The Carleton College men’s Ultimate team has been a fixture at the Division-I national tournament for decades but never has it entered the tournament under the conditions it did this past weekend.
When the team, commonly referred to as CUT, lost three of its members Feb. 28 in an auto collision it brought a close-knit group closer as it collectively grieved the loss of James Adams, Paxton Harvieux and Michael Goodgame.
Ultimate brought them together initially and helped heal the team.
“As soon as that happened our focus was on taking care of ourselves and each other,” team member Alex Trautman said. “We really stopped focusing on playing Frisbee, we started focusing on having fun with it.”
Adams, Harvieux, Goodgame, along with teammate Conor Eckert and friend of the players William Sparks, were on their way to the airport to catch a flight for a tournament at Stanford University in California that weekend. Sparks and Eckert were injured in the crash.
“We decided to keep pushing ourselves and each other,” Trautman said. “That’s what brought us all together. It was about a week before we practiced together again. Everything we were doing during the day after it happened it was tremendously emotionally exhausting.”
The team met frequently in the aftermath and openly discussed its grief as it tried to cope with the loss. The game helped ease the transition because it brought joy.
“We realized afterwards what we love to do is go out and play Frisbee,” Trautman said. “We know that when we’re having fun we’re playing our best. It’s a great coincidence that that leads to success on the field.”
Success didn’t come initially. CUT went 0-5 in its first tournament after the deaths of its three teammates, but there were encouraging signs. CUT lost 14-12 to Michigan in its first game and had a chance to go up 13-12 in the game. Michigan went on to win the tournament.
“All that time previous was kind of spent surviving, really,” CUT coach Phil Bowen said. “It was new territory for everyone. Playing Ultimate was no longer the first priority on anyone’s mind. Getting back to that tournament, there was never a doubt that we would continue playing, there was discussion, but it was a very short discussion on how we would continue.”
The team’s chances of qualifying for the national championship appeared tenuous as it entered the regional tournament. CUT has reached the national tournament every year since 1990, except 2006. CUT won national championships in 2001, 2009 and 2011. The team reached the semifinals from 2008-13 and finished third last season. Its success has established the team as a nationally-recognized program in spite of being one of the smallest schools at nationals.
But after a season of tragedy, CUT entered the regional tournament as the fifth-ranked team and came in with some momentum after going 4-1 at the conference championships. Only the top two teams qualified for nationals out of the region and CUT needed to beat opponents it hadn’t earlier in the season. The team needed to defeat the University of Minnesota twice to qualify for nationals and had previously lost to Minnesota in the conference championships. CUT lost in the finals against the University of Wisconsin, but needed to beat Minnesota again to secure a spot in nationals.
“There were probably plenty of people who didn’t expect us to be at nationals,” Bowen said.
CUT entered the national tournament ranked 16th out of 20 teams, but its reputation as a powerhouse and a team that peaks at nationals became evident in pool play. CUT went 3-1 in pool play and defeated two opponents ranked in the top 10.
Carleton defeated fifth-ranked North Carolina-Wilmington 15-13 in the opening game Friday in Mason, Ohio. Natan Lee-Engel scored four times and added an assist. Jesse Bolton scored twice, along with Sef Van Kan and Eli Miller. Galen Ryan and Nick Petru had three assists each.
Carleton went on to knock off ninth-ranked Florida in the second game of the day behind Tyler Mahony three goals. Mahony had two assists while Van Kan scored twice and had an assist. Lee-Engel scored twice and assisted on another goal. Ben Caffrey had four assists as well.
Carleton defeated 20th-ranked Rutgers 15-14 behind four goals from Lee-Engel. Alex Trautman, Kenneth Justin Lim and Simon Johansen each had two goals apiece.
Carleton fell 15-13 in its final pool play game to fourth-ranked Oregon. Ryan had four goals and an assist and Benjamin Caffrey scored three goals and had five assists. Justin Lim scored three times as well.
Both Trautman and Bowen said the team played its best game of the season against Oregon.
In the championship bracket Carleton lost to 12th-ranked Wisconsin 15-7 to end its tournament run.
“It was definitely a different year because we were especially honored to be at nationals and proud of ourselves making it that far,” Trautman said. “Nationals were a time to celebrate the team.”
CUT received an outpouring of support from the Ultimate community throughout the season from opponents and at nationals there was a moment of silence prior to the championship game to memorialize the team’s members who died.
Teams across the region produced a video tribute to CUT following the loss of their teammates where each team read a line of a poem dedicated to CUT. The support extended beyond current players as well with former players of opposing teams expressing their condolences and praise of how members of CUT have conducted themselves on the field throughout the years. Teams sent signed Frisbees expressing their condolences and the St. Olaf team sent a note to support the team through the trying time.
“The amount of support that came from the Ultimate community was pretty amazing,” Trautman said. “Since Ultimate is kind of a fringe sport, it’s definitely a tighter community.”
Carleton women’s team feels loss too, reaches quarterfinals at nationals
The women’s team, Syzygy, experienced the effects of the men’s team loss throughout the season as well and reached the national tournament.
“The impact is going to be different, but the teams are very close,” Carleton coach Megan Molteni said. “I would say we lost a good month and a half of our season because the right thing to do wasn’t going out to practice.”
Syzygy also had the Stanford Invite on its schedule prior to the accident, but dropped the tournament as it shifted its priorities.
“For a long time we were kind of in a crisis management mode,” Molteni said. “My first priority as a coach and older person was making sure they had a sense of what they’re priorities should be. The thing for many of them it was impossible to go to class and open a textbook.”
The team and sport also provided a foundation to help through the grieving process for Syzygy.
“For many of them having the support network of Frisbee was very instrumental in helping them find a way through,” Molteni said.
Sixth-ranked Carleton finished 2-2 in pool play at nationals and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 15-13 victory over Tufts, but fell 15-9 against eventual champion Ohio State.
The sixth-ranked Carleton College women’s Ultimate team went 1-1 in pool play Friday with a 15-10 victory over Northeastern and lost 15-9 to Central Florida to open the tournament.
Emily Buckner scored four times and had two assists while Ahna Weeks scored twice. Julia Snyder scored once and had seven assists against Northeastern. Arielle Koshkin also twice for Syzygy while Leah Cromer, Buckner, Caroline Sheffield, Julia Snyder and Sarah Robinson each had a goal.
Carleton beat 19th-ranked Colorado 15-9 on Saturday with Koshkin scoring three times. Cromer and Sheffield added two goals apiece while seven others tallied a goal. Syzygy lost 15-12 to British Columbia in its final pool play game. Emma Nicosia scored four times and Bri Rick had three goals. Snyder added two.
Three teams advanced to bracket play from Carleton’s pool. Syzygy opened bracket play with a 15-13 victory over Tufts with Nicosia scoring four times. Weeks tallied three goals while Koshkin and Rick each scored twice.
Carleton fell in the quarterfinals 15-9 to eventual champion and No. 1-ranked Ohio State. Buckner, Nicosia, Snyder and Robinson had two goals each in the season-ending loss.
Syzygy has an illustrious history of making national tournament appearances and claimed a title in 2000. It first played in the tournament 25 years ago and has only missed the tournament once, in 2004, in that time.
Carleton’s region only received one bid from regionals for the national tournament this season and needed to beat Iowa State 15-11 in order to qualify. Syzygy went 5-0 in pool play as the top-ranked team.
“There’s kind of a Carleton mystique of how we can continue to be so dominant with drawing from such a small pool,” Molteni said.