Ashoka Ultimate: The NCUC Notebook
By Rohan Agarwal, UG23, and Kartikay Dutta, UG23
Forced into over two years on the sidelines because of Covid-19, Ashoka Ultimate made its return to competitive fixtures at the National College Ultimate Championships 2022 in Bangalore on the 9th and 10th of July. For the Hammerheads, it was a much-changed side, with experienced veterans mixing with players in their rookie seasons.
Moving from Ashoka’s mess-lawns and sports fields, where they could be seen practicing dutifully every evening, a unit of 23 individuals landed in Bangalore: an open-to-all event, the group was composed of 11 women and 10 men, plus two team managers.
Despite getting off to a rocky start with two losses on the first day, the Hammerheads came roaring back, winning all three of their matches on the second day to place 9th out of 16 — and significantly, the team won the award for best spirit shown, an accomplishment worthy of pride in a sport which prioritizes it.
The Edict sat down with the team’s captains, Rohan Manoj and Uttara Jadeja, to discuss the tournament, and what’s in stock now for ultimate at Ashoka.
How does it feel to be back competing after more than 2 years away?
"Personally I was very lucky, I was able to play club ultimate in Auroville during lockdown, but I love the vibe of college ultimate, it is something that just cannot be replicated at club level. Playing with Ashoka Hammerheads after two years was an amazing, beautiful experience. Didn’t place as well as we wanted to, but winning spirit was a big deal." —— Uttara
"I have had quite a bit of tournament experience, but this was special because you don’t know what you have until you have lost it. First time back so it was strange with less practice. But it felt great to be able to play competitively again, especially at a national level. The 2020 NCUC got cancelled while we were enroute to Ahmedabad, it was nice for a lot of us to be able to play another tournament after that." —— Rohan
How was the preparation for the tournament? Especially considering you did it over summer break.
"Preparation was brilliant, surprisingly. The people were mainly from Chennai and Bangalore, and some were from Kerala, Delhi, and Mumbai. We made two main pods in Chennai and Bangalore, and they were able to play together in units. Some alumni also added great leadership and experience. We had a four-hour long session before the tournament, for strategy, expectations, and team-building." —— Rohan
"Luckily most people were able to practice together in Chennai and Bangalore — we could see some chemistry building in those pods. It was important that they kept regularly updating the group with their progress. The tournament was only finalized 3 weeks before it actually took place, so there was not much time for fitness sessions, with ideally would have happened." —— Uttara
How did it go? What were your takeaways?
"We had some trouble with team chemistry on the first day, but recognizing the problem helped rectify that. Second day was incredible: we won all three games. The main takeaway was that chemistry cannot be built in a day, no matter how much you love each other! Practice is more important than anything else: you need to build trust by playing together." —— Uttara
"To be honest, we had the hardest pool of the tournament, and got unlucky with that — we faced the eventual champions, and 3 players from the Indian national team. On the second day, we defeated St. Stephens, who are the most competitive team in the north. We lost to them all four times we faced them in the 2019/20 season — it was a big win for us, and we won the other two games on the second day as well." —— Rohan
Biggest positives to hold on to?
"It was a great opportunity for the younger members of the team to show initiative and take charge in a competitive environment. Most other teams were stacked with alumni: their younger batches lost the opportunity to Covid, but our younger players took it with both hands. Great to see them punch above their weight and improve so much.
The alumni who were representing our team were on the line for our final point of the tournament: it was a wholesome moment, kind of allowing them to say goodbye to college ultimate." —— Rohan
"We did the best with what we had, and I was so happy with the spirit we showed throughout. The spirit captains (Dhrthi Bhat & Dewansh Matharoo) did a fantastic job, and we were really happy with how the team came together, and the fact that we came away with the spirit of the game award." —— Uttara
Any regrets? Would you change anything?
"Wish we could have mustered together some more chemistry on the first day, but we performed the best we could have. No regrets — the Bangalore weather wasn’t in our control, but I’d change that if I could!" —— Uttara
"Would have liked some more time to prepare before the tournament, for sure." —— Rohan
What does this tournament mean for the future, and for Ashoka Ultimate going forward?
"What it means is that we HAVE a future: after the pandemic it was only our batch, UG22, left to carry on the load and the legacy, and it’s difficult without a coach. Difficult to engage the student body without this experience. The turnout gave us hope: over 20 people wanted to roster, and tournaments can be daunting, especially having to travel from so many different places.
Lots of hope for the future, with the tournament experience, and the ability for juniors to have seen what ultimate looks like outside campus, and to engage with the larger ultimate community. It’s important now that every batch of juniors carries this forth." —— Uttara
What is the plan for the next year? When do we see the Hammerheads play again?
"More than anything, it’s important we get a good coach on board. Us seniors have given it our all, but we desperately need a coach to help with the skill floor of our team. Injuries and all don’t help either. We need as many enthusiastic players as possible.
We will be back competing as soon as late August, early September. There’s two college tournaments on the horizon, plus regionals and nationals to play for. There will also be open tournaments to look forward to." —— Rohan
Quotes adapted from interviews by the Edict staff. Images courtesy of @ashokaultimate on Instagram.