Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ohio State Fever

A few years ago, I was able to pick up with a Cornell B team at College Southerns, along with several players from Ohio State Fever. I got to know some of the players that helped lay the foundation on this team, and learned about their team. I could not be happier for the 2011 Fever team for qualifying for the big show. This team is young but talented. No one expected them to qualify, but they took out the top teams in their region who have been perennial qualifiers in recent years such as Penn State, Pitt, and UPenn. Leaders Cassie and Deanna detail their season and how it feels to be the "underdogs" at the tournament.

How did the team approach this season? Was this one different than in years past?
Deanna: Dedicated to conditioning (training camp, workouts outside of practice), developing new recruits/rookies, focusing on key strategies to carry the team at tournaments, learning proper throwing skills across the board, and building a "fraternity" of players. Teams in the past relied on a small-ish core of players; this year the squad goes deep.

Cassie: We definitely approached this season with a more competitive mindset than in years past. We adopted this mindset before the season even started, picking up two assistant coaches with TONS of experience, Brent Reeb and Rodger Oakes, to join our returning head coach, Deanna Ball (who also has TONS of experience). Before the season began, we had a returner-only week of conditioning and a weekend training camp to get everyone on the same page before we started to bring in new players. By the end of the week, the word “Nationals” was floating around amongst everyone on the team. It was evident that this was what we would be working toward all season. During a team meeting about halfway through the fall season, we asked everyone, “Do you really want to make it to Nationals, or do you just think it would be cool to make it to Nationals?” I’ve only been around for two years, so I can only truly speak for last year. But I think in the past, the general feeling on Fever was that it would be cool to qualify for Nationals, but we never really expected to make it. This year, we definitely had expectations. We cracked down on attendance, added another mandatory practice, and went to more competitive tournaments. After the kind of work that we put in this year, I knew that a loss at Regionals would be heartbreaking. So I’m glad we didn’t have to experience it!

Was nationals the goal all along? Or was there another primary goal (i.e. player/team development)?
Deanna: Both; the development needed to come first. The goal might not have been nationals THIS year, but as a great by-product of the more global goal of developing a more well-rounded, deeper team, the nationals thing came to be.

Describe your journey this season. Tournaments, highs, lows, development, etc.
Cassie: There’s no question that this has been a long journey. On a personal note, I remember trying to fill the role of captain with Janine (also a first-year captain) for the first time at our pre-season conditioning camp and thinking, “Oh, no. This is totally wrong. Fever has made a huge mistake electing me…what were they thinking?!?!” And then we went to our first tournament, and lost some games we shouldn’t have. And then we got beat pretty badly by Michigan, Pitt, and Case Western at our home tournament. Before the year ended, we lost to Case yet another time. Janine and I knew we had a shot at Nationals if we were to get two bids from our Region, but if you had told us then that we would only get one bid, we would have said that bid was going to Pitt, or maybe Penn.

So we took a break from practice during the holiday season, and instead focused on staying in shape. Our first tournament back after break was Queen City Tune-Up in the middle of February. Our last tournament had been the first weekend in November, so needless to say, we were hungry to play again. We had decent tournaments there and at Midwest “Mudfest” Throwdown, and then we went on Spring Break. It was on Spring Break that our season really turned around. We placed second at Southerns, beating Cornell and Central Florida on Sunday to make it to the final game against Florida. Up until that tournament, we hadn’t beaten many teams that were at or above our level. This was the first tournament that we realized we were actually good enough to make some noise in our region.

We had a mediocre showing at Keystone Classic, but bounced back at Sectionals. I don’t think Fever had beaten Case Western since the 2008-2009 season, but we knew we’d have to do it at Sectionals (twice). In pool play, we came out strong, finishing with a 13-7 victory, and then took the Conference title in a 15-1 victory over Case. At Regionals, our goal was obviously to make Nationals. But instead of stressing about it (too much), we just told ourselves that we'd have to go and play as hard as each of us could for every single point. We also said that we just had to go and have fun playing the sport that we had grown to love with the people that had grown to become family. We came out strong in our first game against Pitt, and from then on out we played with heart, confidence, and had a blast.

How did Regionals go? Anything special or noteworthy?

Deanna: (recap)
  • Wind was calm on Saturday but increased as the day went on.

  • Playing Pitt in the first game was pivotal for Fever--it set the tone for the weekend. Getting the first up-wind score (to make it 6-4 OSU) was huge.

  • Edinboro was a skilled team that seemed to never let up.

  • OU was a conference opponent in Fever's pool so Fever had playing experience against them.

  • Penn St losing to Case put Case in the bracket against Fever on Sunday (conference opponent again).

  • Playing the 5 seed in the pool after a bye in the last round on Saturday allowed key starters to get a lot of rest.

  • Swarthmore gave Fever a Sunday morning, first half battle, but once Fever broke serve (6-4 OSU) they never looked back.

  • Fever was never down more than 1 the entire tournament; Fever took every half.

  • Margin of victory for Fever was never less than 5 (finals 15-10; other closest was Pitt at 15-8).

  • In the finals, Penn St was gased but fought throughout. Fever turned to their man defense as Penn St's throws in the non-factor wind were too good for zone defense. Fever went on a 8-2 run when the score was tied at 6's to take half and move to a 14-8 (game point) lead.

Specifics on Fever:
  • Long throws from Lauren Doyle, Janine Walker, Cassie Swafford, and Ivana Rosenblatt gave Fever a tough-to-stop long game.

  • Key receivers: Kristen Smiach, Daniela Bova, Karen Hines, and Cassie Swafford

  • Zone defense (Fever) on Saturday (in the wind) was virtually unbeatable.

What can we expect at nationals? Making any adjustments?
Deanna: We're trying to add some new things so as to not be predictable; but also focused on doing the things we do really well.

How are practices going with it being the semester wrapping/wrapped up?
Cassie: It has definitely been tough. Unfortunately, we're on quarters, so we have a week of classes after Nationals and then a week of finals. This is always the busiest time of the quarter without Nationals, and with Nationals it is considerably more challenging. But we've all been trying to work ahead and take care of things before we leave, so hopefully the last two weeks of the quarter won't be miserable once we get back!

Any injuries sustained at Regionals? Any personnel losses or gains?
Deanna: We've had 1 player down with a broken finger, but that came before Sectionals. Fever's conditioning seems to be paying off--the team has not sustained any injuries that have required reduced playing time.

Taking any precautions or special preparations for nationals? How are you prepping physically/mentally?
Deanna: Trying to do the same practice schedule; scrimmaging the local women.

How does it feel to be going to nationals?
Deanna: Like it's time; I would have said "surprised," but in reflecting on Fever's season, it's beginning to make a lot of sense. :)

Do you guys see yourselves as an “underdog” going into the College Championships?
Deanna: Sure; as a new team to the big show, it's hard for other teams to see Fever as a contender. But the play of Fever has only improved/increased all season, and hopefully that trend will continue through nationals. If Fever plays Fever Ultimate, some teams will be upset.

What strengths do you have that you use to your advantage?
Deanna: Many players will give and go, and many players are willing to strike long. There is good chemistry with this team. Fever also has an incredible ability to step up the defense--both in zone and man. Fever has strong rookies that can help give starters needed rest.

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