Goodbye And See You Later: Oregon Claims National Championship In Burruss’ Final Season

Lou Burruss & Jesse Shofner at 2014 Nationals.
Lou Burruss & Jesse Shofner at 2014 Nationals. Photo: Kevin Leclaire —

Oregon Fugue entered the National final as the favorite and left as the champion. It’s a familiar refrain for a team that’s been steadily adding to their trophy case. Backgrounded by a run of titles for the Northwest Region, last year’s National Championship victory by Ohio State – over Oregon – was supposed to signal increased parity and that Oregon’s invincibility was a myth. It wasn’t perfect for Fugue, but they began the year at the top and finished the same way.

“Feels good. It’s kind of a weird feeling because we’ve been thinking about it all year, so it’s not so much a surprise kind of excitement, more like really overwhelming,” said an emotional Jesse Shofner following the game. “We’ve put in so many hours into it; it feels weird to boil it down into two hours.”

Forced to contend with the wind in addition to Stanford, Oregon battled through. The green-clad D-line raced up the field with fearlessness for an upwind break to start the game. Although Stanford recovered, a three point run out of the half put Fugue in the lead, turning an 8-7 deficit into a 10-8 advantage. The confidence and power of the Fugue attack helped them handle the wind and Stanford’s various zones, while a mix of pressuring matchup D and some well timed zone created some short field turns that Oregon used to seal the game.

Aside from the run out of half, the game’s key moments came late in the second half. Superfly pushed their cutters further downfield to open up space for their handlers to run a dominator set where a small group of players turn the game into 3 on 3 or 4 on 4. Michela Meister could not be contained by Oregon, and along with combinations of Steph Lim, Monisha White, and Jennifer Thompson, they gobbled up Fugue marks and available yardage, but turned it over on the door step of an upwind goal. They tried again, retaking nearly the field’s full length, but Oregon would not yield the final scoring throw and Stanford left empty handed. Eventually, Oregon made their way to their own end zone to claim the point and deflate Stanford’s potential comeback bid.

“Obviously, those are frustrating mistakes to make, and honestly, I think it was just fatigue. It’s really hard to keep your composure when you’re fatiguing throughout the game,” said Stanford coach Jamie Nuwer after the loss. ” It was harder and harder to make those throws and catches, especially in those windy conditions.”

While Oregon stars Jesse Shofner, Beth Kaylor, Haley Wahlroos, and Alex Ode were integral parts of their victory, particularly with their ability to slice throws through the Stanford zone, Fugue got big efforts from junior Lillian Weaver and senior Olivia Bartruff. Armed with blurring acceleration, Bartruff used her speed to tally a game-leading 6 goals, along with 3 Ds and no turnovers. Weaver contributed 3 assists and 1 goal and was a steady presence in their zone offense.

The favorite to win it won it – again – so what does it mean?

“[The] beginning of this year was really an extension of last year – just still the same, I mean the team changes, but we’re trying to win, and just for this group,” said coach Lou Burruss, claiming his third title with Fugue. “The sophomores we’re really dependent on want a title, they don’t have a title, they look back at the old Fugue teams and they want a title. The seniors want a title that’s theirs, and not Sophie’s, or Sherwood’s.”

It’s a luxury — a greed, to be frank — to be picky about your titles and your role in them. But it is one Oregon has more than earned. The team plays for each other, a byproduct of both the emotional bonds of their competitive journey and their now-famous Clown Tent philosophy. This year, however, there was an extra layer of motivation to push through a powerful opponent and challenging conditions: Lou Burruss is ending his tenure as their head coach.

“That’s the last time I get to play for Lou Burruss,” revealed Jesse Shofner, who has spent four years under his tutelage, after the game. “I’m not going to waste it.”

The news Burruss is departing as a coach is not a massive shock, as he had even considered not returning for this season. But with Matty Tsang leaving Fury, who similarly dominated the club women’s division, there’s likely to be an examination of the legacy of coaches in women’s ultimate. And potentially, a changing of the guard.

However, it doesn’t look like the landscape of the college women’s game is changing anytime soon. Shofner, Kaylor, and Ode are all intending to return for 5th years, and other seniors, including Bartruff, are potentially back. The favorite spot won’t be vacated and the unique stylings and attitude of a Fugue team that’s owned the top of the college women’s scene for years is planning on extending their reign.

It’s not a swan song. It’s a duck song. And it sounds like winning. Strap in, because there’s another verse to come.

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