By BJ Mcgrane
Assistant Sports Editor
With ultimate frisbee having less popularity than sports like football or basketball, there is a short list of opportunities for pre-collegiate students to play. However, that does not get in the way of individuals with a love for the sport.
Current captain of the men’s club ultimate frisbee team at the College and senior interdisciplinary business major Matt Mancuso helped add to the short list of frisbee teams almost a decade ago.
“I was [part] of a group that formed [a team] my freshman year of high school,” he said.
Mancuso, a 2018 graduate of Northern Valley Demarest High School in Demarest N.J., said the group of players who helped create the team were not just at his alma mater, but from surrounding schools as well.
The “Northern Valley Coalition,” as it was called, played largely “for fun” throughout Mancuso’s earlier years of high school. As time went on, the team increased its competitive nature.
“In my sophomore year of high school, we made it into more of a team, [and] we went to our first competition,” Mancuso said. “Senior year, … we did even more competitions.”
Mancuso is not the only founding member of the Northern Valley Coalition to pursue ultimate frisbee at the collegiate level, as some of his former teammates continued their careers at Brown University, Binghamton University and University of Pittsburgh. Mancuso, however, has been focused on bringing his talents to the College.
Being in the minority of players who join the team with prior experience in ultimate frisbee, Mancuso did not have to learn the ins and outs of the game like some other students do when they sign up for the team at the College.
“It’s definitely helpful to know the motions of the game,” he said.
Although it may seem difficult to learn a completely new sport as the season gets underway, Brian Nigro, a junior management major, says it has not been difficult to get new players right into the thick of things when it comes to competition.
“There is not really a lot of difficulty in getting the rookies to understand [ultimate frisbee] quickly,” said Nigro. “It’s a lot like football, so when we teach them, we use analogies like that.”
Nigro has now become a veteran of the team. He has taken on the role of getting new players acclimated to the team, as well as the sport in general.
“We try to teach [freshmen] the basics [in] the first couple practices,” he said. “We don’t go too hard the first couple practices because we don’t want to drive them away. So we keep it laid back, we teach them the basics of the game, scrimmage a little bit.”
Junior psychology major Tyler Hallowell also places importance on keeping a laid-back, yet focused environment at practices.
“We all just try to help out where we can,” Hallowell said. “[We try to] keep people motivated, [and] make sure everyone is having fun because that is the most important thing. If they’re having fun they’re gonna learn, and they’re going to keep coming back.”
Hallowell joined the team after speaking to some of the members of the team at the College’s involvement fair — an event in which students can exercise their curiosity by speaking with members of different clubs on campus.
Both Hallowell and Nigro joined the team by showing interest at the fair.
“I would have never seen myself playing ultimate frisbee until I got to college and one of the captains of the ultimate frisbee team was at the club fair and [said] ‘Hey, come play ultimate frisbee,’” Nigro said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting into because I didn’t know a lot about the sport.”
Nigro says part of the reason he picked up ultimate frisbee has to do with the relaxed “vibe” of the team. This type of attitude is part of what makes the sport special, as ultimate frisbee does not feature an essential facet of sports – a referee.
That’s right. In a sport that Nigro describes as similar to football, how is it possible that the game does not result in chaos when there are no officials to keep things under control?
Well, the answer goes right back to what Nigro preaches – the attitude of the players.
“Ultimate frisbee college players pride themselves on the fact that there [are] no referees,” Nigro said. “We encourage discussion [amongst] each other on the field when something [controversial] happens.”
The sport’s ability able to continue while enduring the lack of a referee speaks to the laid-back yet passionate attitude of the players, something that multiple members of the team are proud of.
Much of this attitude comes from the top, as Mancuso sees keeping up the spirits of his players as one of his responsibilities as the man leading the charge.
“[Responsibilities include] being welcoming, always making sure people are having a good time, [and] always making sure they’re learning,” he said.
Even though the captain wants to ensure his players have their spirits up, he does not lose focus of the task at hand, staying diligent at practice.
“During the busy times I’m putting in 15 to 20 hours a week,” Mancuso said.
Outside of practice and competition, the team has no problem getting along and building their team chemistry off the field.
“We’re a tight-knit group, but we’re also competitive. It’s a nice balance between those two,” Nigro said. “It’s not like a hardcore sports ‘jock’ environment.”
Hallowell shares this sentiment, as he says ultimate frisbee has all of the aspects he would look for in a club.
Similar to the rest of the world, the ultimate frisbee team was unable to compete for an extended period of time due to Covid-19. While the team usually has its season during the spring semester, it is in the midst of a fall season to make up for lost time as a result of the pandemic.
In the club’s first tournament this season, the team had a record of 5-1, coming home with second place overall. Mancuso’s takeaway from the tournament goes deeper than just the team’s play on the field, as he took note of the team chemistry as well.
“We have massive energy at the tournament. I think that’s one of our team’s biggest strengths right now,” Mancuso said. “The ability for everyone just to come together.”
After a one-point loss to Stevens Institute of Technology in the sectional tournament, the team’s season appeared to be over. But after an unforeseen change in circumstances, the team will still have an opportunity to compete in the regional tournament.
For Hallowell, the team has been more than just a hobby. He sees the team as his home away from home.
“These are my people,” Hallowell said. “This is my family. Without frisbee, I don’t know where I’d be on campus.”