UMass women’s ultimate frisbee team begins in-person training amid COVID-19

Lady Zoo team captains take lead in starting in person training


By Lulu Kesin, Collegian correspondent

The University of Massachusetts women’s ultimate frisbee team began its transition from virtual workouts to in-person training sessions while following safety protocols on Friday.

Under normal circumstances, Lady Zoo would begin its season by recruiting new members after the activities fair, eventually dividing into an A-team and a B-team before the start of fall tournaments. Now, with students beginning to move to the Amherst area for the semester, captains are beginning to lead in-person training sessions despite the uncertainty of their season.

“We organized it where we have workout pods,” junior captain Trisha Cole said. “On Fridays, we are going to start having socially distant agility practices to work on sprints and to be able to throw with people. Masks are required while following all the guidelines but trying to make things as normal as possible.”

With no separation between teams, Lady Zoo is made up of about 20 local players.

“The pods are based on who you’re living with in Amherst, so you are working out with people you already are with,” B-team captain Alex DeSilva said.

Lady Zoo stressed its main focus is safety and comfort levels while also maintaining a productive workout.

“Our mindset is to make sure the least comfortable person is comfortable,” senior captain Kat Brock said.

It is difficult for every sport to find safe playing methods. But for ultimate frisbee, there are certain advantages and disadvantages while navigating COVID-19 protocols.

“It’s hard because ultimate can be a socially distant sport, but when you are actually playing, you can’t,” Cole said.

In-person training is acceptable, but playing games is out of reach for now.

“We can work out and throw socially distant, but playing and scrimmaging, you have to be next to people, close together, touching the same frisbee,” DeSilva said.

College-level ultimate frisbee works under the governing body of USA Ultimate which hosts sanctioned tournaments throughout the spring. Teams train for competitive play by participating in more relaxed tournaments in the fall, focusing on player development and team chemistry.

“The biggest impact of COVID-19 right now is that we can’t have tournaments this fall,” DeSilva said.

With no upcoming tournaments, current training is focused on the potential spring season.

“Fall tournaments are where most of the learning happens on how to improve team chemistry, basic skill improvement, and team bonding happens the most because you are spending so much time together,” Brock said. “Not only are we missing out on teaching the B-team all these skills that they pick up so fast with tournaments, we’re also missing out on a lot of team bonding and fundamentals about what our team is about.”

In March, when UMass announced that students would not return to campus after spring break due to COVID-19, Lady Zoo was just beginning to set new goals for the spring. After a successful tournament run for the A-team at the President’s Day Invitational Tournament in San Diego, a new mindset was introduced: making it to nationals.

“It was actually on the horizon this year,” Cole said. “I remember on the way home we were talking about how we could get a bid and that it would be pretty likely we would be able to go. All of a sudden after intensifying workouts, everyone having nationals on their mind, it was just gone.”

Returning home after flying across the country to begin their competitive season, Lady Zoo had no idea it would be taken away from them so quickly.

“We flew to California, had this incredible tournament where we did so well, we even beat some nationally ranked teams the first day,” Brock said. “When we came back our practices were more intense, more coordinated and overall really fun. To have that cut short after flying to California was devastating.”

If Lady Zoo’s 2020 goals were met, it would have been the first UMass women’s ultimate frisbee team to compete at nationals since the 90s.

After months of Zoom calls, virtual workouts and weekly fitness tracking, Lady Zoo is looking to clean up unfinished business from last season by continuing to that same mindset for the upcoming season.

“I would say getting that nationals mindset back,” Coles said. “I don’t know if nationals are a thing this year but getting back into playing mode again is important. As much as we workout on the side and do everything we can in this time, we aren’t going to be at the level we were at.”

Lady Zoo members explained that a large part of ultimate is community-based, and team chemistry can’t fully happen through a screen. It hosted movie nights via Zoom, connected on social media in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and stayed in touch as much as they could, but ultimately being in-person to prepare for spring is key.

“I think we are all aware that ultimate isn’t everyone’s priority right now, a lot of other things are going on and people are really overwhelmed,” Brock said. “I really want to get that community back if we can in the spring. Have everyone working together towards a goal, pushing themselves towards that goal whether or not that is actually feasible.”

Despite the lack of an official fall season, Lady Zoo is still actively welcoming new members to pod workouts and team Zooms.

“We are still welcoming new people; anyone is welcome to come join our workouts on Fridays, any of the captains would be happy to talk to anyone,” Cole said. “Anyone is welcome to our virtual things, or in person.”

“We know how hard it is to find a sense of community right now, so we just hope people reach out and get in contact with us,” Brock said.

While continuing to navigate through the daily changes that occur due to COVID-19, the foundation of Lady Zoo remains the same.

“The openness of ultimate frisbee doesn’t change, just because the regulations of how we can meet do,” Cole said.

Lulu Kesin is a Collegian correspondent and can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lulukesin