Illini men’s ultimate Frisbee just like any other sport

By Anthony Zilis

Combining agility, quickness, balance and all-around athletic ability, ultimate Frisbee can be as physically demanding as any other sport.

So it is understandable that when Joel Koehneman talks about the view of ultimate Frisbee as a “hippie sport,” there is obvious distaste in his voice. But in a sport that rarely gets attention, Koehneman, co-captain of the Illinois men’s ultimate Frisbee team and graduate student, said he knows that the reason for playing ultimate doesn’t have anything to do with the headlines or accolades players receive.

“You’ve just got to do it for yourself, really, and not worry about what other people think,” said Koehneman,

Others on the team share the same sentiment.

“When we’re out there competing … the players know that this is just as much a sport as anything else they’ve ever played,” said Pat Stephens, co-captain of the team along with Koehneman and fellow graduate student.

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    While Koehneman and Stephens said that while the game’s culture creates a negative stigma for the sport, some think that it may attract players.

    “I don’t think it’s that much different than other sports,” said Matt Stupca, adviser to the team and graduate student. “I think the counter-culture appeals to some people.”

    Koehneman and Stephens know that they have greater concerns than the view of the sport as a whole, as this season is quickly coming to its climax.

    The team came into the fall season ranked 15th in the nation by the Ultimate Players Association. Players hope to improve their ranking through strong showings at tournaments leading up to the UPA Series, in which the University club will compete against teams in its region in order to earn a spot in Ultimate College Nationals in Boulder, Colo.

    With a veteran-laden lineup, Koehneman said he thinks that the University club can do some major damage this spring. While winning Regionals is a goal that the team has set, Koehneman admits that he has his sights set a little bit higher.

    “Making Nationals is the number one goal and should be our goal every year,” Koehneman said.

    Stupca, who also plays for a Chicago-based ultimate club team, thinks that the team has what it takes to go all the way, and said that “if we play how we can play, we can accomplish anything.”

    But Stephens knows that the accomplishment of these goals will not come easily.

    “The biggest key to any team’s success is that you’re not going to win anything unless you go through a rigorous conditioning workout,” Stephens said. “You’ve got to have that group of guys that view it as a … real commitment and they want to get better every day.”

    With six underclassmen trying to work their way into the starting lineup, Stephens said that the way these youngsters will break into the lineup is by “proving that they can play defense.” These young players should be instrumental to the future of the team, as eight players on the team are in their final year.

    Stupca said that the team owes its development so far to captains Koehneman, Stephens and David Abram, calling their contributions to the team essential.

    Stephens said that the commitment of players to not only improve, but also to help others get better will be important to the success of the program both now and in the future.

    Although Koehneman and Stephens can move past the negative stigma that ultimate Frisbee holds, one might think that this lack of respect would become bothersome.

    Stephens has a different outlook.

    “We’re not playing to get respect,” Stephens said. “We’re playing because we love the game.”