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  • David Sipos

Walls Ultimate Exceeds Expectations at YULA Invite

Co-captain Malachi Merriam handles in a game against H-B Woodlawn / Credits: David Sipos

Facing elite teams from up and down the east coast, in March, around 20 boys on the Flightless Bird Squad, Walls ultimate frisbee team, competed in an invitational tournament hosted by the Youth Ultimate League of Arlington (YULA).

Out of 24 teams, the Flightless Bird Squad placed 11th, winning three of their six games. The two-day tournament began Saturday, Mar. 17, with a 12-8 win against Science Leadership Academy (SLA) from Philadelphia. Walls recovered from initially trailing 4-6.

Entering the tournament, Walls was seeded 19th. Though some believed Walls was seeded too low, beating SLA, the 12th seed, meant that the team had performed better than predicted for the tournament. “Beating the expectations [is] really hard to do in early season tournaments. We’re happy with that,” said coach Gabriel Webster. In fact, the 11th place finish was better than Walls’ 13th place performance at YULA in 2023, despite last year’s team generally being stronger than this year’s.

Following the win against SLA, Walls faced Jordan High School from North Carolina, the fourth seed in the tournament and the top-ranked team in North Carolina. Coming into the tournament, Jordan was ranked fifth in the country, and had placed fourth at YULA 2023. A hard-fought game saw Walls come up short, losing 7-13. Jordan went on to win the tournament outright.

Despite the loss, the Flightless Bird Squad was satisfied with their play against a very strong team. “I was really happy with how we played against Jordan. They’re an exceptional team… and to put up one of the best scores against them in the tournament was really cool. We were not intimidated and actually at times we looked unstoppable. So it’s fun to have the confidence to play our game against even some really good teams,” Mr. Webster said. Team co-captain Travis Tiller (‘24) added, “I think we played fantastically… I would probably say that was my favorite of the games we played, because they ended up winning the final 13-9 and we played them 137. I think we had a very well-rounded game.”

The Flightless Bird Squad advanced to the main bracket, where they lost in the first round to Jackson-Reed, 4-13. Though Jackson-Reed placed second in the tournament, this loss was much tougher for Walls. The team did not manage to score a single point in the first half. Most players felt demoralized, with one bleakly commenting that they were “just warming up for [Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School],” the team Walls would face next. said.

“It’s more of a mental thing,” Tiller said.

Though Walls has beaten Jackson-Reed before, losing the skill of last year’s seniors led players to “go into it thinking that it’s a done deal, which is an unfortunate reality and is something we’re hoping to change throughout this season.”

After the loss to Jackson-Reed, the team moved to the bracket competing for ninth place, starting with a 13-9 win against

BCC. Sunday morning, Walls faced H-B Woodlawn, from Arlington. The team trailed early, often unable to defend against deep throws from Woodlawn. Though they tied it up with ten minutes remaining, the game ended in a 7-9 point. “We played like a winning team,” but Walls was simply “unlucky,” August Rundlet (‘24) said. “Sometimes our opponents are a little bit better… we couldn’t always get the best of them,” Mason Streisand (‘27) said, “but I think we always gave it our best and we always tried our hardest.”

Finally, Walls faced Westfield High School, another Virginia team. The two traded points for the entire game, arriving tied 9-9 with minutes to spare. The game entered “universe point,” ultimate Frisbee’s version of sudden death. With a score by Van Harlee (‘24), Walls secured a 10-9 victory and an 11th place finish.

The two-day tournament marked a relatively successful outing for a team that has yet to return to its strength of the 2022-23 season. “A lot of people were saying that since we lost so many seniors, we would be much worse this year than last year. But we’re already proving that we can hang with our position last year,” Tiller said.

One of Walls’ priorities at YULA was to have sophomore and freshman newer players “[get] used to playing against really high-quality competition players,” according to coach Lisi Lohre.

“On the YULA team you’re being, I guess the word is trained, for next year,” said Streisand, a freshman. “I’m there for more experience,” he said. “We had a few freshmen on the squad that had obviously not played Frisbee much before last season, so it was nice to see them thrive in a competitive environment that they had not been able to play in before,” Tiller said.

The developing skills of younger players and their enthusiasm for the sport means that the future of the Flightless Bird Squad appears bright. “In terms of just people who generally love playing Frisbee… every time we go out to lunch at Western Market or whatever, there’s always like a whole crew of people out there like playing Frisbee at lunch. So that’s really awesome to see,” Lohre said.

“I’m very excited for the future of the team. And I think once I graduate, it will be in very good hands,” Tiller said.

Co-captain Kailas Campen successfully defends a throw against Jackson-Reed / Credits: David Sipo


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