At the beginning of this year, I put a blank poster over my bed and wrote “Big Enough Why” on it. I was coming off the exhilaration of a summer spent playing with a team that changed my life. I put up the poster with the intention of adding to it when I found new aspects of my Big Enough Why, the drive which pushes me forward when I want to stop. The school year began, then the college season, and for months I did not touch the poster. I told myself I was too busy. I told myself it did not matter if I felt motivated or not, as long as I kept doing my workouts and going to practice. And the thing I told myself the most, repeating it so many times that I could not possibly believe it, was that I was proud to be a D-III ultimate player.

MB 2016 (2)
Photo Credit: Elise Chessman

I love my college team. The Vassar Boxing Nuns are my home away from home and my family, and I am grateful for the opportunity to play a sport in college without the expectation that I structure the rest of my life around athletics. There’s something wonderful about creating a space for people who would not otherwise play a sport to have fun in an environment that has little to no pressure. As a result of our laid-back approach, we attract players who would not otherwise play any sport at all. Accessibility is important, especially for female and non-binary athletes who are told, implicitly and explicitly, that they do not belong in sports.

Although I love the Nuns, playing for a D-III team that chooses not to be competitive can be deeply frustrating. Often, we don’t have enough people to run an intense, full-length practice. We struggle to find enough players to come to tournaments. We play the same teams again and again in tournaments that are too small to attract coverage. It’s easy to feel like I don’t matter. I fell in love with the sport because of the community, but playing for a small school in the middle of nowhere can be isolating. And though I am grateful for the increasing coverage of D-III women’s ultimate, what I’m looking for is more than final scores and stat lines. D-III stories are impossible to tell in wins and losses.

We play for teams too small to scrimmage at practice. We play for teams without coaches. We play for mixed teams because there aren’t enough athletes to have a separate women’s team. We play for teams that don’t have the money to travel. We play for teams that play three tournaments per season. We play for teams that do not know how good they want to be. We play for teams afraid to not do enough. We play for teams afraid to do too much. We play for teams that are always trying to do too much. We cannot do it alone. We need each other.

Photo Credit: Caitlin Burton
Photo Credit: Caitlin Burton

I have two stories I want to share. Both are stories of incredible players from other teams, stories that would not show up in any traditional sort of reporting or coverage. Both are stories about players who have made me better, stories that remind me of what I love about ultimate.

1) Syd Morgan – Wesleyan University

We played Wesleyan B on the second day of conference. At first, we traded points, but then we went up 6-4, and at that moment, Syd took over. She was the hub handler on offense and the deep deep on defense, commanding the field with her throws and directions. She played with the confidence of someone who knows that every disc is hers. She led her team’s comeback, and we played the final four points of the game matched up with each other. We battled, pushing each other harder with every step. After one particularly intense point, I went to high five her, but at some point along the way, the high five turned into a hug. Neither of us was quite sure how it happened, but both of us knew there was something special. Later, I realized what made that moment, that matchup and that game so amazing was the fact that, at the height of competition, Syd and I were working together. We were unrelenting, challenging each other on every throw, every catch, and in doing so, we brought out the best in each other. It was the most intense sense of Spirit of the Game I’ve ever felt. We were not just opponents; we built that game together. I became a better player because Syd was on the field.

2) Lydia, Christina, Molly and Kat – Bard College

Bard doesn’t have a women’s team, so this spring, Lydia (a Bard captain) and I tried to create opportunities for women from both of our teams to play women’s ultimate together. After months of logistical difficulties, last-minute cancellations and struggling to find enough people, we ended up putting together an informal clinic. There were only eight of us, but I had so much fun. Alternating between focused throwing and hotbox, we spent two hours playing just to play. We worked hard because we wanted to and spent water breaks giving people shout outs for specific plays. It brought back the rush of my first few months playing ultimate, when every opportunity to play was exciting and when each person I met made me feel more and more like I was part of a community.

But two stories cannot begin to cover D-III women’s ultimate, and I know there are athletes all over the country who make their teams, opponents and communities better every day. I want to hear those stories. I want reminders that we are building this division together. I want to hear about our Big Enough Whys, about what’s difficult and frustrating and about what keeps us going and makes us better. I am grateful to Syd, and I am grateful to Lydia, Christina, Molly and Kat. I am also grateful to you for reading this, but grateful is different from satisfied.

To all the incredible, resilient, creative, determined, powerful D-III athletes-especially female and non-binary athletes- I want to hear your voices. I hope this is only the beginning.

Please share your stories with me via email at anniers@gmail.com.

Face Close Up
Photo Credit: Sofia Gutierrez Losada