The University of Victoria Vikes ultimate frisbee team made program history in the most dramatic way possible on Sunday, April 29, booking their ticket to the NCAA Division I National Championship with a sudden-death game-winning point over Western Washington University.
The victory secured UVic a third-place finish at the Northwest Regional Championships, finishing behind only teams from the University of Washington and University of Oregon. The win guaranteed them a spot at the National Championships for the first time in school history and made them just the third Canadian program to ever qualify as one of the top-20 ultimate teams in North America.
“As far as I am concerned, this year’s team is undoubtedly the strongest in program history,” said Vikes alum and current Canadian National Team player Kevin Underhill. “They deserve all the credit for performing well all season long and earning themselves another month of Ultimate. Can’t say enough good things about the coach and the players on the team this year. They’ve accomplished something that anyone who ever plays college ultimate dreams of.”
Coming into the Regional Championship as the fourth-ranked team, UVic quickly lived up to their billing on Day 1 of the tournament, compiling a record of 3-1 good enough to move them on to the semifinals against Washington.
A close loss denied UVic a shot at the Regional title, but the Vikes fought through that adversity and defeated Utah in the backdoor semifinal to set themselves up against Western Washington with a shot at nationals on the line.
UVic started out slow, trailing 4-1, and then 8-5 at halftime. After making some second half adjustments, the team fought their way back into the game and led by one point late. A goal from WWU tied the game up at 14, and sent the teams into overtime.
“Uvic came out on offence, and ran an extremely clean point, staying very calm and punching in the last goal to win 15-14,” said UVictims player-coach Malcolm Bryson. “The last goal was an ice-in-his-veins huck from team captain Patrick Church to sophomore Devon Thomson.”
Church, Thomson, Trevor Knechtel, David Whitney-Brown and Ben Burelle were all players that Bryson highlighted after the tournament as key athletes that provided the main thrust behind the program’s record-setting season. Knechtel embodied the fighting spirit of the team throughout the season and finished the tournament with a broken wrist that he suffered in the team’s victory over Utah.
Further to that, Bryson pointed to a pair of rookies that show the Vikes may be around the top of the North American university ultimate scene for a while.
“Two rookies of ours will be on Team Canada U-20 in Waterloo this summer at the World Championships: Sean Bennett and Justin Pettunuzzo. Both were starters and on the field on Double-game point which shows how strong the talent is coming up for UVic.”
The game-clinching point was the culmination of years of hard work for the UVic program that has steadily grown since it’s re-birth in 2005.
“”I’m very proud to have played five years of UVic Ultimate,” said Underhill. “Everyone who has played and contributed throughout the years, no matter how small or big has set up this possibility.”
Bryson added to that sentiment of the team’s accomplishment being about much more than just the players on the field.
“To put into perspective how much the ultimate team means to the current players and the alumni, we were getting phone calls and videos of guys that played on the team ranging from 5-15 years ago, in tears and celebrating like they were there with us. It truly feels like an accomplishment bigger than just the team this year, and a testament to the years of dedication everyone has put into it.”
While the team will certainly relish the joy of qualifying for nationals, the underdog team from UVic has already set their sights on creating a few more magical moments
“Getting to the national tournament is a dream come true, but the Vikes are looking to make a statement there,” said Bryson. “College ultimate has a March Madness-esque craziness to the results, and there is huge upset potential from all sides.”
The National Championship runs May 25-28 in Milwaukee, WI. and UVic will have the chance to make a name for themselves when they enter the tournament and potentially face perennial powerhouses such as the University of North Carolina, Maryland, Pittsburgh and many more.
“Now the team is faced with an opportunity to go out and fight for a US national title,” said Underhill. “Despite already making history, I can assure you that this team is not satisfied with qualification. I know they want to test themselves against the best university competition in the world and earn the best finish they can.”