Airbender at work: Kendra Miller coaches BYU Ultimate to Top 12 ranking 

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

Ultimate Frisbee, often simply called “ultimate”, is experiencing a surge in popularity across college campuses nationwide. With more than 18,000 student-athletes competing on 800-plus teams, the college division is ultimate’s largest demographic, according to the sport’s national governing body USA Ultimate.

The popularity of college sports in America is not limited to NCAA varsity programs. Ultimate has proven that club sports can establish a rich tradition and elicit the same excitement and emotion from players, fans and alumni alike. Tulalip tribal member Kendra Miller checks all those boxes – player, fan, alumni – and one more, coach.

The 29-year-old played for Brigham Young University’s ultimate team for four years as a featured player. After her head coach departed following her senior season, Kendra was approached by school officials and asked if she was interested in filling the vacated head coach position. She graciously accepted and has been leading BYU ultimate for the past six years.

In her most recent stint patrolling the sidelines, Kendra witnessed the BYU Cougars skyrocket up the national rankings and sustain their early season success well into the postseason. The 2024 regular season lasted from early January through mid-April and resulted in a set of national rankings. BYU climbed as high as #10 in the entire country during the season and entered the Northwest Regional round of the postseason as #11, out of 800 eligible teams.

In an opportune twist of fate, the Northwest Regionals were hosted at the Skagit River Sports Complex (45-minutes north of Tulalip) in early May. This playoff tournament brought together the best of the best ultimate programs from the Northwest Region, which included the University of Washington, Oregon, University of British Columbia, and BYU.

After routing Montana by the score of 13-5 and then coming up just short to Oregon 10-13, BYU had an hour-long break before taking to the field again to face-off with U.W. During rest period, two BYU upperclassmen and team captains shared how much Kenda means to them as players and to their collegiate program.

“It’s been such a great experience being coached by Kendra. Something I really admire about her coaching style is she is strict and disciplined but in a way that motivates us to push ourselves to achieve the greatest things,” reflected BYU senior captain Madison Robinson. “For example, at our team camp that occurred before the season, she asked each one of us what are goals we wanted to achieve this year. She didn’t tell us what goals we should have or what goals she wanted for us. Instead, she listened to all of us and then worked with each player individually over the course of the season to progress towards achieving those pre-season goals we set for ourselves. That’s the best part for me, I think, is because she is such an outstanding ultimate player herself that she’s capable and willing to demonstrate to us what it takes to excel on the club and pro level.

“Something else that’s so amazing about Kendra is you have to realize our coaches aren’t paid to understand how insane it is the hours she puts in to make sure we have every opportunity to be the best team possible,” continued Madison. “For example, between practices she’s watching game film and cutting us reels to show what we did well, what we could do better, and adapting game strategy for our next opponent. She puts in so many hours behind the scenes just because she cares about our team and is committed to seeing us do well.”

Added junior captain Autumn Porter, “I couldn’t agree more. Watching Kendra play and then being coached by her is such an inspiration. She’s always pushing us to strive for reaching our full potential, which means always being open to learning new skills and never settling for anything less than 100% effort. Everything she does as a coach comes from her experience as a former BYU player and current pro. She also has the experience of playing with and against some of the best ultimate teams out there, plus she’s won nationals. So, for me, as someone who dreams of playing in the pro level, it’s like she’s teaching us how to play, practice, and act as pros even though we’re still in college. It’s a really unique experience and a welcomed one for those us who feel like we’re being prepared to play at the next level.”

Following the two BYU captains’ interviews, they reconvened with the rest of their team and got in a proper warmup before taking to the field to face-off with the purple and gold wearing Dawgs. BYU put up a valiant effort, losing by a close score of 11-13. They rebounded superbly by absolutely destroying their day’s final opponent, Oregon State, by a whopping margin of 13-3. 

“I’m so proud of this team, not just for how much they achieved on the field but also for how much each player has grown and embraced their roles on our team,” said coach Kendra. “We made school history by making it to the Regional round. This is an amazing accomplishment! Especially when you consider we were without one of our top players for this Northwest Regional Tournament. Making it here, earning wins against Montana and Oregon State, and battling to the very end vs. Oregon and Washington… there’s so much for these ladies to be proud of.” 

Upon the completion of BYU’s season, Kendra now shifts her focus from coaching collegiately to airbending on the most prestigious platform ultimate has to offer, Team USA. After an extensive series of workouts and qualifications where she performed with the nation’s best ultimate players, she was named to the 24-woman roster who will competing at the upcoming World Ultimate Championships hosted in Australia this summer.