Off the ultimate flying disc field, Brett Matzuka doesn’t immediately stand out from his U.S. teammates.
The only things separating Matzuka is his black and white striped hat with an orange bill and his small, quick frame.
The 5-8, 130-pound Matzuka, who describes himself as “small and undersized” says he lets his play do the talking.
The 28-year-old Ph.D. student in biomathematics at N.C. State plays for the U.S. team, which played Team Colombia in an exhibition game at WRAL Soccer Complex on Friday night.
Raleigh is hosting the U.S. Open Ultimate Championships at the WRAL Soccer Complex, with 24 of the world’s best club teams competing.
The U.S. team, made up from players chosen from all of the U.S. teams in this weekend’s U.S. Open, defeated Team Colombia 15-10.
Over 500 athletes tried out for the U.S. team. Matzuka said he thinks he made the team because of hard work and determination. Matzuka’s coaches agree, saying his dedication set him apart.
Matzuka said playing for the U.S. team is the proudest moment in his career.
“It’s pretty much the most honorable and rewarding experience,” Matzuka said. “Everyone in it is fully committed to something bigger than themselves. It’s not just a personal accolade, it’s about the team. To have people who train and have to work out every night, it’s a great experience to be involved in this.”
Matzuka said he enjoys traveling across world and playing the sport he loves. The U.S. team will compete in the World Games in Cali, Colombia later this year.
“You get to travel around and experience new things and do it with something you love,” Matzuka said.
Matzuka said having a major tournament in Raleigh allows him to show his friends his dedication.
“It’s pretty unprecedented to host this,” Matzuka said. “We typically travel to Seattle, San Francisco, D.C. or Chicago, so to have something with the top teams here is a pretty amazing experience. To be able to show people everything you’ve spent so much time and money doing and the sport you love, is great.”
On the national scene, Matzuka who studied as an undergrad in Brisbane, Australia, has played on both the U.S. and Australian national teams for beach ultimate, a variation of the sport played in sand. When the Hawaii native moved back to the United States to attend N.C. State, trying out for Ring of Fire, a club team based in Raleigh, was a natural fit. Ring of Fire is competing in the U.S. Open and has a 3-3 record in the tournament.
Ring of Fire has been a force in the ultimate national scene. One of the oldest club programs, Ring of Fire has qualified for the national championships in 20 of the past 21 seasons and reached the semifinals in 2012.
“The team (Ring of Fire) is full of committed guys who love the sport,” Matzuka said. “It’s kind of a small-market in Raleigh compared to a lot of the other teams here, so we try and let our play do the talking.”
Raleigh was chosen to host the second annual championship because the city is a “hotbed” for ultimate and had one of the top five ultimate cultures, according to Andy Lee, marketing director for USA Ultimate. Lee said strong club programs, such as Ring of Fire, have brought attention to a sport many know little about.
The tournament, with three different divisions for men’s, women’s and mixed, runs through Sunday.