Thursday, May 19, 2011

University of Ottawa Lady Gee Gees: Metro-East Dark Horses

Anne Mercier gets a handblock in the CUUC in Fall '10.
This year, going into Nationals, the Metro East is sending a dark horse. Well, actually, a whole team of them. The Lady Gee Gees from the University of Ottawa are a threat
that very few teams have gotten to face in 2011. In fact, very few college ultimate players understand what it's like to play in Ottawa.

Anne Mercier, Ottawa's Callahan nominee and standout player, explains what it's like to play in Ottawa. The Lady Gee Gees have many opportunities to play ultimate outside of their university team. "In general, ultimate i
s quite popular in Ottawa. The city boasts a very large recreational summer league with around 5,000 members. It is really starting to pick up at all levels, with more and more high schools creating teams, feeding into the competitive junior stream." In addition to a strong developing youth scene, Ottawa also has some top competitors in the mixed division with Trainwreck (A-team) and BigFish (B-team), and in the women's club division with Stella (A-team) and Scarlett (B-team). You may have seen members of the Capitals competing with the Capitals this year at the USA Ultimate Club Championships in Sarasota.

Aside from the strong club scene, the other thing that characterizes ultimate in Ottawa is one of the biggest challenges: the weather. Shortly after tryouts at the beginning of September, the Gee Gees have very little time to hit the ground running before the snow starts falling. "The weather then dictates when we'll be able to start practicing outside again. Most years, if we're lucky, we can start practicing by the end of April," says Mercier. This limits the amount of outdoor development the team has. "Our typical season looks something like: Tryouts early September, Canadian Eastern Championships a few weeks later, Canadian Nationals mid-October, with outdoor practices lasting until snow starts falling. We then take a 1-2 month break for studies/exams. In January, we start our indoor practices. We typically try to attend a minimum of 2 pre-season tournaments (3 if we have the numbers). These tournaments will be the only time that we will practice outside until late April/May. Once the snow melts, we head back outside for practices. Needless to say, we spend most of our season indoors because of the weather."

K-Poh with a layout grab at the CUUC, Fall '10
Co-captain, Kathryn “K-Poh” Pohran describes how weather adds some difficulties to the team. “The Canadian [fall outdoor] season runs only two months, September-October. After that we typically have to stop outdoor practices because of field closures, so it's hard to gain momentum and get the team solidified with skills in the fall,” says Pohran. Though the team has access to a turf field for their fall outdoor practices, come mid-October the team is very limited by the amount of space they have access to. We obviously have to adapt practice plans for the gym practices, moreso focusing on individual disc skills as well as quick disc movement skills, " reveals Mercier.

Though many teams face the difficulties of combating the snow, they have creatively coped with the situation they’ve been given. “In the winter we find ourselves more limited as we need to rent an expensive turf field inside a dome (which is smaller than regulation size) if we want to be able to scrimmage. Other than that we have access to the gymnasium twice a week to practice, but size of the space definitely becomes a factor: there is only so much you can accomplish in a gym with a full team and flying discs,” explains Pohran. “Short throws, reset drills, and positioning types of drills become some of the few options that can be done during those times.”
Brianna Jaffray with a break throw at Pres Day '11

The Gee Gees have taken this in stride. Mercier, talks about a special scrimmage adaptation the team uses to help focus on skills development. “In the gym, we'll do variations of scrimmages such as the ones that some indoor ultimate leagues have: use the basketball key as the endzones. Once you score, you're immediately looking to score in the opposite direction (no pulls, no defensive check). It's also sub-on-the fly, to really increase the pace of the game, Many teams throughout the cold, snowy parts of the country could benefit from approaching their practice plans like this. The benefits this team have reaped by doing so are immense. “This is great for fitness, for quick transitions, quick passes and give-go cuts and heads up D. Plus, we'll have some of the guys from the guys' team come from time to time for numbers and/or a better fitness workout.”

One of the huge emphases the Lady Gee Gees focus on is making sure that their conditioning is second to none. In addition to attending regular practices, players are expected to do 2 weight lifting workouts, 1 endurance/cardio workout, and 1 agility workout. To keep players motivated, the Gee Gees work in pairs to keep the focus on fitness outside of practice. Mercier explains “That way, we can focus on more team strategy at practices.”

The rookie players on Ottawa’s team also have the unique opportunity to participate in the Canadian College Ultimate Series in fall to get them exposure to the game early in the year. Mercier explains, “College ultimate in Canada isn't quite at the same level as in the States, so it's a great environment to make mistakes and learn from them without being too overwhelmed. We usually have a month to get them introduced to the basic of ultimate; rules, throws, basic strategy, concepts of zones etc.” Though ultimate in the States is similar in the fall, the idea of working for a national championship early in the season is sure to motivate newer players to learn the game and want to excel.

After they moved indoors, the team flew out to Pres Day early in the season; however, they did not perform as strongly as others may have anticipated. Pohran, who attended the tournament notes, “Being the first tournament of the Spring season, we hadn't played outside since Canadian University Nationals in the fall. It was great to see top teams from the west, see different styles of play on offense, and play against some zone defense for the first time of the season. We played to gain team experience and finished top 8 at a great tournament, which was an awesome place to be at the beginning of our season with a fairly new team.” Mercier adds, “Overall, our team has come a very long way since Pres Day so I'm confident that we will be much more prepared for a lot of those top tiered teams come Boulder.”

Sonia Komenda with a low release throw at Pres Day '11.

Outlook for Nationals
Look for a different team come Nationals. “In January, we really start to push our rookies, just as much as our vets. Due to the long season, there is enough time for our rookies to develop confidence and skills necessary to be starters if they work hard enough. This year, our rookies have done great over the season. Many of them even made competitive teams for the summer, which is awesome.” The results of the process were not seen by the rest of us until the end of the college regular season, when Ottawa

The team is excited to keep the momentum going into nationals. Pohran says that two handlers, Aline Pfefferle and Veronica Santos, are out for the rest of the season with knee injuries. As for the remaining healthy Gee Gees, all the rest, with the exception of one of their rookies doing an internship, are still in Ottawa practicing hard, prepping for the Championships. In fact, the Gee Gees are not doing anything they wouldn’t do to prepare for a normal tournament. “We know it's a big tournament, but we aren't going to take any special cautions or preparations that we wouldn't do for any other tournament,” says Mercier. “We'll take it one game at a time, like usual. If we perform well, I'm sure we can give a great game to any other team there.”

The Lady Gee Gees already have one National Championship from the 2010 Canadian University Ultimate Championships this season. I guarantee the second one they’ll be competing for in Boulder will be sweeter. sealed the deal with three consecutive tournament victories: Keystone Classic, a Western New York Conference Championship, and a Metro East Regional Championship. Anne says that there were “Contributions from everyone on the team. We were focused and wanted to win. I think we performed well as a team.”

The Lady Gee Gees: CUUC Champions 2010 in fall

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