Julia Dunn watched the match-up between the Indian and South African Women’s teams on Monday, and saw more than just players improving their skills. She investigated the story of the game from both sides.
Two of the newcomers at Worlds for the Women’s division brimming with excitement, spirit, and love for Ultimate, South Africa and India, found each other today in one of the tightest games of the day. These teams have surpassed borders and barriers to play at this tournament, and will bring everything back to boost women’s Ultimate in their communities.
Bafazi Bafazi is the first South African Women’s team to play at Worlds. Based on the national women’s football team Banyana Banyana, translated as the girls the girls, Bafazi Bafazi means the Woman the Woman in Zulu. The team name is appropriate and empowering for a team representing their country for the very first time.
The team played some friendly games against Mexico, Singapore, and Hong Kong before the tournament even started. One of the greatest challenges for this team formed to put their players into practice, given the location of the country. “We’ve only ever scrimmaged against other ladies from Cape Town, who aren’t playing at the tournament,” said Julia Harris, one of the captains of the team. The team hopes to build chemistry as the tournament continues, playing against a variety of opponents.
Harris also talked about the pride the team feels about playing in London: “I think we all feel incredibly privileged to represent our country, and our community.” Their primary goals include having fun, learning, and ultimately taking everything back to the women in South Africa.
Although in its infancy, women’s Ultimate has grown in South Africa. At WUGC 2012 only a men’s team represented South Africa. Four years later, three women’s teams now compete against each other on a regular basis in national tournaments. The skills magnified when many of the women switched from playing mixed to women’s Ultimate.
Harris said that women need to put themselves out there, and fill even more captain and coaching positions. Gender equality in the South African scene has definitely improved, and hopefully will carry on after this first appearance on an international stage to create a vibrant and strong women’s ultimate scene. “This is the stepping stone to much bigger, better things for South African women’s Ultimate,” she said.
In a similar vein, the Indian Women’s team feels extremely proud to live out their dream. The team boasts five nationalities on their squad, and brings together a team that speaks eight different languages. Team members translate for one another to make sure everyone is on the same page. Putting together the strongest women from various club teams has brought about an exciting process. Many of the women have played together with men for years on mixed club teams, and now play for a women’s team for the very first time. The women have the opportunity to play in entirely new positions that men used to fill, such as deep-deep. Captain Megna Shankaranarayanan said, “now people know that it is possible, hopefully teams will be sent out of India in all divisions.”
The Indian Ultimate community has shown incredible support for the team. All of the men have come to watch every match, and cheered on the team. One player per team periscopes every game to inform fans back home. “When we go back to our campsite, we catch up on Facebook, and what the community thinks of our performance,” Shankaranarayanan explained. Parents have come to see their child play at the tournament. “There is definitely a change in the families of these 25 players,” she went on.
Shankaranarayanan shared that the focus for the team is to play aggressively: “I think that we’re more cautious, and kind of value the disc, and we’re trying to change that mindset. Our focus is to maintain that, and give it our all no matter what the scoreboard says.”
Ultimately, the players hope that the scene for women’s Ultimate will grow as a result of sending a team to WUGC this year, breaking barriers for female players in India. Shankaranarayanan said, “I think we will bring back the high level of ultimate played by women at this tournament.” The goal is to go back home, and set the bar high.
In the game between these two new teams, both scored more points than they had in the entire tournament. Despite the windy conditions that resulted in a number of turnovers, players showed off a range of hucks and beautiful bids. The teams pulled out a variety of zone defences that forced both teams to adapt. They exchanged points the entire game, fighting the wind on offence, and then working incredibly hard on defence to force turns. Ultimately, South Africa punched in their first win of the tournament on universe (12-11).
On the South African side, Julia Harris showed her ability to find holes in the cup, while also laying out for discs in the endzone a number of times. Sandra Jordaan, a dominant receiver, also put a number of points on the board. India’s two main handlers threw some well-placed blades over the cup, demonstrating the throwing prowess of Zahra Kheraluwala and Sneha Patil.
Both teams grew incredibly in this tight game, cheered for one another, and really showed how much spirit and love these women have for Ultimate. One of the captains of the Indian women’s team commented during the spirit circle that throughout the entire game she cheered for South Africa just as much as her own team, and realized that in the end she was rooting for Ultimate. The future is bright for South African and Indian women’s Ultimate.