WAC headed to nationals for first time since 2011

Occidental women's ultimate frisbee team practices on at Occidental College. Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Emily Bartylla/The Occidental

For the first time in eight years, Occidental Women’s Air Core (WAC) Ultimate Frisbee team qualified for Division III USA Ultimate Frisbee’s College Division Nationals in College Station, TX. This came after a successful season in which they beat their biggest rival, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS), and secured an overall 7–11 record. According to captain Nora Fujita-Yuhas (sophomore), their recent success is due to a solid recruiting effort, filling out the roster to 24 players, including several new players and first years.

“We did a really amazing job recruiting in the fall, so most of our team players are first years, and a lot of other new people as well,” Fujita-Yuhas said. “It means that the team has such a big future.”

Occidental women’s ultimate frisbee team practices on at Occidental College. Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Emily Bartylla/The Occidental

With a larger roster this season, WAC is able to scrimmage one another in practice. This added strength to the roster not only allows more playing time for all but can also be a huge motivating factor in staying committed, according to Fujita-Yuhas.

WAC has competed in several tournaments from LA to Las Vegas and will soon head to Texas for nationals. Qualifying for nationals for the first time since 2011 is a huge accomplishment, Caroline Fuller (sophomore) said.

“It was almost a little surreal,” Fuller said. “I didn’t really believe it was happening. There was this buildup of, ‘Oh maybe we’re gonna go,’ checking the rankings, and then when we heard — we were like, ‘Oh, is this real?’”

The bond these women share with one another was only strengthened through this qualification, according to Fuller, who said how after receiving the good news, every time teammates saw one another on the quad they would scream and share their excitement. Occidental currently sits at the 16th seed in the tournament. Fuller stressed that despite their current ranking, it is not time to discount the team completely: they have worked especially hard this season and are deserving of their spot at nationals.

Rae Hirschfeld-Smith (first year) catches a frisbee at practice at Occidental College. Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Emily Bartylla/The Occidental

Going into nationals, Fujita-Yuhas said she hopes the team performs the way she knows they can. While they may not pull out a win, she hopes they remember they are capable of competing. Fujita-Yuhas said they will be playing teams with better-resourced programs and players, but that is not enough to intimidate them.

“I think we’re capable of playing really good Frisbee,” Fujita-Yuhas said.

Assistant coach Enway Melo stressed how much extra work the team has been putting in to get to where they are. They have been doing extra conditioning, track workouts, lifting and even throwing outside of practice. Melo said that this has been the key to their success. With practice only being two hours long, Melo said there is little they can accomplish in this time. Players getting in extra reps on their own time has only improved their playing, according to Melo. Turning gears toward coaching for nationals, Melo is working on fine-tuning and perfecting plays and sets.

“We are also going to be doing a lot more conditioning because it is going to be a grueling tournament,” Melo said. “Making sure our girls can play three or four games two days in a row at the actual tournament is important.”

Co-captain Celeste Padula (junior) agreed that gaining so many new players has improved the team dynamic.

“Going into this year, we didn’t really expect to qualify. We were hoping to build our team, and gain some new players,” Padula said. “There’s not that many seniors or juniors, so it was kind of a surprise when we came out so strong in our tournaments this year.”

Occidental women’s ultimate frisbee team practices on at Occidental College. Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Emily Bartylla/The Occidental

Padula also agreed that beating CMS midseason cemented the realization of qualifying for nationals and led the team to keep working to achieve their goal.

“I feel like the new players bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They definitely love being here, and they are all consistently coming to practice,” Padula said. “At this point in the season my first year, we only had five people showing up to practice, so to have 14 or 15 come to practice now is so crazy to me and so much better.”

More important than the game and nationals itself, Melo talked about how strong the bond has become between players.

“This team is just a really great group of women,” Melo said. “They are committed to each other, committed to the team, to working hard and making themselves better players and better people. As a coach, that’s all I can ask for out of a team. To love the sport and love each other.”