The West wanted in. They got in. And they kicked some ass.
That’s the story of the Manitoba Combines, a consortium of University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba athletes who managed to cobble together a team of frisbee fanatics just in time to win the Canadian University Ultimate Championships (CUUC) in mid-October.
“I think we took it as a source of pride to be the unknown underdogs and then to go in there and kick some ass and win,” said Joe Wasylycia-Leis, a U of W student who has been playing Ultimate for local teams since 2004.
The Manitoba Combines, who derive their name more so from the spirit of cooperation than from agricultural production, were the only team representing Western Canada at the CUUC, held in Waterloo, Ontario from October 14-16.
Over the course of three days, the team played nine games against their eastern rivals in challenging weather conditions, with severe rain and wind gusting up to 60 kilometres an hour.
The Combines only lost one game the entire weekend, in a close contest with Carleton University on the second day.
Eventually, however, they gained redemption by pummelling the Ottawa-based university in a vengeful semi-final match.
“We destroyed their fields,” said Wasylycia-Leis of the muddy and rain-soaked fields, adding that the Carleton win is rivalled only by the final, championship match against Queen’s University.
Due to much clearer weather, the two teams tensely swapped points throughout the game, Wasylycia-Leis said.
Ultimately, though, it was their focus and determination that gave the Combines the edge they needed against Queen’s, an undeniably tough eastern team.
“We practised for a month and we came together for the sole purpose of going to the tournament and winning.”
Sean Brooks, a fourth-year accounting student at the U of M and one of the team captains, says winning the tournament was particularly meaningful for the Combines, a close-knit team of veteran Ultimate athletes.
“We’ve all been playing with or against each other since high school, so the finals were definitely the highlight of the weekend,” he said.
The majority of the men comprising the team, which was created solely for the CUUC, have played for either Winnipeg’s junior touring team; the Masters of Flying Objects (MOFO), or for the more advanced, competitive touring team; the Winnipeg General Strike.
For Wasylycia-Leis, tournaments like the CUUC are important in raising the profile of a sport that gets little public attention.
“People don’t realize that high level Ultimate is a really physically demanding and competitive and aggressive sport,” he said.
“It combines the defensive strategies of basketball with the concept of football scoring, with the running of soccer and with the passing of hockey. You’ve really got to be on your game. Ultimate is definitely a serious sport.”
Published in Volume 66, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 17, 2011)