Photo by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

It wouldn’t be Vancouver Ultimate if it wasn’t played in the rain, and it wouldn’t be a Nighthawks tryout if it didn’t draw some of the biggest names in the sport.

Over two cold, wet nights on an expansive turf field at the University of British Columbia, more than fifty candidates augmented drills and scrimmages with a demanding fitness evaluation in hopes of making Canada’s first professional Ultimate team.

The Nighthawks had already signed three of Vancouver’s best-known players in Furious George alumni Oscar Pottinger, Morgan Hibbert, and Kirk Savage, who share more than a dozen UPA and World Championship titles between them. As might be expected, Furious was well represented at the tryouts, with a healthy sprinkling of players from Blackfish, the UBC Thunderbirds, the 2012 gold-medal Team Canada Mixed squad, and the 2013 World Games team, plus an assortment of talented British Columbia players hoping to get their shot.

“There was definitely a lot of intensity out there,” says Jordan “Rolo” Tessarolo, a 23-year-old contender from Abbotsford who suffered a high-ankle sprain during the tryouts when he challenged Morgan Hibbert on a huck play. “This is something new, and I think everybody there wanted to be a part of it. Those guys really wanted it.” Rolo had recently moved to Vancouver after playing his college career with the University of Victoria’s UVictim squad. While he was thrilled to make the roster, Rolo won’t be able to play for at least a month, hoping to make his debut at the team’s home opener against the San Francisco Dogfish on April 27.

With Major League Ultimate’s focus on faster play and fewer lags in the action – exemplified by rule adjustments such as larger fields and reduced stall counts – the March combine gave roster hopefuls a chance to display their fitness level as well as their playing chops. Through clocked exercises designed to measure key factors such as endurance and cut time, the team was able to measure athletic prowess far more objectively than what is traditionally seen in club tryouts, where players largely rely on their reputation rather than objective measurement.

“Everyone was standing on their own two feet at the tryouts, really there to prove themselves,” says newly minted Nighthawk Aaron “Moses” Koenig, who founded Blackfish seven years ago and has been playing with Furious George Since 2010. “The combine was professionally run, and I was really impressed with the quality of the people that came out. It felt like a new beginning to everything. Even after playing with Furious and having been through a dozen tryouts over the years, this felt really special.”

Led by a trio of Furious George legends – Head Coach Andrew Lugsdin and Assistant Coaches Jeff Cruickshank and Gregory Shiring – the freshly picked 25-man Nighthawks roster was back on the field only days later, under kinder skies, preparing for their April 20 season opener against the Seattle Rainmakers. With Seattle sporting a healthy selection of Sockeye players, the first game is poised to pin a fresh face on an old rivalry between these two storied Ultimate communities.

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