Sunday, May 22, 2011

Northwestern GungHo: Working Together with Heart and Spirit

Lexy Roy in the air for the Hos.
One of the common themes of the teams in the Women’s Division this year is the way that these teams rebuilt to restore their powerhouse status. I think that it cannot be overstressed the amount of commitment that women’s division teams have to building strength for the longevity of their programs. This story, illustrates how Northwestern’s women’s team, GungHo, restored their team’s nationally recognized reputation.

When co-captain (and 2011 Callahan Nominee) Sara Miller joined the team in fall 2007, she walked onto a team that was just beginning the process. “Northwestern had just finished 5th at Nationals the season before, and graduated a ton of very talented players,” begins Miller. “I remember flying to play in Trouble in Vegas with a team where the number of rookies outnumbered the vets. Needless to say, our rookie class received a lot of playing time that season, which most likely helped set up a strong foundation for the next few years.”

Shortly after during fall 2008, co-captain Lien Hoffmann (2010 Callahan Nominee) joined the team. Hoffmann says, “[I was] entirely clueless to the world of college ultimate, but I kept playing for GungHo because my new teammates were too cool.” It wasn’t the competitive level that drew her to the team, but the new friends she found. “When the series came around, nationals was a goal, yes, but we didn’t have the necessary drive and skill to make it. We didn’t deserve it yet.”
However, over the past few seasons, the college ultimate scene has been able to watch Gung Ho develop and mature into a force, without losing the unique attitude and character of the team. “GungHo has exploded both in terms of numbers and skill level, while maintaining our goofy and fun loving personality,” highlights Miller.

One of the many ways that the team facilitated this process was by adding a talented, experienced coach into the mix. Miller notes, “Two years ago we added Ron Kubalanza to our coaching staff, who had previously coached Washington Element and Western Washington. Last year, he stripped the team down, and taught us the fundamentals of the game from scratch. We became a much more polished team, but still lacked big game experience against national-caliber teams.”
GungHo off the line at Centex 2011.
The team truly demonstrated their commitment to their team name, which means “working together with heart and spirit,” explains Miller. “It describes our close-knit team and our love for this sport.” The result was channeling this drive and newfound knowledge of the game into a national-qualifying team for the first time since 2007, and 5th time in the team’s history.

This momentum carried into the 2010-2011 season. “We were able to pick up were we left off the previous spring with an already strong set of fundamental skills. With a big returning class, and added club experience from the summer, we’ve been able to dive into competitive tournaments and gain that big game experience we lacked last year,” notes Miller.

GungHo has taken its strong returning core and helped to get the new players up to speed with the game early on in the season. Miller highlights, “In the fall, we focus on teaching the rookies the game, and getting back in the groove on the field. Once winter hits, we increase the intensity and go to work indoors, with added workouts outside of practice. We learn new concepts and strategies, and fine tune technical skills. In the spring, we scrimmage a ton, often inviting other college and club teams and friends in the area to practice. We use our performances at tournaments throughout the year to pinpoint our weaknesses, and improve upon them.”

Katie "K-Ray" Raynolds with the layout snag.
Hoffmann echoes the sentiment, and notes that the added experience has allowed for them to be challenged even further in practices. “This year, and most prominently, this spring, our coaches have been taking it upon themselves to get physically involved with practice. This means playing against us and applying different types of pressure we would not regularly see by only scrimmaging ourselves,” Hoffmann says.

Nationals Outlook
The post season posed some challenges to GungHo, and the team dropped a few games they were expected to win. “I think we were humbled a bit after dropping two games at the Conference Championships in ugly weather, but we weren’t going to lose our bid to nationals. GungHo worked hard during the regular season, and pushed through in tight games in order to earn a second bid for the Great Lakes Region,” details Miller. The team took these losses as a challenge to step up their game. She continues, “Although we saw windy conditions again at Regionals, we were able to work the disc upwind just fine.”

Hoffmann adds, “Our game against Michigan is the most intense level of playing we’ve seen in awhile. It will be exciting to rematch them in pool play in a few weeks.”

Their performance throughout the season and post-season has earned Northwestern the 13th seed in a very talented field of teams. GungHo will be playing UC-Santa Barbara, Michigan, Tufts, and Iowa State in Pool A, in the team’s sixth trip to the College Championships.

According to Hoffmann, when it comes to the game plan, look for GungHo to be “shaking some things up and creating upsets.” They plan to use their academic schedule to their advantage. While many schools are done for the semester, Northwestern is still in the middle of a quarter. As a result, “Our whole team is around to keep practicing right up until Nationals. We’ve just been polishing, polishing, polishing. Ironing out the last few wrinkles so to speak.”

GungHo also has been fortunate enough to return personnel to their roster coming into the College Championships. Miller says, “We had no injuries at Regionals, in fact the opposite—many of our teammates that have been benched due to injuries have returned to the field recently. It’s great to have them back!” This will be especially important as the squad can use their large roster to their advantage to combat the altitude in Boulder. “We know the altitude and thin air will likely be a factor in Colorado. All we can do is maintain our fitness and take care of our bodies until then!”
GungHo gets goofy.

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