The UNL Women's Ultimate Frisbee Team poses at Mabel Lee Fields

President of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln frisbee team Hannah Gavle (center) poses for a portrait with the rest of the team at Mabel Lee Fields on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

At Harvest, an ultimate frisbee tournament held in Arkansas, an opposing team challenged the UNL women’s ultimate frisbee team to a no-smiling dance party. This is a competition where music is played and both teams’ players dance as wildly as possible. The first team to smile loses. The competition ended when a UNL player matched up with a much taller player from the opposing team, which made the scene look funnier to every spectator.

Officially known as the Cuddle Raptors, UNL’s women’s ultimate frisbee team achieved their primary goal at Harvest, to show spirit throughout the tournament. The spirit of the game, as it’s referred to, is the underlying essence of ultimate frisbee.

At its most basic level, the spirit of the game refers to the system of officiating in ultimate frisbee, or rather the lack thereof. Ultimate frisbee is a self-officiated game where honesty and sportsmanship are held in the highest regard. An opposing player may call out a perceived infraction, then it’s the role of the team to concede or dispute this foul. Despite the high level of competitiveness, this mutual respect for the spirit of sportsmanship helps to make sure games don’t descend into anarchy.

Spirit goes deeper than just the eclectic refereeing of the game. It extends to whether or not the team helps improve and better the community of ultimate frisbee.

“It’s really great when you play someone with a lot of spirit,” freshman Sara Van Hare said. “In the fall, it’s all about learning, and as a freshman who knows nothing, it’s really great for me. When I’m guarding a girl, she’ll be like ‘You need to guard me on this side.’”

“What also comes with the spirit of the game is having fun and not being so competitive that you’re being aggressive towards the other team,” club vice president Michaela “Mo” Ott said.

There are some major misconceptions about ultimate frisbee. First, it’s not disc golf. Ultimate frisbee is much more akin to a combination between soccer, football and basketball. 

“The way I try to explain it is soccer, but with a frisbee, and you can’t run with the frisbee,” freshman Alyx Juanes said. “Then most people tend to get it.”

The team also argued that ultimate frisbee is not entirely safe. 

Ask sophomore Kaycee Davis, who wears a wrist brace for a sprain, a knee brace for an injured kneecap and an ankle brace from another injury. All three of these injuries were sustained while playing ultimate frisbee.

“I take it really seriously,” Davis said. “I started backpedaling, which isn’t very smart. Then I tripped and landed on my wrist.”

“I know people who have torn their ACLs, my cousin broke her wrist,” Ott said. “And people are like ‘Playing disc golf? — how did they do that?’ And I say, ‘It’s not disc golf, it’s more comparable to the exercise of soccer.”

Senior club president Hannah Gavle also suffered an injury while playing in a sand tournament in Wichita, Kansas. Gavle dove on the ground and whiplash violently shook her head back, resulting in a concussion.

Despite her role as club president, Gavle was close to quitting the team weeks after joining. Stress from class and difficulties transitioning to college life caused her to miss a few practices after joining.

“I kept getting texts from people from the team that said they still wanted me to come back,” Gavle said. “I started to come back and, honestly, it was the best decision of my college experience.”

Since then, Gavle has sought to uphold the spirit that makes UNL’s women’s ultimate frisbee team a welcoming community. Ott also joined for similar reasons.

“Meeting people was a big thing, and I’ve always been involved in sports so I wanted to stay active throughout college,” Ott said. “I also joined because I’m competitive.” 

Ultimate frisbee is a club that attracts a number of different kinds of people. Juanes, for example, decided to join because she needed a reason to leave her room. 

In most sports, teams warm up by doing a combination of stretches, running and maybe a few drills. But the Cuddle Raptors warm up by dancing, sometimes to the song “Praying” by Kesha, with an intricate dance routine. 

Another tradition that is important to the team is the post-game spirit circle — an event where both teams form a circle, with an opposing player on either side of them. Compliments and pointers are exchanged until players give out their spirit prizes to opposing players. These are compliments given to opposing players, which exemplify their sportsmanship and spirit of the game.

It’s hard to quantify what makes the Cuddle Raptors a welcoming community, just as it’s hard to quantify exactly what the spirit of the game is. But, at their core, they’re both integral to the continued success of the team. 

“If you leave a game thinking ‘Wow, I really loved and enjoyed playing with that team, I want to play them again,’ they have good spirit,” Van Hare said, “It’s a feeling, I guess.”