While participating in a discussion session a couple of years ago about establishing a new women’s club team, someone brought up an interesting point. It wasn’t about how to build a team from scratch or how to develop a comprehensive plan to strengthen that team over the next few years. It was a concern about how we could convince players from two rival college teams to play side-by-side because it had never been done before. Over the next club season, could these players go from college rivals to club teammates back to college rivals again? Could rivals ever play together in harmony?
Looking back at the beginning of my ultimate career in New York, I always remember having a bitter rivalry with another team. As much as I hate to admit this, my teammates and I portrayed these rival teams as weaker, less spirited, and less deserving. Games were usually contentious, occasionally escalating to shouts and harsh glares, and were never very fun to play (unless, of course, we won). When our rival team beat us, instead of admitting that they deserved it, we chalked it up to “oh, they just got lucky with some of those grabs,” or “that one bad call they made changed the whole outcome of the game.”
When I moved from New York to Arizona, the rivalries continued. Even before I arrived, I noticed an intense competitiveness between the top two college teams in the state. Each year, both teams would face off in the finals of College Sectionals with one mission: to beat the other team, thereby securing the sole bid to Regionals. During this potential season-ending game, anyone watching or playing could see the determination in each girl’s eyes as she fought hard to beat her rival and declare victory. There were few words exchanged, half-hearted high-fives, and no smiles. The rivalry even crossed from college ultimate into club, making fun, silly tournaments a bit heated at times. It seemed that all was lost and we would never get along. The rivalry would remain until the end of time.
But somehow, things started to change. When my friends and I started discussing the possibility of forming this new women’s club team, instead of focusing on recruiting our friends and former teammates, we decided to try something new. We decided to form a statewide team that would support the development and advancement of players in both of these rival cities. It was initiated in part due to a lack of available club players in our area, but it was backed up by the desire to build the quality women’s ultimate as a whole. We put aside our rivalries and wanted build a team that meant more: one that embodied support, spirited played, and good women’s ultimate.
The first step was to bring players from across the state together. We decided to do this by hosting a skills clinic, advertised to everyone, just before tryouts. There, we learned drills together and scrimmaged together, utilizing players from both cities to act as leaders in various capacities. To us, it was a huge success, bringing in over 50 women. At the end of the clinic, we announced the creation of Venom, and encouraged everyone to come to tryouts a few weeks later.
A few practices into our first season, it was abundantly clear we should have never worried about the “rivalry” issue in the first place. Players from both college teams instantly became best friends and continued to bond and support one another into the next college season. I decided to go to College Sectionals the following year and noticed that the tension, once so abundant and obvious, was gone. The finals, which would advance only the victor to Regionals, was just as hard fought, just as intense, but spirited. There were smiles, high-fives, and hugs.
Now a resident Californian, I’m still in awe of the growth and development of Arizona female ultimate players. Within the last two years, the strength of college and club players throughout the state increased drastically, and I think a large reason for this is that they are playing together, not against one another. In this short term, does this mean that our rivals get better? Yes. Does it mean that we could one day lose to them? Absolutely. But it also means that we are building the quality of players, teams, and communities, which means bettering the entire division. I would call that a win-win.