Ultimate frisbee team wins national championship

Minnesota’s Grey Duck Ultimate Frisbee team won its first club championship in May.

Jack White

Two national titles have been claimed by Minnesota this year, and one came last month — by a team that isn’t even fully funded by the school. 

The University of Minnesota’s Division I ultimate Frisbee team, Grey Duck, defeated Harvard 15-12 in Raleigh, N.C., on May 30 to win its first national championship. 

“It was probably the best experience of my entire life,” said Grey Duck member Ben Jagt. “It was phenomenal to experience that with people I have been working with for the last nine months for that one goal and then to achieve it. … It was so exciting for us.”

Grey Duck entered the national tournament as the No. 4 seed with a 33-4 overall record during the season. The team went 2-2 in pool play before advancing to the championship bracket. 

Grey Duck upset No. 1 seed Massachusetts in the first round, and two subsequent wins over Colorado and Pittsburgh sent the team to the championship game, where Grey Duck defeated the Harvard Crimson. 

“I think that we knew we had a shot,” said team co-captain Soham Shah. “I mean, it’s still surprising to win, but we didn’t go from the 20th seed to win the tournament. When we came in, we had a goal to win, and we knew we had a shot at doing it, and in the end it just happened.”

The team came off of a successful regular season to advance to the national tournament. Grey Duck won three of its four regular season tournaments.

Though the University does not recognize ultimate Frisbee as a varsity sport, the team has no trouble recruiting talent. 

The team finds most of its recruits from inside Minnesota, which has the largest ultimate Frisbee high school league in the country. High school coaches often assist in the recruiting process by notifying college clubs of their top players who may also contribute to a team at the collegiate level.

“The three top freshman — we overheard from their high school coach or someone else that knows them,” said Grey Duck co-captain Wyatt Mekler.

While the University provides some funding, Grey Duck mostly relies on sponsorships to cover travel and operating expenses.

Each member of the 25-player roster was admitted to the University based on academic merit rather than athletic scholarship. Head coach Tallis Boyd is a former Grey Duck player and was the recipient of the 2016 Ultiworld College Men’s Coach of the Year.

The sport, simply known as “Ultimate” at the competitive level, combines the skills of soccer and football along with a unique system of self-officiating called “Spirit of the Game.” Grey Duck emphasizes conditioning due to the fast-paced nature of the game, often focusing on conditioning for an hour after regular practice has ended.

The team uses University facilities such as TCF Bank Stadium, the University Field House, the Sports Dome and Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex to practice.  

Ultimate has surged in popularity over the years. There are now more than 700 teams at the collegiate level. The national championship tournaments began being televised on ESPN3 and ESPNU in 2013. Grey Duck competes in the North Central Division, but travels across the country to play different schools in various tournaments. 

“Last year we played in Florida. The year before that we played in San Diego and Texas and Missouri, so there’s a lot of different tournaments that we go to,” Jagt said. “It’s pretty widespread.”

The team looks to capitalize on its success this season and make this national championship its first of many.

“We have a lot of returners and a lot of potential talent that’s coming up,” Mekler said. “With the chemistry in place and the potential of the new players put together, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen.”