Notre Dame freshman invited to Team USA U-20 Ultimate Frisbee tryouts, highlights growing Irish program
Aidan Thomas | Wednesday, October 9, 2019
When moving from the East Coast to attend the University, trips back home can be few and far between, but Notre Dame freshman Chris Walsh has earned himself an extra trip via an invitation to tryouts for the USA Under-20 Ultimate Frisbee team, which are to be held November 16-17, in North Carolina, just miles from where Chris grew up.
“It’s really cool to be able to do it close to home because of the people I’ll get to see there,” Walsh said, “When the tryout list was released, it was cool to see the amount of names I recognized. It’ll be great to compete back home and be part of the North Carolina Ultimate scene again.”
Walsh applied for this opportunity, working through a lengthy process that included essays and coach recommendations over the past summer, and he heard the good news just over a week ago. Many of the players Walsh will compete with are familiar faces, due to his multiple trips to national tournaments over the past few years. Walsh competed for Tri-Force, a premier club team that finished third in the country this past summer. However, his proudest achievement involves his high school squad, Durham Academy (DA). After picking up the sport in sixth grade, Walsh and many of his friends became committed to Ultimate throughout middle school, only to realize their freshman year that there was no team at the high school.
“My class was committed to the sport and wanted to start a program. That first year we played, we played three games, and lost all of them. It was more of a pickup club than anything,” Walsh said. “Our goal by the end of our four years was to be competitive with some of the stronger teams.”
With Walsh leading the charge, DA achieved just that, winning its spring league, finishing third at states and earning a spot in the national power rankings.
“That was when we realized we achieved more than we could have imagined,” Walsh said.
However, having achieved his goals for high school, Walsh left North Carolina in favor of South Bend, Indiana, where he has made an instant impression with the Irish.
“We actually first saw Chris play on a live-stream of high school nationals in June. He was probably the most talented and experienced player on that roster; we could see how he was the go-to guy on offense and how he was getting blocks or shutting his man down on defense,” Irish co-captain and senior Sebastian Miner said, “Now that he’s on a college team, he’s not slowing down at all. The level of play is higher, but he’s clearly fitting into the role well, still getting open and making plays against some of our top players in practice.”
Miner also referenced Walsh’s club team.
“Many of the set plays on offense ran through him, and that’s a pretty elite position to be in on the national stage,” Miner said.
Making plays against some of Notre Dame’s top players is a noteworthy accomplishment, as the Irish boast a strong core of returners led by captains Miner, Oliver Hirn and Austin Walter. Former Notre Dame pole vaulter and senior Landon Shank, along with Tommy Lawton and Joey Oswald contribute to the strong senior class. Junior Steven Wagner, who burst onto the scene as a handler last season, is also an exceptional talent for the Irish. However, while finding a university with an established Ultimate program was important to Walsh, it wasn’t necessarily the talent of the Irish roster that drew Walsh to Notre Dame.
“When I went to applied to colleges, Ultimate was a big part of my decision. I came up and visited [Notre Dame], and I got to practice with the team, and what really struck me was the people,” Walsh said. “The people on the team are the most incredible thing. They’re such a fun group of guys and girls, and they all support each other. Regardless of how well they do in actual tournaments, the spirit is always there. That was something that was really cool to me, and something I could tell was really unique and I really wanted to be a part of.”
Miner also referenced the team’s spirit and camaraderie.
“ND Ultimate has a very goofy, spirited and fun mentality, and Chris seems to get such a kick out of it. We’re obviously really glad that he and other new players love the atmosphere,” he said.
While maybe not considered a powerhouse, Notre Dame Ultimate has high goals for this year. The addition of an impact player like Walsh highlights the growth this program has seen in recent years. Recently, Notre Dame has constantly knocked on the doorstep of nationals, falling short in the Great Lakes regional championship three of the past five years. Last season, the Irish again showcased their potential, their talent shining through in a gutsy victory over UCF, who was ranked No. 8 in the country. In that game, the Irish were down two before ripping off four straight points to take the upset victory. This season, the Notre Dame men’s team has its eyes on qualifying for nationals for the first time in 19 years, while the women will try and secure their third berth in five years.
Historically, Notre Dame’s rival Michigan has enjoyed the most success out of the Great Lakes region, and, while he may be a freshman, Walsh is well aware of the rivalry and Notre Dame’s goals for the season, and Miner and the other captains are excited at the prospect of what Walsh can add to their squad.
“He brings a lot of ultimate knowledge to the table. We think he’ll be a great addition to the talent and athleticism on our roster based on how he’s been playing so far,” Miner said.
Individually, Walsh has high goals this year, goals that only became bigger with his invite to the USA U20 tryouts. On the college level, Walsh hopes to qualify for the Great Lakes All-Freshman team. If he accomplishes that goal, he would be the second straight Notre Dame Ultimate player to attain that honor, after current sophomore Maddie Galvin achieved the feat for the Irish women’s team last year.
Nationally, Walsh’s goals have evidently shifted as he now focuses his goals towards making the U20 Team. If he does so, Walsh earns the opportunity to compete at the world championships next year in Sweden.
“I’m training really hard for this, and it would absolutely be an honor if I make the team,” Walsh said.