“The moment I found out that I made the team, I was sitting on a plane, wheels about to come off the ground. I gave my mom the phone and she just let out the loudest, ‘oh my god.’ I swear everyone on and outside the plane heard!”
For Olivia Arellano, making the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team was the culmination of her long journey back to the international stage. “I felt excited and exhausted at the same time,” she added.
In another part of the country, Emily Pozzy couldn’t tear her face away from her screen.
“I probably checked my email every three minutes,” she admitted. “When I finally saw one with the subject, ‘Congratulations,’ I was absolutely shocked. I was so happy for the rest of the day and couldn’t wait to be able to tell more people.”
Olivia and Emily are two members of the 2020 U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team who have a common bond, not only with sharing the international stage together, but also by being recipient’s of Ultiworld’s Block of the Year. This popular series features a bracket of the top defensive plays of the year, and fans vote each round for which clips to advance to the next round.
“A lot of credit should definitely go to the camera work (@unchuckable),” stated Emily. “Also…friends, family and teammates were relentlessly pestering people to vote for me until I got the lead. I’m pretty sure that’s why I won, and I readily admit that.”
Emily won the award in 2019 for her layout interception in the Maine High School State Championships that led to a 60-yard huck downfield, setting up an easy score.
“I still think it’s super cool that I did win, and even cooler that Olivia did too and now we get to play together!”
In 2018, Olivia made it to the final round where she beat out her idol and 2016 Block of the Year winner, Manuela Cardenas, with a diving block to prevent a sure score by her opponent.
“I remember when my D was going against Manuela’s; I was so nervous because I was going up against one of my inspirations,” described Olivia. “It was so mind blowing to be held at the same level of intensity as Manuela.”
While extremely honored to receive the award, Olivia was even more appreciative of what the process did for her personal life.
“It gave [my family] a glimpse of what my passion is. It also gave me the opportunity to show extended family and friends what sport looks like. They shared it all over their social media.”
While Emily and Olivia share this bond together, the paths they took to get to the national team could not have been more different.
“I actually started with disc golf,” admitted Emily. “I was playing with my parents before I could even walk the whole length of the course, and around fifth or sixth grade, I got super into it and even played in a women’s tournament.”
However, Emily’s passion switched to ultimate when she realized it was more fun to throw a disc and run rather than wait for other people. With her dad being a local organizer in Portland, Maine, Emily grew up watching a plethora of games. Before long, she found herself playing for a team, and soon after playing against girls much older than her!
“I started playing ultimate in fourth grade for a different middle school because mine didn’t have a team, but the next year we started a team that I played on for four years,” described Emily.
Continuing her “playing up” trend, she played on high school and YCC teams while in middle school and also participated in a summer adult league until she was 15!
“Having all of these experiences so young definitely helped my game because I had so many people willing to coach me, and when I played with kids my age I got to be a leader.”
Even with all the experience playing against older players, Emily’s toughest but most rewarding challenge was trying out for the national team. “U-20 tryouts were easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to strengthen my own mental and physical game, and to play with so many amazing players from all over the East coast.”
Olivia, meanwhile, had a completely different introduction to ultimate and motivation for joining the sport.
“I got involved with ultimate my last year of middle school,” she described. “I would go watch my brother play, and his coach saw my throwing and he asked if I would play when I got into high school. But I only wanted to be better than my brother, so that’s why I played!”
Olivia got her first taste of ultimate during her freshman year, but during the middle of her sophomore year, she and her family packed their bags and moved from Dallas to Washington D.C.
“I’ve had really good experiences playing youth ultimate. Even though I haven’t really grown up in one place, it’s exposed me to many hard working youth athletes.”
In 2018, Olivia was invited to try out for the U-20 Women’s National Team. Even though she was honored to be invited, her expectations were low as she knew she wasn’t as experienced as the other girls.
“During that tryout, I was kind of herded out of my comfort zone. There were so many cutters, and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to stand out.”
To make matters worse, Olivia broke her hand the first day of tryouts, but continued to play. “I didn’t spend all that money to just sit on the sideline!”
Even though her odds at making the team were already slim, Olivia decided to slowly become a handler to add a new skill to her arsenal, showing her adaptability and mental toughness in the process.
“I learned a lot about myself as a player as well as how important being a team player is.”
Now that Olivia and Emily have made the national team, they are honored to represent the United States and can’t wait for their opportunity to compete on the largest international youth ultimate stage.
“I’ve wanted to be on the national team ever since I even knew it existed,” added Emily. “I’m so excited for everything that this experience will bring and can’t name anything because I haven’t gone through it yet.”
“Being able to represent my country means so much,” described Olivia. “Being able to play and compete with some of the best youth female players and be picked to represent the team is such an incredible opportunity.”