Gettin' muddy with it

29th-annual Oozefest tournament brings together students, alumni for day of mud volleyball

3037244-2718592698_sm_1400791099_sm_14007910991
The Spectrum

Seven and a Half White Men struggled to march out of the knee-deep mud pit. Their faces were barely visible through the layers of caked-on mud from seven hours of grueling and demanding volleyball.

For the third year in a row, the eight players were victorious.

The 29th-annual Oozefest tournament took place on Saturday in the mud pit behind the South Lake Apartment Complex. The UB Student Alumni Association (UBSAA) organizes the celebratory mud volleyball tournament each year during senior week as a "last hurrah before finals really start," said Jay Friedman, the associate vice president of UBSAA.

The winning team gets free registration for next year's tournament and the top three teams win $15 Target gift cards for each member.

This year, around 1,500 students and alumni participated in 192 teams of six to eight players. Teams were dressed an minions from Despicable Me, in formal suits and gowns, in complete camouflage, as Power Rangers and as the Mario Kart gang. About one-fourth of the teams were comprised of alumni, according to Friedman.

One team, Poached in White Wine Sauce, has been competing in Oozefest for 24 years. Although they have won their bracket in previous years, they have yet to win the tournament.

Every year the six-men and one-woman team dresses up in outrageous costumes. It started as an effort to win the costume contest, but eventually, the team became known for their unique outfits and won so many times, UBSAA enlisted them to judge the contest, according to Friedman.

Their 2013 costumes were six bishops and the pope.

For them it's not about winning - it's about the reunion. Because the best friends currently live across the country, from California to Rochester, Oozefest is the one time of the year they set aside to get together and catch up with each other.

"It's great to see friends and come back to the school every year," said Craig Caplan, who graduated in 1992 and was dressed in the pope outfit. "It's the only thing that gets us together."

Another alumni team, The Sheepherders, has been competing for 20 years. They have won twice - in 1998 and 2003 - and made it to the finals five times. They have a unique strategy compared to other teams.

"So much duct tape and none of that bump, set, spike s**t," said Jason Bellows, core member of The Speepherders and class of 1997 alumnus. "Let the other team screw up. And grow an intimidating beard."

Each year, they have improved their Oozefest presence. While the garbage bag team uniform has stayed the same, they have learned to come prepared. One year, when it snowed, they stashed a car with supplies. That has progressed to renting a small U-Haul and parking it in the South Lake Apartment Complex parking lot.

They lined the inside with garbage bags and were fully stocked with coffee, snacks, water bottles and duct tape. The team men made it to the quarterfinals but lost earlier than expected this year.

"We are older than most of the participants and we have been competing for as many years as some of you guys have been alive," Bellows said. "The fact that us old f**kers can still make it to the finals or even win is exciting."

They left with another collection of "bittersweet" muddy memories and the promise to come back next year because, according to Carl "Big C" Miller, the captain of The Sheepherders who graduated in 1997. "It's a great time to see everyone we love and even though we all keep in contact with each other, this is a solidifying event."

Throughout the bright and sunny day, teams slowly dwindled until only the best were left. Rather than defeat on their mud covered faces, it was enjoyment. Groups of students left muddy trails as they walked to the showers outside of Alumni Arena.

The winning team, Seven and a Half White Men, weren't in costume, but were wearing matching T-Shirts. But by the end of the tournament their lime green shirts were dripping brown.

In the final game, they played Just the Tip, a team that lost to Seven and a Half White Men the previous year. Both teams were comprised of recent UB graduates. Seven and a Half Men almost lost it all toward the end as Just the Tip attempted a come from behind victory. But when the buzzer signaled their game time was up, Seven and a Half Men won 18-17.

This was the team's third victory in a row.

They say their secret is "the skyball."

"[Skyballs] are a super high serve," said Megan Nostro, a second year master's student. "Some people complain about them, but we do what we got to do to win."

Sean Steckelberg, a member of the team who didn't attend UB but who used to play volleyball with Paul Dhand, class of 2011 alumnus, offers his advice for other teams who hope to win Oozefest.

"Don't bother because we will be back next year," Steckelberg said. "Threepeat!"

Seven and a Half White Men plan on coming back to Oozefest for years to come and one day being the "old guys" at the tournament.

Email: features@ubspectrum.com