One of the most impressive women in ultimate is Riot captain and Stanford alum Gwen Ambler. As a young player, I competed against Superfly teams coached by Gwen, never coming out on the winning side. She also served as our Regional Coordinator and ran the website Inside College Ultimate, the source of all things related to college women's ultimate. Over the years, Gwen has been one of my biggest supporters and is consistently one of the people I go to whenever I have a frisbee idea and need advice. Gwen is the type of person who inspires you to care. She has done more for our sport than most people even dream of doing, and she does it all so well. In this feature, Gwen takes a trip down memory lane and talks about some of her college ultimate experiences.
In the past ten years, there have been only 2 College Nationals that I didn't attend either as a player, coach, or fan. While the locations may have changed from year to year, there is something truly and uniquely special about College Nationals--it has a quality full of excitement, determination, and love that I have found nowhere else. This May I'm saddened by the fact that I won't be in Boulder with Stanford Superfly to witness a new crop of college players getting their taste of that sweet Nationals elixir, but it's also a time when I'm reminded of some of my all-time favorite memories.
There are some collective memories from Nationals--stories that get told and re-told to subsequent generations of the team and have woven themselves into an oral history of the program. Like when we upset a team in pool play that we had lost to (badly) all season long. Like when we were down 8-13 in the semifinals and came back to win on the strength of our zone D and pure will-power. Like when we scored after a crucial marathon point late in the finals and had the depth to send in fresh lines to score the last two points for a championship. Like when we rebounded after a pool play loss and came out with the confidence needed to beat that same team in the finals two days later. Each of those stories were tales of being the underdog in a situation and collectively rising above expectations to find a piece of greatness on the field as a team. Those games ended up defining a team and an entire season in a way that can only happen at Nationals.
I also enjoy reminiscing about the team traditions that seemed to take on new importance at Nationals. Those little special rituals that make such a difference for getting everyone to feel part of something bigger than themselves. However, my favorite recollections of Nationals are the smaller, snap-shot memories that capture part of the essence of my amazing teammates. They are the plays that only seem to happen on the stage of Nationals--the ones that required every ounce of effort possible, the ones where someone was clearly playing on another level that "the zone" hardly does justice to describe. There's always going to be a rookie who blows away all expectations, a vet who truly takes over a game, or a senior who pours so much of herself into her last college games that she can't walk for days afterward. The exciting part is that you don't always know who that rookie, vet or senior will be going into the tournament.
College Nationals just always seemed to bring out the best in the team. The trust in ourselves and each other that was required to perform at our best allowed us to grow both as individuals and friends. Many of my most important friendships were created during college ultimate seasons, but truly cemented at College Nationals--winning and losing together as a unit. And for those life-long friendships and memories, I am eternally grateful.