WAC defeats Claremont McKenna, qualifies for USA Ultimate College Championships

WAC members pose for a photo after their win against rival Claremont McKenna in a national-qualifying game. Photo courtesy of the Ultimate Frisbee team.

WAC, the Occidental women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, qualified for the USA Ultimate College Championships — the college national Ultimate Frisbee championship — after beating out conference rival Claremont McKenna Oct. 24. This is the team’s third qualification in as many years after an eight-year drought from 2011–2019. The tournament will take place in Norco, CA, from Dec. 17–20.

According to captain Sophie Havranek (senior), the team played well in 2020 and qualified for the national competition, but could not attend the tournament as it was cancelled due to the pandemic. A USA Ultimate ruling this season will allow players who graduated in 2021 to play in the tournament due to the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 spring nationals, Havranek said.

“We’re allowed to bring back graduated players, so we do have the roster that was performing at that level in 2019,” Havranek said. “Obviously there’s some [team] chemistry stuff to work out, but in general, I would say that we’re like only getting stronger because we’ve had more time to practice.”

WAC competes within the United States of America Ultimate (USAU), which is composed of Division I teams, Division III teams and adult club teams. Occidental is in the Southwest Conference of USAU, which consists of only two teams: Occidental and Claremont McKenna. That means those two teams compete for a bid to nationals each year.

According to Havranek, tournament play throughout the season will determine the team’s power rating, and that power rating determines nationals qualification.

Havranek said a large portion of the team’s success came from strong first-year and sophomore classes joining, which grew the roster and increased the overall skill level. According to Rae Hirschfeld-Smith (senior), another captain on WAC, the team is ready to put the time and energy into doing what it will take to be successful.

“I do think that everyone [has] attached a lot of time and a lot of energy [to the sport] — obviously we, none of us, are D III athletes,” Hirschfeld-Smith said. “We don’t get the same privileges that D III athletes get at this school or we can’t miss class, like we all make a ton of sacrifices to be able to play the sport. And so I think going to Nationals is a really fun opportunity to see the results of our hard work.”

In addition to performing at a high level, Havranek and Hirschfeld-Smith said the team has also been focused on implementing more inclusive measures within the Ultimate Frisbee community.

WAC Leadership Chair Isabel Mascuch (senior) said she has been responsible for leading discussions about diversity and inclusion among team members. These conversations include topics like recognizing the whiteness of Occidental as a predominantly white institution (PWI), as well as the whiteness of Ultimate Frisbee as a sport at Occidental, despite the sport’s relatively high diversity overall.

Mascuch said one change the team has made to remove gender-oriented language was to no longer use WAC as an acronym, which used to stand for Women’s Air Corp, and instead opted to use WAC as a title on its own. According to Mascuch, the goal of these changes is not to tokenize players of color, nonbinary or gender nonconforming players, but to work together to create spaces that are accessible for everyone.

“Trying in every aspect to make it accessible and a space for people of every identity is our goal,” Masuch said. “In WAC, we’re all working to actively think about ways we can make it more inclusive all the time.”

Hirschfeld-Smith said she is excited to compete at the national competition because it elevates the team’s profile and showcases the hard work its members have put in since 2019.

“I think the opportunity to go to Nationals and play on that high level is really, really fun because it legitimizes it in a way that our casual tournaments don’t,” Hirschfeld-Smith said.

Additionally, WAC Treasurer Sanjana Singh (senior) said it is really amazing to get to show people how competitive Ultimate Frisbee can be.

“I think it’s really exciting because it’s a lot of people, who like a lot of us, are honestly new to Frisbee and were very recently introduced to it, and so you don’t totally understand the nature of the sport and how intensive it can be until you see a really high level of playing,” Singh said.