Reflecting on some of the biggest moments in 2014.
October 30, 2014 by Katie Raynolds in Analysis with 11 comments
Across the country, rookies are throwing their first wobbly flick and veterans are quietly plotting out their season, eyes set on springtime glory. Story lines will soon take form, so it only seemed right to look back at the 2013-14 season in women’s ultimate. Several games, events, and moments acted as crucial pivot points throughout the season that would not only lead 20 teams to nationals but would also build the mounting case to love and respect women’s ultimate.
January 17th: Paige Soper Returns
After a strong 3rd place finish at the 2013 College Championships, Ohio State Fever was ready to go further in the 2014 season, but they knew they would have to do so without their star, Paige Soper. They still had heavyweights that most other teams would kill for – Cassie Swafford, Nina Finley, Katie Backus – but losing Soper was a setback.
So her surprising return in 2014 gave a finals favorite an extra boost. The star handler was convinced to rejoin the team for a final year, rearranging her affairs to fit in Fever. Soper was a steady, forceful monster for Fever in every game she played, from the Florida Winter Classic until the final point of the season. Fever could have done it without her. But you knew when she was on the field, and you’ll notice next season when she’s truly gone.
February 6th: Lisa Couper Goes Down
University of North Carolina Pleiades rode high into the Fall last year: they had the best team they had had in years, a hefty roster of Phoenix Club experience, and a powerful duo at their helm: Shellie Cohen and Lisa Couper. Cohen and Couper had played together at Club Nationals that October and in Toronto for the U-23 World Championships. This handler-cutter combo was lethal enough to take down Ohio State, twice, and they were poised to have an even stronger 2014.
Then Lisa Couper tore her ACL during a Phoenix scrimmage, an injury that would sideline her for her senior season and leave Pleiades without a big weapon they had been counting on. Momentum shifted as the team’s aspirations shifted onto Shellie Cohen’s shoulders, and Pleiades headed into the new year with a much taller order to fill. Unlucky pools and losses once more to Virginia meant that Pleiades warmed the Nationals bench for yet another post-season.
February 16th: UC-Santa Barbara Upsets Oregon at President’s Day
Oregon doesn’t lose. They just don’t. When they won the 2013 College Championships, Oregon ended their season with a record of 37-1. Coming into President’s Day Invitational in February, they hadn’t lost a game in a year. So despite going on to win the tournament, their loss to UC-Santa Barbara 15-14 was huge. It revealed the tiniest chink in their armor, and it solidified the Burning Skirts as a team to dread. The Skirts’ physical, fast, and ballistic playing style can push even the best teams into close games they don’t want to be in. Suddenly, a Championship looked, just maybe, up for grabs.
March 2nd: Central Florida and Oregon Clash at Stanford Invite
If two teams, traveling at the same breakneck velocity, one from the East, one from the West, collide at the same time, who wins? The Central Florida Sirens and Oregon Fugue stepped onto the field at Stanford Invite knowing there would be a throwdown. The young and hungry Sirens were ready to take a whack at the reigning champions, and the champions were ready to flex against new blood. The game remained close throughout, each team earning 2-3 point runs that would bury many other teams. It was brutal close quarters combat, right up until the score was 11-11 and capped. A massive layout D from the injured Sunny Harris gave the Sirens the disc, but her play was matched by a Callahan from Fugue freshman Hayley Wahlroos to win the game. These teams wouldn’t meet again until the national semifinal game.
March 2nd: Western Washington Reaches the Stanford Invite Final
WWU Chaos, lead by the double forces of Callie Mah (Callahan finalist) and Abbie Abramovich (Ultiworld Breakout Player of the Year), strung together an impressive run of upsets over every team they faced until the final: UCLA, UBC, UC-Santa Barbara, Stanford…Chaos proved in March that they would see everyone in May. The little school from Bellingham most people had never heard of, who had to win their way to the Invite through the Open, was now a contender and a star.
March 23rd: Michigan Dominates UCSB at Centex
Flywheel rising, Burning Skirts falling. Hype was high for the Burning Skirts after President’s Day and Stanford Invite, but their tired performance at Centex in late March was a hiccup in their tour de force last year. They lost decisively to the focused Michigan Flywheel 13-6 on the Saturday of Centex, followed by a surprising loss to Texas Melee 13-7 the next day. This loss confirmed the whispered suspicions that the Burning Skirts didn’t have the grit or depth to win it all, even with the fiery Lisa P. and Kelly Gross at the reins. It also set the table for a rematch in Wisconsin with seasons on the line.
