Ultimate Frisbee looks to build on unprecedented national success


Contributed by James Dungan-Seaver

The Grinnelephants celebrate their success at the Division III College Championship in Milwaukee, Wisc. The team finished 10th out of 16 teams. Jacob Cowan ’23, top right, was named Division III Breakout Player of the Year.

Marcy Cassidy-Mapp, Staff Writer

The Grinnell College Open Ultimate Frisbee team, better known as the Grinnellephants, attended the Division III College Championship last spring, ultimately securing 10th place. The tournament featured the top 16 teams from across the United States competing for the USA Ultimate College Championship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

“It was really incredible to go. It was a great culmination of our season,” said Jacob Cowan `23, Division III breakout player of the year and open team captain. “A lot of the expectations from the tournament were that we wouldn’t really be able to be competitive and that teams would just roll over us.”

As a club athletics team, the Grinnellephants include around 50 players with several team captains running the team instead of a coach. The team had not qualified for the championship in over a decade. Due to increased interest in the sport during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were newly motivated to elevate the team to the national stage. 

“Last fall, we had a ton of new interest in the team, and a couple of new players who had played before,” said Cowan. “It just seemed to be more possible that we would make nationals.”

The open team qualified for nationals after several impressive showings in their conference and regional tournaments. Despite entering as the 14th seed, the Grinnellephants achieved 10th place overall out of 16 teams after a loss in the ninth place bracket. 

The newest captain, Will Norry `25, has played ultimate frisbee for eight years and became a captain in his second year on the team.

“Our goal was not to compete or play as hard as we could,” said Norry. “We wanted to play all of our players to an equal level so that we could all just have fun and cherish the moment that we were at nationals.”

Following their Nationals appearance, the open team has started their offseason with renewed vigor. This semester, the team plans to host their annual Elephantitis tournament on the weekend of Sept. 17 with two divisions: open and women’s. This will be shortly followed by a match against St. Olaf College.

“They finished second at Nationals, whereas we finished 10th, so yeah, a grudge match,” Cowen said. “They’re really good, but we’re hoping to be more competitive against them this year.”

One of the hallmarks of the Grinnell open team is their unique team culture. From assisting students participating in 10/10, an annual off-campus day of parties, to accepting members without tryouts, the Grinnellephants have expressed an intent to create a welcoming athletic atmosphere for their members.

“I feel really passionately about the team culture that we create, and I wanted to have an active part in that, creating that team culture of inclusion to everybody,” Norry said.

With an improved morale after their nationals showing, the team hopes to return to the national championship while still supporting the balanced development of a competitive and welcoming team community. Specifically, they’ve expressed a desire to build up the team’s roster and have a solid standard of play.

“We just want to recruit and bring in as many people as we can,” Norry said. “Just recruiting a diverse group of players and then just having fun with everybody for a few months and slowly building skills.”