Friday, June 11, 2010

Top Stories of 2010 Nationals

1. Oregon's Dominance
This was simply a start-to-finish clinic on how to be a champion. Honestly, the same could be said for their entire season with the only blemish being a loss to Wisconsin at Centex. Lou and the Fugue leadership should chronicle the entire season and publish any related thoughts and notes in a book titled 'Idiot's Guide to Building a Championship Team'.

Regarding this year's College Championships, there certainly are a couple of what ifs. What if Maryland had beaten Wisconsin in pool play? That would have set Wisconsin as the likely quarterfinal matchup for Fugue (and an absolutely unthinkable Wisconsin v. Washington pre-quarter). What if Washington hadn't collapsed this weekend and set up UCSB as Fugue's likely semifinal opponent?

Fugue certainly benefitted from a favorable draw (UCLA in the quarters after their emotional and exhausting win over Washington, Colorado in the semifinals after a similar win over California, and UCSB in the finals after a similar comeback win over Wisconsin). That said, they earned the favorable draw by being the dominant team over the course of the season. In my estimation, they were also the most prepared team at the tourney. Check Lou's blog out to get the details.

This was the best team from top to bottom I've seen in the four years I've coached. I'd be curious to see how Fugue would perform in the club season. No, I don't think they are going to beat the likes of Fury or Riot this season, but if they could keep the same nucleus playing together for 2-3 years, is it out of the question to think that they could join the elite teams?

2. The Southwest - The Best Region in 2010?
Landing 4 teams in the quarters, 2 teams in the semis and one team in the finals makes a pretty compelling case for the above. Anyone who questioned the validity of the region getting four bids should come over to FJR's Country Fried Crow Shack and order the all-you-can-eat lunch special.

In the battle between the two best regions, the Southwest came out on top 6-4. Aside from Oregon's 3-0 romp through the Southwest, the lone NW victory was Cal over USC in pool play. Sorry to let the region down. Apropos of a team whose color is the opposite of yellow, Washington's three losses on the weekend were to the same Southwest teams Oregon beat.

Part of the region's success had to do with Hawkins and Kodiak getting healthy for the big tourney. This greatly enhanced UCLA's chances as the duo was a big part of their wins over Stanford and Washington.

3. Colorado - The Comeback Kids
I already wrote about Kali in my previous post, but what they did was simply amazing. Eight straight against Washington to win 14-12. Down 11-13 to Stanford, scoring 4 straight to win 15-13 in the pre-quarters. Down against Cal in the quarters, but coming back to win on double game point.

As Lou mentioned on his blog, the fact that Tina did this while looking after her kid is remarkable. I can barely keep track of my Nalgene and sunscreen while I'm coaching.

4. UCSB Makes it Four Finals in a Row
I'm pretty sure that the only other squad to match this feat is Stanford. After their poor performance at Centex, I'm guessing that nobody saw this coming. Getting Kaela healthy and enlisting Steve Dugan's help at the tail end of the season played a big part of their turnaround. The Burning Skirts have a champions' mentality and that goes a very long way. It definitely showed in their semifinals victory over Wisconsin. Bella Donna played not to lose at the end of that game while UCSB kept gunning and exuded the confidence that they were going to come back and win. With a big lead in the second half and a heavily partisan hometown crowd, Wisconsin had complete control of that game. While it wasn't on the same scale as Washington's loss to Colorado, this was a much more significant collapse and cost BD the coveted spot in the finals.

5. UPA Becomes USA Ultimate
Nobody saw this coming. Not a single person I chatted with had a clue that the name change was in the works. Initially, it freaked me out; ever since the release of New Coke in the mid-80s, I've been wary of relabeling. When Phylicia Ayers-Allen married Ahmad Rashad and completely changed the look of the Cosby Show intro, I was scarred for weeks. I can't even begin to go into the Valerie / Valerie's Family / Hogan Family debacle.

After having a couple weeks to soak it in, I think the name change is perfect. I have some issues with how the organization is presenting itself (the youtube clips were silly), but the name change is a necessary step for the growth of the sport. Ultimate no longer sounds like an adjective as it did to a lot of people upon hearing the name 'Ultimate Players Association'.

