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PY2 Colin Smith, left, and PY1 Taek Lee

Colin Smith sprinted 50 yards down the field as the disc soared above, curling towards the left corner of the end zone. He ran past one defender, in front of a second, and as the disc descended he leaped into the air.

A year ago, Smith could only dream of being in this position — a score away from winning the 2018 national championship with UNC Darkside, one of the nation’s elite teams in ultimate.

As an undergraduate at Texas A&M University, Smith spent three years playing ultimate, the sport colloquially known as Ultimate Frisbee. But each year, he was a spectator during ultimate’s collegiate championship weekend.

All that changed, however, after Smith was accepted as a Pharm.D. student at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“UNC’s pharmacy program is the best in the nation, so it was an easy decision to come here,” Smith said.

Smith wasn’t sure if he would be able to balance pharmacy school and ultimate. But playing for Darkside proved too alluring to pass up.

“When you get the opportunity to join that kind of high-level team — I had to at least try out, try to play,” he said.

A year after that decision, under the May sun on a field in Milwaukee, Smith was a catch away from adding a national title to that team’s legacy.


Much like its pharmacy school, UNC’s men’s ultimate team is consistently ranked among the nation’s best.

Taek Lee was a first-year undergraduate when Darkside won its first championship in 2015. Lee was thrilled for his team, but as a freshman who saw little playing time, he was hungry for more.

In 2016, Darkside played above expectations to make the national semifinals, where the underdogs eventually fell to Harvard. As the favorites in 2017, Darkside reached the semifinals again — only to lose a heartbreaker to UNC Wilmington.

“That loss in 2017 really motivated us, because we felt we could have won,” said Lee. “Coming into 2018, my senior year, there was a lot of pressure to win it.”

As Darkside dominated the 2018 regular season, Smith worked hard to get up to speed. He learned from fourth-year players like Lee, while trying to balance the strenuous pharmacy school workload.

“I was trying to adapt to a new state, culture and university and the large amount of information from the pharmacy school,” Smith said. “By second semester, it became easier to find that balance.”

As Smith adjusted, Darkside kept winning. The team entered nationals and steamrolled back to the semifinals as one of the favorites to win the collegiate title.


But in their semifinal game, trailing Oregon 13-11, Lee couldn’t help but feel déjà vu.

Lee was stuck on the sidelines with an injury, unable to help as his team faced elimination. Oregon was a point away from sending Darkside home.

This time, however, would be different. The team rallied, scoring three consecutive times to win the game and go on to the finals.

Their opponent for the national championship would be Pittsburgh — the only team to beat Darkside during the season. “That loss burned in us,” Smith said.

UNC was sharp to start, opening up an early lead that ballooned to four points in the second half. Pitt battled back to within two. Eventually Darkside took a 13-10 lead — a point away from the national championship.

Disc in hand, 70 yards from the end zone, Darkside’s Elijah Long spotted Smith sprint past his defender and launched a long throw in his direction.

Smith kept his eyes locked on the disc. A second defender dropped back, but Smith stepped in front of him and rose up.

As the disc arrived in the left corner of the end zone, Smith caught it in midair. He landed a national champion.

“It was such a blessing,” Smith said. “I never thought I would catch a national championship-winning score. And it was a great feeling right after, to hug all the guys and celebrate together.”

Colin Smith catches the national championship-winning score for UNC Darkside.

Four months after earning his undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and three months after winning his second national championship, Taek Lee began the Pharm.D. program at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

“Coming into pharm school, I knew that it would be a lot more difficult,” Lee said. “Graduate school is a whole new level of work and extracurriculars.”

He said he’s still trying to find a balance between pharmacy school and ultimate. In this respect, he can learn from Smith, now a PY2.

This is the final year of ultimate eligibility for both Smith and Lee. They are chasing one more national championship. But they are also trying to enjoy their last few months with their team.

“Having ultimate for the past four and a half years has been a great way to check out of school work for a couple of hours, to run around and feel refreshed afterward,” Lee said. “It’s going to be hard to find a new hobby next year.”

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