TPHS sisters thrive competing against more seasoned opponents in sport of Ultimate Frisbee

There’s a fear factor that comes with competing against those who are older, more experienced, bigger, stronger and faster.

“At first it’s a little bit intimidating, but you get used to it,” Lauren Hanna said.

Lauren and her twin sister, Ava, both juniors at Torrey Pines High School, have adjusted to competing against more seasoned ultimate opponents just fine. The sport is known to most as Ultimate Frisbee, but it’s now played with a disc made by discraft. The Frisbee is made by Wham-O.

The game mirrors football, with players passing the disc down the field and scoring when a player catches a pass in the end zone. It’s high-intensity but non-contact.

“It’s amazing to play ultimate, you get this adrenaline rush when you’re going against another person.” Ava said.

The Hanna sisters went up against world class adult competition, playing on Long Beach Legacy teams that won several games at the U.S. Beach Open’s Pro Division in November.

In September they were part of a team that won first place at an adult Beach Ultimate tournament in Long Beach.

Last month Ava was named tournament MVP at the Beach of Dreams Tournament in Santa Monica, helping lead the La Canada Disc Demons to a first place finish. Lauren was on a team that finished third. They played on different co-ed teams in a tournament that emphasizes gender equality.

They will compete with elite collegiate programs this weekend at the Stanford Open (Feb. 11-12). Ava and Lauren will play for a high school all-star team.

“They are so much bigger than me, so it’s intimidating at first, but I’ve gotten used to it now,” Lauren said. “I get accustomed to their playing style, I’m not as intimated by the end of the game.”

The Hanna sisters have a good mentor.

Their father, Cliff Hanna, played club ultimate at Georgia Tech in the late 1970s, in the early days of a sport that at the time was associated with counter-culture.

Their older sister, Inesse Hanna, is a freshman who plays club ultimate at Drexel.

The sport has grown since its inception at Columbia High in Maplewood in 1969, with opportunities to compete internationally for Team USA, and play professionally, too.

“It was always competitive but it was competitive counter-culture,” Cliff said. “Now it’s gotten a lot more legitimacy.”

It nevertheless remains true to its roots, emphasizing a spirit of community and friendship, and sportsmanship ahead of most competitive sports that are inherently adversarial.

Those were some of the qualities that Ava said attracted her to the sport.

Ava and Lauren both came to the sport with backgrounds in competitive sports. Both ran cross country and played tennis on the junior varsity team. Ava also played basketball competitively.

“I really enjoyed it because there were a lot of friendly people there and it was a lot of running around, it made me feel fit and happy for myself overall, there was a lot of encouragement,” she said.

The sport is played on fields of varying sizes on grass fields and on the beach, 7-on-7 on big grass fields to 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 on beaches and smaller grass fields. It’s sometimes played with mixed-gender teams, part of the sport’s stated commitment of promoting gender equality.

“It’s all on your honor, all the calls and all the fouls come from the players, that kind of reassures me that I’m not going to get injured,” Lauren Hanna said.

At the elite club and college games “observers” are hired to referee in a passive role.

But the game functions on an honor system at every level.

“The beach world championships still doesn’t have officials, you call your own fouls at the the highest level,” Cliff said. “It’s very unique.”

Sportsmanship isn’t treated as a platitude.

“It’s actually incorporated into the rules,” Ava said. “That’s just as important as the competition level.”

Each game concludes with both teams gathering in a ultimate spirit circle to encourage camaraderie.

“In other sports when you’re competing you only see other people as your opponents and you don’t really get to know them very much,” Ava said.

The Stanford tournament will offer the Hanna sisters exposure to some of the elite club programs on the West Coast. It figures to be among the biggest challenges of their career.

“There’s definitely going to be teams that are more cohesive,” Lauren said.

“I’m there to compete,” she said. “We can still go that kind of tournament, I know usually people our age don’t do that, but we can go ahead and compete against college players.”