6. Shannon O'Malley Wins the Callahan
I thought she was going to finish in the top 5, but I never thought that she would win the award. Based on various people I spoke to at the ceremony, I'm guessing a lot of people were surprised (and disappointed) by this result. I can only speculate, but it's quite possible that the Huddle endorsement had a big effect. I'm sure that her remarkable performance at the 2009 College Championships also left a lasting impression.

Even more so than I did before the tourney, I stand by my prior statements. There were a number of players who should have finished above her, and her performance and attitude at this year's tourney only served to strengthen my feelings. I'm certain that she and Element read my previous comments, and she had an awesome opportunity to prove me wrong and inspire me to write an apology post. Instead, I only feel stronger in my convictions having witnessed an absolute lack of maturity and general conduct becoming of a Callahan winner.

I'm sure that winning the award feels like a giant middle finger pointed in my direction, but I only see it as further evidence that the current system is broken. She absolutely should not have won the award this year, but the fact is that she is this year's Callahan Award winner, and I hope that she wears the title well.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nationals - Some Rambling Thoughts

Here I am, sitting in the Baymont Inn breakfast room at 6:45 a.m. Quarterfinals start at 1:30 p.m. Sometimes, my brain gets all excited and worked up, and there's nothing I can do but submit to its every whim. Sigh.

The Big Stories

1. Washington's Demise - This is easily the biggest story thus far. On the short list to contend for the title, Washington's loss to UCLA in the pre-quarters was a shocking and premature end to the season. Even before their loss to UCLA, Element was clearly out of sorts this weekend. They struggled in pool play, including a monumental collapse against Colorado and two tight wins against significantly weaker opponents. Element is a really talented team with a slew of good young players, so expect them to bounce back next year.

2. Southwest and the Quarterfinals - All four of the Southwest teams are in the quarterfinals. Going into the season, I thought the Southwest had a good chance of supplanting the Northwest as the strongest region, but the Northwest consistently outperformed their counterparts to the south at the major tourneys. I thought Oregon was going to be a cut above everyone else, but I really loved the makeup of the big four in the Southwest.

Going into the quarters, the Southwest is 5-1 in matchups against the Northwest. The one loss was USC to Cal in pool play. Apologies to our Southwest counterparts.

The quarters features two more NW v. SW matchups: Oregon will be heavily favored against UCLA, and Cal faces Colorado in a match that could go either way.

3. Colorado's Run - With their wins against Washington and Stanford, Kali is proving to be one of the most resilient teams in Madison. In the biggest upset of the tourney thus far, Kali went on an eight-point run to come back from a huge deficit against Washington. In the pre-quarters, Kali gave away an early 6-2 lead to find themselves down at half 6-8. Down 11-13, Kali clamped down on defense and scored four straight to take the game and a berth in the quarters. Call them the Comeback Kids from Colorado.

4. Maryland's Near Miss - Helpful Corn demonstrated the promise offered by their run to the semifinals at Centex. Beating UCLA in pool play, Maryland battled Wisconsin and put themselves in a position to win. In the quintessential do-or-die game, Maryland was in the position of either winning the pool outright or being knocked out of the tourney. Because of their 15-9 loss to Stanford, Maryland was certain of losing out on point differential because of UCLA's victory over Stanford. A win over Wisconsin would give them the head-to-head edge over Bella Donna.

Down 10-12, Maryland stormed back with two straight to tie it up. Helpful Corn appeared to get another break when Charlie Mercer pulled down a monster grab which she flipped to a wide open teammate for the score. A travel call brought the disc back, and Wisconsin eventually scored.

Maryland, I'm a big fan.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Southwest Regionals Recap

About ten days have passed since the biggest win in USC history. It still feels great, but we're now looking forward to the big show in Madison. Seeds came out last night, and we'll be the 5th seed overall. Cool deal.

Pool Play
SDSU gave us the toughest game in pool play. The bulk of our game was an upwind / downwind match. At the game's start, we were a bit sluggish on both the offensive and defensive ends of the disc, and the Lady Chachas did a great job of maintaining a high level of energy throughout the game. I had been looking forward to seeing SDSU in action since I'd heard good things from my buddy Spencer Barr who helps coach the team.

