Two CHHS Students Make World Junior Ultimate Team
On January 7 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA Ultimate announced the athletes who will represent the U.S. this summer on the Under 20 National Team at the World Junior Ultimate Championships (WJUC) in Sweden. Of 24 young women to make the team, two are students at Chapel Hill High School (CHHS). Clil Phillips, a senior, will be returning to the biennial WJUC, having competed in Canada in 2018. Harper Baer is a sophomore, so she’ll also have the chance to compete once more before she graduates.
Jenny Wei has coached and mentored Phillips and Baer for years. “They were probably around 11 or 12 when I met them, and I remember being so impressed by their passion for the sport and their enthusiasm for playing. The thing that stood out the most was their excitement to learn and to just be out there playing the sport; they both had incredible ‘can-do’ attitudes, and they weren't afraid of trying new things. You could tell they enjoyed being challenged which has obviously contributed to their progressions into the players they are today.” Wei played ultimate frisbee at UNC and is now one of the top young adult players in the country.
Both Phillips and Baer got their official start playing ultimate at Smith Middle School. Baer had played club soccer and Phillips ran cross country and track, but they both immediately fell in love with their new sport. Phillips said, “I assumed I’d just keep running because I was good at it, but then I started playing frisbee. I got excited when I realized there was a point to the running.”
When she arrived at CHHS, Phillips was eager to compete on a school team. Since no girls’ team existed there, she reached out to Wei to see if she could coach a group, if Phillips could recruit other players. But ultimate is not a sport sanctioned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, so teams are loosely classified and “unofficial.” Baer and Phillips play on the Embers, a team that practices at CHHS and is comprised of players from the school, but it also includes athletes from other schools. Wei still coaches the girls, with assistance from other Triangle ultimate veterans.
“It was their drive to play the game, learn as much as they can, and absorb all feedback that has allowed them to develop into such top-tier players,” Wei said. “Clil and Harper are two of the most responsive and coachable players I've had the pleasure of working with. They are open-minded and willing to try to implement any and all feedback; if their coaches tell them to do something, it is evident that they have thought about it and you can immediately see them try it out the next possession.”
The Triangle area is one of the top regions in the country for producing championship players, along with long time leader, Seattle, as well as the Boston area and a few other “hotbeds.” Phillips and Baer play on the summer league team, the WarHawks, and they have won the Youth Club Championships in Minnesota for the past three summers.
Wei explained, “The Triangle has been really successful, largely due to the pipeline the community has built. There are a lot of programs available for middle school and even elementary school players (the middle school championships will have over 30 teams participating this year). On top of that, talent attracts talent! We have had incredibly talented players and coaches involved in various levels of programming which attracts other athletes to participate. Finally, the team cultures are awesome. You can tell each team is like its own little family, and because the sport is still growing, everyone on the team makes it a priority to be inclusive and recruit other players (which then goes back to talent attracting talent)!”
Phillips and Baer agree that the local ultimate culture is one of the reasons they formed such a deep and immediate commitment to the sport. They are always trying to recruit new players to the Embers at CHHS. Phillips said, “I try to convince people to come to just one practice. I tell them they’ll like it, because it’s so much fun.”
Both athletes agree they love the community, as well as the sport because everyone is so welcoming. Phillips said she likes frisbee because it’s not a major sport. “If I see people at the airport wearing frisbee clothes, I go up to them.”
They haven’t spent much time thinking about Sweden and the World Championships just yet, but they’re both really excited. Phillips said of her 2018 experience, “I got a chance to play with the best players my age and played some of the highest level of my life. Practice sessions were highly demanding because of the level we were playing at, but the tournament itself was also mentally challenging because it was seven days long. But those were also some of the best weeks of my life. The coaches are very knowledgeable and try to make the experience great. Meeting new people from other countries was definitely a part of it. It gives you an opportunity to see ultimate from different countries and other playing styles.”
WJUC 2020 is the 19th edition of the tournament and is expected to host 54 teams from 30 countries. The United States first competed at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in 1988, and since then, U.S. teams have earned 23 WJUC medals: 12 gold, five silver and six bronze. The U.S. teams swept gold at the 2018 World Junior Ultimate Championships in Canada. Phillips and Baer hope their team will repeat that performance in Sweden this summer.