On a cold day in late October, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s women’s ultimate team competed relentlessly on a rain-drenched field. Soaked to the skin, chilled by the wind and defeated continuously, the players kept up their staunch team spirit. They laughed and cheered as the rain battered them, and some of the players had red and black war paint running together in tiny rivers down their faces. But above everything, the players’ determined smiles shown through the blur of wetness and mud.
That weekend last semester, women’s ultimate walked away with no wins from its five games. Many of the players had sore muscles and aching legs. They were in desperate need of hot showers. But they were all proud to be a part of Franciscan FIRE, they were enthusiastic about starting another year and, most importantly, they were excited to be building new friendships and community.
FIRE, which is an acronym for fearless intensity and relentless excellence, is the women’s ultimate club at Franciscan, a club that looks forward to one of its biggest and most successful seasons this semester.
Claire Kehoe, head coach of FIRE and 2019 graduate of Franciscan, has been a part of the team since it began and is excited for this season.
“It’s great to have been part of the team since it started and to watch how big it has become,” said Kehoe. “We have a great group of girls this semester, all dedicated and determined. I am excited to see everything they will accomplish.”
The club was founded in 2015 when a group of Franciscan women decided to institute a team that would compete on the same level as the already established men’s ultimate club, Franciscan Fatal.
In its beginning years, women’s ultimate did well, making it to one or two tournaments during most semesters. In spring 2019, FIRE qualified for ultimate club regionals but was unable to participate due to scheduling conflicts.
The size of the team was a struggle in its early years. Tournaments were often played “savage,” which is when there are no substitute players.
But now, FIRE is entering its official season with more than a dozen girls committed to the team.
“This is the (biggest number) of people we’ve been able to organize,” said Gemma Davison, assistant coach of FIRE and 2019 graduate of Franciscan.
The fall semester consisted of weekly practice and two unofficial tournaments which primed the team for its official season. This semester, the team has intensified its practices, meeting twice each week as the players continue to improve.
FIRE plans to take part in six tournaments this semester, hoping to qualify for nationals.
“The high-reaching, shoot-for-the-stars goal is to get to nationals,” said Davison. “But I will be very happy if we get to regionals and do well with (that) this semester.”
Davison said one of FIRE’s priorities this season is to encourage team bonding. There are many new players and the team wants to build a tighter community.
“We’re working on forming those bonds with each other,” said Davison, “just learning how each one plays and what to expect from each other.”
One of the biggest challenges for the team has been the different levels of experience among the players.
“We have girls who have played competitively in the past, and we have all the way down to people who have never even played backyard frisbee,” said Davison.
But disparity in skill has given the team a special connection, as more experienced players share their knowledge with the beginners.
“It’s pretty cool just seeing all the girls who have played in the past, and even just the girls who played last year with us, helping the new people figure it all out,” said Davison.
Sophomore Kateri Lock, who joined last semester with barely any experience, said that being on women’s ultimate has been a great way to build skills and a community.
“I originally joined because I thought it would be fun,” said Lock. “I had thrown a disc before … (but) I had basically no skill. … It has improved my dedication … and (has) taught me persistence and perseverance.”
Kehoe and Davison emphasized that although they are a club that does not receive the recognition of an NCAA team, they still have high expectations for the players.
“(We) know the high standard the (Franciscan) student body is expected to strive for,” said Davison. “We expect all of the girls on FIRE to challenge themselves and be the best they can be and to take ownership of that push for perfection.”
But being on FIRE is not just about the wins. The team had no wins last semester and they look on it as a great season.
“Our team spirit held it out the entire time,” said Lock. “Our team morale remained high, … (and) everyone still persisted, even in the last moments of the games.”
Lock appreciates how the team comes together and interacts with one another.
“My favorite part of the team is everyone is a solid person,” said Lock. “We play all day (at a tournament) and then we go straight to Mass and … spend the rest of the night enjoying fellowship.”
FIRE will head to Martinsville, Virginia, February 22-23 for its first tournament of the season.