a lot, but I don’t think I’d be on the Sol now without my experiences as a Wild Dog,” he admits.
“Playing with the Wild Dogs was the highest level of ultimate I have ever played…until trials for the Sol.
“The shift in difficulty and environment was noticeable, especially since it was trials. The play was more physical, fouls were harder but called less, the throws were harder, and the environment was a combination of camaraderie and cut-throat. What actually faces me on the field when the season starts is the best players and teams in the world, and trials was just a taste of what will come.
“While I’m used to being a major player on the teams I play for, I find myself on a team where I have some of the least high level competitive experience of anyone. The AUDL is the highest level of ultimate anywhere and everything I’ve done before pales in comparison.”
Austin Sol are the 26th franchise added to the AUDL and – along with the Dallas Roughnecks – will feature in their first pro season in 2016. Like Lucky, the Sol are hoping to punch above their relatively unknown weight.
“Our goal for the season is to finish top half of our region and make it to the playoffs,” continued Lucky.
“It’s still early, once we’ve been practising more we’ll have a better estimate of how well we can do.”
Whatever the outcome of the Sol’s debut season, you can be sure there are a whole host of South African’s hoping to see Lucky laying out on ESPN.