Jacobs' Ultimate team works toward state title

ALGONQUIN – The drill, on its surface, doesn’t seem overly complicated.

Stringing 25 consecutive completed Frisbee tosses together shouldn’t be that difficult. But after two attempts ended unsuccessfully by throws either getting caught up in the breeze or being thrown dangerously close to the ground, the Jacobs Ultimate team has reached 15 straight completions.

Now, it’s serious.

“Focus,” someone barks out, enticing his teammates to continue the rhythmic precision required to move onto the next phase of a Thursday afternoon practice.

The Streak reaches 23 and then 24. As the 25th white plastic disc floats through the air, Anthony Miocic – who founded Jacobs Ultimate club program eight years ago – moves closer to the intended receiver.

“Don’t drop it,” Miocic mocks.

The 25th pass completed, Jacobs can move on to more strategic portions of a workout that takes place in a large field tucked into a subdivision. The drills probably won’t be very exciting, Miocic warns. But after three straight state championship runner-up finishes and with the bulk of the Ultimate season still ahead, working on improving its zone defense remains a priority.

Just like that, one of the major misconceptions about Ultimate is debunked. This sport isn’t a walk (or run in this case) in the park.

Miocic has notebooks at home devoted to strategy. Ultimate is built around precision, requiring seven-man squads to complete enough throws to move down a 70-yard field book-ended by 20-yard end zones. Each incompletion results in a change of possession. Substitutions can only be made after a score or an injury timeout.

Other than that, Ultimate is nonstop. It’s fast, requiring players to constantly think about angles and passing options that are often overlooked by outsiders.

“You think it’s a bunch of hippies out there,” Miocic says, putting to rest another common misunderstanding. “But it’s actually a bunch of arrogant people out there who think they’re smarter and better than everyone else.”

That’s right. The game comes with attitude. The thinking part of Ultimate often becomes the hang-up. Freshman Steven Tisinai played baseball as a kid but moved on because it wasn’t holding his interest. He considered soccer but was never good with his feet. But Ultimate, which he started playing at the club level in middle school, proved to be the perfect combination of movement and thinking on the go.

That’s not the first idea he knows pops into people’s minds, though.

“People say, ‘Oh you just play with a Frisbee, you just have to throw a Frisbee?’” Tisinai said. But I’ll say, ‘Yeah’. Can you (throw a Frisbee), and they’ll say no, and it will be like, ‘Then what are you talking about.?’”

Kyle Krukowski said it’s a common mistake.

The junior, who experimented with baseball and wrestling, considered himself uncoordinated when he started with Jacobs Ultimate as a freshman. Two years later, he has developed into one of the team’s better players while hooking onto a sport most of his fellow classmates don’t take seriously.

Because it’s a club sport, Jacobs Ultimate receives only minimal financial support from the school, requiring players to foot the bill for the rest.

“[Other students] really think it as kind of a joke at first,” Krukowski said. “They think it’s just a bunch of people throwing around a Frisbee. But it’s really not that. There’s a lot of intensity and it’s one of the most contact, ‘noncontact’ sports out there.”

Despite Ultimate’s growing popularity around Illinois, most of Jacobs’ serious competition takes the team out of state. Jacobs, which has lost the state championship to Neuqua Valley in each of the past three years, plays most of its tournaments in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Last weekend, Jacobs faced Holy Family Catholic – an Ohio-based homeschool club team that is ranked No. 1 in the nation. Jacobs led early before the grind of playing six matches over the course of two days set in, proving once again that Ultimate is tougher than it looks.

Jacobs’ roster is a blend between traditional athletes who either treat the sport like they would any other and other players who were introduced to the club by friends. There are football and basketball players out there along with golfers and track athletes playing aside a small assortment of players who, Miocic said, never “fit that standard of normal high school athlete.”

Like with any other team sport, Ultimate relies heavily on team chemistry. Players are split into positions – either being a cutter (receiver) or handler (thrower). The team’s talent level has allowed Miocic to build lines – similar to hockey – grouping players together to enhance offensive success.

Precision comes with the patterns players run as part of a designed offense that keeps the game more complicated than most who don’t play can’t fathom. It’s a lesson that junior Nick Espe, who also plays football and track at Jacobs, quickly learned.

“I thought it would be a little easier because I had the running technique and I was fast,” said Espe, who started playing Ultimate last year. “But it was really hard with all of the throwing I had to get into.”

As fast-paced as Ultimate is, however, stamina also plays a key role. Developing “tournament legs,” as Miocic called them, will factor into Jacobs’ push for a state title later this spring in Naperville. Until then, grueling tournament weekends, Espe said, are part of the learning curve, especially for younger players.

“By the end of [last weekend’s tournament] you could tell everyone was dead,” Espe said. “But you just have to fight through it.”