Michigan State Ultimate Rookies Are Learning And Succeeding In Real-Time

Nov 20, 2019

The club sport doesn’t rely on veteran players to stack the line-up, newcomers find their spots right away.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – It’s never easy being a rookie in a new sport. But for Michigan State’s Ultimate Frisbee team, it is commonplace for a bunch of rookies to be the heart of their line-up.

The fall season for women’s Ultimate Frisbee serves as preparation for the sanctioned tournaments in the spring. Fall is also a great time to throw the rookies in, and let them learn the game and up their skills.

The team at the regional tournament this past spring.
Credit Michigan State ultimate frisbee

“Both teams will throw all their rookies out on the field and kind of let them scramble all over the place,” said junior Maketa Mattimore, MSU’s Infamous Ultimate co-captain. “It’s fun for the vets to watch and sort of see what they do know.”

Team building exercises help the club build camaraderie during what can be a long and grueling season.

“It’s nice having people to look up to and not only that but people who aren’t afraid to help you,” said rookie Paige Schuster. “If during practice you’re messing up one of your throws, they don’t mind at all stopping the drill to show you what you’re doing wrong.”

Infamous Ultimate competed in its first fall tournament of the season, from Oct. 12-13, in Evansville, Indiana. The first true test of the season meant that MSU faced Purdue, Xavier, Kentucky, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Saint Louis University, University of Southern Indiana, and Olin Nazarene.

The club’s leadership came away impressed with the performance of the young players, as all of the team’s rookies scored at least once during the tournament.

“(The rookies) are learning ridiculously quickly this year, a lot of them are already very athletic which is very exciting to see,” Mattimore said. “They’re really just improving rapidly, almost all of them can throw long distance already.”

Head coach Ian Koskinen had a previous engagement and was not present for the team’s first tournament, but is optimistic seeing how newcomers are coming along in practice.

“From what I heard It was a very positive tournament, very encouraging,” Koskinen said. “Especially at the beginning of the season, just having good positive role models and encouragement not just from our captains but from our veteran players, you can develop a really good team that way.”

Horizontal stack offense, with three cutters. The X's denoted as "1" and "2" are cutting towards the handlers, and they are meant to receive the disk.
Credit Jack Kirwan

One of the biggest tasks for the team’s young players, before its next tournament on Nov. 9-10 in Cincinnati, will be their ability to succeed while performing more advanced offensive tactics.

So far, Infamous has utilized a vertical stack offense, which stacks the cutters in a vertical line down the field, leaving them to cut horizontally in order to create space from their defenders. This tactic can be useful in combating man defenses - but is virtually ineffective against a zone. The team will next look to implement a horizontal stack, a more challenging and efficient offensive formation meant to defeat zone defenses by moving defenders side to side, leaving soft spots in the zones for cutters to find.

Vertical stack is a vanilla scheme in nature, the cutters form a line vertically down the field and each player cuts horizontally in order with the cutter closest to the handler moving first.

Horizontal stack demands a greater onus for the team to work collectively, as each player needs to make precise cuts to find openings in zones and keep the offense moving down the field.

“Hopefully (the next tournament) will give them a chance to apply (horizontal) stack,” Mattimore said. “I’m sure they will pick it up within the next two practices, they’re doing amazing.”

Koskinen said what he would like to see the most in the next tournament is more related to effort than schematics.

Vertical stack offense, with offense denoted in blue and defense in red.
Credit Jack Kirwan

“I’m really hoping to see some intensity, we’ve had a couple of low intensity practices, we’ve been focusing a lot more on learning technique,” Koskinen said. “Usually after you square up against six or seven other teams, you’re going to have a better gauge on how hard you need to play.”

Koskinen is hopeful that the lessons learned through the squad’s first tournament can springboard it to a dominant performance the next time it competes.

“Hopefully coming into that we’ll be able to come out swinging and maybe we’ll go 6-1 or 7-0 in a tournament,” Koskinen said.