4 Cal Ultimate players join San Francisco FlameThrowers

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After more than a month of tryouts, four Cal students — Jackelyne “Kobe” Nguyen, Alex Pan, Joshua Yuan and Tommy Lin — made the local professional Ultimate — more commonly known as Ultimate Frisbee — team, the San Francisco FlameThrowers of the American Ultimate Disk League, or AUDL.

Currently a captain of the women’s club team at Cal, Nguyen hopes to be a trailblazer for future female athletes in professional Ultimate.

“It was really humbling to now be one of the faces of women’s Ultimate, to be part of this movement, because there are not that many other teams signing women,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen didn’t start playing Ultimate until she came to Cal and tried out for the Pie Queens, the women’s club team named after the nearby restaurant Lois the Pie Queen in Oakland. After four years of being on the team, however, she has many positive memories to look back on.

“It’s been amazing — this is my second year captaining them, and they do so much more than just teach you how to play Frisbee,” Nguyen said. “The group of women within Pie Queens are all so empowering and so fun to be around, and it’s been only a great experience to be a part of them.”

Nguyen’s future teammate, Pan, is also looking forward to mixed-gender teams, which brings a unique dynamic to the sport — one that he says is one of the sport’s best perks.

“One thing specifically that I really enjoy is that it’s one of the only sports where mixed-gender play is, like, a norm. … Being on a mixed team … is a unique experience in sports,” Pan said. “I know a lot of the times, people only are used to playing within their own gender, so adding in the opposite one puts in a super fun dynamic that people should definitely try.”

Alongside great team dynamics within the sport, the coaches also play an integral role in their players’ lives. Nguyen credits much of her inspiration to one of the Pie Queens’ coaches, Manisha Daryani.

“She’s taught me not only how to play ultimate but how to make sure that I balance my school life and my Ultimate life, and she’s been such a rock in my journey,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen met Daryani several years back, when Nguyen was first joining the team. She attributes Daryani’s ability to be both “intense” and “goofy” as one of the reasons she was drawn into the sport at Cal.

The positive aspects of the sport are also evident on the men’s team at Cal, as both Pan and Lin have similar sentiments with their experiences.

“I really like it because it’s given me pretty much all of my friends, all of my network beyond just classmates that I meet and friendships that’ll last much past college,” Pan said.

Lin recalled how teamwork brought the team together at this year’s Presidents Day tournament, when Cal upset Colorado.

“Coming into that tournament, especially as an underdog … the whole team came together, and it was just so exciting and a great time for everyone to be able to accomplish that,” Lin said.

Yuan, unfortunately, wasn’t able to play the first two seasons because of injury but still went to practices and attended tournaments, enjoying the time he could spend with his teammates.

“The experience of being on an Ultimate team and playing Ultimate is different from almost any other team,” Yuan said.

The four will regroup on their professional team, a part of the AUDL, which was founded in 2010 and currently has 23 teams in cities across North America.

The San Francisco FlameThrowers won the national championship last year, and these four players are eager to get paid to do what they love, be among the best players in the world and make a name for Cal’s program.

“I thought that would be really cool, to get some Cal players onto some pro teams and make a big name for our team, because we’re sort of an underdog right now and people don’t really know who’s on Cal even though we’re starting to be really successful this year,” Lin said.

At Cal, both the men’s team and the women’s team participate in intercollegiate tournaments throughout the year at the Division I level. In both of the past two years, Nguyen and the women’s team have finished tied for ninth at nationals.

Trilok Reddy writes for Bears Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].