We got our first upwind break to go up 4-2 and broke again to get the downwind advantage. We traded to half and then stormed out of the half with two more upwind breaks to essentially put the game away at 12-5. The Chachas fought back and got an upwind break of their own to close to 12-8. The rest of the game was holding the downwind advantage. 15-10 final.

In the next game, we were originally slated to play Denver University, a very new team formed with the help of USC alumna Aisling Winston aka Viking. We were psyched to play them, but due to injuries and last second drops, they couldn't attend Regionals. Sadness. Instead, we found ourselves playing Arizona State. Our game was a lot of fun and we'll always have fond memories of Gummi Bear Girl. I've never seen anyone break out congratulatory treats to the opposing team in the middle of a game. Bold. Crazy. I like it.

Our final pool game was against Colorado College. I really like what they're building; Emily Anderson (coach) and Sophia Herscu deserve a ton of credit. Herscu is a great young player and I remember being impressed with her last year at Regionals. Her supporting cast is much improved this year and they've come through with a couple of big wins (over Northwestern and Wash U, both of whom qualified for Nationals).

Unfortunately, injuries took a toll on this young team and coming into our matchup, they lost a tough double-game-point match against SDSU. After the start of our game, I think they were content to focus on the next game and stay alive in the 4th place bracket. This worked out as they won a tight game against Long Beach.

After winning our pool, we were now in the semis against Colorado, one of USC's favorite rivals in the entire division. Kali is a fun team with great personalities and a coach (Tina McDowell) that I respect a ton. In each of the previous season, we had beaten Kali in our first matchup of the season, only to lose when it most mattered (Regionals in 08, Nationals in 09).

SW Regionals in 09 was the same format and the same four teams made it to the semifinals. Last year, we played UCSB and got slaughtered. That game was when I recognized that UCSB had hit another level altogether and asserted themselves as the favorites in Columbus. This year, the Hellions were intent on going through the front and avoid the potentially long Sunday slog through the backdoor.

The open division was done for the day, so both Mamabird and the Ghettobirds were watching from opposite sidelines. Kali got an early break to go up 2-1, but we stormed back with five straight points to take a 6-2 lead. I think the crucial point during this run was at 4-2, a turnover heavy point (11 total TOs). This point ended up being a huge swing in both score and momentum. Kali ended the run at 5 to close to 6-3. We held serve and broke again to take half, scoring on a bit of a lucky deflection off a Colorado defender.

Despite us holding a five-point lead, the difference in the game wasn't huge. Kali was making a number of uncharacteristic drops that we took advantage of. Generally, their offensive play was strong, but the run we made had a pretty big psychological effect on them.

In the second half, the two teams traded to 12-7 with some very strong offensive possession by both. We got the first break of the half to essentially clinch the game. Kali was able to get a break back but we ended the game with another break to win 15-9 and clinch a bid to Nationals.

This game was easily the most fun game of the year so far and definitely on my short list of my favorite games ever. I've really come to enjoy our games against UCSB. In the past, our rivalry was heavily one-sided, but this year it's been much more even. I'm particularly impressed with how clean our games have been. When I first started coaching in 2007, the Skirts had a terrible reputation for their on-field behavior. Over the past three years, they have completely flipped that around and their leadership deserves a ton of credit.

There were a number of similarities between this game and our previous finals matchup at Sectionals. In both games, we got the early lead, took half and had a 3 point lead midway through the 2nd half. In both games, UCSB stormed back with a run. At Sectionals, we had been up 12-9 before the Burning Skirts scored five in a row to win the game. Ouch.

We started on O and got the first break of the game to go up 4-2. We got another break a couple points later to go up 6-3. After that, we traded points to 8-5. The first half featured solid offense from both sides as neither team turned it over more than twice on a point. There were only three points where either team had two turnovers.

The first point the second half pitted both teams' strongest lines against each other. We were looking for the immediate break to put a ton of pressure on them. Both teams turned it over three times, something that I think was partially attributable to both teams playing better defense. Both teams adjusted and I believe that the next five points were turnover-free.

At 11-8, UCSB made their run, building their momentum with a Callahan goal (I think by Bree). UCSB scored 4 straight to take their first lead of the game at 12-11. Unlike at Sectionals, we bounced back with a big hold in serve to tie the game up. Next to the final point of the game, the battle to get to 13 was the most crucial point of the game. I burned our last regulation timeout to keep that line as fresh as possible for defense. Fortunately, it ended being a really smart move. That point was an epic battle with something like 9 turnovers. Both teams were taking shots at the end zone when available and grinding out possessions when needed. I'm looking forward to watching the video of this point because it felt agonizingly long.

We came through on a Screech to Jaws connection, but wow, this was a tough point. Getting the break back to take the lead was huge. It also gave me the flexibility to sub a completely fresh line in on defense. UCSB's big guns stayed on the field, again proving that they are among the most fit players in the college division. I don't know how they do it.

We got the disc on the next point, but we weren't able to do much offensively. UCSB held serve and it was now game to 2. We had an easy O point and nudged ourselves to game point. UCSB responded with a fairly easy O point of their own to send it to universe point. Apparently, I remembered the first possession incorrectly, so I'll have to wait for the video footage (it takes a few weeks for video footage to develop here in Los Angeles...). The main thing I remember is that we turned it, UCSB turned it on a huck that was too far, and we maintained possession of the disc for a long time, grinding out the possession until we finally capped it off with an I/O backhand break from Uzi to Screech.

Regional champions!

As I've mentioned to my wife several times, you don't ever wish to be in super-tight games like this. They take years off your life. But when you do battle through a game like this and pull out the win, it makes you a million times tougher. This game might have been the best thing for us going into Nationals. If we have a really successful run in Madison, I'll point to this game as the one that took us to another level. Great opponent. Great game.


Because of familial obligations, I wasn't around to see the UCSB v. Colorado game or much of the UCLA v. Colorado St game. I do know that Colorado State had a great run to emerge out of a crowded field to get into the game to go. Despite the recent close games between UCLA and UCSD, I thought there was a pretty sizable gap between the top four teams and the next tier. After that, there were a number of very solid teams who were all capable of beating each other - UCSD, Colorado State, Claremont, Colorado College, Arizona, SDSU, Long Beach. Just getting to the last game-to-go is a great accomplishment, and I believe it is Hell's Belles' first in team history. Congrats!

Next year, the Southwest will be even more wide open. More teams are rising and the strong programs won't be fading anytime soon. The Hellions will be looking to prove that they are a great program and join the likes of UCLA, Colorado and UCSB.

Monday, May 17, 2010

UPA Article and Callahan Talk


The UPA article finally came out this week. I turned in the original draft shortly after the Stanford Invite expecting that the issue would come out before the end of the month. When the UPA got back to me about a couple changes, the wildcard race had already been settled and about half of my article was outdated. Sigh. I revised the article and expected the issue would be published before Regionals. Not so. Double sigh.

I'm guessing part of this had to do with the changeover from Chuck Menke to Andy Lee, but any reasons I can conjure up for the delay in publication are completely speculative. The bulk of my interaction with the UPA has been really positive and this was definitely the case while writing the women's college preview. Having the publication date shift was difficult because it definitely affected the content, but such is life.

A couple specific disclaimers that I feel are necessary to make:

- I didn't make the silly pun about Fugue (Fugue't about it). It's corny and it doesn't really make sense. My point was that Fugue is the favorite going into Nationals and was the team to beat during the season. Someone was trying to be cute, but personally, I didn't get it.

- I deliberated quite a bit over who to profile for the Q&A. The UPA wanted more of a personal, feature feel to the article and specifically recommended doing a rundown of the top Callahan candidates and doing a Q&A. For me, it came down to three people: Cree, Georgia Bosscher and Mary Kate Hogan. I ruled out Mary Kate because it would be clear favoritism since I'm her coach. Still, people just don't seem to appreciate enough how good she is as a handler (no juniors experience) and how much she has improved the Hellions. How many other teams have risen as much as the Hellions have over the past four years?

Julia James helped me with the Q&A and we both liked the idea of interviewing Cree. She's a phenomenal player and being the only college player on the Worlds roster makes her a very intriguing player. We had already gotten in touch with her by the time I thought that this might impact the Callahan voting. For this reason, doing a Q&A with Georgia might have made more sense (or at least been fairer). Callahan MVP winner and best player on one of the top contenders for this year's title... what's not to like?

