Photos by Abigail Edminster

Ultimate Frisbee is rapidly growing as a competitive sport, and according to the USA Ultimate 2014 report the sport increased its membership by 11 percent between 2013 and 2014. Nowhere is its popularity more evident than at Center Grove. The club has expanded to include around 80 players and boasts an A-Team, a B-Team, a Freshman Team and a Girls’ Team. All skill levels are represented within Center Grove Ultimate Club, even including world-class players such as senior Delaney Johnson and junior Conner Henderson.

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Conner Henderson and senior Anthony Coe wait for a drill to start at practice 

Henderson and Johnson were both hand-selected out of hundreds of applicants to participate in the Team USA Ultimate Frisbee tryouts. This means that they were in the top 100 players of their respective genders.

  “It was an application process that I completed back in September or October,” Henderson said. “There were between 400 and 500 applications sent in for review, and only 102 guys were selected.”

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Delaney Johnson prepares to throw a disc at the 2015 High School Girls’ State Championships in Versailles, Ohio

  Henderson sent his application to the U-20 division, along with hundreds of others, and was approved. He will be attending the West Coast tryouts in Seattle, Washington on January 30-31. Connor Halloran, a 2015 Center Grove graduate, will be accompanying Henderson as well.

  “My application took me four days,” Johnson said. “I tried to make everything perfect. There were between 200 and 300 girls applications, and I was in the top 100.”

  Johnson will participate in the East Coast tryouts on January 23-24 in Kissimmee, Florida. The tryouts will evaluate the two players’ skills, physical abilities and their cooperativeness as part of a team.

  “I heard from Levi [Jacobs, 2014 Center Grove graduate] that there are 70-yard sprints, 40-yard sprints and vertical tests,” Henderson said. “It’s basically a whole bunch of grueling conditioning, and we also scrimmage.”

  “At tryouts, we scrimmage a lot because the coaches want to know how well we work together under pressure,” Johnson said. “Basically our goals are to work hard, have fun and be nice.”

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Conner Henderson prepares to throw around Jimmy Phillips at practice

  Both Johnson and Henderson are intimidated by the multitude of highly skilled players that will also be attending the tryouts in January. However, both are extremely talented athletes who belong to prestigious club teams.

  “In my freshman year, I was part of the second most elite club team in Indiana, INfamous,” Henderson said.

  Similarly, Johnson is active in a mixed, adult club team called Liquid Hustle.

  “I’m the only player on Liquid Hustle who is under 18, so I’m the baby of the team,” Johnson said, laughing. “That’s my iso name: ‘Iso, Baby!’”

  Although both players have already put in hard work to improve their athleticism, they realize that they still have to step it up to succeed at the tryouts.

  “We have conditioning, and Jake [Phillips, head coach, 2012 graduate] and I are going to the University of Indianapolis track,” Henderson said. “He and I are going to basically do what the track and cross country team does to improve my times.”

  “I lift and run five days a week,” Johnson said. “I get [Weights Teacher Marty] Mills to teach Jimmy [Phillips, a junior], and Jimmy teaches me. Mr. Mills helps a lot.”

  Dedicated, talented, and willing to push themselves, Conner Henderson, Delaney Johnson and Connor Halloran have all made head coach Jake Phillips proud.

  “What really sets apart athletes from each other, when you’re talking about playing at this level, is the mental qualities it takes to reach your personal potential over years of practice: drive, determination, perseverance, consistency, discipline,” Phillips said. “Connor, Conner and Delaney have been great examples of those over the years. They’ve each been players who have had a goal, and through all the distractions or potential excuses, have made the absolute best of every single opportunity they’ve had.”  

  Athletic, driven and passionate about Ultimate Frisbee, Johnson and Henderson represent the core qualities emphasized in Center Grove Ultimate Club: community, character and competition.