2011 Callahan Award - Women's Division

Posted: June 7, 2011 02:47 PM


At the half-time of the men’s semifinal game between Wisconsin and Colorado, the women’s Callahan top five finalists and winner were announced: Leila Tunnell, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, won the 2011 Callahan Award after coming in second place last year. The other four finalists were Robyn Fennig of Iowa, Carolyn Finney of UC-Santa Barbara, Sophie Herscu of Colorado College, and An-Chi Tsou of UC-Berkeley, in that order. Upon accepting the award, a smiling Leila thanked her team and her family, saying, "Wow, really, it’s a wonderfully tremendous honor. I owe everything to my team, though. Our focus this year was really coming together as a program and this is secondary to that. Thank you, Pleiades. Thank you to my brother—you may have heard of him, he’s okay at Ultimate. Thank you." Read below for more information on Tunnell (and for detailed information on the other Callahan nominees, visit withoutlimitsultimate.blogspot.com): 

Leila Tunnell (#18), UNC Pleiades, Callahan winner 2011

2011 DI College D3S Davis (26)
PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Davis [freeheelimages.com/usau]

Despite having just ended her eligibility in the college series, Leila Tunnell has already had quite a prolific Ultimate career. Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Tunnell attended the youth Ultimate powerhouse, the Paideia School, and played on their highly competitive women’s team. In both 2004 and 2006, Tunnell made the USA Junior Worlds team; while still in high school, she also played for the Atlanta women’s club team, Ozone. Leila then attended Connecticut College, where she captained the college team and played with Brute Squad, the Boston-based elite club team. After transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill and leading them to nationals with them three years in a row, Leila played with the women’s club team, Backhoe, before co-founding and captaining the nationally competitive club team, Phoenix. Tunnell is also dedicated to giving back to the youth ultimate scene: she has attended and coached at NUTC in Western Massachusetts for many years, and coaches Jordan High School’s ultimate team and the North Carolina YCC Girls’ team, Queen Anne’s Revenge. 

2011 DI College D1R3 Roeder (13)
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Roeder [scottroeder.com]

It is easy to spot Tunnell on the field: her attentive composure, confident handler movement, and beautiful, full-field backhand hucks, rarely seen in women’s ultimate, immediately give her away as the experienced and talented player that she is. She is a skilled defender in the endzone and in the air—it is common to witness Tunnell skying her opponents, and equally common to see her laying out on D— and is able to break her mark with little to no effort. Leila’s on- and off-field presence bestows her team with an incredible amount of confidence: when Tunnell is on the field, it is obvious to any spectator just how much her team relies and builds upon her energy. Tunnell also emanates a rare type of calmness and serenity on the field, making her almost impossible not to trust while playing with her. 

Not only is Tunnell a skilled ultimate player, she is also simply a great human being. As Michelle Ng, Manager of Competition and Athlete Programs at USAU, writes, "Everyone who knows Leila Tunnell knows how special she is- skilled ultimate player, gifted leader, incredibly talented person, and amazing friend." Not only did Tunnell compete at the 2011 College Championships, she gave a musical performance at them: at the start of the second day of pool play, Tunnell sang the national anthem over the speakers in front of spectators and players alike. As seen through her involvement in the youth, Tunnell is personally dedicated to giving back to Ultimate, a motivation that is not always seen in the best players; despite her notoriety as one of the most skilled Ultimate players out there, she is visibly respectful of all of her teammates, whether at a DIII school like Connecticut College, a nationally competitive DI team like UNC, or on an elite club team like Phoenix.

There is no doubt that Tunnell deserves the 2011 Women’s Callahan Award. Congratulations to Leila!