Friday, June 11, 2010

Nationals Part 6 of ?

We were in and set to play UCSB in the finals. The last two seasons have seen a lot of big games between SB and Oregon and it has quietly developed into big rivalry. In 2009, we played them in the finals of Prez Day (lost 7-9), Stanford (lost 12-15) and semis at Nationals (lost 11-15.) This year, we played them in finals at Prez Day (won 12-10) and semis at Stanford (won 15-8.) Despite the stakes, none of these games was characterized by chippiness or bad calls. I'll hand it to SB for setting a tone that was about making plays, not calls. As we worked to improve our spirit this year, they were a team we felt like was doing all the right things and wanted to emulate.

How they got there:
The Skirts had walked through most of their competition. They handled Washington (15-8), Harvard (15-7) and Michigan (15-9.) They won a barn-burner against Colorado (15-12) that I missed entirely while laying in the hotel with ice on my face. Their quarters match-up against USC was a repeat of the Regional finals (a 15-14 USC victory.) But USC didn't show up and the Skirts won easily (15-9.) Then of course, they played Wisco in the semifinals. Holy cow, was that a sweet game. We got to walk over after our semifinal and watch the UCSB close the gap and then win. Final UCSB 16-14. SB's cumulative score was 91-59, 150 total points played.

The SB - Wisco Semifinal
This was the game of the weekend. For myself and Fugue, the tournament and the finals will be special for us forever, but this is the game that will be discussed next year and the next. If you haven't seen this or this, you should. Wisconsin came in as a short-list team to win and the only other team to really be given a shot to beat us. Mostly this was because they had put together a nice season, capped with a Centex win over us, 10-15. No one had given SB much of a thought after their Centex collapse and Regionals loss to USC, but as I watched both teams play it was clear how well SB was playing and how inconsistently Wisconsin was playing. In pool play, Wisconsin almost lost to Stanford after being up 14-8 and almost let Maryland take the lead at 12s or 13s. Throughout the weekend, Wisconsin was buoyed by a huge home crowd. The Ho-dangs got knocked out knocked out in pool play (yeah!), so no one was watching them play anymore, instead transferring their hopes to the title-contending Bella Donna. The crowd for this game was the biggest for a women's game all weekend except perhaps the final. Dugan's interview sums it up pretty well, but what I saw was UCSB take control of the pace and style of the game with their zone. The zone took away Wisco's deep game by forcing them to throw at Kaela, with minimal success. Offensively, UCSB was fearless and clutch. Twice down the stretch they hucked it at 5'2" Finney defended by Sandy Jorgenson and then Georgia and landed both of them. Ridiculous.

What happened to Wisconsin?
For a team that started the season as the favorite to win it all, returned the most talented player in ultimate, added a coach and got Nationals in their backyard...semifinals had to be a disappointment.
1. They were offensively inconsistent. It just came down to too many turnovers that didn't have to happen. It's hard to point at any specific reason, but I think part of it is that they were comfortable with a lot of turnovers. When they beat us in Texas, a huge part of their advantage in the hurricane finals was their comfort level with that kind of game and our frustration. We weren't used to turning it over that much, but they didn't seem particularly bothered by it.
2. No 2s. They had the best 1 in the game (Emelie McKain) and the best 3 (Georgia), but they didn't have anyone to tie them together or create offense if Georgia wasn't getting comeback cuts. It definitely hurt them against Santa Barbara's zone - they couldn't really move the disc against it unless they hucked.
3. They were scared to lose. They thought they should win and 'should-win' is dangerous thinking.

Overall, I was happier with our SB match-up than a Wisconsin match-up. We had been calm and confident throughout Nationals and to play the only team to beat us and to play them in their house would have been a bit more challenging mentally. As it was, we were able to maintain the same sense of focus and purpose we had carried with us through the first three days. I was a little disappointed not to have the opportunity to remove the asterisk from our season and a lot disappointed not to play in front of a huge crowd.
I also knew it meant a friendly, call-free final. (I don't say unspirited and I mean that. Wisconsin is a team that likes to not like their opponents while they are playing. Actual quote: "Playing you [Oregon] is hard because you're so nice." But frowns have nothing to do with spirit and Wisconsin doesn't have much of a call game and the ones they make are fair. Also, Malacek is a yeller and that always changes the tenor of a game.) Most of all though, I was happy we wouldn't have to flip for yellow.

Next post: The finals!

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