Friday, May 4, 2012

Up, Up, and Away to Boulder (again)! Fever's weekend at the Ohio Valley Regionals

One year and almost two months later, it is finally time for my second post.  (I told you I am an extremely unreliable blogger.)  I've recruited some other Feves to contribute to blog posts, so hopefully between more of us we can actually make this thing work!

If there's ever a time to attempt to revive this blog, it's now - the week after Regionals, and the week after we finally saw all of our hard work come together in a way that even we did not expect.  That's right, we did not expect to have the weekend that we had.  It's funny coming back from such a successful weekend (we went 8-0 on the weekend with a final score tally of 100-26) and listening to everyone tell us, "Well of course you were going to win the region. You were ranked #1, and you completely crushed all of the knew you were going to win all along."  But that's not how we saw it.  Remember, going into the weekend, the USAU rankings had us at #20, Pitt at #21, and Penn State at #22.  Talk about a close region.

A few months back, Skyd magazine wrote a preview for the women's division of the Ohio Valley Region, and called Fever the "clear frontrunner" of the region.  When this article came out, we were shocked.  Yes, we had won the region last year, but it had been Fever's first-ever appearance at Nationals, and nine of our teammates had graduated or run out of eligibility.  This year's Fever team consisted of twelve rookies and twelve returners, and even still, most of this year's returners were only in their second year.  We knew we were an extremely young and inexperienced team, and the pressure of that article hit us hard. Despite the honor of being recognized as a talented group, we felt we had an unmerited target on our backs, and we did our best to forget about it.

But it's hard to forget about that kind of thing when you have expectations.  Though we tried not to, we were constantly comparing ourselves to last year's Fever team (are we farther along now than we were at this point last year? we finished higher this year at queen city than we did last year, what does that mean? are our rookies more committed now than they were last year? how are we doing with team bonding?).  Last year we were the underdogs, this year we were the team to upset.  It's a lot easier to be the underdog.

To make the situation even more challenging, we had injuries.  A LOT of injuries.  Between August and January, three of our teammates tore their ACLs.  A bunch of other knee and ankle injuries put a lot of Fever on the sidelines for two of the most important tournaments of the year - Keystone Classic, our last regular season tournament, and the Conference Championships.  While it gave a lot of rookies a lot of playing time and a really good opportunity to develop (which ended up working out in our favor), it was definitely frustrating to not be able to determine where we were as an entire group.  We had a vague idea of what each individual could do, but we had no clue what it would look like when we put it all together at Regionals.

So now, back to Regionals.  We went into the weekend extremely pumped up.  Each coach and captain sent out a motivational email every day of the week leading up to Regionals, so by the time we got to the fields Saturday morning, our hearts were bursting with Fever love :)  We were ready to have fun and play for each other, no matter what that meant.  It very well could have been the last time we all played together, and we wanted to make it memorable.

Pool Play:
The tournament format was two pools of six teams, so on Saturday we played five pool play games to 11.  The first game of the weekend was against OU, a team that we had played a lot in previous years but hadn't gotten to play much this year.  We started the game a bit flat, and they took advantage of our mistakes.  We had a few too many drops and errant throws, and their athletic cutters and solid handlers kept the game close.  Eventually we got a comfortable lead, and finished the game 11-6 Ohio State over OU.

The second game of the day was against Swarthmore, and we started that game with a lot more energy than the first game.  We took half 6-0 with a lot of amazing play from all of our rookies.  We finished the game 11-2 Ohio State over Swarthmore.

We were excited about our efficient offense and great defense, but we had an even bigger game ahead of us.  Case Western was up next, and they had beaten us in pool play at sectionals.  We knew this was an extremely important game, as winning would give us a much easier road to the finals, rather than having to play Pitt, Penn State, or UPenn in the quarterfinals (and by following twitter, we learned that there were a lot of pool play upsets going on in the other pool).  Case Western is a small but extremely talented group of women, and as they had only played two games to 11 on the day, we expected them to come out fresh and ready to play.  We were right.  They quickly scored the first two points, and we all needed to take a few deep breaths to regain our composure and play Fever ultimate.  Our first lead of the game was at 4-3, and we proceeded to take half 6-4.  Fever's sidelines continued to grow louder and more supportive, and our play followed suit.  Final score: 11-6 Ohio State over Case Western.

After an exciting and quite frankly, relieving, win, we were ready to play Edinboro.  They looked extremely tall and athletic, and we were prepared for a physical game.  They scored the first point of the game, but with excellent play from our rookies again, we rattled off the next 11 to finish the game 11-1 Ohio State over Edinboro.

