Berkeley High’s Ultimate Frisbee team takes home national title

Berkeley High’s Ultimate Frisbee team takes home national title

June 18, 2019 Off By Delia Keith

Berkeley High’s Ultimate Frisbee team “Coup” celebrates its win in Rockford Illinois on June 9, 2019. Photo: Rich Price

Berkeley High school’s Ultimate Frisbee team, Coup, took home the national title at the High School National Invite tournament on June 9. The tournament proved to be some of the toughest competition Berkeley faced all year, but discipline and endurance prevailed for Coup as they took home the trophy following a 13-10 win over Edina Highschool (MN).

Co-captain Leo Gordon praised the team’s spirit and mental toughness, which allowed them to leave the tournament as national champions.

“Our trademark in this game was patience. We didn’t take any shots that weren’t open — this was a product of our team chemistry and trusting each other,” Gordon said.

The conditions at the tournament in Rockford, Ill. were tough, according to co-coach James Sheridan. His team had to battle jet lag and windy weather to pull out their biggest win of the year, he said.

“It’s really important to stay mentally tough,” Sheridan said. “From the beginning of the season Coup had its eyes set on this tournament and knew we wanted to play the top teams in the country.”

The biggest test came when Coup faced Grady High School (GA), the first seed in the tournament. Down 4-1, Coup’s chances of pulling out a win were not looking great, but the team remained poised and came back to beat Grady, advancing to the competition’s quarterfinals. This proved to be a huge motivation boost for the team.

“We were down in all of our last four games and came back to win,” co-captain Noah Ball-Burack said. “Not expecting or stressing too much was super important for us.”

Co-captain Tanya Bearson credited the team’s resilience, saying that the journey to Nationals was “player-motivated.” She also credited the parents for providing food, water, and general support for the team.

Berkeley High Coup was founded in 2006 by local Ultimate club player Jordan Rose, according to the team’s website. By 2014, the team had grown to over 60 players, and boasted wins in both the 2013 and 2014 state championships. The team grew to over 90 just a few years later, and in 2018 Coup was fielding an all-girls squad, a freshman squad, and a mixed squad with an equal distribution of girls and boys.

2019 was the first time the Coup participated in the national competition. They came in ranked as a 13 seed, one of the lowest ranked, but then won the whole tournament.

Despite going down 2-0 to Edina early in the final game of the tournament, Coup didn’t panic and scored six unanswered goals, jumping out to a 6-2 lead within the first 30 minutes of the game. The team’s discipline and athletic prowess were key as they capitalized on Edina’s turnovers. They remained patient with the disc and consistently made the easy pass to keep possession until they were in a position to catch Edina a step behind. Instead of relying on physical dominance, Berkeley High Coup trusted their offensive system and defensive zone to keep them in the game with Edina, arguably the bigger and more athletic of the two teams.

Edina battled back however and scored twice to bring the score to 6-4 at halftime. The teams went back and forth trading goals and Berkeley’s lead was reduced to a single point with 14 minutes left in the game, until Berkeley’s patient attack led them to another score, with Aidan Curry throwing a pinpoint pass to Liam Ereneta.

Momentum swings towards Berkeley on the back of a stellar performance from one of their captains, Leo Gordon. Photo: Tim Stephenson, Ultiworld

Sheridan gave credit to Edina High School, saying they were “one of the most spirited teams we’ve played,” but ultimately Berkeley High Coup’s mental and physical endurance allowed them to come out on top and solidify their place as the most successful team at Berkeley High this year, although the team is a club and not technically affiliated with the school.

Coup is not an official Berkeley High team, but instead is a club loosely connected to the school. This means the Coup only gets a small amount of funding from the Berkeley Unified School District and club members and their families must raise their own funds, according to co-coach Linh Hoang.

“I would love it if [Ultimate Frisbee] was a varsity sport,” said Hoang. “There’s no doubt we’d be more successful if we received more funding from the school — it makes it tough and adds more stress on the kids who have to do a lot of fundraising.”

The Berkeley School Board recently approved a $50,000 increase in coach stipends.

“I think we are able to enhance our efforts to continue to retain and recruit the coaches who are committed to helping our students improve their athletic skills and achieving the many other accomplishments and satisfactions to be found in school athletics,” said Charles Burress, a spokesman for the district.

It is unlikely that any of those funds will benefit Coup coaches, however.

The team has tremendous support from the surrounding Ultimate Frisbee community.

“Especially in the Bay Area, the Frisbee community is really big and local adult club teams really help grow the sport,” Hoang said.

Berkeley High Coup’s success is recognized and celebrated not only by the current Berkeley High community but by alumni as well.

“Berkeley High Coup has produced tons of incredible players,” said Dylan Villeneuve, an alumnus of the team. “The team has somehow been able to foster this success with an incredibly dedicated cohort of unpaid coaches, parent volunteers, and a level of dedication rarely seen at the high school sports level.”

Berkeley High Coup celebrates their win at Nationals by dumping water on Coach James Sheridan. Photo: Peter C. Varadi
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