It’s not often a five-year-old team makes it to a national championship, but with their second-place finish at the regional tournament in Princeton, N.J. last month, the GW men’s ultimate Frisbee team did.
The team, called the Hungry Hungry Hippos, will travel to Spokane, Wash. this weekend with a little help from University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. The Hippos are seeded 14th seed in their first appearance at nationals.
“Making it to nationals is great, especially for such a new team,” said senior Thomas Shields, one of four team captains. “Going from nothing to this shows how hard we’ve been working.”
The team needed to finish in the top three at regionals to advance. Even with their final round loss to Cornell at the regional tournament, the team’s earlier wins in the semifinal round over Swarthmore and quarterfinal round over Princeton were enough to advance.
GW beat both teams by the same score, 15-13. The Hippos trailed the Princeton Tigers before coming back to notch the win.
“We weren’t sure if we were in right away,” said junior and club President Edward Van Leer. “From the youngest player to the oldest player we were afraid to say anything; we didn’t want to jinx ourselves.”
Van Leer said when the team heard the news from the tournament director and told Shields, the veteran player “jumped up and down . it was an emotion he’d never shown before.”
Shields said the team’s performance at regionals marked an important milestone for the young program and established GW’s presence on the national Frisbee scene.
Van Leer said he spoke with Trachtenberg at last year’s Inaugural Ball and got the University President to agree to help send the team to the national tournament if it qualified.
The Hippos didn’t make last year’s tournament, but Van Leer said he walked into Trachtenberg’s office last week and reminded him of the deal.
“I got phone call the next morning asking how to get money to us. They were real cool about it,” Van Leer said. “We really appreciate everything (Trachtenberg) has done for us and how quickly he took care of everything.”
Van Leer said Trachtenberg covered more than $1,500 for hotels and the $600 tournament fee, while the team paid for its flight to Spokane.
“The team’s been working hard since August with one goal in mind, we stayed focused and accomplished that goal,” Van Leer said. “It’s the biggest thing to happen in any of our careers.”
GW advanced to regionals by winning its sectional tournament last month at Salisbury State University, knocking off Maryland and Delaware to secure its second-seed regional berth.
Shields said the team’s success this year has been especially rewarding for the seniors who have watched the program grow over the past four years.
“It’s exciting for the 11 seniors on the team to make it this far, and it’s great to end on such a high note,” Shields said.
-Kate Stepan contributed to this report.