Most of this post is going to be about quarters and UCLA, but before I get to the game proper, I need to set the stage.
Coming out of pool play the message was two-fold. First, pool play doesn't matter. Nationals is two tournaments and the goal of the first (pool play) is just to make it to the second. Once you make it to the second tournament (bracket play,) it doesn't matter what you did in pool play - good or bad. This is a lesson vividly learned by Sockeye in 2004 and 2008, but even last year Wisconsin and Ottawa went 4-0 in pool play, earned the bye and then lost in quarters. Second part of the message is that it was time for us to come out and really play. As a team, we often set our throttle to our perceptions of how good the other team was and how hard we were going to have to work. (This kind of drove me crazy as a coach, but we always answered the call when necessary so I just swallowed my nerves throughout the season.) Typically, when I said this to the team, they all nodded in agreement and started getting themselves mentally ready for quarters.
After I recovered for heat stroke, I went back to the fields to watch UW v. UCLA in the pre-quarters. Having played UW four times this season, I knew them well and a Korb-coached team is a Korb-coached team, so I felt like I knew them well. My trip was one third scouting, one third rooting interest and one third the right thing to do. (It's my job as coach to watch that game.) It was a great game. It wasn't necessarily the best game for awesome play because both teams were exhausted from the heat, but it was amazing for the pressure and consequences. Neither team was playing particularly great defense, so there was a lot of scoring and minimal turnovers. Down 7-8 at half time, UCLA got three separate breaks in the second half and never gave one back to win 16-14.
UCLA looked poised, patient and fearless. I think they stared down thirty stalling 8s and patiently found one out after another, whether breaking to the front of the stack with the inside-out or breaking to the wide comeback cut on the around. Kodiak and Jolie held down the fort and Hawkins made all the big plays necessary to break the game open.
Washington looked tired, frustrated and scared. They'd already lost to UCSB (not really an upset) and Colorado?! (giving up 8 in a row to lose.) Cyle's two-woman game works well when it works (Florida men 2010, anyone?) but it can roll downhill in a hurry. Mix together heat, lots of close games and struggling stars and you've got real trouble. (Florida men 2009, anyone?) The problem comes when you start giving up runs. The offense (and particularly your stars) have to stay out on the field, getting more and more tired. You've never equipped anyone else to carry any weight and so they can't. I was also surprised at how dependent UW was on Lindsey's (remember, she's a lefty) reach-through-draw-the-contact-call-the-foul-backhand. We had always forced forehand against them, figuring it was better to deal with one hucker (just Lindsey) rather than two huckers when you force backhand (Lindsey and Shannon.) However, I watched UCSB, then Colorado and finally UCSB have incredible success forcing backhand. Without that move, Lindsey was half the thrower she had been throughout the year and the UW offense had no dependable way to move the disc downfield other than chipping and putting, which hadn't ever been their game.
So UCLA won. We went home to bed. UCLA stayed at the fields (maybe winning, although our support staff of Danielle, Kelly and the Gremlin claimed they won them in our name.)
Next morning we got up late and farted around before hitting the fields around 11:45. (I actually got up at six, ate brekky and went to the fields to talk with Deaver, then went back.) I had formulated a plan for UCLA based on what I'd seen the day before. I wanted to minimize separation. I knew UCLA's patience would generate high counts for us and I wanted to take advantage of this by preventing the late-count bailouts that had been so successful for them in the prequarters. The danger here is that you get punished on the live side, but I was confident in our athleticism to take that risk. We focused on match-ups for Hawkins, Kodiak and Jolie. Hawkins is a receiving 3 who is a classic tweener: if you are bigger than her she'll run by you and if you're faster than her, she'll out muscle you. We figured Tina would give her a mess of trouble and she did. (Tina gave everyone trouble.) The challenge with Kodiak is managing her as a creation thrower. Most of UCLA's offense is very conservative, but Kodiak adds that very needed creative element with a dazzling array of breaks: low on both sides and a lovely hammer. I wanted to make her work to get the disc so she was never able to achieve a sense of poise and balance when she had the disc - so her attention was always on getting open. I had watched Jolie do a brilliant and subtle job of maintaining possession for BLU in the pre-quarters, both getting open and hitting breaks. She was either first or second in touches in that game and I wanted to get a good match-up on her and try to deny her the disc.
Offensively, I wanted us to run and push the tempo. I know that's what we always do, but I knew UCLA wasn't ready for that pace of play, so that's what I emphasized.
As for the game itself? We did everything we said we'd do: came out focused and playing 100%, played nasty tough d and ran like crazy. Ten minutes into the game, it was 5-0 and we had yet to turn it over.
Later in the game, we switched to our junk to conserve energy and Kodiak started punishing us with hammers. BLU's flow off of the hammers never really materialized, but she still kept putting them up for twenty or thirty yards. Gordy and I had a discussion about how to stop it: should we play two deeps to protect the weakside more or should we roof-mark her. In the end, we chose to roof-mark her which was kind of effective although we still bit on her forehand and backhand fakes the first couple times until we really committed to it. In the end, it didn't really matter as we continued to pull away and won 15-5. On to semis!
I'd like to close with a big congrats to Korb and BLU. To go from seeded out of the dance at Regionals to finishing tied for 5th is an awesome accomplishment. Way to play your best when it counts!