WALLA WALLA - A gusty wind blew over the wet and mushy greens of the Whitman Soccer Complex, leading members of the coed team from the University of Idaho to consider the defensive tactics that would work best on a blustery Saturday morning.
"A lot of zone defense, forcing them as much as possible to pass in the wind," one of the players of the 17-member team said, as she donned a yellow jersey with the oddly familiar face of a prominent leader of a nation from decades ago.
"We're called Stalin 10," a tall, lean young man said. He was another member of the team who also wore the jerseys emblazoned with the face of Joseph Stalin and the number 10.
The U of I team was not trying to pay homage to the nefarious leader who ruled the Soviet Union for almost three decades and died in 1953, but instead was making a pun over one of the peculiar rules of their sport.
In Ultimate Frisbee, once the disc is caught by a player, that player can no longer advance on the field and has a relatively short time to pass the disc.
In other words, once the player catches the disc, he or she faces being called for a "stall-in-10" seconds.
One good look at the hundreds of Ultimate Frisbee players at the complex, and it was obvious there is a silly side to the sport, as a good number of players from colleges around the Pacific Northwest wore tutus, camouflage, Day-Glo tights and mock tattoos.
"Ultimate Frisbee is a pretty eccentric sport, so tattoos are part of the identity for the Whitman team this year," Whitman Sweets team captain Natalie Jamerson, 20, said.
Her right cheek had a whale drawn on it, while her left temple had a beetle.
But there is also a serious side to Ultimate Frisbee. So serious that gusty cold winds could not stop the 17th Annual Onionfest Tournament.
"We play through snow or wind. If we were gonna scrap it, it would be because of the condition of the field," Jamerson said.
But the field was already soaked with water from the night's previous rain, leading one to believe that Ultimate Frisbee players rarely come to a point where they would "scrap it."
Twenty-four teams slipped, sloshed and tossed the disc all day, although the high winds and sun eventually dried the field as the day progressed.
Typically, the college (club) teams will attend tournaments to compete at district, regional and national levels, proving there is a serious side to this sport.
For the last two years, Whitman College teams have made it to the nationals, Jamerson said.
Unlike official college sports, such as soccer, most college Ultimate Frisbee teams will compete in about five tournaments a year, with no regular weekly games.
Most of the costs are also picked up by the students; the cost for the Onionfest Tournament was $375 per team, which covered food and field use.
Housing was paid for by the visiting team members.
Jamerson added that Whitman College provides some financial support, especially when a team makes it to the costly nationals held in New York.
To make up for the light schedule, tournaments are packed with five to six games for each team.
So far this year, the Whitman Sweets have attended two sanctioned tournaments.
Earlier this year, the men won the opener at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and the men and women went undefeated at a Tacoma tourney.
Unlike those two previous tournaments, Saturday's event was not a sanctioned tournament, which was good news for Katie Rouse, who is no longer a student at Whitman but was allowed to compete.
"I love getting a hand in to block, or just a really defining defensive play," Rouse said.
Rouse, who is now a faculty member in the geology department, said she remembered when she first started as a freshman.
"I had been playing soccer my whole life, and I came to Whitman thinking I was going to continue playing soccer at the varsity level," Rouse said.
But soccer lacked one of the key elements of Ultimate Frisbee, which soon had Rouse flinging discs instead of kicking balls, though she still got to use the same cleats.
"There is just a more relaxed attitude," she said.
If you are interested in seeing the serious, silly and relaxed sides of Ultimate Frisbee, the second day of the Onionfest Tournament will take place today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Whitman Soccer Complex. The entrance is located off Penrose Avenue and East Sumach Street.