It was about 20 degrees in Northampton, Massachusetts on the morning of Saturday, November 11. With steady winds and the Oxbow Marina just next door, the conditions were hardly inspiring for a day of sports; and yet, thirty teams of college students from around the Northeast gathered on that day to take part in USA Ultimate’s first ever Mixed Regional tournament. This included St. Lawrence’s own Ruckus Bus.
The two-day event was the Bus’s first sanctioned tournament of the year, and it was quite the weekend. 14 members of the team traveled down to Massachusetts the Friday before, and some even left campus that Saturday morning, embarking on the six-hour drive before the sun had risen. Once everyone arrived, the team prepared for what would be their biggest test thus far.
“I had pretty high expectations going into this tournament,” Captain Helen Eifert ’18 said. “It was a really awesome opportunity to play a serious tournament as a mixed team- both men and women playing together- because that’s how our team thrives.”
Saturday started off with a hard-fought game against Brown, which Ruckus Bus eventually lost by two points. It was a tough loss to take early on in pool play, but optimism remained high among the group. Their next game was against Brandeis, a team which annually goes to Nationals and would eventually win the bracket at Regionals, and it was a much different showing. The Ruckus Bus struggled to stay with their opponents, who converted on nearly every opportunity they had to score. A weekend which had been filled with promise quickly felt bleak as the team began with an 0-2 record. However, things started to look up not long after. The Ruckus Bus came back to win the next two games, defeating Keene State and Skidmore and finished pool play with a 2-2 record.
On Sunday, bracket play began, meaning the margin for error had grown even smaller. One loss would be enough to ruin the team’s hopes of placing highly or winning. The Ruckus Bus entered the bracket as the sixth seed and began with a rematch against Brown. This time, however, the result would go in their favor, as the Bus won 15-11 to move on to the semifinals, where they prepared for another rematch, this time against Keene State. However, much like this first game of the day St. Lawrence would fall to the Owls, 12-7. Now, with a chance to secure third place in the bracket, the Ruckus Bus faced off against Wesleyan, a team they had played just one week before in Saratoga. Despite being physically and mentally drained from the weekend, the Ruckus Bus found a way to dig deep and secure the win, defeating Wesleyan 12-7.
“I think third place is a great win for us, even in the B bracket. We played a lot of really great games and learned and improved so much throughout the weekend,” Eifert commented. “I think we will continue to improve and place better in the future, and maybe eventually play and do well in the A bracket against D1 teams.”
Just a year ago, a showing like this from the Bus would have been unthinkable. Last year’s team struggled greatly throughout the season, and hardly found the success that this year’s group has seen.
“The biggest difference is everyone’s willingness to learn,” Captain Gordon “Hartel” Smith ’18 said. “Helen and I decided to run practices a bit differently this year, implementing drills for the first half hour. We were worried this would scare away potential members, but the opposite happened. Everyone was willing to do the drills and become better players, which benefitted the team immensely.”
Eifert also commented on the change, saying that “the biggest difference between this year’s team and last year’s is numbers and commitment.”
“This year, with a massive underclassmen showing, we have more players who are committed to the team than we’ve had in a while. On top of that, nearly all of our returners took their commitment to the sport to the next level and played high level ultimate over the summer, and that kind of experience and commitment is really showing this year,” Eifert added. “I want our team to continue growing and for people to become so passionate about the sport that they pursue it outside of the university setting.”
One of the biggest observations about this team is that a majority of the roster is made up of sophomores and first-year student. Many students who join the team have little experience with ultimate frisbee and come in not quite sure what to expect. Ned Hallahan ’21 describes his time the team to this point as a new and exciting opportunity,“I didn’t really know what was going on, but people were sending it left and right.”
Now, with the fall season in the rear view, the Ruckus Bus is preparing for the Spring Semester, when the season typically gets more serious. “For the rest of the year, our goal is to make it to Regionals, something the Ruckus Bus has never accomplished,” Smith said, referencing the impending playoff tournaments next semester. In Ultimate, there are three different tournaments for the playoff season: Sectionals, Regionals, and Nationals. For St. Lawrence to make it to Regionals, they would need to finish as one of the top five teams at their Sectional tournament, a task which seemed daunting early on but now feels more achievable.
“Of course, the biggest highlight of the Spring is our Spring Break trip. We’re always looking forward to spending a week together playing Ultimate and bonding,” Smith continued. Ruckus Bus will be continuing their yearly tradition of attending the High Tide tournament in South Carolina. The team spends a week there, playing three days of intense mixed Ultimate and spending the rest of their time relaxing and enjoying themselves at Myrtle Beach.
Come Sectionals, however, the Bus will need to split into a men’s and women’s team, which will present an issue to the team, as they have struggled to recruit women this year.
“Our women are our biggest strength as a mixed team, but we’re few in numbers” said Eifert. The team is always open to new players, whether they have any experience or not, and are open to hosting all-women clinics for anyone interested in joining if wanted.
With a promising end to the Fall season, and winter quickly approaching, the outlook for Ruckus Bus going forward is quite optimistic. This year’s group has grown as players and as a team, and they will be looking to continue their success once the snow has left campus. For now, though, it’s worth celebrating what they have achieved to this point. According to Nick Lynn ’19, “bronze has never tasted so good.”