Wednesday, May 25, 2011

UBC Thunderbirds

The Northwest is a hotbed for college ultimate in both the United States AND Canada. Vancouver’s thriving ultimate scene helps to fuel the fire under the University of British Columbia Lady Thunderbirds team. According to co-captains Crystal Koo and Katie Berezan, the perennial qualifiers for the College Championships have used this season to build yet another national qualifying team.

Vancouver has a strong youth scene, which helps to infuse young talent into the Lady Thunderbird roster year-in and year-out. The Lady T-bird captains note that, “We are very lucky that we have an amazing junior program in Vancouver. Many of us have represented Team Canada either in U19's or U23's. The rest of us have played on competitive junior club teams that compete at Canadian Junior Nationals. It really helps to have many players that have played years in juniors prior to college. Only 4 of 21 players have not went to Canadian Nationals as a junior.” This junior world team experience helps to provide the team’s rookies with more elite ultimate experience than the veterans on most other teams, ensuring that their team always grows in strength from one year to the next.

The team, also reaps the benefits of having a ridiculous coaching staff. “We are very lucky to have some amazing coaches for our program,” explain Crystal and Katie. “Steph Chow has coached us for many years, Kira Frew and Jon Hayduk last year. This year we have another Traffic player, Tasia Balding and assistant coach Ashley Welsh, a T-Bird Alumni.” Even though the coaches may change from one season to the next, the experience and knowledge of the game they bring is immense. “We definitely won't have the same level of success without them. It really blows my mind how much time they spent to coach our team and how lucky we are to have them!” they share.

Unlike the other Canadian team heading to the 2011 College Championships, UBC does not typically compete in the Canadian University Ultimate Championships (CUUC), and has not since 2009. This is largely due to the location of the tournament which is on the East Coast of Canada, making travel very expensive. This changes the fall significantly. UBC opts to travel throughout the Northwest and along the West Coast to put their financial resources towards competing against the best to prepare for the College Series every post season.

Overcoming financial constraints is a huge obstacle for the Lady T-Birds. “We face other difficulties such as lack of support from our university and geographically farther than most teams. Flying from Vancouver is almost twice as expensive from Seattle despite that they're about 200 miles away,” detail Crystal and Katie. This typically puts some constraints on the attendance at farther away tournaments.

UBC’s farthest tournament the team traveled to was Centex. “Due to financial reasons, it is a struggle to get players to go to Centex every year, even though it’s one of our favorite tournaments to attend! So one of our major lows this season was our injuries at Centex to our vets on top of the already small squad we came down with,” note Katie and Crystal. But as a result, the team used that experience to foster growth for their team. “We definitely didn't get the results or perform how we wanted at Centex but some of younger players got more playing time which made them learn to take imitative on the field. This experience made them better players and it definitely showed at Sectionals/Regionals when we had additional injuries.”

The Lady T-birds were able to use this experience to go deep into their roster at Sectionals and Regionals. Katie and Crystal detail, “At regionals in pool play against Oregon, we were down 3-8 and we were struggling defensively. Our team refocused and we started to play our game. All it took was one player on the field to make a big play to pump us up and everyone believed in themselves afterward. This shows that as long as we are determined, we are a great team!”

British Columbia Lady Thunderbirds, 2011 National Qualifiers
Nationals Outlook:
As a result of recent restructuring, the Northwest’s composition changed drastically. The Northwest Regional Championships only had 7 teams competing, notably missing Cal and Stanford from the teams represented, as they moved to the Southwest. As such, the Northwest is very evenly matched, with one point separating the top three teams: Washington, Oregon, and UBC. Because of point differential, UBC ended up in the 3rd place game to go.

UBC secured the 10-seed, placing them in Pool C. The Lady T-birds start out against Virginia and Colorado College on Friday, and match up against North Carolina-Wilmington and California on Saturday. There is definitely some potential for some upsets if the Lady T-birds bring the same game they brought at the end of the season.

The team is not making any special adjustments to prepare for game time, but look for the team to go deep into their roster, using their legs to win games and those long points.

The final preparations for nationals are taking place with a full-squad who is done with school for the academic year. The captains add, “It helps that Vancouver has finally stopped raining constantly, and the weather has been sunny for the most part. Believe it or not, it only snows once or twice a year in Vancouver. We practice all year long outdoors.”

Any injuries that remain among players should be healed by Thursday. “Our girls have been very focused at practice in the past couple of weeks and it shows them how excited they are to compete at Boulder!” say Katie and Crystal.

Among their players, look for standout Hannah Epperson. The team’s Callahan Award nominee is not like many of the nominees, and has not been playing for a ridiculously long time. The captains highlight, “She has started playing ultimate in college and has only played in 3 seasons. Her first season was in 2008 when UBC won nationals. She missed out 2009 to travelling, returned in 2010 and this is her last year. I am very amazed at how well she plays despite this is only her third season.”

The Lady T-birds are coming off of a great season, and are looking forward to turn some heads at the 2011 College Championships.

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