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Torque angles for momentum: Frisbee force seeks victory

By Michael Byrnes     9/25/18 11:38pm

It’s 10:30 p.m. on a hot August night as the women’s club ultimate frisbee team wraps up the first of their twice-weekly practices. Mosquitoes hover over the moisture-soaked field and the humidity is palpable in the evening air. The players gather together in a huddle and begin to chant.

“What is the gas constant?” “R!”

“What is the square root of -1?” “I!”

“What is the speed of light?” “C!”

“What is 2.71828 ... ?” “E!”

It should come as no surprise that the team’s cheer is so physics-oriented. After all, according to Lovett College senior YingYan Ho, the name for their team — Torque — is a Rice-specific adaptation of the formula used to calculate the magnitude of torque’s rotational force. Since T = r x F, Torque = Rice x Frisbee.

This year, Torque is celebrating the 22nd anniversary of its 1996 founding, back when the team was known as “Catch Her on the Fly.” Since then, the team has achieved its fair share of success, including victories in back-to-back Division III championships in 2014 and 2015. Last spring, the team won the South Central Regional, going undefeated in their seven-game season. 

Clearly, Torque is a serious force in the national club frisbee landscape. But according to Lovett College senior Molly Turner, that doesn’t mean all the team members entered college with a competitive background in ultimate frisbee.

“Most of the people who show up to the first practice can barely throw a frisbee three feet,” Turner said. “We work really hard and we have several practices a week and we take [the sport] very seriously, but we want to make sure anyone feels welcome joining the team.”

So how does the team take a group of largely inexperienced newcomers and transform them into a nationally competitive squad? According to co-captain and Martel College senior Jacqui Lee, the answer revolves around their intensive practice regimen.

“We do stretching, we do sprint accelerations, and we also do quick drills just to get our hands warmed up with touching the disc,” Lee said. “[Then we do] some more long-distance throwing, just to practice at different distances. And then we usually scrimmage and go to more focused drills for defense [and] offense.”

Torque typically attends four tournaments during the regular season; this year, there will be one in the fall and three in the spring. After the regular season ends, they begin the regional tournament, where they compete to earn a bid to nationals. According to Baker College junior Sarah Downing, nationals bids are usually earned through a first-place finish at regionals, though at-large bids are possible.

At its core, ultimate frisbee is a relatively modern sport, harkening back to a group of Columbia University students in 1968. In recent years, it has burst into the popular scene, and the sport was granted full recognition by the International Olympic Committee in 2015, allowing it to become eligible for a slot in the 2024 Olympics. Lee said the sport’s youth helps foster inclusivity.

“Frisbee is a really new, young sport, and the barrier to entry is low,” Lee said. “That’s not to say that it’s not awesome, because you have top athletes who can run circles around your average [person]. But no matter where you’re coming from, people are willing to show you how to throw, because they remember someone else who also showed them how to throw, and bore with them too. The community is amazing.”

As a club sport at Rice, Torque can work with the Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center to reserve practice time on Rice’s intramural sports fields. However, Downing said the team struggles with the Rec Center to find adequate practice space, even after reserving a field.

“We reserve fields like all club sports, but our fall practices tend to fall within Powderpuff season and our spring practices tend to fall within [IM] soccer season,” Downing said. “The Rec’s current policy is that IM takes precedence over club sports, which is questionable to my mind because we do represent Rice University as opposed to just a college.”

But when the team is finally able to find a field, the players quickly get back into rhythm — a rhythm that, according to Lee, helps shape her life off the field as well.

“For me, frisbee has taught me so much and made me grow emotionally, physically and [mentally],” Lee said. “Frisbee has definitely taught me a lot more balance in my life. When you’re on the field, you’re putting [other] things aside, and [saying], ‘I really want to dedicate myself to this at this point.’ And then that also allows you to — when you’re not on the field — to dedicate yourself to other things. So, I think [frisbee] has made me a better college student too.”

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