by: Ashley Ngu & Kevin Zhang
What began two years ago as a casual gathering of frisbee enthusiasts and friends has transformed into a competitive ultimate frisbee team which competed in two major interstate tournaments.
Led by senior captains Nathan White, Michael Norcia and David Hwang, the student-run team, Team Rocket, has been successful in maintaining a winning record. “We don’t have an official record because we’ve played a lot of college teams that we shouldn’t have played and we’ve lost some against them, won some,” Norcia said. “I would estimate that our record against high school teams is about 13-1.”
The only loss was to their main rival, the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC) team. “Considering they’re a small charter school whose only school sport is ultimate frisbee, have an official coach and their members mostly start playing in middle school, they should beat us dandily,” Norcia said. “We’re definitely going to put up a hell of a fight.”
The team also has two volunteer coaches, Stanford graduate students Thomas Callaghan and David Abram, who help players develop their skills. “They know their stuff backwards and forwards,” Norcia said. “Thomas is more of the coach-y type and David is more of a player, so combined, they make an awesome coaching team.”
In a recent tournament in Davis, Calif., the team won all seven of its games and placed first. “When they are in sync with each other, it’s a beautiful thing to watch,” Callaghan wrote in an e-mail. “You should come see it for yourself at States. I heard spectators during the semifinal game at the Davis Juniors Tournament describe their play as ‘poetry in motion.’”
Team Rocket placed seventh last year in the States competition, but has high expectations this time around. “Some players already had some experience at the start, and everyone who has come to practices and games has drastically improved,” Abram wrote in an e-mail. “They are now throwing confidently, playing solid defense and looking more experienced than many college players and teams I have seen.” The States took place on Saturday and Sunday.
This is also the first year the squad has been invited to the UPA Western Championships, which will take place May 8 and 9 in Seattle. It is considered to be the top high school tournament of the year consisting of 15 other ultimate teams from six other states: Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Idaho, Missouri and Nebraska. “We’re going into that tournament with no real expectations of winning,” Norcia said. “I think the tournament is going to be a lot more fun than States because at Westerns, the teams are at a level of competition where if we lose, it’ll be a great learning experience anyways. If we lose to a team at States, it will be more disappointing.”
The unique peer-organized system of the team creates a friendlier and more relaxed atmosphere than most official school sports. “We’re like a family,” senior Johnny Lau said. “Everyone knows everyone else.” Callaghan agreed. “The team chemistry is great,” he wrote. “These kids are an absolute pleasure to coach. They are eager to learn, adjust well to feedback and play hard. They are very supportive of each other and cooperative in sharing insights and teaching each other. I love their playful and laid back yet competitive approach. It’s made coaching them very easy, except I don’t understand all their Pokemon references, but maybe that’s for the best.”
The team’s easygoing attitude is reflected in their team name. Last year, the team called themselves We Throw Frisbee, but changed their name to Team Rocket as part of an inside joke revolving around the Pokemon franchise. Following this theme, their uniforms consist of white t-shirts with a red “R” on the front in accordance with actual Team Rocket attire. On the back is a blacked picture of a Pikachu captured in a net.
Practice emphasizes scrimmages more than conditioning or drills. An average practice will consist of an hour of warm-ups and drills followed by an hour of scrimmages. Attendance at practices and games is completely voluntary; members are involved because they truly enjoy playing the sport and with the team. ”If there are people interested in joining, they should come out and try it out,” Norcia said. “If you are terrible at throwing, believe us, we’ve seen terrible throwers get dramatically better with practice. There are a wide variety of different levels of playing on the team so everyone is welcome.”