Until recently, COVID-19 restrictions meant Claremont’s Ultimate Frisbee teams were confined to practices at home. But with new guidelines allowing limited travel to tournaments, the clubs are gearing up to get back on the field this fall.
Tournaments and success are important, but the Greenshirts prioritize building a welcoming community
Having completed their first match on Oct. 24, the 5Cs women’s ultimate frisbee team, the Greenshirts, are striving to replicate previous successes at Nationals.
The Greens are one of two teams playing in the Division III Southwest SoCal DI conference of USA Ultimate, with the other program being Occidental. Team captain Natasha Vhugen SC ’22 said the Greenshirts have been very competitive over the past decade.
“We had a seven-year streak of going to Nationals,” she said. “We were actually tied for the longest-running Nationals streak in the country, but unfortunately, that was broken in my sophomore year when we didn’t make it [in 2019].”
To punch their ticket to Nationals, Claremont must have a better overall record over Oxy at the end of the season.
“[The Greens] are a part of the only league in the country that has two teams in a league, which [makes it] difficult,” Vhugen said. “So every single point of every single game counts; [the committee] also factors in aggregate points.”
Despite Nationals usually being hosted in May, preparations for this competition begin in the fall.
“We welcome everyone regardless of experience and skill level; there are plenty of people who come in having never touched a frisbee in their entire lives,” Vhugen said. “Normally in the fall, we attend one or two tournaments that we sort of jokingly refer to as learnaments because they’re just mostly for learning and for development while not counting for anything.”
While participating in these early competitions, the team typically has practices consisting of long warm-up routines and lots of “active throwing drills.” These consist of intense running and tossing exercises geared to train members for more complex schemes in the sport.
“The captains then typically teach a concept, which [might be] a zone or specific type of defense and positioning that we want to have on the field,” Vhugen said. “After we teach that verbally, we run a couple drills for [the concept] and then we scrimmage at the end of practice, usually for at least 45 minutes while incorporating the [scheme] we just taught.
Following this preparatory stage, the Greens attend more official tournaments in the spring and play a minimum of 10 games within them. They also engage in the Northwest Challenge, considered one of the biggest collegiate ultimate frisbee tournaments.
“Tons of teams come, and we get to play teams from across the country that we never ordinarily get to play,” Vhugen said. “We’ve played Brown a couple times when they flew out for the tournament.”
Along with these outside competitions, this year features Nationals in both the fall and spring semester. Typically only held in the spring, the fall championship series was made to give an extra opportunity to athletes who missed out on the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to the pandemic.
But the Greens are still sorting out health guidelines that govern how to participate in these competitions.
“We are allowed to stay in hotel rooms as a team, but everyone has to be vaccinated,” Vhugen said. “If you are not vaccinated, you have to have a negative test result within 72 hours of play and play with a mask on under USA ultimate rules. But, at times, the messaging has been confusing about what set of guidelines we’re even expected to follow.”
Additional struggles have arised when considering the funding aspects of ultimate. Not officially regarded as a collegiate sport, the Greenshirts face more out-of-pocket costs than other athletes.
“We often have to fund our own travel; it’s not at all fair for every person on the team to shell out, what can add up to be $400 over the course of the whole year to play,” Vhugen said. “At times it feels like [the Greens] are not being prioritized or taken very seriously because it’s not a varsity sport.”
Despite these obstacles, Vhugen said the Greens have continued to foster a wholesome community. In addition to attending collective team meals, they have also maintained camaraderie through “assigning nicknames and writing small booklets for one another.”
This inclusive, heartwarming cultural aspect of the team is also reflected in the nature of the sport itself.
“I think what makes frisbee so special is because it’s a self-refereed sport,” Vhugen said. “When we’re playing, there’s a team that wins in terms of points but there’s also a team that wins in terms of spirit. A spirit award is given out at every tournament for the team who plays the most respectfully and with the best sportsmanship.”
Ultimately, as one of the Greens’ co-captains, Vhugen hopes to provide a safe space for team members to find mental and emotional catharsis.
“I think the team for me is a break from school, from my job,” she said. “It’s a break and release from all of the potentially more stressful things that are happening throughout the day.”
With a new coach, the Brains look to make their mark
On the men’s side, the Braineaters play in the D3 Southwest Men’s league with two other SCIAC conference teams: Occidental and CalTech.
Similar to the Greens’ weekly practices, Griffin Campion PO ’24 said the Brains also participate in elongated, detailed warm-up exercises and “focused throwing” drills.
“Everybody has a partner and practices different kinds of throws; trying to dial those in both as a warm up and get general practice,” Campion said. “We then do different drills that the captains set up, depending on what they’re trying to have us work on at the time. After going through certain styles of offense or defense, we oftentimes will play a scrimmage to review.”
With the loosening of restrictions, Campion said recent approval for the team to travel to tournaments is something “exciting to look forward to.”
“Up until now, we’ve been practicing for two and a half months and haven’t been able to play a single game,” he said. “Not being able to play a single game can become discouraging after a while … you don’t get to use what you’re practicing in a competitive context.”
Despite recent challenges, Campion said the club provides spaces to learn about the nuances of the sport through the lens of other experienced veterans on the team.
“Throwing with some people is really satisfying because you kind of learn how others operate in the sport,” he said. “We had a more social event recently where we got put into teams and did different kinds of fun challenges and things like that.”
In addition to learning from peers, the Brains have gained a coach this year, who will come to practices and mostly help out during game-time situations. With team captains usually taking control of how the team operates, Campion said this change was a pleasant surprise.
“I think [the coach] will be able to look at the bigger picture when the captains are playing,” he said. “That’s going to help with cohesion, especially during games; it’s just nice to have somebody with so much experience on the field as well.”
Along with this new addition to the team, the Brains look to strengthen their athletes physically to be prepared for tournaments in the near future.
“I feel like the Brains have had more intensified practices that have really improved our play,” Campion said. “We do some pretty consistent conditioning every time and I think that’s allowed us to play a lot better with each other.”