Ultimate Frisbee: Monarch competing at a national level

  • COURTESY MONARCH ULTIMATE

    Monarch Ultimate's Will Minter stretches to make a fingertip catch.

  • COURTESY MONARCH ULTIMATE

    Monarch senior Sonia Szeton catches a Frisbee amongst a host of defenders at the Western Regional.

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Many have sauntered past an Ultimate Frisbee game, viewed the fervent Monarch athletes and wondered what the heck they were doing. Whatever it was, it appeared pretty exhilarating.

Casual onlookers probably didn’t realize that the Monarch team — and this applies to both genders, particularly the girls — is competing at a national level.

Granted, these athletes don’t receive the notoriety of the state-champion Monarch football team. To be truthful, they don’t even get the acclaim of the Monarch baseball team or girls basketball team, squads that were merely playoff participants. But amongst the circuit, the Monarch program is one to be respected and feared with one of the sport’s pioneers, Finlay Waugh, running the show.

“The sport is kind of addictive,” Waugh said. “We joke that all we have to do is get kids out for a practice or two and they’re hooked.”

Because the sport is not sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association and not considered mainstream, coverage is minimal for these squads. But that doesn’t mean athletes such as Ben Goossen and Cameron Waugh for the boys and Nhi Nguyen and Katie Ciaglo for the girls should be overlooked.

When it comes to Monarch and Ultimate Frisbee, this isn’t simply a tale of a try-hard group playing an alternate sport. This is a success story.

The Monarch girls won state with a perfect 14-0 record — their third straight state Colorado High School Ultimate League championship — then won the Western Regional in Corvallis, Ore. on Saturday, June 1 by knocking off a team from Roosevelt, Wash. 13-4. That capped a 7-0 weekend.

The girls’ only loss this season was in the Amherst (Mass.) Invitational in May, when they fell in the semifinals to Lower Merion (Penn.), the high school that produced NBA star Kobe Bryant. The boys also won the Colorado Ultimate League this season, taking the crown from defending-champion Fairview with a 15-12 championship win, and went on to place fifth at regionals. They fell by universe point (Ultimate’s version of sudden death) in the quarterfinals. Fairview also appeared in the regional and finished ninth.

In the fall, the genders team up for a “mixed” team. Monarch has won two of the past three championships in that, as well.

“I keep telling people that the success of the Monarch program — and it is a program, other schools have teams — is the focus on making it fun for the kids,” Finlay Waugh said. “We use the same intro every time we bring in new players. I tell them: ‘Three things. Have some fun. Learn some skills. Have some fun.’

“They chuckle because I said the same thing twice. But the point is, focus on fun and the kids come back. Then you have success on the field, you gain a reputation and you attract more kids.”

Waugh’s credentials don’t hurt, either. During the early waves of the sport in the 1970s, he founded Stanford’s program. He also won a national title with a Boston-based club team and represented USA’s world title team in Sweden in 1983. He is a candidate for the Ultimate Frisbee Hall of Fame.

Waugh has assembled a group of about a half dozen assistants who deftly help run the program, including girls top assistant Lauren Boyle and boys top assistant Brennan McMillan. The boys top division features 19 in-state teams while the girls field eight squads.

It is a double-edged sword that the sport is not sanctioned by CHSAA. On the positive side, Sunday is not a blackout day, nor do athletes have to attend a specific number of practices to compete. That allows programs to accommodate athletes who play other sports.

Conversely, no official school-attached crowns are awarded and on-the-fence athletes might opt for a sanctioned sport. Goossen and Cameron Waugh served as the boys co-captains, and Nguyen and Ciaglo shared the same designation for the girls. All four are seniors and will be moving on.

The sport perhaps most mimics football. Each cross of the goal line counts for one point, and while the athletes often interchange spots in the lineup, specific positions are labeled. A handler is most like a quarterback, one who possesses the sharpest throwing skills. Cutters are more like receivers, running routes and chewing up possession with receptions.

The 7-on-7 game is self-refereed, which encourages sportsmanship and accountability. One primary difference from football is that receivers cannot run after a catch and have 10 seconds to advance the Frisbee by throwing it.

“Like any sport, soccer, football or Ultimate Frisbee, the more reps you get in, the better your skill becomes over time,” Finlay Waugh said. “Having volunteer coaches really helps us, because for most practices, we have multiple coaches available. That’s been one of the big keys to our success.”

Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulWillis21