By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
Outside of all the glitz, glamour and glaring temperatures, Las Vegas is known for one other thing: wind. With the city sitting deep within a valley, the blustery conditions can wreak havoc on patio furniture and Ultimate Frisbee discs alike. Grand Canyon University Ultimate Frisbee took strong note of the latter as they took part at Trouble In Vegas 2018. The Lopes went 2-4 overall, dropping their first three games, but finished strong with two wins in their last three.
Throughout it all, GCU had to fight with winds that were a decided factor in all the games played. Getting stronger as the day progressed, wind gusts reached as much as 30 miles per hour with an average wind speed of close to 20 mph.
The official weight of an Ultimate Frisbee is only 175 grams, so attempting or defending any deep throws made the weekend an adventure.
“Wind was easily the biggest factor for the whole weekend,” said Lopes’ Captain Micah Gross. “It really wasn’t until the second day where we started to click with the wind. But we can’t use that as an excuse because the other teams are still winning with the current conditions.”
Because of the light weight and gentle flight of a Frisbee, strong winds easily take the disc off course. Those conditions forced GCU and its opponents to play a different style, which resulted in a much different game plan. Zone defenses prevent shorter passes over the middle and force the opposition to throw over the top and downfield. While not playing or practicing as much against the zone so far this season, the Lopes found early success in the tournament hard to come by.
“We’ve had a serious team discussion before about being competitive, and not being complacent with losses,” Gross said. “We had a hard conversation about writing our losses off just because of the wind. We need to be much more competitive, and not use the wind as an excuse.”
GCU took defeats to Northern Arizona University, Pacific Lutheran University and University of California-San Diego to begin the four-game pool play, but finished the first day on Saturday with a 6-5 win over California State University-Fullerton.
The Lopes then took that increased effort and competitiveness into Sunday’s bracket round to defeat Colorado Mesa University, 13-3. GCU moved on to play Occidental University in the next round, but ultimately fell, 13-8.
“From the second we stepped on the field, everyone went 100 percent,” Lopes’ Captain Adam Barth said of Sunday’s games. “We tried to remind everyone throughout the games to not let up – even if we’re winning, we still play as hard as we can. We let little things back into our head [in the second game], but that effort was still there.”
Trouble In Vegas is normally one of the bigger tournaments across the USA Ultimate calendar, so the Lopes were able to see a large step up in competition. They will see that again as they move on to Sectionals in Albuquerque, New Mexico April 14 and 15. The Las Vegas tournament was another example of a “wake-up call” as Gross has stated before. For sectionals, it may be much of the same, but the Lopes know what they need to work on to continue making the improvement they’ve been seeing all year.
“We don’t want to start looking at anything new at this point,” Barth said. “We really need to nail down the fundamentals, and smooth out the little things. Everyone is starting to throw outside of practice, which is good to see.”
A highlight of the weekend came in the last game against Occidental when Barth scored what is known in Ultimate Frisbee as a Callahan. A rarity in the sport, this happens when the defender intercepts a pass in the opposing team’s end zone to earn the point.
Josh Walsh led the Lopes with 11 points scored over the weekend. Jacob Vangerpen had six, and Gross had five to go along with a team-high 12 assists.