from nashville to the world and back again: an interview with jesse shofner

 
Big layout grab from Shofner from the 2015 U23s semifinals against Australia. (Jolie Lang, UltiPhotos)

Big layout grab from Shofner from the 2015 U23s semifinals against Australia. (Jolie Lang, UltiPhotos)

from nashville to the world and back again: an interview with jesse shofner

By laurel oldershaw, april 13, 2017

Last week, Jesse Shofner took the ultimate world by storm as the first female player to score a goal in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). We got a chance to talk with her to learn about the many jerseys she’s worn on her journey to the pro leagues.

Shofner is born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. She learned to throw the disc by tagging along to her brother’s high school practices at the University School of Nashville. Back then, and still in many places today, it is hard for middle and high school girls to find all girls teams to play on. Reminiscing on her first ultimate jersey, a cotton t-shirt with ironed-on numbers, she explains about the amount of work she had to do to make it happen. “[I learned about] putting a ton of work into just being able to play which wasn’t common for me in other sports,” she explains. “That team taught me about independence as young people and my first taste of loving this sport enough to do that.”

Without many opportunities to play women’s, she continued to play with her brother on Guillermo y Compania, a local mixed team that first exposed her to both the art of the defensive break and the holy grounds of Sarasota (although not the Daiquiri Deck yet). “That was my first exposure to true mixed,” she explains. “I had played high school boys [previously]…and [club mixed] showed me what it looks like for the boys on a mixed team to truly respect the women they were playing with, and so that was my standard, that was what I expected from every mixed team there on out.”

Shofner celebrates a score in the All Star Tour game against Boston Brute Squad in 2016. (Burt Granofsky, UltiPhotos)

Shofner celebrates a score in the All Star Tour game against Boston Brute Squad in 2016. (Burt Granofsky, UltiPhotos)

Shofner went on to play for Oregon Fugue in college and established her reputation as a workhorse, helping Fugue win two championships in 2013 and 2015. “That team taught me how to fight,” she says. “That 2012 team taught me how to get punched and punch back, which is a trait that I feel like I’ve carried through the rest of my playing. Fugue taught me in its entirety how to continuously improve myself and push others around me to better themselves. It taught me about perspective and priority and respect and certainly frisbee, and how to be better at it, but how to empower, and lead, and lead others as individuals, how to positively manipulate a team toward success, how to lose, how to risk heartbreak in order to win. Fugue taught me everything that I know right now.”

While at Oregon, Shofner played on the All Star Ultimate Tour and on the U20 & U23 USA teams. “The Tour exposed me to the pressure of playing with an evaluation of your gender occurring the whole time,” she says. She also witnessed the incredible hospitality of the ultimate community wherever the Tour traveled. As for Worlds, “It’s a bizarre experience,” she explains. “Playing for the US, there’s this expectation of winning and you’re not a team for very long so it doesn’t carry the investment of your club or college team where you can just feel it in your gut how tethered you are to the experience, to your teammates. It doesn’t manifest itself in the same way because it’s so short. Then you add this pressure of the expectation of winning because you are the United States.”

Shofner winds up for a throw at Club Nationals with Scandal in 2016. (Paul Andris, UltiPhotos)

Shofner winds up for a throw at Club Nationals with Scandal in 2016. (Paul Andris, UltiPhotos)

Shofner is no stranger to the high-level play since she has club experience with Portland Schwa and Washington DC Scandal. Schwa exposed Shofner to the process of building a program, rather than joining an established one, which has paid off for Schwa who went to Nationals this past year. Scandal, National champions of 2013 and 2014, taught Shofner that there are many different routes to success, especially if you maintain a constant focus and even keeled energy as opposed to rising and falling dependent on the overall team energy.

And her lessons from Nightwatch? “I’m still learning that one!” She says. “So much of it is an exploration right now.”

Overall, it’s clear Shofner is a woman of teams. She gets pumped up for a game, not from the quotes and the songs, and instead from the team warmups and the homemade playlists (shout out to Edrienne Chan). The story of her animated spikes? “To me, spiking is not a sign of disrespect, it’s a sign of celebration and hyping up your team,” she says. “I do not think disc spiking and spirit is mutually exclusive because I associate spirit as predominantly playing with integrity and I’ve said this before, I don’t really care about how much a team sings, or dances, or smiles, if they’re playing with integrity.” And the story of the eye black? “It’s another piece about feeling connected to your team. You whip that out before the game and everybody who wants to throws it on and it feels like you’re ready.”

Pro tip: Put your sunscreen on first.

Laurel Oldershaw is an MBA student at the University of British Columbia, where she plays for the UBC Thunderbirds. She loves home-cooked meals, good albums, and the thrill of playing ultimate on a perfect sunny day.