This weekend the University of Massachusetts ultimate frisbee team will make their way to the Division I championships in Mason, Ohio. Over 24 Div. 1 men’s teams from all over the country will be competing over a four-day slate starting on Friday through Monday.
Luca Harwood, an Amherst native, has been a member of the team throughout his time at UMass and is eager to make his mark this weekend on the big stage — and fulfill an opportunity to bring a national championship home for ‘Zoodisc.’
It almost seems as if Harwood has been gearing up for this moment since he was little.
Growing up, Harwood was introduced to throwing a disc at a very young age – for great reason. His father participated in ultimate many years ago – though it wasn’t as big as it is now. That, and the fact ultimate is very popular in the Amherst community intrigued Harwood.
From the fourth grade onward, Harwood spent his free time throwing the disc around whether it was pickup games at the park or a summer league. When he eventually arrived at Amherst High School, he was ready to play the sport he had grown up with in a more organized setting, with more advanced coaching, and be a part of a true team.
“Throughout grade school I kind of got more into the sport,” Harwood said. “And Amherst High School has a really good program, so it always gave me inspiration [to get better] when I was younger. Seeing that the school takes the sport seriously [almost] made me take it more seriously.”
During his time with the Hurricanes ultimate team, Harwood began to really hone his skills and take significant steps toward becoming a really good player. Every spring, he would take the field and compete for the ‘Canes, but his season was far from over.
In the summer’s he competed for the Boston Ultimate Disc Alliance. Also known as BUDA, this team was comprised of some of the best players in the state and would immediately follow his high school season – which allowed Harwood to further develop his skills.
“That was a big part of high school for me,” Harwood said. “It allowed me to take it really seriously in the summer after having a very long spring season. The amount of time that I was [usually] playing just got doubled which was huge for my development.”
As Harwood’s skills began to take shape, his passion for the sport only grew. Although continuing to play would not be at the forefront of his college decision, it was a talking point.
“It was a part of it actually because I wasn’t sure if I was gonna play originally because I just wanted to focus on my academics,” Harwood said. “But I knew that UMass had a team and that it would be there for me.”
Although academics were important to Harwood, he knew being part of the team would be a great way to keep playing the sport he grew to love.
After being part of the team for three years, Harwood was introduced to the American Ultimate Disc Leagues’s Boston Glory, Massachusetts’ professional team.
“It was kind of word of mouth,” Harwood admitted. “I had a friend who I had played with for years who played for Glory. Since it’s such a small sport, if you’ve been playing at any kind of high level for a good amount of time eventually people will start to recognize your name and remember it. And so I think that definitely helped.”
Soon after, members of the Glory attended some of Harwood’s games and eventually he made the decision to become a member following his collegiate season.
“I’m really excited to play for them this year,” Harwood said. “I’m playing with guys on Glory who I don’t really play with a lot because I just used to play with my college teammates so you know, there’s like some chemistry that has to be built there and everything. But I’m really excited. It’s gonna be a blast this year.”
Although he has earned everything that has come his way, joining the AUDL and becoming a member of the Glory still leaves Harwood in disbelief.
“First of all, one of the really cool things about the [AUDL] is you don’t have to pay to play,” he said. “In college and any other division, you have to pay. And so it’s a pretty amazing opportunity to be able to play ultimate and not have to pay for it and actually get some compensation for it. Like that is just a thrilling place to be that I didn’t ever think [was possible].”
This weekend will mark the pinnacle of Harwood’s success, yet he has so much more to attain. Whether it’s been with a team, some friends or just tossing the disc around at a local park, he’s always enjoyed the sport. It has allowed him to be a part of a small, close-knit community and he’s been able to play with and against so many talented players and teams.
But, to this day, if there is one person that he’d want to toss the disc around with over anyone else, it would be his father.
“He got me throwing that thing at a young age,” Harwood said. “I have the most fun throwing a Frisbee with my dad because he’s been so important and has supported me throughout this whole journey.”