Cambodian team Yeak-or will appear in the Asia-Oceanic Ultimate Club Championships (AOUCC) in Manila, which begin today.
The involvement of the team of 18 Cambodian players and six expats marks the first time that a team from Cambodia joins an event sanctioned by the fast-growing sport’s world governing body, the World Flying Disc Federation.
The tournament’s organising committee has said it expects, in all categories, over 60 teams from the region to take part, including from Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, India and Australia.
The significance of the historic occasion is not lost on player Heng Soparuth: “I’ve played five [international] tournaments before, but this is different – this is a really big regional tournament,” he said.
Soparuth, the tallest Cambodian player in the squad, towering 8cm over the team average of 171cm (5ft 6in), is confident with his side’s preparation. “We have been training especially hard the last six months,” he said.
His 23-year old teammate Van Chanratha agreed. “Normally a tournament is one or two days, but this one is [held over] four days, so we had to get in top shape,” he said.
Soparuth added that this team was different than others he has played in because “the girls got more involved [in the training]”.
He said, “We have more girls in this team than the teams I played in before,” highlighting the sport’s growing popularity among the Kingdom’s women.
At the tournament teams must make sure three or four of the seven players on the field are women, and consequently Yeak-or has assembled a squad made up of an even amount of Cambodian men and women.
One of those women is Seng Socheata, who has played recreationally before but has never taken part in a competitive tournament.
“I was very nervous at the try-outs and didn’t think I would make the selection because I am quite new to the sport,” she said. “But I made it and then I had to work hard in training.
“I learned a lot of [strategy and tactics] from our training.”
Yeak-or, which is named after a mythical Cambodian giant, will find out tonight which teams will be in their AOUCC pool in the mixed competition, which is to feature 27 other teams from 14 different countries.
Karen Cabrera, veteran ultimate player and a member of the Tournament Organizing Committee said she is “excited to have the first team from Cambodia”. But she warns it will not be easy for Cambodia.
“The competition will be tough. We have really good teams and players from Australia, Japan and Singapore, and everyone will play their best. So it’s hard to predict who will take home the silverware,” she said.
However, Soparuth does not let the thought of tough competition keep him from dreaming big. “We will do our best and it would be good if our training and strategy makes us score,” he said. “And if we win the tournament, that would be great.”
Socheata showed a similar fighting spirit, even though she admitted the team is quite young, with an average age of 20 for the Cambodian men and only 17 for the Cambodian women.
“I know we are new compared to some of the other teams and lack the experience they have, but we have some experienced players too. And while we will learn and gain experience from this tournament, we are also going to show [other teams] what we’ve got!”