Two women will play in the traditionally all-male Gamecock Ultimate Frisbee Club, rather than its female counterpart, Scorch Ultimate, for the 2021-2022 season. Fourth-year business student Collen Morton and third-year biochemistry student Libby Pung will participate in the club’s A-team.
During the 2020-21 season, the Gamecock Ultimate Frisbee Club was unable to practice officially because of USC's COVID-19 protocol. As a result, members of the club had to practice individually. It was then that the men in the team asked Morton and Pung to come train with them. This initial bonding period led the two to try out for the team this season.
“There was a lot of just weird awkwardness with people not knowing how to approach me being there,” Morton said. “I think some of them might have been a little hesitant to take me seriously over there. But once we got into playing, that quickly changed.”
Morton wasn’t alone in that feeling, as Pung said she was also nervous at first when she decided to try out for the team. However, they were able to develop a support system between themselves and made the A-team on their own merit.
“When you’ve got 60 to 70 interested participants every year, the good players rise to the top,” Gamecock Ultimate head coach Devin Waldrop said. “It’s not a thing where it’s like a novelty or a gimmick. Both of them have specific skills that we have tapped into strategically on the field that has helped our team win points and win games.”
Coach Waldrop said they bring a lot to the team with their skills on and off the field. Most importantly though, he said he was proud of the respect his program and team have shown Morton and Pung.
“All the boys were so supportive, and they're like family now,” Pung said. “So, the trial process honestly just felt like practice. I think that's the way they build it to be. It’s not as much of a 'don’t make a mistake or we want to see you be perfect.' It's more like, 'hey, treat this like practice, let's be competitive and then build the best team that we can to compete.'"
Gamecock Ultimate assistant coach Lisa Fitton, a female coach of a predominantly men’s team and a former collegiate player on men’s teams, also provided support for Morton and Pung beyond the support system their teammates have provided.
“It's kind of interesting for me as a female coach,” Fitton said. “But I think one of the things that is a huge testament to this team, and then also to Colleen and Libby — is that in the fall every year, the veterans, the returners, they're very intentional about enforcing a culture of inclusion.”
Morton and Pung both said the guys on the team have made them feel at home and stick up for them any time opposing teams try to put them down.
"We went to one tournament, and there were some boys on other teams that were making comments about us being on the men's team," Pung said.
Almost immediately, Pung's teammates jumped to her defense and "entered protective big brother mode," according to Pung.
"We respect each other so much, and they've become kind of like my brothers," Morton said. "They've really stuck up for Libby and I throughout the entire process."
The pair spoke highly of the team’s treatment of them after they took the first step and joined. Additionally, they had their own messages to give to other women looking to make that same step in their athletic careers.
“For any girl out there that is an athlete, just believe in yourself and knowing that you can compete wherever you want to,” Morton said. “You have to put the effort in and the drive. And if you have the passion for the sport, you can do anything.”
Pung shared Morton’s sentiment in her own message to aspiring female athletes.
“I definitely think it all comes down to an individual mindset about how you have to believe in yourself first,” Pung said. “And although the boys now have accepted it and like, they're my biggest supporters, in the first tryout day I didn't know any of the boys."
The Gamecock Ultimate Frisbee Club and Scorch Ultimate practice from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday at Bluff Road Fields. The college season runs from January through May.