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MU's MUtants keep things loose on Ultimate Frisbee field

Monday, November 14, 2011 | 8:02 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Black bandanas. Faded Menards hats. Neon yellow cleats. Bright orange jerseys. MU's Ultimate Frisbee club team comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.

It might not be what you're used to seeing with other Missouri athletic teams. But then again, not much about them is typical.

Because it is a club team, the squad doesn't need to look like every other team you see playing around campus. The players don't need to wear the black and gold. They wear orange. They don't have to be Tigers. Instead, they're MUtants.

The name is fitting. The team, which is enjoying its best fall season to date, isn't afraid to raise eyebrows.

Freshman Alex Bickford shrouds his face in a black bandana before every game, tying it behind his head so it drapes down, concealing his nose and mouth.

The fashion statement provides warmth and comfort, but that's only part of its appeal. It's meant to send a bold, defiant message. He is not just a lowly first-year player, he is "Bandana Bickford." And yes, he means business.

Junior Chase Johnson also has unique headgear. If Johnson is playing Ultimate Frisbee, he's doing it while wearing his trusty Menards hat. The hat is a faded, gray shell of the hat it once was. If it looks like it has been through one too many rolls in the mud, that's probably because it has.

"I've had this hat ever since I started playing, and it goes to every tournament with me," Johnson said.

Obviously, the hat isn't meant to be strictly fashionable. Johnson contends that the cap gives him a much-needed psychological edge.

"It brings the intimidation factor," Johnson said. "They just can’t handle it." His face was void of emotion. He bent up the bill of his cap, revealing his personal philosophy. "'Bill up,' that’s what I say," he said. "You have to go bill up."

The eye-catching accessories reflect the way the team plays. No matter what happens throughout a game, the MUtants are loose. They are cheering, laughing or yelling more often than not.

The more fun you have, the better you play. This is the team's philosophy, and so far it's taken them a long way.

"Everyone is their own hardest critic, so the guys on the sideline do whatever they can to get the players to laugh, even if they mess up," sophomore MUtant Dean Frazier said. A red headband struggled to restrain his flowing brown hair. "A big part of keeping the offense and the defense focused is keeping the guys happy."

Johnson made no effort to hide his sarcasm. "We try to take it really seriously," he said. "Too serious, almost. It's crazy. It's like a church atmosphere. No talking, no nothing.”

When the players are on the sidelines, they never sit down. As the disc moves, the bench moves with it. They follow the disc down the sideline, yelling instructions and inside jokes to teammates on the field.

The team is loud. They're boisterous. At times, they're borderline giddy.

During a game on the first day of the Missouri Loves Company tournament that the team hosted at Cosmopolitan Park on Saturday and Sunday, junior Jay Froude made a diving defensive play, batting the Frisbee away from a University of Colorado receiver.

The bench instantly erupted.

"Jay says no!" Frazier yelled.

"Not in Jay’s house!" his teammates barked.

Now that it was started, Frazier took the cheer even further.

"When I say 'Jay,' you say 'no'!" Frazier bellowed, motioning to his teammates on the sideline.

"Jay!"

"No!"

"Jay!"

"No!"

"Jay!"

"No! No! Nooo!"

That constant, unshakable enthusiasm has translated to success on the field. The MUtants finished in 11th place out of 40 teams in the Missouri Loves Company tournament, going 5-3 over the weekend. Their fall record now stands at 31-4.

When sophomore Cody Branneky snagged a deep pass for a score in the first half of the team's game against Colorado, he broke into a diagrammed celebration. First came a violent spike of the Frisbee, followed by a flawless front somersault, capped off by an inspired handshake with his teammate and roommate, junior Walter Carlson. The two faced each other in the end zone, swaying forward and backward in unison.

Branneky had been waiting for this moment for weeks.

"I knew I wasn't going to score against Colorado again anytime soon, so I've been practicing those three big celebrations. I went with the spike, into the forward roll, into the handshake," Branneky said, a wide smile etched across his face. "We've been practicing."

This recent success marks a vast improvement from previous seasons. Maybe it's because they're looser than ever.

"At tournaments, we just try to have as much fun as we can," Branneky said. "You're running around with your friends, and it starts to get kind of rowdy."

The sophomore, who had been laughing and joking for the majority of the day, turned serious, just for a second.

"Being out here with your best friends makes everything really fun and memorable," he said.


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