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All hail Molly Brown and Johnny Bravo. 

Not the people. The teams. Meet your latest national sports champions, Colorado. 

Over the weekend in San Diego, Team Molly Brown won the national Ultimate club championship after years of coming thisclose. And Team Johnny Bravo won the national men’s club title, making it a historic year for slinging the disc in Colorado, and boosting a sport already attracting thousands of players across the state

In fact, just Wednesday the Colorado Alpenglow paid off a fleet of rumors by announcing the first professional women’s ultimate team in the state, with league play to start in spring. The Alpenglow, referred to as semi-pro until those massive sponsorships roll in, will compete in the Western Ultimate League with seven other teams. Some of Colorado’s top players may try out, but others hope any new money in Ultimate would be directed to developing youth teams instead.

But Ultimate is not as well known as, say, Russell Wilson’s dubious guaranteed Broncos contract. So let’s give you some basic facts, and then some details about our new champs. 

The Molly Brown team stands in a huddle during the Ultimate championships.
Denver Molly Brown’s Claire Chastain leads a talk in the huddle during the game against San Francisco Fury. Two teams of seven players play on a football-sized field with endzones. (Sam Hotaling, UltiPhotos)
Claire Chastain, in blue, makes a defensive bid against San Francisco Fury’s Claire Desmond during the championship game. A score is when a player catches the disc in the opposite endzone. (Jeff Bell, UltiPhotos)
Denver Molly Brown’s Rena Kawabata takes a selfie with Alyssa Perez, at left, as the team hoists the championship trophy during the USA Ultimate National Championships Sunday in San Diego, Calif. The championship win is Molly Brown’s first and Denver Johnny Bravo’s second. (Kevin Leclaire, UltiPhotos)

How is Ultimate played

Ultimate, which uses discs like Wham-O’s trademarked Frisbee but doesn’t use the word “frisbee,” combines elements of football, soccer and basketball. Teams are trying to catch the disc in the end zone for one point. You can’t run with the disc — you have to pass. The disc is turned over when the defense intercepts or slaps the disc to the ground. At the opening and after halftime, and after each score, the scoring team kicks off with a long throw called a “pull” to the receiving team. 

Sprinting, varied throwing skills and jumping are premium assets. A skilled receiving team has the advantage, much like a server in tennis, with a high chance of scoring. The defense talks of “breaking” the receiving team with an interception or slapdown, then stealing the available point. 

Does Ultimate have referees?

A prime ethos of Ultimate is that players referee their games. Postgame circle time involving both clubs is a routine at all levels. Partying together after guts-out competition is a given. At the national championships, players still call their own games, but organizers add an “observer” who can overrule calls.

Denver Johnny Bravo’s Cole Wallin catches the disc against Washington DC Truckstop’s David Bloodgood during the open division championship game Sunday in San Diego, Calif. USA Ultimate, founded in 1979, is the governing body for the sport of Ultimate in United States. (Jeff Bell, UltiPhotos)
Two players hug.
Johnny Bravo teammates Ben Lohre, facing camera, and Jay Froude, celebrate on the field in San Diego after winning their first nationals together. “We all just felt so close and cherished every moment we had to play and be with each other. Everyone in ultimate invests so much into our sport it seems natural that we get really close with the teammates we spend the season with,” says Lohre, crediting the tight bond among the team. (Sam Hotaling, UltiPhotos)

How halves work

Match times, much like soccer or tennis, can be a mystery to the average fan. First team to eight, or a set time limit, make halftime. First team to 15 in the second half wins, unless it’s tied when time runs out, in which case it’s a sudden death or golden goal situation. 

Players consult with each other during a game.
Denver Molly Brown’s Manuela Cardenas direct play calls on the line before the pull during the championship game. In between points, teams rotate seven players on the line before the pull, or kickoff in football, is made. (Kevin Leclaire, UltiPhotos)

Is Ultimate a professional sport?

High-level college teams are proliferating, and there’s a national collegiate championship in Division I and Division III. 

So who are these folks, post-college? Many played for their college clubs. Some have current college players who tried out, including a few current CU Buffs club players. 

Molly Brown player Nhi Nguyen, 27, software engineer, is a good example: ecstatic, sore, sleeping off the championship party. What makes Nguyen most proud of her Molly Brown teammates is that for six or seven years, they were stuck with semifinals losses against the Boston Brute squad, then finally broke through this year.

In the finals, Molly Brown beat legendary San Francisco Fury, possessor of multiple past titles, and to that point undefeated. “That felt pretty special,” Nguyen said. 

Denver Molly Brown’s Veronica Eder makes a backhand throw around San Francisco Fury’s Claire Desmond. Throwers have up to 10 stall counts by the marking player before they can make a throw. (Sam Hotaling, UltiPhotos)
Denver Molly Brown’s Manuela Cardenas dives for the disc in the championship game. If the disc is dropped, offense becomes defense and vice versa. (Sam Hotaling, UltiPhotos)

Professional-level Ultimate is happening, but not yet for women in Colorado. Molly Brown and Johnny Bravo are self-funded. They keep careful track of who’s spent what for plane tickets and hotels, and try to subsidize each other. They also couch surf friends for away tournaments. 

The social media stars of Molly Brown are twins Valeria and Manuela Cardenas from Colombia. Now 23, they’ve been playing and winning at international tournaments since they were 13. 

Denver Molly Brown’s Samantha Peletier celebrates under a rain of beverages following the championship win against Fury. (Sam Hotaling, UltiPhotos)
Denver Molly Brown’s Arielle Nelson and teammates celebrate after defeating San Francisco Fury in the championship game. Molly Brown has played in the semi-finals game many times in the years past. (Sam Hotaling, UltiPhotos)

Molly Brown, in existence since 2010, won some rare prize money at an earlier tournament this year. They pooled the money to hire a personal trainer to be on the sidelines for the championship. 

Nguyen says she could use some hip and lower back work.


Molly Brown players hold each other.
Denver Molly Brown players celebrate after defeating San Francisco Fury for their first USA Ultimate national championship Sunday in San Diego, Calif. The team, started in 2010, was named after a 20th century Colorado suffragette and survivor Maggie “Molly” Brown. (Kevin Leclaire, UltiPhotos)

Michael Booth is a Colorado Sun reporter covering health, health policy and the environment. Email: Twitter: @MBoothDenver