Tufts alumnus and former men’s ultimate frisbee captain Tyler Chan (LA ’15), less than a year after playing for the Tufts “E-men,” has already made a name for himself on the national ultimate frisbee scene. Playing his rookie season last spring and summer, Chan exceeded expectations, helping the Boston Whitecaps win their second championship in the Major League Ultimate (MLU) frisbee league.
The newest branch of Tufts’ ultimate frisbee alumni tree, Chan graduated from Tufts last year with a BA in clinical psychology and currently works as a mental health counselor at Tufts Medical Center. He is also applying to medical schools primarily in the Northeast, in large part so that he can continue to play for the Boston Whitecaps.
Chan’s dominant rookie season almost earned him rookie of the year honors, and he was named runner-up. His ability to stand out among veteran professional ultimate players is already clear.
“He’s just a freak athlete,” Tufts alumnus and Whitecaps teammate Jack Hatchett (LA ’12) said. “He’s insanely quick, he can jump really high, he can change directions immediately and he’s got limitless energy. He’s just running around full speed all the time. The other thing is, he is just having more fun than anyone else … It’s really fun to play with him, and it’s really fun to watch him play.”
In his rookie season, Chan scored 41 points, including 19 goals and 22 assists. He also blocked five throws despite playing on the Whitecaps’ offensive unit. Chan’s 41 points were the ninth most in the league, and he also finished 12th in goals and 10th in assists. In a testament to his efficient production, all of those achievements came in spite of the fact that he was only 35th in offensive points played in the league.
“We certainly had high expectations that he would be a contributor, but he just blew that out of the water,” Hatchett said. “He was scoring a bunch of goals every game and being a really key member of our starting offense.”
Chan missed the Whitecaps’ first game of the 2015 season, but in his debut on April 25, he tallied four goals and an assist in a win against the New York Rumble.
“I remember one of my first games there were people with signs saying ‘Go Tyler Chan,’ and I had never met those people at all, but it was cool having fans,” Chan said. “Playing in front of a crowd is definitely awesome. It definitely puts a lot more pressure on you, but it’s way more thrilling when you are successful and there’s a crowd because then there are people screaming at you.”
As a result of his successful rookie season, Chan feels the heightened expectations others have of him for the new season, which starts next month. Chan says his favorite part of being a Tufts captain was being expected to carry the team, so he relishes the opportunity to take on a bigger role with the Whitecaps.
However successful Chan’s rookie season was, it would be impossible to tell from simply talking to him. He played down being the runner-up for rookie of the year, joking that since his teammates won just about every other major award, it wouldn’t have been fair to the other teams if he had also won rookie of the year. His Whitecaps teammates certainly were prolific in racking up accolades last season: Jeff Graham earned both regular season and finals Most Valuable Player honors, Josh “Cricket” Markette was named Offensive Player of the Year and Christian Foster received the Defensive Player of the Year award. Considering the Whitecaps have now won two out of the last three championships, Chan may be right.
Chan explained that being able to play with experienced veterans is one of the best parts about his time in the MLU. He also credits them with helping him to adjust to the higher level of competition.
“The level of athleticism is just higher overall for the MLU,” Chan said. “Basically everyone is going to be competitively athletic. No one is going to be a glaring weakness; you can’t really abuse your matchups that much.”
Adjusting to the professional ultimate game proved to be another challenge for Chan, with differences like the size of the field forcing him to adapt his playing style.
“It’s a full football field, so it’s a lot wider and a little bit longer, I think,” Chan said. “It just means there’s a lot more space to cover, and for the defense, it’s a lot harder. For me, that meant, just the athleticism thing, that I got blown up a few times last season because I would slow down during my cuts. It’s so much space, and you’re running for so long, and I would slow down and people would just run by me and lay out [block] me.”
Tufts alumnus and Whitecaps player Piers MacNaughton (LA ’12) said that Chan has had a big role in his past years at Tufts in running the team, and he was the best player on the team.
