In a sport that has only recently gained national attention through ESPN’s SportsCenter Top Plays segment, ultimate frisbee has been played in Wilmington as far back as the late 1970s and early 80s.
With a growing popularity among the college-age population over the decades, the UNCW Seamen were formed in 1988. After years of success, the club team now has their eyes set on the Division I National Tournament in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 22-25.
“This year the Seamen go into nationals seeded fourth out of 20 teams and again feel great about their chances,” said Tully Beatty, who played for the UNCW club team and now serves as assistant coach. “The talk of a title has quieted down a bit after we finished second at regionals to North Carolina, but we like our chances as a four-seed.
“In the late 80s, the underground sport had become popular with small groups at UNCW and local Wilmingtonians attending Cape Fear Tech. In the late fall semester a few got together and pitched the idea to the sports club department and the spring semester of 1988 the sports club had its first official ultimate team.”
Like many club teams on campus, the group receives some funding from the sports club at the university, but most of their travel expenses are out of pocket and through a GoFundMe webpage, where alumni follow on Facebook and have been very generous since the team’s inception, according to Beatty.
Otherwise known as “ultimate,” ultimate frisbee is a limited-contact team field sports played with a flying disc. Points are scored by passing the disc to a teammate in the opposing end zone. Other basic rules imply that players must not take steps while holding the disc (that is, a player holding the disc must maintain a pivot) and interceptions and incomplete passes are turnovers.
While the Seamen have already had a number of successful seasons under their belts–including a national championship in 1993–this year, after losing to Florida on Jan. 25 at a tournament in Chapel Hill, the Seamen enjoyed a 23-game winning streak before losing to Pittsburgh at UNCW’s home tournament on March 29.
Since then, UNCW has won 12 of 13 games, securing the Carolina Conference, along with a second place finish at Atlantic Regionals, to clinch a spot at nationals.
“Basically through January and March teams schedule to play as many tournaments as they can throughout the country,” said Beatty. “A team can play up to seven games over a two-day weekend. At the end of the regular season, teams focus on the conferences and their regionals. Our conference is made up of North Carolina and South Carolina. Usually about 12 teams attend and the top five or six advance to regionals.”
With a region consisting of teams from the Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C., the number of teams to advance from regionals usually depends on what is called a size bid and a strength bid. Because of the competitive nature throughout the region, this year three teams will make the trip from Atlantic Region (UNC, UNCW and Maryland).
After beginning their spring season with two a day workouts and minicamp on frozen fields at Wrightsville Beach Park, the Seamen have emerged as one of the top teams across the nation this year and are excited about a rejuvenated club sport that lost some of its luster during the late 90s, early 2000s.
“In their third season of existence, the Seamen dominated their Mid-Atlantic region and brought a national championship home after defeating UC Santa Barbara,” added Beatty. “By the end of the decade, the program found itself falling apart and not able to compete with the bigger schools. In the early part of the 2000, the program did regroup with back-to-back trips to college championships in 2001 and 2002.
“We asked the team to come back to Wilmington early from break this year so we could get a head start on the earliest spring tournament we’ve played in a long while.”
Led by Connor Kline, Carlton Rouse, Cale Ward, Jack Williams and Charlie Lian, the Seamen have taken on some of the biggest universities in the nation, with a big weekend March 14-15 at the Centex Tournament in Austin, Texas.
“I wasn’t at Centex, but I had big worries about the team being able to compete there, said Beatty. “We ended up winning the tournament and no one gave us a close game.”
The Seamen will be joined by 20 teams representing 10 different regions at the national championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which begin Saturday.
Click here to vist the UNCW Seamen team page.