Last weekend, a Cornell sports team accomplished a very impressive feat — it won the Metro East Regional Championship to make the 20-team field for the National Championship for the fourth straight year. The team I am referring to is the Cornell men’s ultimate team, affectionately known as the Buds. Although the team is not a varsity team, it competes at the highest level of college ultimate and has built one of the strongest national programs in the country.
The Buds went through a drought in the mid 2000s, but recently, they have become a national powerhouse mostly due to a group of 8 players who joined the team as freshmen together and graduated in 2010.
“Most of the success recently was primarily due to [the class that graduated in 2010],” said handler and tri-captain Bo Li ’11. “The captains that year wanted to recruit the tallest and most athletic guys they could find for the team. They had a squad of about seven guys who played four years and developed good chemistry and into great ultimate players … and brought us to nationals for the first time [in this run of success].”
The achievements of this group have helped the entire program both play better competition to develop their players as well as recruit some top high school players.
“Due to [their success], we were able to get so much more experience playing better teams and going to better tournaments,” Li said.
“[When I came to Cornell], I showed up knowing that I wanted to play [for the Buds],” said sophomore handler Jake Stevelman. “When I went to high school, I knew about Cornell’s success in the years before.”
Although attracting talented high school ultimate players helps, a lot of key players played other sports and never touched a disk in high school. The team finds much of its talent through open tryouts at the beginning of the year.
“We try to get our name out there and have a lot of exposure during orientation week so people can find out a little more about the sport and how our program is,” Stevelman explained. “Arguably the best player on our team right now is our main deep cutter on the [offensive line] … Matt Chun. He ran track in high school and never played ultimate until last year … He was athletic and fast, but didn’t really know how to cut or get open, but he worked really hard last year and during the summer and now he’s our main cutter in the offense.”
This year, the Buds were not expected to win the Regional Championship, as they graduated many of their top players in the last two years, but they outperformed expectations and earned their bid to nationals.
“Throughout the spring season, most of the country had been counting us out as a potential national candidate just because they knew we graduated so many top players,” said junior handler and tri-captain Nick Thompson. “Up until three weeks ago, a lot of our team kind of had doubts because we faced a whole bunch of injuries and sickness. There was a time when we had maybe eight or nine people showing up to practice on a team of 22. This weekend everything just came together and we pulled it out.”
“Everyone else in the country did not expect us to win. The general consensus was that Connecticut had the region on lock,” said senior handler and tri-captain Adam Salwen. “They were ranked in the Top-20 in the country and we were ranked [62nd]. They were expected to run away with it, and we had played them 3 weeks ago and … they beat us pretty handily.”
After establishing themselves on the national scene with four straight national championship appearances, the team does not expect any drop off at all in the near future.
“We are an underclassman dominant team and have a lot of people who are freshmen or sophomores,” Thompson said. “They have an extreme amount of potential and I fully expect that as this next round of players grows up in the program, they are going to become an even stronger team than we currently are. I think what we’re looking at is another group of nine or 10 guys who will do anything they can to get back to the No. 1 spot.”
Going into nationals, Cornell is being overlooked by the other teams, but the Buds do not care. They have confidence that they will be able to make some noise, according to Salwen.
“We’re still improving and we’re excited to go to nationals because right now, everyone in the country is counting us out, but we know how good we are,” Salwen said. “We think because of our deep team, we should be able to create some upsets at nationals.”