Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Silliness and sincerity are a winning combination for ZooDisc

UMass men’s club ultimate frisbee finishes 19-3
Courtesy of ZooDisc.

ZooDisc, the University of Massachusetts’ men’s club ultimate frisbee team, competes at the highest possible collegiate level. The team credits its success on the field to members’ dedicated work ethic and close camaraderie.

Led by captains Isaac Kaplan, Luca Harwood and Noel Sierra, UMass opened its season with an unbeaten 18-0 run. This streak over top-ranked teams, such as North Carolina and Texas, propelled the Minutemen into the top spot in the national rankings, as well as earning wins in the Florida Warm-Up and the Smoky Mountain Invite. The team finished the regular season 19-3, after being served three losses at the Easterns Tournament.

“Things still feel a tiny bit weird, which is good,” Sierra, a junior who has been a captain for two years, said of the losses. “I’m glad we lost. It’s hard to be undefeated, and you don’t want your first experience struggling to be when it matters the most. I think we can learn from it and get a lot better from losing.”

Courtesy of ZooDisc.

The ultimate frisbee season is not administered by the NCAA, but instead by USA Ultimate, a member of the United States Olympic Committee. The season consists of two stages, starting with a bid allocation stage. In this stage, teams compete in smaller tournaments to determine their ranking and power rating among the 237 teams.

Those rankings are then used to determine how regions will split the 20 slots for the National Championship. To get to the National Championships, teams progress through one round of qualifying sectional tournaments to reach the regional tournament, where the bid slots for nationals are distributed to teams. 20 teams from all regions compete in the National Championship.

After placing second in the bid allocation stage of the men’s division behind North Carolina this year, UMass helped secure four slots to the New England region, the most of any of the eight regions. The team is preparing for regionals, along with a potential spot in the National Championships, after placing first in its sectional group.

“We’re just trying to be the best team we can be,” Kaplan, a junior captain, said. “There’s a limit to what rank you can be; there’s not a limit to how good we can be. I don’t think it changes our mission at all. We are who we are, and we’re just going to keep on working hard.”

ZooDisc has been so successful this season for a variety of reasons. Squad depth from exceptional player development has kept the team fresh. An exceptional playmaking defense quickly ends opposing drives and leads quick transitions, which is supported by a strong front line. The key to its success, however, is the unwavering resolve and commitment from every player, with the team shrugging off failure and continuing to apply constant pressure.

The team is doing its best not to let the pressure of a successful run get to its players’ heads. “As a point in our culture, we don’t dwell on results. We don’t think about results,” sophomore Wyatt Kellman said. “When I say that the season is going well, I mean that we are really close as people. Everyone is really close in the communal space, everyone feels like they can be themselves and everyone is able to express themselves — which is really what I care about.”

Courtesy of ZooDisc.

Kellman experienced this closeness over the past year. “I recently went through hip surgery … If I needed to eat, I’d hit up the chat and ask, ‘Hey can someone help me eat dinner?’ Someone would come and get my food for me every time,” he said.

Captains are careful to preempt disputes between players and cultivate a cohesive community at practices and tournaments, creating what Kellman calls “one of the closest, most tight-knit, most loving communities that I’ve ever been a part of.”

To create this successful community, ZooDisc members do their part to attract talent to UMass. Although the team does not have a say in admissions, captains will reach out to potential recruits to encourage them to apply, offering tours and a chance for aspiring high school ultimate players to practice in a collegiate setting if they visit campus.

Athletes that are new to the game of ultimate are not discouraged from trying out. Every fall, upwards of 100 people try out for ZooDisc, many of whom have never played before college. ZooDisc operates an A-team that currently has 29 members and a development squad with 30. There’s also a women’s ultimate frisbee team, LadyZoo, that competes in the women’s D-1 conference.

In times of division, the team turns to the oldest remedy: silliness. “We want to be really, really friggin’ silly,” Kellman said. “If a game isn’t going well, we need to get sillier … It creates really enjoyable camaraderie when everyone is being goofy and silly off the field and on.” ZooDisc’s silliness can take many forms — like silly voices and beatboxing — and players claim it has a unifying effect that helps galvanize the team.

The sport is, after all, a little bit silly itself. “There’s something weird about running after a frisbee that I like,” Sierra said. For many, seeing dozens of college students jostle past each other while attempting to grab a frisbee thrown halfway across the recreational fields is an odd sight. The team embraces that strangeness and balances its silliness with sincerity.

“A lot of people come into sports and make the mistake of making it all a big deal,” Sierra said. “For them, it’s about the individual and their own standards, and mistakes are a big deal. But we’re all there to have fun and we’re all there to support each other.”

UMass ultimate frisbee was formed in 1982 and won the National Championship in 1986. After a dormant spell, ZooDisc has consistently challenged for the national title over the last 10 years.

“We want to win a national championship,” Kellman said of this year’s season. “Everything that we’re doing and everything that we’re thinking about is a buildup to ramping up and peaking that weekend to win the tournament and be the national champions.”

“It’s a nice affirmation of all the work we’ve put in,” Kaplan said. “You grow up in frisbee watching all these teams, and then to work super hard and beat them is like, okay, this is very achievable. I think a lot of the reason that people play frisbee is it’s a sport that starts later in life for most people, so if you work your absolute hardest you can be the best.”

ZooDisc will participate in the New England D-1 College Men’s Regionals next weekend in Portland, Maine, attempting to secure one of the four available slots for the National Championships.

The 2023 USA Ultimate College Men’s D-1 Championships will be held in Mason, Ohio from May 26 to May 29.

Daniel Frank can be reached at

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *