Victoria Higgins caught up with the captains of the first Belgian Women’s team to see how they made their journey to Worlds happen, despite a fledgling Women’s scene in a country dominated by Open.
Belgium has brought its first ever Women’s team to the World Ultimate and Guts Championships this year and, of the many teams for whom the same title can be claimed, they have outperformed them all. They went 3 – 3 in pool play after pulling off a major upset against Sweden, who went on to pre-quarters and narrowly lost to Switzerland for the opportunity to er, watch the United States at work in quarters. I spoke with their captains, Jolien de Ruytter (#16) and Eva Maxson (#25), on Monday to find out how what precipitated the formation of Belgium’s first Worlds team and what goals they had set for themselves.
There is enormous variation in the level of experience on the team, with some of the girls on the team having only been involved in the sport for two or three years. “I would say the youth scene is growing more and more each year” Maxson says, “but women’s-wise it’s still difficult to find a team to play with. I’m from Brussels and we don’t really have a real Women’s team. I have a club but they’re 2 girls and 50 guys.”
Apparently this is typical of Ultimate in Belgium, where opportunities to play on Women’s or even Mixed teams can be hard to come by. Most Belgian girls come by Ultimate by starting on an Open team, which poses few problems early in childhood, but becomes challenging when the men eventually outgrow the women. “You end up staying at a lower level,” de Rutter says, echoing a sentiment that many first-time Women’s teams have expressed this week: playing on Mixed or even Open teams can be fun, but they can inhibit long-term development if they are the only options young girls have.
De Ruytter was frank about their expectations. “We didn’t come to necessarily be able to compete with the USA,” she says, “because we won’t.” Instead, they want to approach such match-ups as opportunities to “play on a higher level, physically and mentally.” In Europe, she says, women’s Ultimate is progressing at a rapid pace. “If we want to be a part of the European scene,” she says, experienced players like de Ruytter—who has been playing for more than nine years—have to assume a sense of responsibility for the younger generation of female Ultimate players. And with several wins and a big upset over Sweden this year at Worlds, her team has proven that Belgium is more than ready to start taking women’s Ultimate seriously.