Will Rowledge has been one of the best players in the UK for several seasons, a standout defender who has added to his offensive skillset in recent years to become a well-rounded threat. At the start of the World Games process, when people were incredibly keen to talk to me about who might make it onto the team, Will was one of the names that was most prominent. His making the team wasn’t much of a surprise for anyone. However, just a few weeks before the tournament he suffered a freak recurrence of a shoulder injury and will now be travelling to Alabama to support his teammates, but not to play.
Always under a spotlight
Will first played frisbee as a scout before university, when he was taught only the very basics on an indoor-sized pitch before going on to a final against a much more experienced team on a full-sized outdoor pitch. As though that wasn’t a difficult enough situation in which to have a first competitive game, there was also a crowd of around 1,000 people. Needless to say, it went poorly and his team lost heavily.
Will’s combination of height and athleticism marked him out very early on, though, as someone to watch once he started playing the real version of the sport.
“At my first warm up tournament at university, one of the senior players walked me over to Matt Parslow and said ‘this kid’s the next you,’” says Will. Parslow, of course, was a former World Games player himself.
The World Under-23 Championships in London in 2015 was the first indication that the comparisons might be onto something. As a relative unknown, just a year removed from under-20s, he was a standout player on a very strong team that just missed out on a medal.
“That was an incredibly cool experience. I didn’t really know what was going on, I was just doing what Jools [Murray, the coach] told me to do and trying my best. I think when you don’t know what’s going on and you know less, you remember less of it but I remember it being an incredibly fun experience and Jools really helped me, gave me loads of confidence.”
In the first game of the tournament, Great Britain played the heavily favoured Americans. Will had a great game and was one of the players that looked like they could run with the USA.
“I think I went into it with a different attitude. I think everyone gives them a bit too much respect if I’m honest, they are just like you and me. They get more experience in the top-level games but we are just as skilled as any of them, just as athletic, so their only advantage is the experience. If you go in with loads of confidence I think you can surprise them and I think that’s what I did in that first game.”
Returning to university
Will properly got into Frisbee at Portsmouth university. The team, Sublime, had previously been one of the best in the country, completing an unbeaten open outdoor season and winning nationals with Matt Parslow as captain before Will arrived. Many of the players from that dominant team played for Fire of London, and invited Will and his university teammate Ross Nugent to play with them on a ‘Rising Star’ scheme that helped fund travel.
“They were just trying to get us involved as much as possible. We’d travel up once a week for training in 2016, my first season with Fire. Being not based in London it was quite difficult and Fire tried to make it as convenient as possible.”
Will was continuing to play with his university team, often playing whole tournaments without taking any points off and going to fun tournaments whenever possible, as well as training and playing with Fire.
“I think playing in games where there’s a lot of depth at the top level really makes you better at reading the game, so playing with Fire really helped that. At university there’s a couple of big players and it’s easier to read but it’s much harder when you have to take more into account.”
Move to Clapham
After two seasons with Fire, he moved to Clapham to play at WUCC in Cincinnati.
“WUCC was great but only having been involved in the team for about six months beforehand meant I was less emotionally invested in the team compared to some guys who had been there for years and years. I still gave it my all but it was definitely different. Clapham has changed a lot since then, but I’m really excited to be competing at WUCC again with them again.
“There’s a huge sense of responsibility with my role on the team now. Back when I started one of the captains told me I wasn’t allowed to throw any hucks but now I have permission to do what I want and cause chaos on defence. The main difference really is flexibility on offence.”
The flexibility highlights the main change in Will’s game since he joined Clapham; his throwing. Defensive ability has always been his calling card – he was voted European defensive player of the year in 2018 – but now that he’s able to make the kind of throws that playing at the top level requires he’s able to exert more influence after the turn.
“I love throwing, and I’ve really developed my ability to throw aggressively upfield with more reps at a high level. You build up that confidence over the years and Clapham has really made a difference with that. I’m one of three hybrid players that are called onto the O line if we get broken along with Connor McHale and Josh Awcock. At training, with a smaller O line there’s times where we go a whole training weekend just playing offence.”
