Catherine Phillips was a dedicated year 11 student who dabbled in all sorts of sport, when her older sister, Michelle, was at university. Michelle had picked up a new sport, Ultimate Frisbee, and Phillips went along to give it a try.
There was more to the sport than she initially thought, and something else struck a chord immediately.
“I played a lot of other sports, a lot of netball and a lot of running, and Ultimate had a lot of crossover. I loved the freedom of how the game worked, and the freedom to run,” Phillips said.
“Culturally, it appealed to me, with no umpires and the culture of fair play, respect, and good communication, and I really liked that.
“I also really liked that men and women play together, and there are no defined roles, just depending on what you are good at.”
From an early age, Phillips was a superstar of the game, as captain of the Australian u20 team at the World Games in 2010, and a member of the gold-medal u23 team in the same year. She had reached the highest level of the sport and has since gone on to become one of the most decorated Frisbee players in Australia.
The competition she was getting at home wasn’t quite enough.
“I’d go and play against great American players, and then I would come back home, and you fall into what you were doing before,” Phillips explained.
“There weren’t any other high-level leagues that were semi-professional in Australia. In the USA, there was one key semi-pro league that popped up, but it was male-only.
“That didn’t sit well with me, and some of my friends here, and we thought we should do something about it here.”
Phillips and friends went through those thoughts and formed the Australian Ultimate League in 2015. The Australian Ultimate League changed the game, moving from 7 on 7 to 6 on 6, and taking mixed-gender sports to a semi-professional level like never before.
“We thought that one of the things that make ultimate unique is men and women play together, and that makes the tactics unique and gives you great variation depending on the type of men and women you have, so we wanted to create an alternative that could have a really great mixed league,” she said.
“Six players was partly an offensive decision, with more space on the ground making more opportunity to attack and play a free-flowing game. The other part was that it was easier to manage how many men and women would be on the field at the same time.”
Even such a high level of involvement in her new found sport of choice wasn’t enough to satisfy Phillips.
“I’m quite a competitive person. I’d missed an opportunity to test for Rugby 7s when it became an Olympic sport, and for a long time I wished I had given it a go,” she said.
Phillips had spent the previous preseason training with Melbourne Uni, looking for a way to increase her running prowess and training with some powerful female athletes.
After having a great time at training she and some Frisbee teammates went along to the AFLW talent identification day where they would end up finishing in the top 10 athletes for the day.
“I got picked up by Melbourne off the back of that, which took away a lot of the stress of draft day. I was really happy at Melbourne and liked the people,” Phillips explained.
At the same time, Phillips had finished a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and was working as a mechanical engineer. Already, she was making progress, with that internal drive that had taken her to great heights in Ultimate, were paying off as she set off on a brilliant career in Mechanical Engineering and AFLW as well.
Phillips would go on to leave a mark at Melbourne, becoming a regular in the team, known for her power running and calm under pressure. She would go on to play three seasons with the Melbourne Football Club, before switching to St. Kilda in 2019, and being named one of its inaugural co-captains for their AFLW side in 2020.
Today, Cat Phillips is a co-captain of the AFLW side at St. Kilda, a member of the Melbourne Flames and Melbourne Ellipses, and a Commercial Operations Manager at a major oil and gas company by day.
Not bad for a girl who started out going along to training with her big sister.