Finding the ultimate college experience

Niki Lesniak reaches for a disc. - Photo by Jese Beals
Niki Lesniak reaches for a disc.
— image credit: Photo by Jese Beals

Niki Lesniak needs to stay busy.

The 2005 Central Kitsap High School graduate and former member of the Cougs’ cross country team decided school at the University of Washington simply wasn’t enough. So she decided to attend a tryout for the Washington Element, the school’s women’s ultimate flying disk team.

“I just went with it,” Lesniak said after finding flyers about the club on campus. “They’re really accepting of people that haven’t played. I was really surprised to hear about all this.”

But what really surprised her was the competitiveness of the team, the dedication of its players, the time constraints and the perks — all things Lesniak wasn’t expecting based on her CK cross country team’s pick-up games.

“It’s really underground,” she said. “I joined because I thought it would just be a bunch of old cross-country runners.”

Little did she know she’d be joining the No. 18 women’s collegiate ultimate team in the country.

“We played after practice (at CK), just pick-up games,” Lesniak said. “There was no organization. You just run around and hope you get open.”

Ultimate flying disk, more commonly referred to as ultimate, is the combination of the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of football, as two seven-player squads try to score in each other’s end zone’s via passing.

Lesniak is also surrounded by national-caliber players, including coach and UW grad student Miranda Roth, the 2004 Callahan Award winner for Carleton College, which honors the top male and female players in the country. And Shannon O’Malley, a teammate current on the U.S. World team. And Jenny Abegg, another teammate on Canada’s World team.

“We were just like, ‘What? There’s a Canadian women’s team?’” Lesniak said.

The Element finished second in the nation after falling to Stanford in last season’s title game. Roth also made the National Ultimate Media Panel All-College First Team in 2005 for UW. All of that made for an intimidating introduction for Lesniak and her fellow freshmen and rookies.

“At first when I met the team I was really intimidated,” she said. “I’m not that good in big people situations; I get really shy. But now, it’s fun.”

After starting the season 11-6, including taking second place at the Pacific Lutheran University BBQ Tournament on March 11-12, Lesniak said there’s been a lot to learn about a sport she had always thought of as more of a game before.

“It was really confusing at first,” she said. “Lots of strategy and flying disk jargon. They’d tell me things and I’d have no idea what they were saying.”

With four different sets of plays designed for offense, defense and specific situations (within the end zone for example), Lesniak said some things have come easier than others.

“Man-to-man (defense), you kind of figure it out,” she said. “But zone, that was so ridiculous to learn. It made no sense to me. But my captains are really cool. They’ve helped me out a lot. Even just explaining things to me.”

The rest of the team has also been a huge help to the first-year players. But Lesniak said with

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