I have been coached by some of the greats. I began playing ultimate at the Paideia School. Jess Cofrin first taught me a horizontal stack. Liz Duffy, who went on to be a longtime star with San Francisco Fury, succeeded Jess and helped me understand handler motion. Martin Aguilera, coach of the 2013, 2015 and 2018 U-24 Mixed National Team, was something of a doting uncle in my initial seasons, assisting the girls’ team every now and again with defensive positioning and end-zone plays. My senior season, the illustrious Miranda Roth Knowles returned to Paideia and transformed my game, while simultaneously breeding confidence into my leadership skills. Hannah Leathers of the All-Star Tour and Atlanta Ozone co-coached my Youth Club Championships team, Catlanta, the summer before I headed off to college. I even toss with Michael Baccarini, co-author of Essential Ultimate, at alumni pick-up matches over the holidays.

I’ve needed the help. When I joined Groove – the Paideia women’s team – at 15, I was the player who would run the wrong way after a turnover. The masterful coaching I received at Paideia, and from the broader Atlanta ultimate community, has defined the way I play today. Every time I tie up my cleats, I think of Jess’ refrain to “get in her shorts” on defense and Miranda imploring us to “command the field” on offense. I have enjoyed the immense privilege of fostering relationships with some of the most notable women (and men) in the game. They have been mentors just as much as they have been teachers.

I joined Chaos Theory at Bowdoin College in the fall of 2014. The team won the D-III College Championships the year before. I followed an impressive Paideia alum, Ana Leon, from Georgia up to Maine. The spring of my senior year of high school, she made sure I attended a practice on my visit, and the women I met in the field house then became familiar faces in an unfamiliar place during my first semester at college. Some had played ultimate through high school, while others were recruited to Bowdoin to play varsity sports and became ultimate converts. Others fell in love with Chaos while throwing on the quad early in their first years. This lovably ragtag team came in second on the national stage my first season. The next spring, we began the season at the top of the rankings.

CBerlin.teamphoto.GUMblog.6.5.17
Photo Credit: Michael Broos

We do not have a coach. Now, as a junior, I have watched opponents gain seasoned voices on their sidelines over the past three years. My teammates are mostly adamant, though, that we can do better on our own. There is a belief that a coach will disrupt our culture and our deeply heralded underdog mentality that has to do with grit and stronger second halves than firsts.

This attitude has shifted since I first joined Chaos. We hold chalk talks and circuit workouts and have cemented three new defenses since January. We are not looking for a coach. This, in turn, drives my own frustration and pride. We are missing out on the advice of players who have thought about this game for much longer than we have, and we lack an authority figure outside of our own power structure. Playing in Portland, Maine’s summer league showed me the wealth of talented female athletes so close to our community. But we have also, undoubtedly, done well on our own. We entered the postseason series with a nearly spotless record.

I scored my first-ever point at Amherst Invite in May 2012. It was the only point I scored my first season on Groove. Minutes before, Jess Cofrin put her arm around my shoulder on the sideline and told me I was going to score in the game. There was a turn; I ran a few yards into the end zone, unmarked, and caught a floaty backhand. Earlier this spring, I returned to Amherst for a make-up day of play, as New England Open was cancelled in the wake of a March snowstorm. Chaos was in good form; we went 3-0, handily. We ended the  season successfully with another appearance at D-III College Championships and a solid ninth place finish. As I looked out onto the nationals’ fields surrounded by my lovably ragtag team—I felt pretty darn content.