Every Denver sports fan knows the Broncos, the Nuggets, and the Rapids. But if you want to follow a team on the rise (sorry, post-Manning Broncos diehards), look no further than Denver’s Molly Brown Ultimate. This month, the state’s top women’s squad heads to Cincinnati for the World Ultimate Club Championships, a weeklong tournament with 39 other clubs, some from as far away as Japan.
Molly Brown’s achievement, while an impressive feat, is also a reflection of rising enthusiasm for ultimate in Colorado. The fast-paced sport—which is like basketball, but played on a soccer field with a plastic disc instead of a ball—had more than 110 competitive Centennial State groups, from youth up through club and college divisions, in 2017. Much of its popularity can be attributed to the storied ultimate club programs at the University of Colorado Boulder, whose women’s team first traveled to USA Ultimate’s College Championships in 1995. Since then, the men’s and women’s programs have qualified for the national competition a combined 34 times—the fifth-best record in the country.
As kids pick up discs to emulate these college players and talented former college athletes enter the adult club scene, the sport has seen growth at all levels. Based on membership to USA Ultimate, the sport’s national governing body, participation in Colorado between 2013 and 2017 grew by 58 percent, which outpaced nationwide growth (24 percent) over the same time period. Colorado now boasts the fourth-highest number of youth members and seventh-highest number of total members across the country, up from 11th in 2013.
When Molly Brown cleats up in Cincinnati, the team will be aiming to bring this community its first world title—a pursuit fueled by months of training. Since April, the players (who are unpaid) have committed to weekly conditioning workouts, four-hour practices on weekends, and weight-lifting regimens. This will be Molly Brown’s debut at the international tournament—a huge moment for athletes who have been in the demanding system for years, like Colorado native Nhi Nguyen. “Qualifying for worlds this year was really special,” says Nguyen, who’s played with the organization since 2013. “This tournament is going to mean a lot, to be able to represent our club and represent Colorado.” Luckily for disheartened Broncos fans, it also means Molly Brown could restore sporting glory to Denver—and there’s still plenty of room on the bandwagon.