Saturday, May 21, 2011

Callahan Profile: Samantha Huo (Washington University)

I have worked with Sam Huo extensively over the past few years and can say with confidence that no other college player in the country has pushed her team to be as selfless as Sam has. Sam has poured hours into bettering women's ultimate in the Midwest and sets the bar incredibly high for her team as well. During Sam's two years as a captain, Wash U has spent thousands of dollars flying in guest coaches for other teams in their section and region, has invested time and money into running clinics at the multiple tournaments they've run, and has even donated money to programs in other regions to help them get new tournaments off the ground. Sam's vision for and dedication to the college division is exemplary. Sam has been the catalyst of much of this. Sam's skills on the field speak for themselves (and are incredibly impressive), but her impact on college women's ultimate cannot be overstated. In this feature, we talk with Sam and then as ask her frisbee mentor and coach Abby Stephens some questions.

First, some questions for Sam...

1. When did you start playing ultimate?

I started playing my freshman year after signing up for club ultimate at the activities fair. I’d been a competitive tennis player before college but wasn’t interested in playing varsity or club, so I was looking for a new sport to try. For awhile I wasn’t particularly interested in ultimate and just enjoyed running around a few times a week, but after going to my first tournament I was hooked and haven’t missed one since.

2. Describe your game in 5 words.
Efficient, risky, versatile, aggressive, strategic.

3. What is your biggest strength as a leader? On the field?
I think my greatest strength as a leader for WUWU is my ability to motivate my teammates through my playing. Motivational speeches and cheering aren’t really my thing, so I try to approach leadership in a different way. I work to have an extensive knowledge of the game and put a lot of energy into strategy and teaching, but I believe true leaders inspire through action. I’m personally always driven to play harder for my team when I see one of my teammates absolutely exhausted, but somehow still able to find that extra fire within themselves to keep cutting hard on O and fighting for that critical D. I aspire to do the same as a player and captain on WUWU.

4. You've brought the Wash U program a long way. Describe your vision for your team and for women's ultimate.
College ultimate has been one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had. I have grown immensely as a person through the sport and now have the privilege of being friends with some of the most upstanding and truly selfless people I have ever met. The women’s division is still young though, and many schools and teams around the country are still in the formative stages. Through my experience with WUWU, I’ve become truly convinced that change starts with the efforts of individuals, who together, can make the sport more competitive and promote its spread and growth. This was one of the key visions behind Midwest Throwdown and the Roundup Division - we attempted to bring knowledge from the coasts to the underdeveloped Midwest, to teams who could then implement that knowledge back at home. I really have to
credit Michelle Ng with the ingenuity of it all. This was a larger, more organized effort, but we can all increase the legitimacy and competitiveness of our sport through smaller actions: by playing hard on the field, acting with integrity on and off of it, recruiting new players, teaching rookies, and so on. I believe vast strides have already been made in only the past few years, and I know there are teams out there benefiting already - my own being a prime example.

5. Talk about the people who have shaped your ultimate career and the way you think about the game.
After my first year of ultimate, I was still totally clueless. I reminisce with some of the alums now and talk about the countless times I would turn over the dump after running down a huck just outside of the endzone. Fortunately Abby, my captain at the time, saw hope in me and we spent a ridiculous amount of time that summer playing ultimate, throwing, and talking strategy - at one point we attempted to calculate just how many hours we’d spent on ultimate in one week...we totaled 26. Abby has really fueled my ultimate obsession ever since then, and more importantly, shaped the way I think about the game and my own leadership. When problems arise, her passion and infectious energy for this program and sport remind me of why it’s all worth the hard work in the end. What really inspires me about Abby though, in ultimate and in life, is how selfless she is. Both she and Chung Lee, our coach my sophomore year, never cease to amaze me in how much they think about how to improve WUWU and sacrifice for our team (even though Chung no longer coaches us). I strive to give back to the
team and this sport as much as they have.

And now some questions for Abby...

1. As someone who's done a ton for women's ultimate in the Midwest, what makes Sam stand out in your mind as a leader and advocate for women's ultimate?
Coming from an athletic but non-Ultimate background, as Sam fell in love with Ultimate she quickly realized the potential for growth of the sport and the college women's division. When Michelle Ng approached WUWU in 2009 about running Midwest Throwdown, Sam quickly volunteered to help make the tournament run smoothly and provide much-needed playing opportunities in the Midwest. Since then under Sam's leadership, WUWU has hosted three more tournaments, two skills clinics, and a round-up division. The fall tournament Midwest Warm-Up was run purely as a fundraiser to fly in elite-level guest coaches for the upcoming round-up division, and some of the profit from other tournaments was donated to help other developing teams get off the ground. Instead of just saying she cares, Sam shows it with her time and resources and how she leads her team.

