Abutting polo fields and show jumping courses, flying discs soared through the sky at the USA Ultimate Division-III National Championships in Lexington, Ky., last weekend. After a perfect 5-0 record in their regional tournament in April, the Haverford and Bryn Mawr Sneetch Ultimate Frisbee team earned the chance to venture to the Bluegrass State and play the sport they love on its biggest stage.
After earning trips to nationals in 2011, 2012, and 2014, the Sneetches were thrilled to compete once again in a tournament that showcases some of the best players in their division. From all around the country, 16 teams in both the women’s and men’s divisions played in the two-day tournament, hoping to return home champions.
The Sneetches entered as the 13th seed team in a pool with strong teams from Williams College, Wesleyan University, and Georgia College. In Saturday’s brutal heat, humidity, and sun, they played hard, demonstrating the tremendous player depth that they had been developing all year, but were unable to pull off a win in pool play. In the consolation bracket, they earned dominant wins against Claremont College and Catholic University, finishing 13th and matching their seed.
Captains Larkin Johnson, Zoë Lewis, and Grace Thiele, all of whom just graduated as members of the Class of 2017, were proud of the hard-working and fun-loving team that they led.
“This weekend at nationals was a great opportunity to play against strong women from all over the country,” said Johnson. “Though, of course, we hoped for a stronger performance in pool play, the team’s priority going into this weekend was to give everyone a chance to experience playing at this high level and show their skills on the national stage, and I certainly think we achieved that.”
With everyone on their 19 player roster taking the field over the course of the weekend, the Sneetches both demonstrated and further developed their depth. Williams’ La WUFA, who entered as the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and Wesleyan’s Vicious Circles, who finished as the national runner-up, both encountered tough games from the Sneetches, who played each team within three points, finishing 6-9 and 9-12, respectively.
“Even though we weren’t super excited about our end result, [those games] show that we are a team that can compete with the best teams in the country,” said Opal Bednarik ’19.
“There was this energy that was brought by everyone on our team, the sideline, and all the other teams that was, in one word, electrifying,” said Nava Kidon ’18. “You could just sense the excitement of everyone to be there, how proud everyone was of their team, and how focused and intense people were.”
The team formed in 1994 under the leadership of Matissa Hollister ’94, who originally played alongside men on the open team (now Big Donkey Ultimate), which was founded in 1985. With Bi-Co ultimate’s long history in a relatively young sport, both teams have developed for decades. The Sneetches four nationals appearances in the past seven years highlight the ability of a strong, vibrant program. With an attitude of “fun-tensity,” the Sneetches hold fast to the belief that their on-field performance is bolstered by a love for the game and each other. After a rigorous schedule of practices, workouts, and tournaments this semester, their saying “never apologize for wanting to get better at ultimate” was substantiated with a trip to Lexington.
Donning eye-catching green and yellow uniforms, the Sneetches brought their unmistakably vibrant energy with them. Alongside their post-game serenades of opposing teams and zany team cheers (“We play better when we eat our cheddar! We never miss when we eat our swiss!”) any field they played on was loud with support from family and friends who came to encourage them. Lexington native Susan Kelly ’18 had a large cohort of family on the sidelines, while other fans came from as far away as Michigan, Massachusetts, and our own Pennsylvania campus to witness the Sneetches’ plethora of impressive throws, catches, and defense.
Besides Johnson, Lewis, and Thiele, the Sneetches will also be losing new graduates Natasha Daviduke, Charlotte Edelstein, and Meghan Hoyne Wingate, who have constituted an exceptionally strong core of seniors on the team this year.
“They’ve put a bunch into this team, and we wouldn’t have gone to nationals if it weren’t for their hard work,” said Bednarik. “They’ll be really missed for their leadership and inspiration, as well as their skills on the field.”
The large group of returning Sneetches, however, will help lead the team into the future. And in the meantime, they have this past year’s play to be proud of.
“Our team accomplishments are what I’m most proud of,” said Paloma Paez-Coombe ’19. “It was a lot of developing guts as a team and learning how to trust everyone and work together in really cohesive way that didn’t rely on just one or two star players… I think that’s what got us to nationals.”
-Michael Weber ’19
Photos courtesy of Larkin Johnson ’17.