On a warm evening in mid-May, 18 dedicated athletes showed up at the University of Mary Washington’s recreational field to spin, leap and fly.
Their academic year was already over, but several members of the Mary Washington women’s Ultimate Frisbee team came here after working all day. Others returned just to fit in these last few practices before heading to the airport.
Their destination? The D-III College Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was the team’s first trip to nationals since 2019, after two pandemic-constrained seasons filled with masked practices and intermittent competition.
But this season was different. These Mary Washington women seemed almost unstoppable, with a spirited mix of rookies and veterans, and an amazing class of seniors. They taught and encouraged one another, creating a chemistry that made their defense a wall and their offense just plain scary. The team won every game in its conference tournament to seal the nationals bid.
While some D-III teams they’d soon face at nationals are practically Ultimate factories – bringing carefully selected “A” teams and leaving weaker players at home – the Mary Washington women would go as a cohesive unit.
This is the power of club sports at Mary Washington, said Director of Campus Recreation Kelly Shannon. If you want to play, you get to play, provided you make the practices, put in the work and give it your best.
UMW offers 23 club teams in a variety of sports, many of which develop reputations regionally, nationally and even internationally. Students run the show, electing their own leaders, organizing practices and participating in intercollegiate competition.
Both the women’s and men’s Ultimate teams at Mary Washington have years of tradition behind them. The men’s team also went to nationals at the end of their most recent season. Alumni often continue with the sport in their post-collegiate lives, while avidly supporting their alma mater’s teams.
“One thing that really draws people to Ultimate is the community and spirit of the team,” said Ellie Heil ’22, one of three co-captains this year. Several of her teammates had never played the sport before joining the Mary Washington club, she said, but many had previous experiences competing in track, softball and basketball.
Ultimate is a physically demanding sport, with constant running and jumping by the speedy “cutters” and precision-throwing “handlers” on the football-length field. The game requires keen mental focus and quick decision-making. Above all, it fosters sportsmanship: There are no referees or umpires. Players are expected to call fouls on themselves or acknowledge it when someone else calls one.
Besides Heil, this year’s team was led by co-captains Ayumi Yuzawa ’22 and Chloe Wade ’21 M.Ed. ’22. Other players were Ader Gadelrab, Grace Galen, Kiki Lapan, Meredith Miller, Olivia Black, Rachael Harrington, Vivian Hyatt, Mallory Childress, Laura McCann, Rachel Bowman, Mim Gorbach, Natalie Brennan, Carolina Brusch, Katie Heyn, Dayton Keffer, Tess Wilhelm and Ally Tingen. The coach was Kai Jensen.
At nationals, Mary Washington played intensely, winning some and losing some. All told, they finished 14th in the nation – a result they’re proud to bring back home.