Saturday, May 21, 2011

University of Iowa Saucy Nancy: Climb Back Up to the Top

Bekah's not afraid to get dirty
 The next team feature is one that is near and dear to my heart. It is a story that I have learned from my teammates this year, and it highlights the importance of perseverance and refusing to give into failure, even when all the odds are against you. The story of the University of Iowa’s team Saucy Nancy: the team who once competed with the top-level competition on the college nationals scene in the early 2000s, and fell far and a hard from the top of the Central Region. For most teams, this fall would have broken many programs, injuring the love of the game for its players. In three short years, the team went from barely existing to a title-contender.
Junior co-captain Alyx Averkamp recalls what the team was like in Fall 2008 when she began playing with the team. “ The team had about 18 people on it in the fall with three captains and no coach, with anywhere from 8-15 people showing up on any given day,” she says. Though most teams would be more than happy with that sort of attendance, the quality of those practices lacked significantly. “Our practices weren't very structured, especially because half the time the captains wouldn't show up and the girls who showed up most regularly only had at most, one year of experience.”

Senior co-captain Kristen Appelson echoes this lack of structure. “Saucy was a very fun team, but had little commitment from the players. I had the impression that it was more about drinking than playing ultimate sometimes. We often wouldn't even play out the tournament on Sunday after we lost. Despite this, my first year did get me hooked on the sport, especially because of the people who play it.” This ultimate community was the main tie that held Appelson to the game.
Timko with the sick pull

hough community is one of the most important aspect of the game, personal growth is equally as important. Many of us can relate to the growth we experience with our teammates on and off the field. But this growth was lacking on the Saucy team at this time. Averkamp elaborates on the frustration of many of the incoming players, “The work ethic of the team as a whole was very low - we didn't have workouts and many people would go to practice only occasionally. It was difficult being a rookie on a team with little discipline or direction, I went to practice much more regularly than many of the rookies but others followed the example set by the older girls and just went when they felt like it. I also didn't have the guidance to improve my skills nearly as fast as I've seen rookies improve theirs in the past two years, since the vets didn't have much experience for themselves. ”

Both players note that this happened until the team hit rock-bottom in Fall 2008. No Wisconsequences marked the lowest point in the team’s history. Appelson notes, “We fielded a team of maybe 12 girls, probably half of who never came to practice. The weekend was filled with frustrations, arguing amongst team members, and of course lots of losing. We had absolutely no team morale.” 2008 ended with the resignation of three captains, mid-season, and the near collapse of the team. One player stepped up to the challenge at hand: Megan Greenwood. Despite her lack of experience and knowledge of the game, she worked hard throughout her years at Iowa to resurrect the Saucy Nancy of years past.
Megan Greenwood.

Averkamp details, “Megan Greenwood really started rebuilding our team in the Fall of 2009. She was the main captain, along with Kristen (Appelson) and Andrea (Uhl), who also contributed a lot. Megan worked hard to learn as much about ultimate as she could in the short period of time she'd been playing. She also spent time planning practices beforehand and tried to convey to the team how important attendance was. We also took the time to hold team meetings where we'd discuss team goals so everybody would feel motivated to commit the time and effort that the majority of us felt passionate about putting in.” Greenwood worked hard to reach out to new players, develop their skills, and teach the game she was so eager to share with her teammates.

Appelson agrees. “Megan had a lot of things working against her: a very inexperienced team, lack of commitment, differing views on the direction of the team. She had to make a lot of difficult decisions, and in doing so made a lot of people unhappy. But in the end she definitely began the transition of Saucy Nancy to becoming a very serious competitor in women's ultimate.”

Though Greenwood played a large role, she did not do it alone, as Averkamp explains. “Kristen (Appelson) was also a big contributor by planning workouts; we hadn't worked out the year before, and 2009-2010 we really started to push ourselves to be athletes rather than just students on a club team.” Co-captain Andrea Uhl’s contributions should not be overlooked, as well. She played a huge role in building and maintaining positive relationships with the ultimate community in the Midwest, as well as a huge role in recruiting young, athletic talent. She has worked hard to build team morale, and played an active role in keeping the team afloat. Bringing the whole rebuilding process full-circle.
The team was able to bounce back to place 4th in the Central Region during the 2010 College Series, finishing behind Wisconsin, Carleton, and Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Katie Johnson skys the competition.

At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, the captains recruited talented, and knowledgable coach, Mikey Lun. With his guidance, the team was able to take their play to the next level. Averkamp says, “He played the biggest role in pushing us over the edge from being a good team who can make 4th at regionals to being a great, national contender team. The knowledge and experience he's brought to our team has helped the vets learn new, better strategies - playing a larger variety of offenses/defenses and working better together as a team and has helped rookies improve their basic skills much faster. He's also brought a new workout regime that has seemed to be more effective and sport-specific.” Mikey was able to take on the responsibility of calling lines and in-game team adjustments, taking a significant amount of pressure off of the captains. New talented players were able to experience the type of personal growth that the captains could have only dreamed about during their rookie season.

Appelson adds, “The addition of Robyn Fennig has not only helped bring our team to the next level of competition on the field, but brought an incredible wealth of knowledge about the game and the world of ultimate." (Robyn's Blog is Here for more reading)
SaucyLove at Easterns.
This change in personnel and leadership reflected an attitude shift in the team. Averkamp explains that, “I think the biggest difference that isn't as clear up front is how much love there is in this team. There isn't drama over what we want our goals to be or how much work people are going to put in because we all set a big goal at the beginning. Our vets led by example by showing up to practice and working hard, and the rookies just knew from the beginning what they needed to put into the team. I personally, and I think all of my teammates, have been much more emotionally invested in the team and therefore have felt motivated over the year to commit myself as much as I possible can.” Averkamp has demonstrated this commitment stronger than anyone else on the team, working back from a broken leg, to playing in the Series 5 months later.

SaucyLove at Fools Fest.
Success does not come without sacrifice. The team has had to increase the personal and financial commitment to the team. The captains describe the increase in time commitment to include 3 practices per week, with required workouts (lifting, sprints, and agility) to supplement practice time. Two often overlooked challenges, Appelson says, “We no longer drink at tournaments as well. While our team was transitioning, we had to sacrifice losing those girls who could not be as committed as we need them to be.”

The hard work and effort has resulted in a team with more confidence in their abilities than ever before. “The past two years nationals was some far off dream, and scoring one point on Wisconsin was a huge accomplishment. I remember last year we went into our game against them at No Wisco with one of the older girls saying ‘this game probably isn't going to go well... just take it as a learning experience’ and this year we've gone into every single game believing that we could win,” details Averkamp.

Michelle Cartier with a D.
Nationals Outlook Saucy Nancy comes into the College Championships with a North Central Conference title. The game of the weekend was their first match-up vs. Wisconsin in pool play on Saturday. The team battled a strong opponent in addition to 40+ mph winds. “We had to overcome a lot by scoring the first upwind goal of the game on hey also note that the team is concentrating on making adjustments both offensively and defensively, to peak at the ideal time: in Boulder.

Appelson adds, “It was probably one of the longest, hardest fought points I have ever seen Saucy play, and in the end, we scored the first upwind point of the game on a huck by Robyn to Audrey Erickson. Everyone rushed the field, girls were crying, jumping up and down. It was the most emotional moment I have ever been apart of in ultimate.” The emotional investment has reaped the rewards the Saucys have been pushing for all season long.

Twohig returns.

Saucy Nancy heads into the weekend seeded 5th, in Pool D. Iowa will have to knock of Stanford, Washington University, and Ohio State, and has the opportunity to avenge the team’s first regular season loss against Washington.

Noteworthy, is the return of Grad Student Chelsea Twohig, who sustained a severe back injury during Centex. She has not played in a game with the team since then and looks to add some power to the Saucy offense.

Though practices have been short on numbers due to players leaving Iowa City for internships and other opportunities, the captains detail that practices have been very focused, featuring top-notch play by veterans and rookies alike. They also note that the team is concentrating on making adjustments both offensively and defensively, to peak at the ideal time: in Boulder.
Saucy Nancy 2011: North Central Region Champs

*Special thanks to Chris and Gordon Sedgwick for taping the season, documenting the climb back to the top :-)

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