In the past, I've leaned against profiling players who I thought were already very well known. Part of my personal agenda has been to highlight players and teams who aren't known to the general public. Georgia's already synonymous with women's Ultimate. On the flip side, I'm amazed by how relatively few people (even within the women's college division) know who Cree is. That said, I do think it would have been fairer to profile Georgia. Of course, it didn't really end up mattering since the article came out much later than expected.

I'd love to hear feedback on the article, good and bad. If I write more of these things in the future, getting a wide range of feedback will help me tailor the article to provide better content.


Before I elaborate on the Callahan race, I'm going to toss up a Frankie Rho specialty and contradict myself. I think too much is made of the Callahan race. I think I'm definitely guilty of that. I also think the voting process remains absurdly flawed. Moving on.

Players I Left Off the Callahan Candidate List:

Shannon O'Malley (Washington) - Great player. Undoubtedly one of the two best players on her team (other being Lindsey Wilson). A 1st team All-Region player in the region with the greatest number of elite-level players. She coaches younger kids who clearly admire and respect her. So why not in the top ten?

I'm a big fan of her game and have been for a while. I know that what I write here will run the risk of alienating some people. So be it. The sport needs more constructive agitators (not idiot agitators like Toad). First, Shannon doesn't measure up to the other candidates listed on the level of being a team player. Let me emphasize that this is relative to the other top candidates.

Second, her relationship with other teams leaves something to be desired. I've seen this on multiple occasions (last year's Nationals vs. Michigan and Stanford, this year in both of our games). After we upset Element at Pres Day, Shannon was less than a good sport about it. I can understand being upset, but when you're the leader of your team, you hold yourself to a higher standard. In our second game, Element was up big on us when Shannon made one of the most shameful foul calls I've seen all season. On a big huck to her, Lindsey Cross was on defense and skied the shit out of her. Shannon called a foul, refused to look Screech in the eyes and avoided any attempt to discuss the call.

I encourage anyone who supports Shannon to defend her on this point. Yes, I admit to having a bitter taste from that one play. Remember that I've seen examples of this from her when it didn't involve us. This moment sealed the deal. I also challenge anyone who saw this play to refute my take on it. It was an embarrassment, and a player of Shannon's abilities, experience and talent should never stoop to this level.

Alyssa Weatherford (Western Washington) - I really like what Alyssa has done this year for Chaos. From my limited perspective, I think she has matured a lot and become a much better leader for her team. The problem with her candidacy is that she is in an absurdly loaded Northwest. With Cree, Shannon, Julia Sherwood and Emily Damon around, there was essentially no room for another Northwest candidate, especially since I wanted to have a list incorporating players from multiple regions.

Jasmine Draper (Iowa State) - I actually went back and forth over who to include on my list: Jasmine, Robyn Fennig or Anna Snyder. It probably made more sense to include both Jasmine and Robyn (especially since Anna is a junior), but I had just seen Anna at Pres Day and was really impressed with her play and leadership. Of course, this ended up being a month or so before my final version of the article. Sighsighsigh.

Laura Bitterman (Wisconsin) - I really like her game. Anyone who game plans against Wisconsin usually starts with Georgia and Emilie McKain. In a matchup between two elite-level teams, it's often not the top one or two players who make the biggest difference in the first half. It's a player like Bitterman who often emerges as the X-factor in tight games.

Unfortunately for her, if there is already a Callahan winner on a team, how crucial is her leadership and her play? Last year, I made this argument (a bit tongue-in-cheek) as the one major flaw in Georgia Bosscher's candidacy. Of course, anyone with a pulse knows that Georgia is an ideal Callahan candidate. I'm definitely not questioning Bitterman's abilities. But as I opined with her former teammate Courtney Kiesow, if you aren't the best player on your team, your leadership skills and intangibles must be exceptional to be a serious Callahan candidate.

Kelly Tidwell (UNC-Wilmington) - Another very strong player who has led her team to new heights. I've only seen her play a few times, but she's certainly the leader on Seaweed and deserves a lot of credit for bringing Wilmington back to the national picture. I'm not sold on her intangibles, especially on the sportsmanship side, but again, I've been limited in what I've seen of her and Seaweed.

Christie Lawry (Pittsburgh) - Unfortunately, my lack of familiarity with Pitt Ultimate left Christie off the radar. I wish that I could have seen Pitt more often to give Lawry a fairer shake. It would be awesome if someone from the Metro East stepped up to bring more light to the Western PA programs.

Charlie Mercer (Maryland) - Mercer is really great and just missed the cutoff for me. If I had known that Anne Mercier was not going to be nominated, Charlie would likely have filled that spot. Very similar type of player and candidate to Leila Tunnell and Mary Kate Hogan.

Octavia Payne (Penn) - Awesome player, but her candidacy is hurt by being a junior and her team not reaching the same level of success promised by last year.

Marisa 'Jolie' Mead (UCLA) - Jolie has been big this year for an injury-riddled BLU. She's a rock solid handler and tough defender. Like Loryn, she is in a crowded Southwest field, and as strong as she is, she doesn't stand out in the same way that Uzi, Kaela or Coug does.

Loryn Kanemaru (UCSD) - The same thing that hurts Weatherford hurts Kanemaru. There are a lot of great players and Callahan candidates in the Southwest. With Hogan, Jorgenson and Verhaalen around, there was no room for Kanemaru on the list.

Julia Sherwood (Oregon) - Okay, this is a technicality because I picked Molly instead of Julia. Since Sherwood was their candidate last year, I rolled the dice and guessed that Suver would be the candidate this time. Either of them would have been awesome candidates... in fact...

My top 5 candidates (in alphabetic order)
Mary Kate Hogan (USC)
Cree Howard (Cal)
Julia Sherwood (Oregon)
Leila Tunnell (UNC)
Courtney Verhaalen (Colorado)

Kaela Jorgenson just misses this cut for me. Part of this is because of Finney's presence and leadership slightly undercuts Kaela's candidacy. It's all very close and they are all very deserving. I think Tunnell has the best chances of winning the award because of the sizable voting bloc that will be in support of her. The West Coast candidates will hurt each other's chances. That's the way it goes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Restructuring and the Future of the Sport: A Perspective from the Central Region

This post comes to you courtesy of Robyn Fennig, the gifted player from Wisconsin Eau-Claire. Fennig's perspective is interesting and insightful because her program is representative of the rapid growth the women's division has experienced over the past few years. Eau Claire is a very young program that burst onto the scene in 2007 with a 4th place finish at their first appearance at Regionals. They followed that initial success by making it to the game-to-go in 2008 and 2009, only to come up just a bit short.

Like many young programs, Eau Claire has faced many challenges in their growth from a fledgling team to a much more competitive program. Weather, travel and budget are some of the classic obstacles that any ambitious team has had to confront at some point; teams in Wisconsin and Minnesota certainly know this better than most. In both the open and women's divisions, Carleton and Wisconsin have managed to be wildly successful despite these challenges, but up until recently, they had been the exception to the rule.

This year marks the first year of a major restructuring effort by the UPA, and the establishment of a meaningful, regular season is something that will have a major impact on the sport's future. As someone representing a hungry young team, one that represents the future of this sport, Fennig's take on the restructuring effort is an important one to consider.


On the Restructuring Process
According to the UPA, there are four main parts to the restructuring process, as listed in the UPA online summary. I am going to leave out the 2nd item about enhanced rostering, since I feel benefits all schools equally. We all have to verify our rosters for the series, so having better resources available to all schools is important. For the sake of this discussion I will limit my focus to the other three points.

Eau Claire, WI (like many Midwestern schools) is located in a wonderful climate for many winter activities, unfortunately the sport of ultimate is not one of them. For clarification, our school is located in the Northwest part of the state. Snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures, etc. are an every day experience in Eau Claire for the first two to three months of spring season. Of course climate alone does not dictate team success. Teams like Ottawa and Iowa State who experience similar climate have managed to break into and thrive on the nationals-caliber scene. What dictates success in these sorts of climates, however, is the advantage of having adequate indoor facilities to use. For the teams who get to routinely practice on larger turf spaces have an advantage of playing more realistic ultimate.