Our last pool play game was against Shippensburg.  The wind and rain had started to pick up a bit, and we could have easily let the declining weather ruin our spirits.  Though going to the parking lot and sitting in the warm cars sounded tempting, we forced ourselves to stay outside by turning on the boom box and dance-partying.  We couldn't afford to let our energy drop - whether it was the last game of pool play or the finals on Sunday, we wanted to be the team that had the most energy all weekend.  Shippensburg had a few very talented players, but once again, the rookies stepped up like bosses and we finished the game 11-2 Ohio State over Shippensburg.

After a 5-0 finish in pool play, we went back to Leslie's for the usual post-tournament Saturday fun.  (Though for some of us, getting back to Leslie's was quite the challenge - Pittsburgh, your contstruction gives me nightmares!!!) We re-read tweets from the day, followed Leadbelly's tweets, watched the score reporter updates from other regions, and ate pizza (real pizza!).  We kept our minds off of Sunday by watching How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, though not without contemplating how it's often not possible to even Get a Guy in Ten Days.  Of course, sometimes our minds wandered and our stomachs would twist with nervousness thinking about the next day.  I found myself constantly talking with people about "how we really do deserve to win this" or "how we are the most consistent team, we just have to do it" and "I hope we do it."

Day two:  Bracket play (otherwise known as "Christmas Morning Everyone!")

Oh, day two.  The hour-long drive from Leslie's house to the fields was just enough time for me to think about the day and make me feel so nauseous that I expected my insides would start seeping out from all of my body openings by the time we actually started playing.  My nerves were out of control.

But then we started warming up for the Quarterfinals vs. Carnegie Mellon.  And Fever - we had the BEST FREAKING WARMUP I have ever had with any Fever team.  Seriously.  I have never seen all twenty-three players so enthusiastic and motivated and performing so well in warm-ups.  Everyone was loud, everyone was making the right throw at the right time and catching EVERYTHING.  High fives were plentiful, and everyone's spirits were through the sky.  (Yes the sky, because there is no roof outside.)  So when we started the game, we had more energy than I've ever seen a team play with at 9 AM.  Games during bracket play were to fifteen, so we readied ourselves for longer games and more time for us or for our opponents to make a comeback.  We've previously not been great at putting an entire game together, especially a game to 15.  But today we were ready to go.  Carnegie Mellon had a lot of really skilled handlers and quick cutters, so we were challenged to work much harder on defense than we had to the previous day.  Our defense was up for the challenge though, and after a very spirited game, we won 15-1 Ohio State over Carnegie Mellon.

--Two fields over, Case Western was playing Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals.  Case seemed to be pulling out a comeback, but they fell just short losing 15-12.

We had some time to kill before the semifinals, so we watched the Penn State vs. OU game.  We would play the winner of this game in the semifinals.  Watching them was making me feel nauseous again, and I struggled to talk to anyone.  (Apologies to my mother who sat down next to me and started giving me her opinions on how Penn State was playing -- my nerves could not handle any strategy talk.)  I felt so sick.  We had all of these goals, we had worked so hard this year.  All year I had built up in my mind this expectation that we would see Pitt in the Regional final, and that it would be an extremely hard-fought game that would be a battle right to the end.  But watching Penn State play OU, I started to think, what if it ends here?  What if we don't even get the chance to play in the finals?  I'd be devastated, my team would be devastated, and the end would come far too soon.  We beat Penn State in the Regional final last year to go to Nationals, and I knew they were going to want that win back.  When Penn State scored the last point to beat OU, I went back to my team and pretended as best I could that I was calm.

