Photos Jeff Bell, Brian Canniff and Scobel Wiggins – Ultiphotos.com
When you think of the best players in the MLU, someone like Jeff Graham or Mark Burton probably come to mind, both of whom deserve the recognition for sure. MVPs of the league with appearances in the MLU Championship Game, they are among the best, Graham and Burton are both established players who have years of experience under their belts.
What about the next generation of players? Who out there has the potential to lead their teams to the MLU Championship Game in the years to come? We reached out to three rising stars in the MLU to get a glimpse of their young ultimate careers in progress.
Ari Nitikman, Vancouver Nighthawks #11
2015 MLU Stats: 6G, 13A, 4B, 162 PP
Nitikman has been playing ultimate since the sixth grade, when two of his teachers introduced him to the sport. According to Nitikman, his high school was so small that “we couldn’t field a team for any traditional sport (soccer, basketball etc.) but because ultimate was mixed, we were able to actually form a team.” He became captain on his high school team during his junior year, staying in that role for his senior year. In addition to the Nighthawks, he currently plays for Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and Blackfish men’s club team.
When asked about some of his favorite ultimate memories, Nitikman recalled when his small high school team beat the traditional powerhouse, St. George’s, in the finals to qualify for provincials. He also acknowledged how surreal it was to read an article online suggesting people should pick him up for MLU Fantasy. He credits part of his success in the pros to learning from the veterans on the Nighthawks, such as Morgan Hibbert, Kirk Savage, and coach Andrew Lugsdin. Nitikman already has a leadership role on his college team, and enjoys teaching new players the finer aspects of ultimate. As for future goals? Nitikman plans to “play for Team Canada at least once, and if ultimate becomes an Olympic sport, attend the Olympics either as a player or coach.”
Charlie McCutcheon, Philadelphia Spinners #1
2015 MLU Stats: 3G, 1A, 5B, 126 PP
McCutcheon fell in love with ultimate four years ago during his first season with his college team, University of Delaware Sideshow. “The guys on the team were inviting, helpful, and fun. They did a lot to make me love the sport and after my first tournament I was hooked.” Now in his senior year as a team captain, he has been “able to live with my teammates and get to spend a lot of time with them outside practice doing both ultimate and non-ultimate related activities.”
This past summer, McCutcheon made the Eastern Conference Playoffs with the Philadelphia Spinners and also made it to Club Nationals with Philadelphia Patrol. In fact, beating Pittsburgh’s Temper in the game to-go at regionals is his favorite ultimate-related memory: “After we won, everyone was very excited and jumping into each other’s arms.” Look for McCutcheon and Patrol to continue competing for a Club Nationals championship in the future, as well as push the Spinners into the playoffs again next season.
Mac Hecht, San Francisco Dogfish #74
2015 MLU Stats: 2G, 0A, 1B, 45PP
Although he didn’t play many points for the Dogfish this season, Hecht has an ultimate resume that coaches would drool over. Both of his parents played for high level club teams that won national championships, so Hecht grew up with a disc in his hands. He played on his high school team all four years, participated in BUDA YCC, represented the United States on the U-19 team in Italy in 2014, spent the past two years on the club team Boston Garuda, played the majority of the 2015 season with the Dogfish and just joined Brownian Motion, the ultimate team at Brown University (College National Champions in 2000 and 2005).
We asked Hecht about differences between high school ultimate and ultimate at the club and pro levels. “After I was the only guy to play ultimate in my grade as a freshman, I recruited a lot of my friends to join the team, and once they did, it was a ton of fun. The low level of play was sometimes frustrating, but, for the most part, I loved high school ultimate. In general, higher level ultimate is more fun to play and be a part of…learning from older players and incredible coaches has been instrumental to my development as a player and a person. I owe a lot to people like [Dogfish teammates] Gabe Saunkeah, Taylor Cascino, and [Coach] Justin Safdie, to name a few of the many.” You can expect big things from Hecht in coming years: “In an ideal world, I would win a national championship at the college and club levels.” Hecht plans on playing at the highest levels of ultimate for a long time, so be sure to pay attention to the ultimate scenes in the Bay Area and the Northeast to hear the latest about Hecht’s ultimate exploits.