March 30th: Ohio State Defeats Oregon (and everyone else) at NW Challenge
The clinic that Ohio State inflicted on Oregon at NW Challenge was Fever’s true debut as a team: their calm, intuitive playing style forced uncharacteristic turns from Oregon early from which they weren’t able to recover. Ohio State took half 8-6, unfazed by Oregon’s signature defense and their push for a faster pace. This final foreshadowed these teams’ next meeting in May, and it showcased Fever’s unique style of excellence in a division that long valued force, speed, and physicality.
April 4th: Northwest Region Lands 6 Bids
The storm was brewing for several years. But it was 2014 when the Northwest collected their whopping 6 bids, like a lifetime card shark cashing all her chips. Many people grumbled, some raged, but everybody had an opinion. Good or bad, those 6 bids forced the division to self-reflect. Does the system allow for regional advantages to snowball? Should all teams have to travel, and could they? Is 6 bids too much for any region? What does this say about national youth development? The hefty slate of NW teams included newcomers WWU Chaos, the Victoria Vixens, and the Whitman Sweets, all of whom stayed on the West Coast throughout their season.
This conversation isn’t over. All 6 teams from the Northwest Region look ahead to strong seasons again, and no algorithmic update will force them to leave the Pacific time zone. Will other regions take back their strength bids, or will we face another skewed season?
April 20th: Bethany Kaylor’s Season Ends Early
Oregon Fugue had little reason to worry as they cruised into their post-season. Their region had an aforementioned six bids, and they were the defending national champions. Just before the Cascadia Conference Championships, however, Bethany Kaylor suffered a foot injury that ended her season before the juiciest part. Oregon has never been close to a one-player team, but Kaylor has long been a playmaker for Fugue on offense and defense. Losing her for nationals let a bevvy of Oregon’s other players step up and make plays, but they could have used her speed and defensive force after their exhausting semifinal game against Central Florida.
May 3-4: Colorado College Shocks the South Central
When I tried to research Colorado College before Midwest Throwdown last March, I couldn’t find anything: no coverage, no information about Fall tournaments, no hint at what kind of team they were. But their upset over Texas Melee at the South Central Regionals put them on the national radar. The region’s third bid last season proves that the region is growing, and they may keep stealing bids from regions that took them for granted. Next to Colorado Kali and University of Kansas Betty, Colorado College looked like the fluke. But at Nationals, upsets over Western Washington and Stanford, and close games with Tufts and Oregon, proved that Strata wasn’t the outlier; they were the future.
May 23-26: College Championships
The Gender in the Media pot had been boiling for awhile before any players stepped on the field in late May. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone was clamoring for more coverage from ESPN, from Ultiworld, from USA Ultimate, from Skyd, from NexGen.
A lot of plays at the College Championships put action to words in the Women’s Division; the women playing at Nationals were competing for their teams, but last season more than ever before, they were in the spotlight instead of under the radar. The country had a chance to see what elite college women’s ultimate could look like at it’s best.
With players like Adrienne Bovee, nobody was disappointed.
And Alysia Letourneau.
And, of course…Hayley Wahlroos.
Take your typical layout grab – always cool, but becoming more common as the sport goes. Now that layout is a full-extension catch. Now you’re making that grab in the endzone for the score. And you’re scoring the second point of the College Championships final game. And you’re a freshman.
Oh, and your bid was featured on the SportsCenter Top 10, reaching millions of people in the country.
Now you have an idea of what Hayley Wahlroos’ grab meant.
Sometimes one great play can belie the player’s actual talent level, but sometimes it perfectly captures it. Wahlroos earned the division the spotlight during that game, with her grab arguably reaching more people in the country than any other woman’s play has before. Wahlroos also embodied the Oregon legacy: Fugue will foster the division’s best, they’ll graduate them, and forge some more.
Central Florida vs. Oregon Semifinals Defies Expectations
“This will be the game we show young girls when we want them to love women’s ultimate.”
For hours in the press box, that’s all we could keep saying. The echo of that semifinals game has rippled through discussions of ultimate, regardless of gender, since nationals weekend. Oregon couldn’t contain the Sirens’ fury, and the Sirens couldn’t fluster Oregon’s composure. Many games have skill, many have drive, and many have focus. Oregon and Central Florida had all three, in spades.
Players like Mariel Hammond, Sophie Darch, Hayley Wahlroos, and Jesse Shofner had the games of their lives in that semifinal. Except the beauty of that performance was that it wasn’t an outlier. The final afterward between Ohio State and Oregon was no less exciting, and the message was clear. Yeah, we can play like this. We’ve always been playing like this. And this year, we’ll keep playing like this.
Start paying attention.