Oregon Earns Hard-Fought Battle Over Central Florida

Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos

Oregon and Central Florida battled out the most exciting game of the College Championships in a brutal match that Fugue won on double game point, 15-14. Central Florida came into the semifinal game after a commanding win over Michigan Flywheel, while Oregon Fugue had eked out a close victory against Victoria 15-13. Both teams have sailed through their weekends on authoritative offense and daunting defense, but they had different stakes in the semifinals. Oregon wanted to preserve their dynasty; Central Florida wanted theirs to begin.

Opening Salvo

Central Florida pulled to Oregon and immediately set their notorious zone on Sophie Darch. But the Oregon handlers threw over the cup with ease, and Jesse Shofner blew up the line easily for the first point of the game. Oregon was able to capitalize on the Sirens’ missed connections early to grab a 2-0 lead, but Central Florida responded with a big look from Mariel Hammond to Amy Price, and Kalah St. Pierre secured the score, 1-2. The Sirens threw yet another cup on Darch, but she found more openings over the cup, and Molly Lanning zipped an immediate look to Adrienne Bovee.

Then they were off.

The Sirens broke back, finding confidence on the field from Sunny Harris’ distinctive hucks and impossibly consistent resets. Saying that Oregon and Central Florida traded points doesn’t do justice to the sweat that both teams sacrificed for every possession, every D, and every goal. Neither team was perfect – Darch had several uncharacteristic fumbles and Harris had  some misfires – but nothing was given for free.

The Sirens started to settle in, and they stole a break at 6-5 that they would hold until through half 8-7, which they won on a dirty inside flick huck from Harris that Shayna Brock brought down with ease. The Sirens tried to take over in the first half in their typical fashion, but Oregon refused to relent. Sophie Darch and Ashely Young lead the charge with dynamic plays, and smart matchups on defense. Rachel Hershey worked hard to roll with Sunny Harris, and although she couldn’t stop every reset, stopping even one move that Sunny wants to make is a feat.

The Long March

Photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos

Out of half, Oregon laid down the law. They broke the Sirens after several turns on an assist from freshman Hayley Wahlroos to Kasey Harris. The Sirens surged ahead with a break of their own, reaching 10-8 through a bevy of great plays from Mariel Hammond in the air and with the disc. The Sirens zone suppressed Darch’s big throws with Hammond and Harris lurking deep, but you could see the un-thrown hucks tensed in her arms as she would swing, reset, and look downfield again. When she and Young did take these chances, Sunny and Mariel cleaned up. A Central Florida drop gave Darch a small window, and she released a hammer to Ashley Young to close the gap. After that, Oregon and Central Florida never put more than a point between their scores, and the savage march toward the 15-point finish line began.

Oregon capitalized on yet another unforced turnover from the Sirens to tie the game, and they got the disc again quickly in the next point. Jesse Shofner put up a floating huck to Hayley Wahlroos up the sideline, but Mariel Hammond appeared to posterize her with the D. College women’s ultimate frankly rarely sees plays like Hammond’s defensive grab, and while it was unbelievably cool, it wasn’t surprising. Hammond played unparalleled defense in the semifinal game, securing athletic grabs and dropping easy dimes in every point.

If Sophie Darch and Ashley Young are Oregon’s workhorses, then Jesse Shofner is their tiny freight train. Plays came from every player on their lines, but Darch, Young, and Shofner are crucial factors in nearly every turning point that Oregon had in the second half. Shofner played physical, close defense on Hammond, prompting foul calls and heightened tempers at 12-12. On an endzone look from Wahlroos, Shofner bid far and hard, hitting the ground so painfully that she stepped off for the rest of the game.

The Final Moments

The game stretched on into soft cap with nervous turns from both teams. Central Florida made more cautious decisions with the disc, looking off open cuts more than they have all weekend. But the Sirens play best when they play cocky. Amy Price dropped at least 4 discs that would have earned the Sirens goals, showing the pressure that the Sirens felt. They had never been close to this deep into the bracket, and they were tantalizingly close to a win.

Wahlroos threw another beautiful huck to Andrea Fontenot for a score that felt like the end of the game. But Central Florida wasn’t ready to relent, grinding through hundreds of tiny passes that let Hammond find Brock. 14-14.

Central Florida pulled and immediately played their zone, but Darch had none of it, launching a hammer that Wahlroos snagged with ease. But she overthrew Ashley Young, and the Sirens had their final chance. Sunny found a power position and fired off the huck that could end Fugue’s season, but Price couldn’t stick it. Fugue picked up, working the disc down the field. Every throw said, this is ours. Darch streaked up line as they reached the endzone, and she got the easy backhand pass from Alex Ode to win.

This game defies hyberbole. The tension in the final points felt so thick in the airy stadium that every reset elicited gasps from the crowd. Seat edges were gripped by fans for both teams. There were so many reasons to want both teams to win. Central Florida should have won, as the only team who has defeated Ohio State this year. Oregon should have won, as arguably the best ultimate dynasty in women’s college ultimate today. They both deserved the game, and they both fought for it until the last grab from Darch. Some will call it the best game of women’s college ultimate, and today nobody can argue.

  1. Katie Raynolds
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    Katie Raynolds took a break from Seattle ultimate to test out the Midwestern scene, but now she's back in the Northwest to investigate this "bubble" she keeps hearing about. She played for Northwestern Gungho, two seasons with Chicago Nemesis, and now plays for Seattle Underground. Katie serves as Ultiworld's Women's D1 College Editor, and is damn proud to cover women's ultimate. You can reach her by email (katie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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