“I think the biggest learning objective for him as a member of the Whitecaps and also as a member of Ironside was to learn how to be a role-player,” MacNaughton said. “Now he’s joining a team with a bunch of experienced players and talented players and in that type of system it’s very important that everyone play their role, and that role was often less than what he was used to. It’s a testament to his playing ability that he was still able to be a dominant player even in his role.”
Despite the higher level of competition, Chan found a new home on the Whitecaps offensive line. Hatchett specializes in guarding the best player on opposing teams, but even he finds guarding Chan difficult during practices.
“When you play against a guy like Tyler, your technique just has to be perfect,” Hatchett said. “There are certainly a lot of players I can guard, and even if my technique isn’t perfect, I can recover with athleticism. That’s not going to work against a guy like Tyler because he’s too athletic, and once he gets that first step past you, you have no chance.”
Chan’s ultimate career began at Needham High School in Needham, Mass. where he was fortunate enough to slot into an already established program. After playing four years of competitive high school ultimate, Chan found his way to Tufts, where he immediately made the ultimate A-team.
“That year we got Tyler [Chan] and Carter [Thallon], and they were both very good frisbee players, and we were very excited on the A team to have them join the program,” MacNaughton said. “We knew that they were going to be leading the program in a couple of years, so it was exciting to have them start out with us and improve as fast as they could.”
Chan was part of the 2012 Tufts team that made it to the quarterfinals of the college national tournament, equaling Tufts’ best-ever finish. Subsequently, Chan took on more responsibility with the team, becoming a captain his senior season. During his time as captain, Chan emphasized developing the skills of newer, less-experienced players and became more of a leader on the field himself.
“I think one of the big things that helps the team be cohesive is the leaders not only being leaders of the team but also just being friends with everybody,” Chan said. “Not being a domineering and isolated person, but going to social events and not thinking you’re better than everybody else.”
Chan’s superior athleticism allowed him to dominate collegiate competition, and in his senior season at Tufts, he was one of the top nominees for the Callahan award — the highest honors in college ultimate.
“I coached Tyler for four years and had the privilege of watching him grow into a team leader and one of the best players I’ve coached,” newly-retired Tufts ultimate coach Jeff Brown (LA ’90) told the Daily in an email. “Coming out of a great Needham High School program Tyler was a raw talent but had not yet learned how to make best use of his exceptional physical skills — Tyler is quicker than most people, has great hands and great throws. He is the equivalent of a five-tools player in baseball.”
Although Chan did not win the award, he ended his college career with characteristic enthusiasm.
“In our final collegiate game, we were the underdogs and had just come off a really close game against Harvard,” former co-captain Carter Thallon (LA ’15) said. “Most of our players were really tired from a long tournament, and some of us were making some careless mistakes out of exhaustion, but Tyler played well, if not better, than he had all weekend and made a number of spectacular plays. While we did end up losing, his energy and playmaking got everyone else reenergized.”
According to Chan, the Tufts Ultimate team defined his college experience. All of his closest friends were also teammates, and to commemorate his time on the team, Chan elected to get a dove, the team’s mascot, tattooed on the back of his shoulder. The dove tattoo tradition began with the class of 2013, and Chan believes around 15 alumni sport the Tufts dove.
As a former Jumbo finding success in the MLU, Chan is not alone. He was just one of seven Tufts alumni on the championship-winning Boston Whitecaps roster last season, along with Hatchett, McNaughton, Adrian Banerji, Sam Kittross-Schnell, Eric Wilburn and Vincenzo Vitiello.
Despite moving on to the professional league, Chan still follows Tufts Ultimate closely and is still active in the Tufts frisbee community.
“Even though you graduate from Tufts, you’re basically a Tufts student for life,” Chan said. “Every time Tufts frisbee dudes come back to Boston, they always let all the other frisbee dudes know. You have the Tufts alumni network, but you also have the Tufts ultimate alumni network. Every year there’s a group of alumni that go out to watch [college] regionals.”
Chan’s example has inspired many current Tufts players and has continued the school’s tradition of churning out talented ultimate players who make it big on the national stage.
“It’s crazy that just coming to Tufts we got to play with him, and he’s just a normal dude,” Tufts A-team sophomore William Simon said.