UNC Darkside sets sights on chasing a championship
UNC is chasing a national championship.
This sentence could be copied into an article about almost any sports team on campus in any given year. But one of the teams most likely to win this year is one you may not be familiar with.
UNC Darkside, the men’s ultimate frisbee team, is a national powerhouse. Starting back in 2012, Darkside has qualified for nationals six years in a row, including a national championship victory in 2015. The first-years on that championship team are now seniors, and they know they only have one more shot at bringing home another title.
“Some things may not fall your way, but you have to play through adversity,” senior captain Nathan Kwon said. “It is about grit and heart and focus. I see us going all the way this year."
Last year Darkside thought they could do it, but they came up short. After a thrilling comeback victory in the quarterfinal against Wisconsin, Darkside lost a sizeable lead late to a tough-nosed UNC-Wilmington team. They don't want that to happen again.
“It really shows how much focus you need for a whole tournament,” Kwon said.
This year’s team looks poised to make another deep run. Along with a strong group of returning players, this year’s squad is bolstered by several stand-out first-years. Senior captain Matt Gouchoe-Hanas said he thinks the young talent might put this team over the top.
“We’re getting a lot of skilled players coming in, and the program has benefited greatly,” Gouchoe-Hanas said. “These guys are coming in and are ready to contribute right away.”
Liam Searles-Bohs is part of this year’s new coming class. He played in high school and was on the U20 Men’s Junior National Team that won the 2016 World Junior Ultimate Championships in Poland. He’s excited for the opportunity to put his talent on display this season.
“This team has a lot of big expectations,” Searles-Bohs said. “I knew that coming in, so right now I’m just trying to work really hard and do what I can to help the team.”
Darkside also has members who have played professionally. Sophomore Kai Marcus played for the Seattle Rainmakers but prefers Darkside's strong sense of community.
“This team has a lot of passion for the sport and a lot of love for each other,” Marcus said. “A lot more of the community comes from playing the sport, instead of trying to generate community purely for the sake of generating community. We struggle together to become better, and through that we become friends.”
In the past, Darkside has taken a lot of athletes with little ultimate experience and taught them how to play, but that's beginning to change. The team is getting more and more players with experience, especially from the Triangle area. Some players were even coached by members on the team.
"That’s been huge for the development of this team," senior captain Nick MacLeod said. "It’s allowed us to get more into the tactical side a lot earlier in the season.”
MacLeod said the team in recent years has been made up of speedy, undersized players, and equated the team’s style to a spread offense in football. The team has added some bigger players the last couple of years, and he thinks it makes a big difference.
“This year we have a lot of different qualities in players,” MacLeod said. “So that allows us to have more options in the way we play.”
A normal Darkside practice starts out with players stretching with bands and doing footwork drills on a step ladder. Little instruction is given and few words are spoken. After everyone is warmed up the team meets to discuss tactics and then puts those tactics into play with specific drills. Players are constantly talking with each other, making suggestions and offering constructive criticism.
“As a captain, that’s one of my favorite things to see,” Gouchoe-Hanas said. “When I don’t have to be the person going up to everyone giving them feedback, and they can do it for each other — that’s great for accountability and team culture.”
After drills are completed and strategies are discussed, the team breaks up and scrimmages for the rest of practice. Everyone gives their all, even if they aren’t on the field. Players on the sideline shouting to their teammates and offering encouragement.
“We’re an optimistic bunch,” Gouchoe-Hanas said. “We’re looking to the future and trying to build and get better, but at the same time we’re also here to have fun.”
Ultimate Frisbee is not an NCAA sport – Darkside’s league is governed by USA Ultimate. Players don’t receive scholarships and they certainly don't get the same attention as athletes playing traditional sports. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t just as passionate about what they do as any other student athlete attending the University of National Champions.
“At the end of the day, our goal is the same as any other team here,” MacLeod said. “We want to win a national championship.”