She is also applying her developing interest in sports medicine to work for better injury prevention in college Ultimate. Working with Jamie Nuwer, she has been collecting injury data from college teams nation-wide this spring, and next year they plan to implement a training program designed to decrease the number of players who have to be sidelined due to injuries.

Although Sam has been playing for less than four years, she's already given so much back to women's Ultimate, both to her teammates and her opponents. All she wants in return is to get to play the game she loves. To me, there's no better way to be an advocate of our sport.

2. Describe Sam's development as a player over the past four years.
A tennis player in high school, Sam came to Wash U wanting to try something new. She found Ultimate in the fall but didn't really get hooked until the spring. That summer the two of us played on St. Louis' mixed team One Trick Pony. It was probably the best summer of my life, as we played club, summer league, hat draws, 500, and threw in our front yards upwards of 20 hours per week, purely for the love of the game.

When she returned to college Ultimate as a sophomore, she was a dominant force and would have been an obvious all-region pick, had she not sustained an ACL tear. She spent the next two years enduring multiple surgeries and rehab, all the while coming to every practice and developing every throw she could, including a hammer, full-field pull, high release backhand huck, and game-ready push pass. As a captain from the sidelines for most of her junior year, she's now in peak playing form as a senior, determined to finish her college career memorably.

3. Talk a little bit about Sam's involvement in helping start a competitive women's club team in St. Louis.
After breaking into the club scene in the mixed division as a D-line deep cutter and then taking a season off because of her knee, Sam kept musing how fun it would be to unite all our past and present regional rivals and finally get the experience of playing an integral role on a cohesive competitive club women's team. With her insistence and with the help of several like-minded women in the area, Midwest Revoloution was formed in 2010, claiming 14th at Nationals in its inaugural year. She'll be moving to Boston in the fall and so isn't captaining this year, but the groundwork for elite women's Ultimate in St. Louis has been laid, and Revoloution is expected to shatter more expectations this coming season.

4. What has Sam's impact on WUWU been?
Sam is responsible for transforming WUWU from a team into a program. She had the vision and ambition to use WUWU's unexpected 2009 Nationals birth as motivation to the team to train in such a way as to expect repeat appearances -- which she also made a reality in 2010 and 2011. She's also worked hard the last two years to establish a B team, ensuring the future success of WUWU even after she graduates. WUWU has been a defining part of Sam's college experience, and she's been a highlight of our team's history.

5. Describe Sam as a teammate.
I've gotten to be Sam's coach, captain, co-captain, and player. As a player, she challenges herself to work harder than everyone else in every game, every practice, every sprint. She also seeks out advice, accepts it respectfully, and truly wants to improve however she can. As a leader, she is obviously the go-to person on the field, but she also quietly takes responsibility for the hours of thankless grunt work.

6. Give us 5 words to describe Sam.
Excited. Ambitious. Resilient. Oddly clumsy. Friend.

What do others have to say about Sam?
I've had the pleasure of seeing Sam grow from a decent rookie to an incredible captain (despite two ACL surgeries) and the even greater pleasure of being her teammate during the Club season. Her dedication to her own improvements, her team's successes, and the sport in general are inspiring, and I know competitive womens ultimate in this region has grown greatly in part due to her combined efforts with other leaders in the sport. She's a great athlete, she's smart and she has some of the sickest throws around--deadly combination.
- Tasha Parman, Midwest Revoloution #10

I could talk about Sam's sick lay-out D's, her unstoppable push pass, her uncanny field vision, the beauty of her backhand hucks, or the way she rips the disc from the air. But remarking on Sam's ultimate skills has gotten old-- I suppose I've just grown too accustomed to her dominance on the field. But what sets Sam apart, and why I admire her more than any other ultimate player, is the fact that she pours her entire being into her work... and loves doing so. Even when Sam was sidelined with an ACL injury, she was always present, and when she couldn't use her legs, she used her voice and her mind to encourage, to strategize, and most of all, to teach. Sam is the kind of leader that you
want to follow: her competitive spirit, her endless sacrifice, her self-reflective passion, made me stick with the game that I eventually came to love. I am the player I am today because of Sam, WUWU is the team it is today because of Sam, and women's ultimate is the sport it is today because of leaders like Sam Huo.
- Kami Groom, Washington University #7

1 comment:

  1. I was lucky enough to get the honor of playing Revoloution with Sam this past club season. Both her leadership and spirit are as admirable as her superior ultimate skills. She truly is a great callahan nominee! Here is a short highlight video of Sam (actually it was just a video we made for her to get her pumped for Club Nationals, but good either way).