UW-Eau Claire is not a school with a lot of indoor facilities, thus we are lucky to receive a single basketball court to drill, scrimmage, and teach the game to our players. We are more fortunate than some of our Central Region counterparts, like the newly created women’s team at UW-Lacrosse, who gets a space misleadingly named the “Multi-purpose room” which is a space smaller than most high school academic classrooms. Imagine trying to develop a team, let alone a successful program in this sort of atmosphere. It is hard to keep new recruits hooked when they are attempting to learn the game in 10 foot x 10 foot space.

This is also especially difficult for teams who share gym space with their Open Division counterparts. SOL often shares indoor facilities with our men’s teams, Eauzone and Eau2. There are advantages to this, yes, but many of them are lost when 60 people are forced to share space. Several of our players have suffered major injuries, simply because there are too many people on a basketball court.

This means that, like many other schools, our experience playing realistic ultimate is limited to traveling long distances to tournaments. This is especially challenging to a team like ours who has been on the brink of qualifying for nationals for three years. Our team dynamic is often challenged when we get outdoors and we struggle to succeed in our first higher caliber tournament of the season…as it is far different than the modified situations we are forced to compete in during the crucial beginning of the spring season in Eau Claire. Like many other up-and-coming teams we must travel long way to experience any sort of realistic ultimate and it takes a few tournaments before we are really flowing.

These relatively poorer performances early on in the season hurt our team when it comes to rankings and earning extra bids for regionals/nationals for our section or region. Teams grow when they are challenged. But poor performance during the regular season at a UPA sanctioned tournament, though beneficial to your team, hurts your sectional and regional opportunities. This gives disproportionate weight to the teams located in those regions with awesome year-round ultimate playing climate an advantage to the regions that have colder climate, and fewer local UPA sanctioned events.

(Side note: I might have less problem with this rule if our spring break fell during the regular season. Our spring break falls after the regular season cut-off date. This means we have to travel far away before spring break. For many teams, attending a spring break tournament helps qualify them for the 10 game minimum.)

I am definitely unsatisfied with the outcome of the restructuring. It harms medium-sized schools in colder climates a lot. We are not even closest to the largest of the UW-System schools, but are categorized the same way as UW-Madison with 40,000+ students. School enrollment (7,500 student body) is not the only significant factor that dictates team success. The Central Region alone provides two wonderful examples of this principle. If you have a team at a huge school, you are not guaranteed to qualify for nationals (i.e. the University of Minnesota). Nor are you guaranteed failure if you have a small student body (i.e. Carleton College).

What do I propose? I feel that a team, in order to qualify for any sort of D-II or D-III National Tournament, must fill out an application to do so. I think this application process should take a combination of “tradition” of ultimate at your school, student body size, location, and funding determines success. My suggestion is for the sectional and regional coordinators to sit down and determine the most qualifying applicants four to five schools from their region to submit the final applications to the UPA who selects the top 16-20 teams to attend this secondary national tournament. Sectional and Regional coordinators are most in tune with the smaller schools in the region. They understand these different qualifications at each school and can make educated and fair decisions; thus limiting the number of applications the UPA must evaluate.

On Contending with the Regional Powers: Madison and Carleton
It is definitely challenging on many fronts developing a program in a region that is dominated by Wisconsin-Madison and Carleton. When I started playing in Spring 2007, our team finished 4th at Central Regionals, in our first year making an appearance at that tournament. The next year, our captains tried to get us as many high quality games as possible to try to get our newer players as much experience as possible . We got in 3 games at College Terminus (though it was rained out…), and a few good games at Frostbite.

Since then our program has come a long way. What our captains have stressed every single year is that we need to get as much experience as possible. On a team where even our most experienced players are sitting on two years of mid- to top-level co-ed club experience, it’s hard to compete against players with junior worlds and elite high school experience. Wisconsin-Eau Claire is not exactly a school that draws a ton of ultimate players, even with our proximity to Minnesota. I don’t see that happening until we break into nationals.

With that being said, we take it season by season, with our focus being on trying to get our players as much game experience as possible. This means traveling to do this. This spring we will be heading to Philly Classic (17 hours away), Chicago Invite (only 5.5 hours away), and Centex (20+ hours away). I really appreciate the work of Michelle Ng and her crew at Midwest Ultimate are doing to help teams like ours get high quality games closer to home.

