World Junior Championships an ultimate experience for Amherst pair

Last modified: Tuesday, September 02, 2014
As two of just a handful of returning members to the United States women’s under-19 ultimate team, Zoe Freedman Coleman and Angela Zhu experienced becoming world champions after falling just short two years ago.

The Amherst natives played a large part in the national team bringing home gold from the World Junior Ultimate Championships, held in late July in Lecco, Italy.

“It was particularly exciting for me and Angela after playing on the team two years ago,” Freedman Coleman said. “We had the same coach and three other key returners. So we were familiar with some of the girls, but it was also great to see the new players and how we all came together as a team.”

The American team dominated pool play, defeating four opponents by a combined score of 68-5. It then had three more comfortable victories in the power pool round, beating Germany (17-5), Finland (17-3) and Austria (17-6).

In the knockout rounds July 25, Team USA eliminated Russia 17-2 in the quarterfinals, then topped Columbia 17-4 to advance to the championship game.

The semifinal win may have been the highlight of the tournament for the Americans, who lost the 2012 final to Columbia.

“All five returners were pretty emotional coming out of that game,” Zhu said. “We didn’t really talk about (the final two years ago), but it was very gratifying to beat them.”

Freedman Coleman added, “It was exciting to see how much we had improved since facing Columbia in the last tournament. All our individual skills were better and the coaches came up with sound new strategies so we could succeed.”

A 17-9 victory over Canada on July 26 completed the mission for the Americans, who took home gold in the biennial event for the first time since 2006.

“The games were pretty easy early on, so until that point we had specific team goals to work on,” Freedman Coleman said. “That helped us maintain our focus, so when the games got harder we were completely prepared and maintained our level of intensity for the rest of the tournament.”

While there remains a noticeable gap between the world’s top ultimate teams and the challengers, Zhu said that gap is closing.

“It’s nice to see how the other countries are changing and improving,” she said. “All the teams seem to get better each year, which makes it more challenging and more fun.”

Asked what made the difference between the silver medal in 2012 and this year’s gold medal, Zhu said, “This year’s team was based more on defense, which allowed us to play a more aggressive style on offense. Overall the roles were much more fluid, and we had a lot of freedom on the field.”

Freedman Coleman used her athleticism and speed on offense and as a quick man-on-man defender. Zhu started the tourney as a swing player, then moved exclusively to handler.

For as great as it felt to win gold, winning was far from the only objective. The world championship represents a global experience centered around the love of the sport.

“It’s a little overwhelming at first, with all these different players speaking different languages,” Freedman Coleman said. “But it’s a beautiful experience where everyone comes together around ultimate, which is a very respectful and open-minded sport.”

Not having much free time and a bit of a housing situation at first only assisted the team in forming a stronger bond.

“It was an intense two weeks with these same girls,” Freedman Coleman said. “Playing cards, eating together and stretching together. The coaches did a great job of picking this group which they felt would bond and work well together. It’s so fun to be around so many people who are great players and love the game.”

Freedman Coleman and Zhu, who both graduated from Amherst Regional in 2013, were selected to a roster of 21 with five alternates following an eight-month process.

Each prospective player filled out an online application last November. Eighty applicants were chosen to participate in a March tryout, either in Georgia or Seattle. Both Amherst players spent a weekend in Georgia.

“In that tryout, the coaches looked for the total spectrum of playing technique and being a good teammate,” Freedman Coleman said.

The final roster was announced in May with training camps in June (Seattle) and July (New York).

“We knew the process well going into it,” Zhu said. “That one weekend in Seattle helped us learn some plays and gain some team camaraderie. Finally getting to the worlds is a surreal experience, because we all invested a lot of time on all team.”

With a majority of their teammates hailing from the Seattle area, the Amherst contributors expressed a great amount of pride.

“Representing Amherst is awesome. It’s where we started to play and love the game,” Zhu said. “Zoe and I have played all through high school, so we have a great connection on and off the field.”

Freedman Coleman said, “It meant a lot to not only represent Amherst but also the eastern part of the country. To have been a part of Amherst ultimate and seen how the sport has grown under Tiina Booth and others, it’s truly an honor to be able to represent Amherst.”

Freedman Coleman and Zhu are strong leaders for their women’s club teams at Skidmore and Dartmouth, respectively. Freedman Coleman played soccer her freshman year but elected not to play this season.

The next national team they could play for is U23. Even though it may be a while before each returns to international competition, making that next step remains a goal.

“That will definitely be more competitive, but if we can continue to play at a reasonably high level, that’s certainly a goal.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.