By Benjamin Ho
Photographs by James Hii and Benjamin Ho
I knew the ultimate frisbee team had been training hard. I didn’t know this personally – I had dropped out of training after the first one. It was through many small signs: my roommates in Frisbee leaving the room at about 5pm twice to thrice a week and coming back only after sunset, their white IFG shirts now streaked with brown. Every week, since the beginning of school, for a whole month.
Playing with a Frisbee might have began as a funny beach sport, a flying disc going wildly in all directions, but Ultimate (as their players call this competitive version) is no walk in the park. It is as close to intensity as HIIT runs – run up, stop if possession is lost, run back, stop, run, stop, run…my own experiences with playing Ultimate always leaves me breathless and panting. Yet it is not simply a game of fitness. For the raw beginner, getting the hang of throwing the frisbee straight – both the forehand and backhand – is the first challenge people must overcome. Then bring in the tactics and you’ve gone up another level. It is a game exhibiting pure athleticism and no lack of finesse.
USP’s Ultimate team has been traditionally quite strong, being a fairly popular sport, although it has always faced tough competition from other faculties. But this year, USP was going to field one of its strongest teams yet, with veterans in their final IFG: Yap Wei Chiang (team captain), Ng Pei Ling, John Leo Caines, and Isaac Yee eager for one last shot of glory, and more youthful Year 2s with prior experience Wenhao Aw, Brandon Lee, Kellie Chua, Low Joo Tat, Yang Xiaozhou, and Josephine Ng, ready to try again. Rounding off the team were newcomers to competitive IFG Frisbee Chester Gan, Edna Chai, Yap Wei Ying, and Clement Chung, who, judging by their skill on game day, definitely trained hard to get up to speed with the rest. The USP Ultimate team had never been more ready.
While I was studying in my room, I heard the news that USP had advanced to the semifinals, having won four matches out of five in the group stage. It was a good omen; I walked down to the SRC fields with a couple of other supporters, ready to see USP to the end. It was USP’s year for Ultimate victory; I could feel it.
I arrived to see USP just beginning their match with Medicine. It was a tough fight, but despite USP’s initial best efforts and constant rotation of their offense and defense lines, Medicine started to pull ahead through extremely tight marking and successful interceptions. When the whistle blew, it was Medicine who would advance to the finals with a decisive victory of 7-1.
However, the atmosphere at the end was cordial. It appears that spirit circles had become custom at the end of each match, as USP and Med formed a ring, shoulders over their erstwhile opponents, the captains of each team taking turns to praise the other team in a warm gesture of sportsmanship. As a Medicine player later told me, ‘USP plays with a lot of heart’.
USP was now going into the 3rd place match against FASS; no medal guaranteed.
It was not going to be an easy match. It was clear after the first few plays that FASS was a technically skilled team, on par with USP’s own. There were frequent interceptions, and USP’s substitutions now mixed members from the offense and defense lines between points. Points were tightly traded as each team defended and attacked with equal ferocity. However, there was a clear difference between the spirit of the two teams. USP players on the sidelines would cheer loudly, shouting advice without losing their cool. The FASS players on the side swore at every mistake they players made, displaying their anger clearly and strongly.
As the match headed into extra time with 4-4, it became clear that whoever won the last point would go home with the bronze medal.
While USP and Arts battled, a cheer erupted from the neighbouring field. Medicine had won Engineering by a landslide 7-2. The victors of Ultimate IFG had been decided. But who would win 3rd?
The stakes were high, and every small mistake would have greater ramifications for the final result. At one crucial moment, an FASS player had successfully broken free of her markers and was going to catch the disc in the endzone. Victory looked imminent for Arts.
But she fumbled, and the disc dropped to the ground. There was a collective sigh of relief from the USP sidelines, while an FASS spectator emphatically threw his water bottle onto the ground, cursing the heavens.
With some frantic hope, a USP player hucked the disc all the way to the endzone. But the pass was not completed as the disc fell to the grass. Victory was not to be, not yet.
It took a second try by Wei Chiang into the endzone, where by serendipity, and under hot pursuit from two greenshirts, his sister Wei Ying grabbed the winning disc. And that was it. The USP spectators flooded the pitch, shouting and laughing and crying. USP Ultimate had won its first medal since it became mixed sport at IFG. Following in the golden trail of the table tennis team, the Ultimate team also seized their hard-won place in our history.