The ultimate game: Senior plays on us national frisbee team


Palo Alto High School senior Rachel Chang frantically scans the grass for her next possible frisbee throw, as the shouts of her French opponents surround her. Spotting her teammate in the endzone by their distinctive red, white and blue USA jersey, Chang slings the disc over in a long forehand, scoring a point. Ready to continue playing, Chang resets her position and prepares herself for the next play, but suddenly, her teammates start to rush the field. 

“Our coaches hadn’t told us that it was the deciding point,” Chang said. “After I threw it, and we scored, I was numb because I didn’t know we’d won at that point.”

In the final clip of the game’s video, we see Chang’s assist to the final point, bringing a win for her team, the USA U-20 women’s national team for ultimate frisbee. The USA vs France match was the championship game in the European Ultimate Federation 2022 European Youth Ultimate Championships, taking place in Wroclaw, Poland this August. 

The national team

Chang is an avid player of ultimate frisbee, a non-contact team sport where two teams try to score by catching a frisbee in the end zones through a series of passes. Most recently, Chang joined the USA U-20 national team. She first applied for the team in January and after being selected, along with 100 other women from across the country, she went to tryouts in Seattle in March. 

“That was just a weekend of playing six hours on both days,” Chang said. “It was intense.” 

In April, Chang was notified that she was accepted to form a team of 24 women. In a team ranging from 15-20 years old, Chang was one of the younger players. Despite the wide age gap, Chang said she enjoyed playing with everyone on the team.

“If you’re playing in a club, it’s really just because you love it, not because you’re gonna get anything out of it besides the community.”

— Rachel Chang, senior

“Honestly, it was like the best experience of my life,” Chang said. “Everyone on the team was super nice and really welcoming.”

At the beginning of August, Chang and the rest of the team traveled to Wroclaw to compete in her first international tournament. Chang said that competing with other teams from all over the world involved interesting interactions, especially within ultimate frisbee traditions like the “spirit circle.” 

“A really big part of frisbee is a spirit circle where we talk about really good plays that we saw from the other team and how we felt the other team dealt with fairness and body contact,” Chang said. “It was just really cool to talk to other countries about that.”

Playing locally

Chang decided to join Heartbreak, an all-girls ultimate frisbee team, after being a part of cross country and track and field in eighth grade and feeling stressed out with meets. 

“That team is the reason why I kept playing frisbee,” Chang said. “The girls on that team were really nice and set an example for the kind of player that I wanted to be.”

After starting high school, Chang left Heartbreak and joined local youth team Gunn Control. The team is considered “open,” meaning people of any gender identity can join. 

“It was definitely a kind of culture shock,” Chang said. “Gunn [Control] is mostly guys. The year I joined, the seniors kind of just kept to themselves, so it wasn’t as welcoming of a community as I had experienced at Heartbreak.”

Though Chang had to adjust to a different community with Gunn Control, she said her love of ultimate frisbee pushed her to continue with the team. 

As she and her peers aged into being the seniors on the team, Chang said the team grew into a very welcoming and supportive environment. Other than the transition challenge from going to an all-girls team to an “open” team, Chang said she also has to deal with issues with playing against men. 

“Since I’m playing with guys a lot of the time with Gunn, I’ve had to learn how to use my body to prevent people from going through me,” Chang said. “That’s kind of scary because they’re often a lot bigger than me.”

Beyond the sport

Ultimate frisbee is an unconventional sport, which has both positive and negative implications for players like Chang. 

“It’s hard to get really high-level competition close to you in the female division,” Chang said. “It’s frustrating that I have to play against guys to feel like I’m improving sometimes.”

The small size of the sport has also translated into a lack of acknowledgment compared to other sports and international competitions, most recently in the decision for ultimate frisbee to not be included in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, according to World Flying Disc Federation President Robert Rauch. 

“I think it’s frustrating that we’re [frisbee] not getting the acknowledgment at the international level,” Chang said. “But I also don’t think that’s the only way for our sport to get recognition as a ‘real sport.’” 

Chang said she believes a lot of the legitimacy of the sport comes from the community that is formed within the sport and the attitude that many players already hold. 

To continue with the ultimate frisbee community, Chang said she will likely play in college, though most likely not pursue the sport as a career. 

Post-college, Chang said that she would like to continue with frisbee recreationally. 

“I would definitely be interested in finding a community where I can give back to the people who got me interested in frisbee so I’d like to coach a team or help run a youth program,” Chang said.

Chang said one of the reasons that she is drawn to continue to participate in the frisbee community later in life is due to the transparent motivation of most players. 

 “If you’re playing in a club, it’s really just because you love it,” Chang said. “Not because you’re gonna get anything out of it besides the community.”

Have you played Ultimate Frisbee before?