Oregon Fugue and Central Florida Sirens Leave It All On The Field

Oregon's Sophie Darch throws against Central Florida in the 2014 College Championships semifinal.
Photo by CBMT Creative.

Few games have been more anticipated than the national semifinal between Oregon Fugue and Central Florida. The two teams have opposite histories, but similar season trajectories that included impressive resumes with few flaws, making them each favorites to reach this point. They also shared the exact same hope: to win a shot at the title.

It was Oregon Fugue who earned that opportunity to defend their crown in one of the best games of college women’s Ultimate ever played. Oregon captured the game in a winner take all point where both teams had chances, by a score of 15-14.

The background on these two couldn’t be more disparate. Oregon Fugue has existed for about 20 years, producing two Callahan winners and a pair of national titles. They’ve been one of the top ranked teams in the college game over the past five season and were a preseason favorite this season. Their team is loaded with some of country’s most elite youth players and their name is known throughout women’s Ultimate.

Conversely, Central Florida had barely made a name for themselves until this season. They didn’t even have a real season until 2010, coming from an area with no youth season and a much less noted region. UCF didn’t take long to make an impact, making a push for championship qualification in 2012, then doing it in 2013, and now repeating the feat – while winning their region – as a pool one seed this season. Fugue’s depth of skill and experience clashes with Central Florida’s unique style and top heavy squad.

However, when you look at what these teams try to do, you see similarities. Oregon Coach Lou Burruss and Central Florida Coach Joe Tilley have very different career arcs, but ultimate taught their teams the same concepts: keep the disc moving, don’t be afraid to take shots, and make the other team work through tough and confusing defense. Above all, they both preach to be aggressive, especially after the turn. Each has a famous defense to compliment their high pressure man. Each roster features some premier throwers and a stable of thoroughbreds to track down their ambitious shots.

The different path these programs took led them both here, across the line from one another, with fans in the stands, the cameras rolling, and hopes and dreams on the line. It is no wonder the game was a slugfest, with all the atmosphere and stakes that the passion involved deserved.

The game was close from the first pull to the last, with only three points being played where a team had more than a one point lead. One of those two point leads came from Hayley Wahlroos on the second point of the game, as Oregon broke when the Northwest Freshman of the Year made a monstrous full extension grab in the end zone.

Both teams were in their element, firing deep shots and attacking without fear. Central Florida stuck mostly with their signature zone defense that commit four players to the backfield, leaving lots of holes over the top. Oregon directed hammers, blades, and crossfield backhands towards these spaces regularly, sometimes becoming turnovers and other times allowing them to fast break to the end zone.

“They were really good at going for a quick strike and moving the disc quickly,” said Tilley afer the game.

Central Florida managed to get their break back and add another one when Mariel Hammond intercepted a Lily Herd pass with a poach and hit Kalah St. Pierre to make it 7-6. It was St. Pierre’s fourth goal of the half.

Hammond was the most dominant element of the semifinal, doing the little things right on offense, making the big plays Central Florida needed, and covering tons of ground on defense. She won virtually every battle in the air, including a beautiful sky over Wahlroos that lead to UCF taking an 11-10 lead.

The game took an unfortunate turn at 12-12. With freshman Gabrielle Aufderheide and Jesse Shofner doing a great job containing Sunny Harris and Mariel Hammond, respectively, Shofner generated a great pressure D. She immediately streaked to the end zone and Wahlroos put up an outside in flick to her, but it dropped and Shofner was forced to bid. She failed to bring it in and stayed down. An extended delay ended with Shofner leaving the field; she would not return. Central Florida went on to take the point.

Oregon scored the next two and Central Florida responded, and with soft cap on, the game was tied with the season’s on the line.

UCF went to their zone, which Sophie Darch and Fugue offense went over. After the Sirens transitioned, Wahlroos overshot a swing to Ashley Young, giving the disc to UCF. Their offense went the other way, and a few throws later, Sunny Harris put up a big backhand to a streaking Amy Price. Price tried to wheel it down, getting her hand on the disc but not bringing it in. It was the last chance her team would get, as a few throws later, Darch was cutting upline and scoring the game winner.

For Central Florida, this season defined their program and the loss in Mariel Hammond and Sunny Harris’s final year was as close as could be, but also devastating. More than one Sirens collapsed as Darch’s hand closed on the disc and their post game had the air of a funeral. This was a team that had expended every ounce of emotion they had on the field and felt they were leaving empty handed.

Fugue, on the other hand, heads back to yet another championship game. But don’t tell them it doesn’t mean anything. Without stars Bethany Kaylor and, in the late game, Jesse Shofner, they were still able to triumph when pushed to the limit. For Darch, the senior leader, scoring the game winner was only fitting.

“It’s an unreal feeling, the whole team fighting the whole way through. Both teams put their full hearts into it,” said Darch. When asked what she was proud of about the game, she pointed to Fugue, “learning how to put your full heart in, because it’s a scary thing…It can easily get broken.”

Oregon now draws Ohio State, one of three teams that bested them this year and the only to do so in convincing fashion. For the first time in a long time, they will be the underdog, and everyone will see how they handle unfamiliar territory.

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