The news group rec.sport.disc remains the online gathering place of choice for the ultimate Frisbee community. Born in the Usenet era, the message board lives on via Google Groups, where it's followed by the nation's best players and geriatric summer leaguers alike. Anyone who's anyone in the ultimate community has been praised - and probably trashed - somewhere on its threads.
This time of year, posters to rec.sport.disc are making predictions for the national championships and handicapping the competition for the Callahan Award, presented to college ultimate's outstanding player of the year in the men's and women's divisions.
"[Georgia Bosscher] was pulling the disc better than most dudes on Sunday and was making sick throws and catches all day," wrote one admirer. "I don't think [Courtney Kiesow] has dropped a disc. Ever. She was also killer as a popper breaking through Syzygy's zone. Really my only question is, who, between her and Georgia, gets the Callahan nomination?"
Bosscher and Kiesow are co-captains of Bella Donna, the UW-Madison women's ultimate team and alums of Madison's West and Memorial high schools, respectively. After beating the aforementioned Syzygy, Carleton College's team, to take the Central Regional championship, they will lead Bella Donna at the nationals in Boulder on Friday morning. They enter seeded sixth among 16 teams, but their goal is to win it all.
"Because we lost a lot of veteran players, we started this year hearing, 'This is going to be a rebuilding year for you guys,'" says Kiesow. "A bunch of the returning players sat down and said, 'No, that's not what this year's going to be.'"
The determination in Kiesow's voice hints at the focus and drive she shares with her teammates. It's a trait much in evidence at a Bella Donna scrimmage, as sharp instructions and shouts of support fill the damp spring air.
"It's becoming more of a sport than a hobby," says Kiesow. "Even the fashion has changed. It's gotten more intense athletically. We never used to have conditioning workouts; now we have two or three a week."
Part of that change is a product of seeing the success enjoyed by the Hodags, the UW-Madison men's club that won nationals in 2003 and again last year. Blowing the doors off teams from down south and out west that train all year, the Hodags have proved that superior conditioning and a commitment to building a cohesive team can make up for less-than-ideal conditions.
Like the Hodags, Bella Donna operates without a coach, relying instead on captains to enter the team in tournaments, make travel arrangements, run practices and set the tone. Reflects Kiesow, "There's something to be said for having your peers be the ones you listen to and who help you out on the field."
Bosscher, who played with the U.S. Junior team at the World Championships in 2006, adds that the need to initiate occasional difficult conversations with teammates has led to a mutually trusting team chemistry. That's valuable in a sport that relies more on flow and momentum than tightly regimented strategy and set plays.
"I feel like this is the closest team I've ever been on," she says. "This team is full of people you study with, people you walk places with and sign up for classes with. That really translates on the field when you have a team like that."
A good showing at nationals will bring more acclaim to Madison's ultimate scene, already viewed as one of the best in the country. With competitive teams at most city high schools and the Madison Ultimate Frisbee Association's summer league boasting 1,800 players, it's hard to imagine a city with more opportunities for ultimate players.
"Madison is special," says Kiesow, "especially among other cities in the Midwest."
But ultimate players still struggle to be respected as legitimate athletes on campus.
"You still get professors who, when I tell them I need to miss a class for an ultimate Frisbee tournament, will just kind of give me a dead stare," says Bosscher. "But then there are people who, when we're just throwing it around on Library Mall, will come up and ask us if we play for Bella Donna. They know the name of the team, which is pretty cool."