Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Florida FUEL: Tradition of Excellence

Pav skies the pack at Regionals 2011.
Part of the re-structuring of the USA Ultimate College Series was the creation of two new regions, one of which was the Southeast. Capturing the bid from Southeast sends a team that is not new to the College Championships: Florida. FUEL is captained this year by standout player Pav Birk and returning to the big show for the 3rd time in its team’s history.

Pav, a 3-year veteran to the sport, has led FUEL back to its first trip to the College Championships since 2007. “I started my sophomore year of college with no clue what ultimate frisbee was and I was AWFUL at throwing a disc,” she says. But she stuck with it until her first tournament: Classic City Classic in 2007.  “I didn’t know what to expect at an ultimate tournament, but I was blown away. First of all, playing that many games over a weekend was insane to me, but besides that, the intensity of game time situations got me hooked! I had no idea what I was getting myself in to, but the FUEL girls did whatever they could to help me with whatever questions I had and I really owe it to them for making me stay around and fall in love with ultimate.

The team, represents the newly created Southeast Region, which is comprised of teams from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Along with restructuring, the team has developed into a program, fielding a B team for the past two season. Pav details, “The program has developed a lot in the past few years. Last year we recruited enough ladies to start a B team and this year we’ve been able to see the benefits of having a second team.”
Jackie Fane laying out for a score

The addition of a second team has helped FUEL to change its identity on the field as well. “I feel as though our team has also started to develop our own style of playing that is catered to the types of players on our team, which has really helped our flow and team chemistry,” explains Pav.

Florida’s open team has been receiving much attention, but the thriving Gainesville scene has helped to foster development of the women’s team tremendously as well, starting at the lowest levels of competition to introduce players to the sport, all the way through competitive club women’s. Pav describes, “There’s a lot [of ultimate] going on in Gainesville. Outside of college, there is lots of pickup at differing levels. A step up from that would be mens and co-ed intramural ultimate at UF, and then after that we have regular league seasons. Within the last year or two, past and current college/club players have organized regular goaltimate games throughout the week. Every year we usually have an open (Vicious Cycle) and womens (LaYuma) club team that offers great experience in between college seasons and give us an opportunity to improve our game by playing with some amazing club players.” FUEL has reaped these benefits fully, building the program’s strength back up.

FUEL has the opportunity to play year-round, with Gainesville’s great weather. “Weather isn’t too much of a problem, except that when it comes to the series it gets really hot and humid around here and the rain storms prevent practices every now and then (but that can happen anywhere),” says Pav. “So rather than being hindered but extreme cold weather in the fall, we have to deal with extremely hot practices.”
Katelyn Cobelens gets horizontal.

The temperate climate helped to prepare FUEL’s trip to San Diego to attend Pres Day, early on in the 2011 College Regular Season. “As a captain, I was extremely proud of how we did. Before heading to San Diego, we had no clue what to expect,” she starts. “We were seeded fourth in our pool and ended day one 2nd in our pool, which was an amazing feeling.”

FUEL out-performed Sonoma State, Arizona, and USC in Pool A, which meant that they moved up into the power pools. “Day 2 meant we had to push even harder. With the exception of our Carleton College game, every one of the games that we played [on the second day] were battles. Even though we didn’t end up winners, I had never seen FUEL play and fight so hard and I couldn’t be happier.”

Of the tournament, Pav says, “We were seeded 16th and broke seed to end up eleventh.” Seeing great out-of-region competition early on helped to shape their focus going into the rest of the regular season and the Series. FUEL used this as an opportunity to work on new strategies and implement these tactics into their game plan. “More than anything, this tournament proved to ourselves that we are able play a higher level of ultimate and gave us more confidence to take with us throughout our season and on into Natties.”

Something else unique about FUEL, is its strong emphasis on tradition. FUEL is an accomplished program, and the 2010-2011 team approached the season with the goal to restore qualifying for nationals back into its culture. “All of us on the team has had a goal to make it back to Natties and be the team it was back in the day,” explains Pav. There to guide the team is its rich alumni support network in Gainesville to help prepare the team for the strong competition at the College Championships. “We are lucky enough to have many of the previous national qualifiers in Gainesville to help pump us up and even kick our asses in scrimmages.”

Furthermore, the alumni help keep traditions alive by passing on stories and other symbolic relics to the current members of FUEL.  “[The alumni] share stories about the history of FUEL and we do our best to maintain it. For example, we have an MVP necklace that was started a few years ago that we award to a specific player every tournament. Things like this carry on a team and makes previous player feel as if they are just as much a part of the team today as us players do, and I love all the support!”

Jenna Dahl throwing through the mark

Nationals Outlook
Florida comes with the sole bid out of the Southeast Region. Pav highlights, “We ended up first at regionals with pretty dominant games.” Florida won its games handily, with the exception of a Pool Play match up vs. the Georgia Hodawgs. She notes, “I think the most noteworthy part of the weekend was game one on Saturday. FUEL was down against GA 10-5. GA was on their game and FUEL came out flat, but after some serious pep-talking and focus we had a seven point streak to win 12-10. It was a wake-up call to say the least, but an impressive comeback at the same time.”

One of the challenges at regionals the team had to overcome was the numerous player absences during graduation weekend. “With many seniors on our team, we had some players missing, but we weren’t worried because the depth of our team meant that we could afford to miss a few key plays and still hold on to the title,” Pav explains.

Florida is in Pool B, seeded 18th overall, with Oregon, North Carolina, Ottawa and Carleton. The pool allows Florida to re-match Carleton and Oregon, who FUEL lost to at Pres Day.

As far as the focus going into nationals, the team is working on maintaining their chemistry. “I don’t think there will be any major adjustments other than regular adjustments as the games go along, but overall we are going to play our game.” Now that graduation and finals are over, the team has been focusing on maintaining team chemistry.

Florida is a team that fights tooth-and-nail until the end. “Nationals has been a goal for a majority of our team for a number of years now, and now that we have earned a spot there, we are going to leave it all on the field and give it all we have.”
FUEL: South East Regional Champs 2011.

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