Playing mixed at World Games
While Will has focused on open for most of his competitive career to this point, he has played a lot of mixed. Not only was he part of the GB mixed team that won European bronze at beach euros in 2019, he’s been part of Mighty Hucks for a while now.
“I’ve loved playing mixed. It’s a slightly slower game than I’ve been used to with Clapham and I think the options you have are much greater. That’s definitely the case offensively but defensively there are lots of opportunities to create more turnovers as well.”
The World Games was an opportunity to play a game that Will enjoys, but the real draw was that he’s seen it as the peak of the sport for most of his career, since the introduction to Parslow at a beginner’s tournament.
“Seven players of each gender get picked so the high level, the challenge of competing against all these other great players was definitely a reason. I’ve loved mixed every time I’ve played it as well, and then there were the tales about Matt Parslow who’s been an inspiration for me. Since that moment making the World Games team was a goal of mine. When I made it, I felt like I had achieved that.”
The trial process saw him travel to Edinburgh for both sessions, and he’s full of praise for the way the whole thing was run both for players who made it all the way through and those who took part in only some bits of it. Once it was finished and he received his email, how did it feel knowing he was in the team?
“It was such a heartwarming email to read. It was really a special moment and knowing all the effort I had put in had come to this big moment and I got in, it was huge for me.”
Disappointment post Windmill
After working so hard to get into the team, Will was ruled out after injury at Windmill.
“It was the semi-final against Iznogood. We were up at the time and I was marking some of their big players, I did a small layout onto my left side but used my right arm to catch myself. I had thrown myself about in much worse scenarios throughout the tournament but it must have been the perfect combination of the angle and fatigue, and the right shoulder came out.
“I couldn’t even look at my teammates. I felt like I had disappointed [the World Games team], the Clapham lot. Whenever I saw a World Games player at Windmill I was in tears. I felt like I had let down loads of people, even though I had put in loads of effort to get better, make myself as prepared as possible. It was obviously a very tough one.”
Will’s Clapham teammate Ollie Gordon had already been named as the travelling reserve so, after realising what the injury meant for his participation, Will spoke to Ollie.
“I gave him a huge congratulations. I think if I had wanted anyone in UK ultimate to take my spot it would probably be Ollie. He’s been a huge inspiration to me, we have had similar roles throughout our careers and he was playing seniors a long time before I was and has always been an inspiration to my style. I’m really glad he’s going now. He was very apologetic, but I suppose it would have been pretty nasty if he had rubbed it in at that point!”
Part of Will’s disappointment was his perception of the role he had played on a squad that featured a number of people who had never played together before, and in some cases knew each other only in passing.
“I’ve tried to be a very social member on this team, helping bring people out of their shells and bringing the team together, making it fun. I’ve also been able to calm us down in some bigger moments, so I think I’ve had a real impact on the team which is why I was so disappointed. I’ve been so excited to play with some people on this team, messaging people after training about how much you’re looking forward to playing with them. I’m not even sure how to describe the feeling really, but letting people down is probably the closest I can think of.”
Despite that blow, Will is travelling to Alabama. Part of his decision-making process was speaking to Ollie about why he had wanted to go as a travelling reserve, knowing he might not play and having already gone to Cali in 2013.
“I’ve built up some relationships on this team and I am emotionally invested in it. I spoke to Lucy, I spoke to Ollie about his reasoning for going out and they just said the whole experience of the World Games is an amazing one. GB hasn’t qualified for every version of this tournament so this might be my only chance to go, and those off-the-field traits mean I can still help out the team.
“It’s been really hard turning my mind to the off-the-field stuff, but I think it’ll be easier once we’re there and I know what the team needs from me. The hardest thing was at the last training when we were all saying our goodbyes, I had to walk away and be by myself and cry for a while. That was tough.”
This has clearly been a rollercoaster for Will, but he’ll look back on the process fondly.
“This has been so enjoyable. The new friendships I’ve made have been incredible and I think people have viewed me in a different light as well. It’s been really great.”
And there’s always next time, right?
“I think I’ll be a hot contender for the next World Games team. I’m pretty sure about that.”