Women’s Ultimate Frisbee hopes to compete nationally

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Occidental College's women's Ultimate Frisbee team (also known as WAC) practices at Occidental College in Los Angeles Monday, Oct. 29th, 2018. Victoria Winter/The Occidental
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The women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, also known as the Women’s Air Corps (WAC), has begun training for a new season. The underclassmen-heavy team is working with coaches Linda “Skipper” Venema and Enway Melo in hopes of attending the women’s Ultimate National Championships.

The team is currently led by four captains: Meike Buhaly (senior), Celeste Padula (junior), Nora Fujita-Yuhas (sophomore) and Clarasophia Gust (senior). According to Gust, the team has grown both in size and skill since she joined the team as a first year. She said that in her first year, the team was led by student captains instead of official coaches.

“We had no coaches,” Gust said. “It was pretty undeveloped at that point. It was a very student-led team and that really shined through. At the same time, it’s hard to coach a team and have us do super well if you are also playing, so we didn’t win a lot of games that year but had a great time.”

At the end of that year, Venema and Melo approached the team to volunteer as coaches. Venema said that she approached the team after hearing that they lacked a coach.

“[Ultimate Frisbee] is kind of a small-knit community, so when I heard Oxy didn’t have a coach, when I finished college I said I’d try to help them out,” said Venema.

Since the coaches took over, they have acted as mentors for the team captains, but Gust said that the team is still mostly student-led. Gust feels the coaches have helped the team grow and increase its competitiveness.

“They are very much a part of the team,” Gust said. “They come up with the practice plans and come with us to almost all tournaments. At the same time, they let us decide which tournaments to go to and how we want to recruit. So it’s pretty captain-led.”

Lily Hue (first year) said the coaches are good role models for the team since they are experienced Frisbee players.

“You can tell they know what they are doing and it’s inspiring,” Hue said. “They are always open to answering questions. Same with the captains.”

Occidental College’s Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team (also known as WAC) practices on Jack Kemp Field at Occidental College. Victoria Winter/The Occidental

Venema said her method of coaching is to help the team during their practice but allow the captains to lead as much as possible. She also works to help the team achieve its goal of making it to nationals this year, which requires that the team compete in enough tournaments against other collegiate Ultimate Frisbee teams. According to Venema, the team’s major competition is Claremont-McKenna-Scripps (CMS), and she is hoping to push the team to contend with them on a national level.

According to Gust, even though the Oxy team is in Division III, it competes in tournaments with Division I teams from various participating colleges and universities.

“Usually our tournaments are two days. We usually have to travel pretty far, either to the Bay Area or to Vegas or Arizona,” Gust said. “Then we play four to five games per day, so ten games over the weekend. Games are 75 minutes so it’s a lot of work.”

If the team places well in enough tournaments, they will qualify for Sectionals and then possibly go on to compete in Nationals, which will take place in May, according to USA Ultimate.

Venema said a major focus for this year’s team is building up the skill set of the younger and less-experienced players on the team.

“It’s interesting because we have some girls who have maybe never played a sport before, didn’t play a sport in high school and want to give it a try here at Oxy, so we try to be really encouraging, but we try to bring a level of competitiveness with our sport and the games we play,” Venema said.

According to Gust, this year’s team has a higher ratio of underclassmen to upperclassmen as opposed to previous years. They are focusing on training newer members to bring them up to speed and preparing everyone for the competitive spring season.

Hue said she had not played on a team before joining WAC but grew up playing Frisbee for fun. She said her goals for the season are to build upon her existing skills and get to know the team.

“I would like to be able to throw a deep throw and get more confident handling and make some friends,” said Hue.

The team hosts practices two to three times a week. Gust said the team integrates conditioning into drills to improve stamina and a lot of practices are spent scrimmaging. She said part of the appeal of Ultimate Frisbee is it provides an outlet to de-stress and become involved in a part of the Oxy community that is separate from academics.

According to Venema, WAC and the Ultimate Frisbee community as a whole provides unique opportunities for growth and friendship.

“I think Frisbee is a unique sport in the sense that it comes with a community like none other,” Venema said. “Almost every Frisbee game we play, there is a sense of teams coming together and talking after the game or making friends at tournaments. You get built-in friendships just from playing Frisbee.”