Thursday, April 25, 2013

'Spice'ing it up

By Sam Horn, Sports Writer
After competing at the high school level in baseball, basketball, football and cross country, Clayton Bracht knew that he wanted to be involved in some type of athletic activity once he reached college.

What he found is not exactly typical. After being a four-sport athlete in high school, he picked up a completely different sport at Pacific Lutheran University — ultimate frisbee.

After seeing the ultimate frisbee team playing a pick-up game on the first day of school on Foss Field, he said he knew he had found his true calling.

"All of the guys on the Frisbee team were very inclusive and welcoming. They made the transition from high school to college very easy," Bracht said.

Playing four sports in high school certainly has its advantages. Bracht has translated his cutting skills that he learned from playing wide receiver and defensive back in football to the game of ultimate.

Playing baseball has also had an immense impact on Bracht’s ability to track down Frisbees. Bracht said trying to catch a Frisbee is similar to tracking down a fly ball after it’s been rocketed through the stratosphere by an opposing team’s batter.

Endurance is also a huge factor in becoming a great ultimate frisbee player, as these players run for miles and miles without timeouts. By running cross country in high school, Bracht has developed the ability to run circles around his defenders and embarrass them without getting tired.

Don’t get fooled by his kind demeanor and toothy smile. Bracht is a fierce competitor on the field, which led the team to elect him as one of their three captains after last year’s season. His teammates created a unique name for their captain: Spice.

"To be named as one of the Frisbee captains means a lot," Bracht said. "It’s great to be in a leadership role on this team, because these guys mean a lot to me, and I want us as a team to succeed. I want to provide the necessary fire and intensity for these guys to strive for their best."

The junior from Ephrata High School led the ultimate frisbee team to a successful 2013 campaign, finishing with a 15-3 record. The team finished fifth out of a pool of 30 teams at a Las Vegas tournament this season and finished in fourth place at the tournament held at Pacific Lutheran University several weeks ago.

The 15-3 record didn’t come easily for the men’s ultimate frisbee team, however. They had to face the Canadian National youth team and several Division I schools on their way to an impressive regular season record. In the conference tournament, however, the PLU team didn’t play up to expectations.

"Finishing with a 3-3 record in the championship was disappointing. I feel like we could have done better," Bracht said.Fortunately, there’s always next year to improve upon the setbacks in the previous season. That’s sports for you.

Helping the team along the path of success is Nick Dare, head coach and a former PLU ultimate frisbee player. He works at Boeing as a software engineer and has played on the Seattle Voodoo, which is one of the best professional ultimate frisbee club teams in the nation.

"[Dare] has been a fantastic coach. One thing he brings to the team is an outstanding amount of knowledge about the game," Bracht said. In the first couple of weeks of practice, Bracht said Dare was teaching them drills to help them grow as a team.

"He also brings a sense of passion to the game. You want a coach who can bring the best out of you, and I think Dare does just that," Bracht said.

Bracht also said Dare implements good defensive schemes to shut down opponents. These schemes range from man-to-man defense to zone defense. Whatever offense their opponents bring to the table, the Lutes have a defense to stop it.

On the offensive side of the disc, there are two positions. Cutters, act as wide receivers and grab the Frisbee above their opponents’ heads when it’s thrown to them.

The handlers, however, are the quarterbacks, because they dish out the Frisbee to open teammates. It comes as no surprise that the handlers must have a strong and accurate arm, just like a good quarterback in football.

A team also needs good team chemistry to succeed, something Bracht said the ultimate team does not lack.

"When people look at the Frisbee team, they notice how tightly knit we are and that’s what separates us from other teams," Bracht said. "I know that my teammates will always be there to catch the disc, and we know how to play together, which helps out a lot."

Bracht wouldn’t have had the chance to even be on the ultimate frisbee team had he followed through with his first college choice: Gonzaga.

Since his father was a Gonzaga alum, Bracht was intent on attending the Spokane-based university. However, when Bracht was a senior in high school, he had the opportunity to spend the night with a student at PLU to get a sense of the community.

"In my mind, [Gonzaga] was a great school, but PLU blew it out of the water when I came here on my visit. The community aspect is what brings you to PLU, and that’s exactly what I wanted," Bracht said.

Bracht is pursuing degrees in both religion and psychology. He is looking at several graduate schools to further his education in an effort to obtain a master’s degree in student affairs. He said he wants to work with student life at a college after graduate school.

Bracht said he is also taking into account which graduate schools have a good ultimate frisbee program, because he will have one year of eligibility left after graduating from PLU.

"I would like to be involved with the Frisbee community for as long as I can," Bracht said.