May 12, 2023 | SPORTS | By Michael Braithwaite, Co Editor-In-Chief
Zenith Ultimate, Colorado College’s gender-inclusive club frisbee team that plays in the women’s Division III, is heading to nationals this season for the first time since at least 2016. The tournament, reserved for the top teams in each division, will take place May 20-22 in Columbus, Ohio.
The nationals bid caps a Zenith season filled with reflection and discussion. After falling just short of a bid to the tournament in women’s Division I ultimate last season, the team decided to make the move to Division III in the offseason after reassessing their goals and values.
“The DI division in ultimate has been slowly becoming an overly competitive space,” said Captain Mary Andrews ’23. “Whereas in the DIII division, there are a lot of new and existing teams that have really bumped up their competitiveness and have a huge amount of skill, but have kept this fun, weird community vibe that our team really meshes with, while still having that competitiveness.”
The move to Division III has fit the team well. In the pool play of their April regional tournament in Houston, TX., the team scored a combined 52-16, sweeping the round. In the championship round, they first beat John Brown University 12-3, and then survived a close 9-8 match against Rice University in the finals to earn their nationals bid.
“I was on that last point, and I was very scared – my heart was in my mouth,” said Captain Sophia Hennessy ’23. “I had basically played that entire game … there were a lot of emotions on that point, and both teams really wanted it.”
Moreover, windy conditions added another element to the finals matchup, making it more difficult for the team playing upwind to score. However, despite the poor conditions and facing a team that was only running the same seven players on the line the entire match, Zenith pulled through.
“It was definitely a stressful game,” said Andrews. “Some of my teammates will disagree with me on this, but I loved it … It was like one of those moments in your sports career where you just can’t believe it and your whole team is rushing the field [at the end]. It was great.”
The team’s on-the-field success has been aided by a strong first-year class, despite some of whom having never played ultimate before the first practice of the year.
“This year, we have a super big, super strong class of rookies,” said Captain Elsa Hoff ’24. “Some people come in with some frisbee experience, other people not … it’s cool to see how all the different levels of experience, and athletic experience too, came together to form our team.”
While other club teams may have tryouts or cuts to begin their seasons, Zenith does not as part of their commitment to inclusivity. In the eyes of some team members, this inclusive feeling is one of the defining characteristics of the team.
“Anyone who wants to be a part of the team can, regardless of their ultimate experience level,” said Captain Leo Fries ’24. “We have a few players this year who played a lot at regionals and will be going to nationals who started playing frisbee in the fall, like had never touched a disk before. That’s one of the coolest things about Zenith: we don’t do tryouts, and we’re still going to nationals.”
Fries is the designated Spirit Captain of the team, entrusted not only with leading cheers and enthusiasm from the sideline during games but also ensuring that both teams maintain the spirit of the game – following agreed upon rules and applying them in a respectful manner, an important job as ultimate frisbee is a self-officiated sport.
“As Spirit Captain, my job is to know the rules, make sure everyone else knows the rules, and be the point person for any conflict between teams that is fairness-related,” said Fries. “It’s a dedicated position separated from the more logistical side of captainship, to be in charge of team vibes.”
While being “in charge of team vibes” may seem like a somewhat vague position to some, the enthusiasm and cheer from the sideline can make a significant difference in the play of the team.
“In ultimate, the players who are not on the field are really, really involved,” said Hennessy. “I think if you let yourself start getting too down, a lot of the players get more frantic with the disk. Being able to maintain [the idea of] ‘my teammates are cheering, we’re having fun.’ Those sorts of vibes can really make you more confident and just trust in this team and what we’ve built.”
And Zenith has indeed bought in to what they have built. The team’s values, which were instrumental in their decision to move from Division I to Division III, are highlighted on their Instagram page, and are listed as such: inclusivity/accessibility, community/support, growth, accountability, social justice, and zest.
“[Zest] is just a great word because it kind of encapsulates what we’re all about,” said Andrews. “It’s fun and flirty and silly, but also gritty and competitive.”
“I feel like zest encapsulates a lot of this spirit and the goofiness and fun we have as a team,” said Hoff. “We’re creative on the field and have fun on the field, and are coming up with new cheers every point, and stuff like that is what I think really what describes zest really well.”
In preparation for the upcoming national tournament, the team scrimmaged with a local women’s adult team, not only for practice but also to build their confidence in themselves and help alleviate any potential nervousness.
“I think, overall, everyone’s really excited,” said Fries. “Everybody seems like they’re feeling good about it.”
“I’m excited – none of the current players have been to nationals, so I’m excited just to go play ultimate essentially,” said Hennessy. “We’re just going to go play our best and we’ll see what happens. Our sideline is fantastic, we have funny cheers.”
Zenith will travel to Columbus, Ohio for nationals on May 20.