We started the Semifinals vs. Penn State just as we did the Carnegie Mellon game.  The first point was a long point, with a lot of good-look but bad-execution turnovers from both teams.  For me, that point felt like an eternity.  I've been struggling (STRUGGLIN!) myself with an injury, and I was not in the shape that I'm used to being in at Regionals.  We finally got the first point, but after we scored, I thought to myself, if this is what the next two games are going to be like, I am seriously in big doo-doo.  Fortunately, and as I should have known, the rest of my teammates were ready to play.  It was like unleashing a pack of wild dogs (and isn't Fever is a bunch of dogs, after all?).  The game is kind of a whirlwind in my memory, but all of a sudden we were up 3-0.  It's hard for me to separate distinct points in my mind.  There was one marathon point, though, that I remember standing on the sideline watching Zeus match up so well with Penn State's 6-foot tall and extremely athletic and talented cutter (#1).  After the point finally ended, I remember that girl telling her coach that she needed to sit the next point.  Granted, she could have been injured, or tired (and we all get tired), but that was a turning point in my head.  I realized we had the energy and the depth that no other team at this tournament had.  Our sidelines were going berserk every time we scored or did anything even half-way decent.  I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I've never seen a Fever sideline like that sideline that we had during the semifinals and the finals.  It was absolutely nuts.  While only intending to pump ourselves up, we simultaneously got in the other teams heads.  It was clear which team had the energy to win that game.  We took half 8-2, though at the time I couldn't believe the score.  We knew they were going to come out of half with some different looks, and we had to remind ourselves to not get complacent.  To not be happy with the lead we had, and to save our legs for what would hopefully be the final game.

After halftime, Penn State changed up their defense.  They threw a zone and rattled off a couple of quick points, and when they played man, they tried to face-guard Diddy and prevent her from ever getting/hucking the disc (which of course she still did and did well, because she's Diddy).  At about 9-4, I started to get nervous again.  I knew Penn State had what it took to make a comeback.  But we cleaned up our zone offense and keep our energy high, and we finished the game 15-5 Ohio state over Penn State.

Now that we had just won the semifinal game 15-5 (I could not believe it, it was so surreal), my nerves once again returned.  We had made it to the finals.  Pittsburgh was playing UPenn in the other semifinal, and I knew either team would bring it.  It almost seemed as if the Penn State game was a fluke...did we, the #20 seed in the country, just beat the #22 seed fifteen to FIVE? It seemed impossible, and I wasn't sure we had what it took to play like that for another game (of course, I didn't tell anyone else that!)  We walked over to the finals field and watched Pittsburgh beat UPenn in another fairly close game.  Pittsburgh looked pumped up, so the instant their game was over and they started shaking hands, we got out on the field and prepared for the finals game in the best way that Fever prepares for anything - DANCE PARTY TIME.  I'm not sure if we danced to Up, Up, and Away, or to Get Outta Your Mind, but either way, it rejuvenated us.  That's the beauty of the boom box.  Some people don't understand the concept of dancing like lunatics before big games (and I'll be the first to admit, I used to not understand it either).  But there's something about dancing and smiling and laughing with your teammates, your best friends, that sheds all of your nervousness, freshens your mind, and makes you ready to just enjoy the moment.

And we had finally made it to that moment.  The finals of Regionals.  We did the Haka, the tunnel, the Fever Pain Train starting sideline cheer, and were ready to go.  The Finals vs. Pittsburgh started out just like the Penn State game.  We had a bit of a long point, with some unnecessary turnovers.  Again, it seemed like it was going to be a long and exhausting battle.  But then we got the first point.  And the one after that.  And the one after that and the next one too.  So we were up 4-0.  We couldn't believe it. We were up big again.  But again, we knew they weren't going to give up easily.  Our cutters were cutting out of their minds, Diddy's fifty to sixty-yard hucks were perfectly on target.  Our defense shut down all of their options, forcing them to throw up garbage on stall nine.  This was Fever ultimate like we had never seen it before, ever.  We took half 8-2, again.  In the back of my mind I knew we were going to do it.  But of course, no time for letting up.  We kept playing the most beautiful ultimate I'd ever been a part of, and we kept scoring.  We scored the last point and freaked out.  We had just won the Regional final Ohio State over Pittsburgh 15-3.

So it's funny, when people say winning the region was a cakewalk for us.  We blew our own expectations out of the water.  And even while I'm sitting here writing this, I still can't believe we did it.  I've had trouble writing this recap because it's such an intangible thing to try to grasp.  My love for my team is stronger than ever, and I'm so grateful we get to keep this Fever Pain Train rolling for another month.  We're so excited for Boulder.  We still have a lot of work to do, but now that we've been before, we know what to expect, and we now know just what we are capable of.  Even though the outsiders have believed in us for a long time, it took awhile for us to finally have that same vision.  But now that we have that vision, we're not stopping.  Ready for anything. know.

-Cassie Swafford #14

1 comment:

  1. Dude this is awesome. But seriously reading about how freakin nervous you were made me feel sick. Don't do that!!! You can't be nervous cause it makes us all nervous. So good job hiding that at regionals ;) lol now lets go show the nation the best freakin ultimate fever has ever played