Celine Valentin ’14 goes airborne to catch a disc in front of the opposing team from University of Victoria.
The women’s Ultimate Frisbee team qualified for nationals for the first time in school history and placed 13th while competing against giant NCAA Division I colleges like the University of Wisconsin and The Ohio State University.
By Edward Weinman
Walk across Ankeny Field when the sun is out, and chances are you’ll see them: students languidly tossing a plastic disc to one another between classes. While baseball is America’s so-called pastime, Frisbee is Whitman’s pastime.
Ultimate in 9 Simple Rules
The field: A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 25 yards deep.
Initiate play:Each point begins with the seven players of each team lined up on the front of their end zones. The defense throws the disc to the offense.
Scoring: When the offense completes a pass in the defense’s end zone, it gets a point.
Movement of the disc: The disc may be advanced in any direction with a complete pass. Players may not run with the disc. The thrower has 10 seconds to throw the disc. The defender guarding the thrower (“marker”) keeps count.
Change of possession: When a pass is not completed (e.g. out of bounds, drop, block, interception), the defense takes possession.
Substitutions: Player substitutions can be made after a score or during an injury timeout.
Fouls: No physical contact is allowed. When a foul disrupts possession, play resumes as if possession were retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with the call, the play is redone.
Self-officiating: Players make their own calls and resolve their own disputes.
Spirit of the game: Competitive play is encouraged, but not at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules and the basic joy of play.
Source: USA Ultimate,
“Frisbee is similar to soccer. It takes very little extra equipment. All you need is a disc and your friends,” said Kelley Hall ’13.
The geology and physics major takes Frisbee more seriously than the rest of the student body. She belongs to a small group of dedicated women who compete for the Whitman Sweets, the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team, and this season the Lady Sweets took the college on an historic ride all the way to nationals, in Madison, Wis., where the women competed against some of the largest universities in the nation.
“It was hard not to be nervous,” said Hall, one of the team captains. “But we went into the tournament with the mindset that we had nothing to lose. We put it all out there. We were able to shake off the nerves.”
After shaking off the nerves, Whitman threw their way to victories over The University of Georgia and Central Florida to take 13th place, the best-ever finish in school history, an accomplishment made more impressive by the fact that schools like UGA have more than 34,000 students. Whitman’s enrollment in 2012-13 was 1,520.
“The team dynamic and family atmosphere is what made us so committed and competitive this year,” said Natalie Jamerson ’13. “The team is a group of my 20 best friends.”
Ultimate is a club sport, so a student coaches the Lady Sweets. Because this coach is part-time, players like Jamerson sometimes need to train on their own. There is no authority figure standing over the women to motivate them.
“We have three scheduled practices a week and then gym time where we lift and build our strength. We’re encouraged to go on runs and go swimming. It takes self-discipline, but you put in as much as you want to get out,” Jamerson said.
Celine Valentin ’14 trains on her own because Whitman competes on a regular basis against behemoths like the University of Oregon.
“We are so small that we demand a lot out of people in terms of how fast they have to improve. If we don’t step up our games, we might get crushed by the competition.”
The Lady Sweets must travel vast distances throughout the Pacific Northwest for matches against big schools, like the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and UO. There are few local rivals. Because of the travel, Valentin and her teammates have had to become experts at time management to continue to excel academically. Valentin also has become a stronger communicator thanks to Ultimate.
“We get a lot of athletes on the team who have never played before. They ask questions. I have to explain things verbally and help lead. These communication skills have crossed over into my academic life.”
The athletes participating in club sports compete out of the spotlight. This season, however, the Ultimate team was so successful, TV cameras were pointed at them while they competed at nationals.
“ESPN was there. None of us have been exposed to national TV coverage. That was cool,” Valentin said. “I didn’t start playing Frisbee until college and then to be so close to the peak of excellence – this fuels us to get back to nationals next year.”