By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
The sanctioned regular season schedule for USA Ultimate is one of the shorter ones on the map. Running from January through March, with postseason tournaments in April and May, every game on the calendar matters toward the end-of-season ranking.
Before the season even begins, what potentially is even more significant is the time spent in the summer and fall months. For a young program like Grand Canyon University Ultimate Frisbee, the importance of preseason fall tournaments doesn’t go unnoticed. With several newcomers on the roster, the exposure that can be had from such a tournament can be a major difference when it comes time to each match finally counting.
It was no different at the Plan B Tournament in Tucson last week, where the Lopes’ first-year players proved to be the biggest highlight of the weekend.
“The biggest thing that we saw was the composure of all the rookies,” junior team captain Micah Gross said. “Some of them had the best completion percentages, most assists on the team, or others making really big plays for us. Playing time was split up pretty evenly, but when the rookies had their chance, they played phenomenally.”
Seven games were scheduled for the tournament – four on Saturday and three on Sunday – but the final two on Sunday were canceled due to stormy weather conditions. Nonetheless, the games before then gave the freshmen-and the team as a whole-valuable experience. In the five games played, the Lopes won and tied once, while falling in the other three. But in those three losses, GCU’s deficit was only two points on average.
In the lone win – 9-5 over Arizona State University – seven different players scored for the Lopes, and the freshman served as a focal point. Junior cutter Josh Walsh and freshman cutter Rhet McCullough each scored twice, while freshman handler Aaron Nunn led with three assists. In a 10-9 loss against University of New Mexico, Nunn also led with four assists and 13 completed passes.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I came in on the team, but what I saw, I liked,” Nunn said. “We all just connect really well, and we all have the same goal in mind. We all push each other to be better.”
So far, the freshman have already played a big role in the increase in talent. Looking back to last year’s Plan B Tournament, GCU lost all seven games they played. This year, the captains and team have already seen a different story with how much the team has improved.
“The growth between last year’s Plan B to this year is really hard to quantify,” senior team captain Adam Barth said. “We had a pretty good season last year, but this year’s Plan B squad could easily beat the team we had at sectionals last year.”
Just because these games don’t count toward any overall record does not mean the games aren’t taken seriously. In the weeks leading up to the tournament, the expectations were simply to get better as a team. With the Plan B Tournament being the first full weekend with all returners and freshmen together in competitive matches outside of practices, no one on the team truly knew what would be the biggest takeaway from the tournament. Even without multiple victories, the team is still able to call the weekend a success.
“This year is the biggest year as far as keeping the most returners on the team,” junior cutter Austin Anderson said. “We knew what each of our skills were and what we need to compete based on what we had, but our expectations changed because our rookie class was so good. They’re amazing already in their growth, so our expectations are even higher than what they were.”