There’s a special kind of cold that comes from harsh forty-mile-per-hour winds. It seeps into your bones and infects your mind with self-doubt. These were the conditions that Muhlenberg’s Ultimate Frisbee team, the Flying Squirrels, faced with on Feb. 4 in Vinelands, NJ. The Squirrel’s started their two-day tournament against the formidable University of Vermont.
A typical Ultimate Frisbee tournament consists of 3 pool-play games each lasting 90 minutes. On the field, each team lines up with seven players with a start similar to a football kickoff, except in frisbee, your quarterback picks up the disc and isn’t allowed to run with it. Teams will then go back and forth sending deep throws to their receivers (who are named cutters) until they near the endzone, where they will attempt to make a short throw for a point. In these 90 minutes when the first team reaches seven it is half-time and the first team to reach 15 points wins. In competitive matches, rarely do teams reach the required 15 points so the team with the highest score at the end of 90 minutes wins.
The first match against Vermont was a daunting matchup. The Squirrels height could not compare to their opponents and Vermont had already played in their first game. Vermont quickly scored the first points while the squirrels got their patagia under them. They failed to pull back the quick lead that Vermont had asserted early on, but we’re quickly adapting to the zone defense that would be necessary for the rest of the day.
A zone defense in ultimate frisbee takes on many forms but the most popular used by the squirrels and their opponents is named the three-man cup. The three-man cup is a defensive formation that the Squirrels have been trying to instill in their rookies since the fall season. The cup is a defensive play that forces the quarterback (the handler) to make risky decisions by blocking passing lanes and forcing the handler to throw the disc into the wind. Vermont was extremely capable at breaking the cup and capitalizing on the opportunities of open cutters.
Against Lehigh University and West Chester University “We played great games, the team is looking good in the future,” said captain Joe Pizzolato ‘24. In these two games the team walked away with two commanding wins beating both teams by more than 5 points. Two essential players were TJ Lillis ‘25, who scored the majority of the teams points and made seemingly impossible catches to maintain possession throughout the game, and rookie Esch Sage ‘26, who played the two position in the cup while demonstrating an exemplary understanding of the game by trapping his opponents on the sidelines and converting on offense.
The next day the team faced the challenge of fatigue that comes from a full day of competition, for some a Saturday night out and a 5 AM wake-up call before a two-hour drive. The Squirrels first opponent was nationally ranked Colby College (#27). The Squirrels started off receiving the pull (the kickoff) first, and quickly got the first point. Then the Squirrels converted another defensive possession into points. The two teams went back and forth like this with the wind at last calm until Colby started to pull away at half (7-5). Sadly, the Squirrels came out of the half with a lackadaisical person defense that failed to force Colby one way or another. As you stood on the sidelines you could hear Colby walk off with heightened confidence from this disorganized defense. The writing was on the wall and both teams knew it. Colby walked off the field with a dominating box score of 15-5.
Now relegated to the losers bracket, the Squirrels would go on to play an injury-ridden Lehigh team. A team that the Squirrels were happy to play again, due to the bond that had developed during the previous day. Both teams grew accustomed to crossing the field and chatting with the opposing team. “We kept making a bit over which bars in Bethlehem could be ours,” said Sam Gartenberg ‘23. This off-field comradery carried onto the field with players exchanging playful jests throughout the match, and even though the Squirrels won 11-6, the two teams gathered arm in arm in a circle at the end of the game. “Frisbee is a competitive but charming sport with people that want to play their hearts out but also just want to throw around a disc. Even when tensions are high you find a way to love the other team. That moment after the game where we all just sat together and chanted piso mojado… caution… cuidado around a wet floor sign is a perfect example of that” said star handler Gabe Duftler ‘25.
In the penultimate game for fifth place, the squirrels had an incredible comeback against DI Penn State University, only to fall short in a final 25-minute point with no subs. Avi Pullin ‘25 said, “We frequently play down to a level where we make really simple mistakes, and we often give up points when we shouldn’t, but at this tournament, especially in the later games, we slowed the game down and made better decisions, then we had in the past, and I think that’s what led to our success as a team.”