For the first time in nine years, Nietzsch Factor (NF), the men’s Ultimate Frisbee team, attended the 2021 USA Ultimate College Championships tournament, also known as Nationals, in Norco, California. The tournament ran from Friday, Dec. 17 through Monday, Dec. 20, and the team placed 15th out of 16 teams in the D-III men’s division. The tournament featured 72 teams across four separate divisions. As expected, the competition was incredibly stiff.
“We were very much in it and I think we were pretty happy with the way we were able to perform there,” NF Captain Matt “Doug” Beetham ’22 said. “Having not seen a level of competition like that ever, none of us have played against something like that. So it was a cool experience to see that we could actually hold our own there.”
The fall 2021 season was unconventional for the sport. Traditionally, Nationals are only conducted in the spring season, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there could be no Nationals in 2020. Instead, USA Ultimate, a central hub of college ultimate frisbee, postponed what would have been the 2020 spring national championship to fall 2021.
“It wasn’t a tournament that we were going into trying to win necessarily,” NF Captain Sam Harris ’23 said. “We were trying to get as far as we could, and we were trying to play well and make sure everyone got the experience of doing it more than anything else.”
For Judah Hoffenberg ’25, who is new to ultimate frisbee at Wesleyan, one of the best parts of the Nationals experience and the fall season was the community that NF was able to cultivate regardless of experience with the team.
“There weren’t a lot of things that I was specifically looking forward to going into college, and this kind of came out of left field,” Hoffenberg said. “I knew I was gonna play ultimate, but I didn’t realize that I could forge somewhat of a brotherhood with the people I was playing ultimate with, and I had no idea that we were good enough to go to nationals.”
According to Hoffenberg, NF hit the ground running at the beginning of the fall season.
“Those of us freshmen who showed up the first week, it was a dive into the deep end for better or for worse,” Hoffenberg said. “It was maybe a month of getting familiar with the game, but once sectionals even hit, it was time to take it seriously…and it was really nice, even if I didn’t get a lot of playing time at nationals or regionals, to see our work materialize into a real achievement.”
NF’s season started in Sectionals, where they competed against Vassar and Connecticut College for two bid spots for Regionals. They were able to clinch a bid to Regionals alongside Vassar.
NF qualified for Nationals after a breathtaking performance during Regionals earlier in the fall semester. Despite being two captains down and losing their first game, NF rebounded to steamroll the rest of their competition, including the No. 1 team in the region, Colgate University, in an impressive 15–3 win. Ultimately, NF earned the second place bid, with the first place bid going to the University of Rochester, scoring both teams a trip to California.
“There’s a lot of parts that are crazy about it, especially given that in the 2020 season that got cut short…we were very good that year,” Harris said. “That was, in theory, the spring 2021 season, and we started off the season by saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if we went to nationals in the middle of December, in California,’ and then we ended up taking pretty much every form of transport possible to get there. It was so much fun to actually be able to go out there.”
To the team, this in-joke only made NF’s Nationals run that much better. According to Beetham, one of the best parts about the Nationals run was that it had been a long time since NF had the opportunity to make it to the tournament.
“I think one of the coolest parts about being able to go is that the team hasn’t gone for a long time, I think it was 2013, so it’s been nine years,” Beetham said. “Before that we hadn’t gone many times at all, so it was a cool experience to be able to almost feel like the tradition of older people being passed down to us. We were kind of lucky to be in that position to be those people who go.”
Former NF Captain Jack Kwon ’21 MA ’22 described the California trip as a nerve-wracking but great experience.
“We had very high expectations because we played really well in regionals, and I think we just got very nervous, making uncharacteristic plays,” Kwon said. “But I’m still proud. We made it to Nationals, so it was really fun. We had a couple of good days with each other.”
At the end of the day, members of NF greatly enjoyed the Nationals experience.
“This is very serious to a lot of people and it’s something that if you do take it seriously, it can pay great dividends,” Hoffenberg said. “Part of that is now that we’ve seen what the best have to offer and seen that we can compete with the best. It’s inspiring to know that we are that good and we’re not just good in our minds…we can be good against anyone.”
However, attending Nationals is no easy feat. To raise money for the cost of the trip, which included travel, rooming, and individual player fees, members of NF leadership across different class years got together and brainstormed possible ways to fundraise, culminating in a GoFundMe page.
“We’ve been working with the WSA a lot in terms of resources because of uniforms and USAU memberships, so we didn’t think they were going to be like ‘Yeah, you can totally have $17,000 to go across the country to play Frisbee,’” Harris said. “I think a couple of us were looking at other team’s GoFundMes, because it’s apparently a pretty common thing. A bunch of D-I programs and a bunch of D-III programs had stuff up.”
The GoFundMe page launched after NF had their incredible Regionals experience, meeting their $20,000 goal after receiving a number of donations from many notable alumni.
“We had to raise 20 grand and I was like, ‘that’s just so much money,’” Kwon said. “We organized the GoFundMe and we sent it out to the NF [email list] which has like a bunch of alumni or people who used to be on the team. There were a lot of donors with surprisingly writing nice captions about how they used to play for the team, and it worked out. The number of donations was very surprising to me.”
To Adam Sussbauer ’24, the pace and scale to which NF was able to raise this money is a testament to their vast alumni network and support from the University, including President Michael Roth ’78. Sussbauer also praised the captains for their ability to organize such an endeavor.
“I don’t know how our captains managed to do this,” Sussbauer said. “The wizardry behind getting college students to California was insane.”
NF Captain Ben “Willy” Rubel ’22 underscored that it was a collective effort rather than a responsibility that fell on the team’s leaders.
“The years we’ve been here and at least one year before I and [Beetham] were here, we’ve come very close to making it to Nationals, and so…it was more than just us this year,” Rubel said.
With this combined success on and off the field, NF is looking forward to starting their spring season on the right foot, with an eye already zoomed in on their second appearance at Nationals this academic year. Unlike the fall 2021 tournament, the spring 2022 tournament was not postponed and is set to take place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin towards the end of May.
“We want to go back and do better than we had,” Beetham said. “All we can hope to do is improve on what we did last time.”
Hoffenberg echoed Beetham’s sentiments, emphasizing that all members of NF, regardless of experience level on the team, are pumped for a great upcoming season.
“I think we came back with a renewed excitement,” Hoffenberg said. “We know how good we are and we know that we can get even better, and it’s not just the best of the best players and the captains who are coming into workouts with enthusiasm, but myself, a lot of other freshmen who maybe didn’t get that much playing time in the fall, but still are excited about ultimate and know that that playing time is out there for us to get…I really can have it if I want it, and I want it.”
In the off-season, NF runs workout pods where members of the team go to the gym and work out with one another, tailoring their conditioning to frisbee play. In addition, some members of NF are participating in a Winter League in North Branford, where they are able to play with local frisbee players in indoor, low-pressure games.
Both the Winter League and pod workouts are designed to condition NF towards a Nationals run. For Kwon, however, there’s more to frisbee play and a strong team than an appearance at Nationals.
“One thing I hope to see this spring, and I don’t really care if we make it to nationals, is I want to see how we played like we did at Regionals,” Kwon said. “That was one of our best performances of the team: playing really well, not making any fundamental mistakes, and just being the best that we could.”
Kwon has credited NF as being a major part of his life at Wesleyan. He emphasized that, regardless of how well NF does in any given season, he hopes that NF continues to be valued space and community within Wesleyan’s campus, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“NF has been like a huge part of my undergrad experience and I hope COVID doesn’t make this team any less than what it used to be,” Kwon said. “I know we used to meet outside of school and things a lot. It was a time where I could just destress from doing all the studying and the research that I do. And that was literally it my [first] year: it was studying and going to NF hangouts or playing Frisbee. I wish that that experience is always there for someone like me when they enter their [first] year.”
Oliver Cope can be reached at email@example.com.