By Brendan Shykora
As far as sporting trajectories go, it’s hard to imagine a direct line between competitive volleyball and professional ultimate frisbee.
But that was the path taken by Aidan Hayter and Scott Graham, who in their first season with the Ottawa Outlaws of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) also find themselves on Canada’s Under-20 World Junior roster.
“I actually think a lot of players can go from volleyball to ultimate, or from ultimate to volleyball,” Graham said.
As it turns out, there are likenesses between volleyball and frisbee that explain how the two 19-year-olds transferred so fluidly from one to the other. For one thing, in both sports a player’s sense of timing is crucial.
“When you’re trying to read the disk in the air and jump at the right time to catch at your peak height, that’s something a lot of players struggle with when they’re learning,” Graham explained. “I think that’s a really transferable skill coming from volleyball.”
Timing isn’t their only advantage: at 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2 respectively, Hayter and Graham went from being diminutive on the volleyball court to being among the tallest on the frisbee field—a useful edge when challenging for a flying disc.
In high school Graham and Hayter spent three years on the same competitive volleyball team – the Ottawa Fusion Volleyball Club. Around the time Graham was calling universities in search of openings on varsity volleyball clubs, he joined Ignite, a competitive team within the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate Association.
After deciding to focus on frisbee in the summer of 2017 he persuaded Hayter to follow suit.
“He’s the guy who really helped me get into Ultimate,” Hayter said. Graham would later push Hayter to try out for the Outlaws and the U20 national team in February, and together they managed to crack both rosters.
“I achieved higher than my expectations,” Hayter said, having only been playing the sport competitively for one year prior to the tryouts.
Graham was less surprised by his teammate’s success: “Aidan’s probably one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever met. I knew he’d be a contender.”
The 2018 World Junior Ultimate Championships take place in Waterloo – where Graham goes to university – from August 19 to 25. Canada set a high bar at the most recent championships in 2016, taking gold in the women’s division and silver in the men’s. Graham and Hayter say they look forward to furthering Canada’s international reputation on home soil.
“It’ll be a great experience playing in front of friends,” Graham said. “I can’t wait to see how we stack up against other top players in the world.”
For now, they’re in the middle of their first season as professionals – a season that’s been an uphill grind for the Outlaws. The team has yet to make the playoffs since joining the AUDL in 2015. Currently sitting in last place in the Eastern division with a 2-9 record, they’ll once again be on the outside looking in.
But as Hayter indicates, the games have been closer than their record suggests, “We’ve had some really close losses, so it kind of appears like we’re not doing well in the standings but we’re definitely giving good runs at teams.”
Two overtime losses to Montreal Royal and a close 21-19 loss to the league-leading Toronto Rush support his claim.
But even in a losing season, Graham and Hayter revel in the “spirit of the game” – a common phrase in the sport referring to its unique culture of sportsmanship. At all levels below professional, games are played without referees; their role is assumed by the players themselves.
“The calls are all based on the players’ honesty and their integrity,” Graham said. “I think that’s super cool. It takes a real gentleman to be able to say ‘yeah, I fouled you,’ even if it might put the game on the line.”
“The morals of the sport are really important in ultimate.” Hayter added. “It’s a lot different than a lot of other sports in that way.”