Another thing our team concentrates on is getting creative with what we have. Our practice facility consists of two basketball courts side by side. We concentrate on doing modified scrimmage situations with 4 on 4 and 5 on 5, and really emphasize our younger players getting the disc in their hands. We have experimented with randomly “freezing” game play to discuss positioning and strategy based on where players are standing. This has been successful on teaching field awareness. We rely on our captains and coach (Pat Niles) to come up with challenging, but game-like drills with the limited space we have.

As we found out two weeks ago, our facilities are not exactly what our Central Region friends have access to. We went to Iowa State for a turf/court scrimmage. Yeah, the turf was rough, but the fact that we could huck the disc was enough to excite us. I think that the scrimmage with Iowa State and Wisconsin-Madison was a good step to see how we’re developing this season. Next season will be difficult, there will be a lot of turnover for SOL. What the captains do next year I think will be a defining moment in the development of our program. Anna [Hettler] and I will be available to help in any way we can.

On How to Improve College Women's Ultimate
I think that women’s ultimate in general has a lot of work to do. As a former college athlete at a high level D-III program, I saw the type of work that we did to support high school and middle school-aged players. I feel that this type of relationship has yet to really be developed between elite women’s club teams and women’s college teams. The work that Michelle Ng and her crew are doing with Midwest, most noteworthy with the skills clinic and roundup division at Midwest Throwdown are the start of something. I feel that our club teams need to reach out more to the college teams, especially programs like ours. We do not necessarily know where to go for help, or even what to ask if the help is there. Once this sort of exchange takes place, womens college ultimate will thrive.

Fennig's Preview of the Central Region

University of Wisconsin (Bella Donna)
Yet again, the Bellas have one of the deepest, most ridiculous teams in the nation. Led by 2009 Callahan Award Winner, Georgia Bosscher, and all-region selection Emelie McKain, their talent pool is never ending. Impact players Frances Tsukano and Sandy Jorgenson now have elite level club experience. Add Laura Bitterman, FOTY ’09 Rachael Westgate, and Jenny Gaynor offer the team athleticism and speed. This team has the potential to be unstoppable.

Carleton College (Syzygy)
This team is always a mystery to me until Regionals in May. Their strength during mid-February is relatively weaker than the team that shows up to Regionals, as it should be. This team always peaks at the “right” time. Most other teams in the Central refer to this phenomenon as the “Carleton Learning Curve.” I expect an equally impressive squad come May. Anna Snyder is in my opinion, the most dominant player on their team. She’s athletic and has a field presence matched by few in the region.

Iowa State University (Women Scorned)
SOL has a friendly rivalry with Iowa State. They are some of my closest friends and greatest competition that pushes me to my limits. Jasmine Draper and Christine Rosen are the two that most people know by name and face. They both played for the Chad Larson Experience (CLX) who took 2nd at UPA Club Nationals and are heading to Prague this summer. However, many overlook impact players like Jessy Erickson’s huge plays, Sarah Hoistad’s sick break throws, and Jiear Vang’s overall skills add depth to Women Scorned.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire (SOL)
SOL has been on the brink for three years. This year we have some good depth with some players that are extremely under-rated. But this is the year where people will get to know them. Anna Hettler, one of our co-captains, gets 3-4 solid handblocks a game is a great leader on O and D. Brit Gartner is a versatile, balls-to-the-walls player that any team could hope to have. Martha Harris’ low breaks and sick throws…Jess Haller’s athleticism, Melissa Jordan’s ridiculous NCAA D-III championship sprinting speed. We are looking to make some noise and throw off the status quo.

Other players to look for:
-Alyssa Olson, Minnesota (Ninjas)
-Depalma sisters, Minnsota (Ninjas)
-Megan Greenwood, Iowa (Saucy Nancy)
-Eyleen Chou, Wisconsin-B (Atropa)
-Emily Karoblis, Wisconsin-Stevens Point (Shockwave)
-Alex Haroldson, Wisconsin-Whitewater (Schist)
-Hailey Bronson, Winona State (Bad Monaz)
-Beth Langer, St. Thomas (Rainy Day Women)