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Underdog Mentality

by | May 1, 2012, 3:19pm 12

Lou wrote a really great story that was released just before the first weekend of Regionals. It captured the sentiment that people go into the weekend with, encouraging teams to cherish each game with their teammates.

What about the other side of the coin?

The week after regionals: this week is the happiest week of the season for dozens of team. We focus on their successes – the teams who have qualified for the championships – their triumphs, their victories, their road ahead to Boulder or Appleton.

Take it from me, this week can be the worst week of the entire season too. For hundreds of teams, the season has ended on a disappointing and heartbreaking note. Reflecting back, I have been part of a budding college team who has fallen short in the backdoor semis game once, and final game for three consecutive years with Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Robyn at her first tournament in spring 2007.

The first regionals appearance with SOL was also the first appearance in our team’s history. You could say that we were just happy to be there. We had upset Iowa in pool play and landed in the championship bracket. We had no intention of beating Wisconsin in semis, we couldn’t even compete with Bella Donna that season. We scored a few points, and we were thrilled to go and compete with teams we could handle.

We beat Minnesota-Duluth, and re-matched against Iowa. There was a bout of horizontal sleet in the middle of the game, and our field in a strong upwind/downwind orientation. We could not work it up against the Saucy zone until universe point. Guess what? I was wide open in the endzone and dropped the game winning point from Jaimie Glader. Iowa quickly hucked it downfield and scored, winning on universe thanks to hard cap.

In every essence, that point has defined my college ultimate career. In my first season, I had become accustomed to winning. I took for granted that I would catch the disc as I tried to check if I was in the endzone, without watching the disc all the way into my hands. I don’t think that I have ever felt entitled to win against any team, but I think I took a lot for granted that first season. You see this year in and year out: sometimes in some situations good teams and good players feel entitled to win.

One of my favorite plays from college. Laying out for a D vs. Wisconsin in finals of Mardi Gras in 2008.

By 2010, my last season with Eau Claire, I had transformed to a work horse. Every spare moment I had was spent training, developing new skills, diagramming new plays, watching ultimate…my boyfriend at the time thought my obsession was unhealthy (“Women’s ultimate isn’t a real sport anyway, Robyn.”). I always saw our team as an underdog. I always saw myself as an underdog. This mentality has carried me to where I am today.

It wasn’t until Centex 2010 that I felt validation. Despite decisively winning our pool, we continued to face team after team in the bracket who insisted that we couldn’t possibly be playing them. Before every game, our coach, Pat Niles, and I would approach the other team (not always the captains or coaches, just players on the team who were often times just standing between fields before the rounds start). In nearly every occasion in bracket play, we were “greeted” with this conversation:

Me: “Is this Field #__?”
Member of other team: “Yeah? What team are you?”
Me: “Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I think we are playing you.”
Member of other team: “Umm…are you sure you read the schedule correctly? The D2 and D3 games are over there.”

This happened every single game we played, with the exception of Oregon. The mutual respect for Fugue will always be strong, as they were the only team in the bracket who took us remotely seriously before the start of a game. They treated us with respect, and did not overlook us as an opponent. Everyone thought that “Fugue must have sat their starters…there is no way that some no-name team would have done that against them this year, they are untouchable!” False. They played their studs, we played out of our minds.

Celebrating our second break against Oregon in Centex 2010 Prequrarters to make it 3-0, SOL

Guess what: UW-Eau Claire was the “winningest” team in Centex Saturday history (in addition to winning out our pool play games and cross over handily, we also won the dance-off). We finished 10th which is pretty good for a team that was in the D2 pools and gave Oregon their closest game all season (with the exception of Wisconsin later that day, who beat them in finals).

Those other teams thought they deserved to win against a no-name team. It is the “This other team couldn’t possibly work harder or have more talent than OUR team” attitude that kills a lot of talented teams every season.

My college experience has forever impacted my approach to the game. With the exception of the time since Club Nationals this year (my body needed a lot of recovery time after not taking any off after my last knee surgery), I have prided myself in working as hard as I can. Most of the time, this mentality will carry you far. At the end of the day, sometimes hard work and talent are not enough. Sometimes the dice just don’t’ roll your way, but roll in favor of someone else.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of watching Minnesota-Duluth take home the coveted fifth bid out of the North Central in the open division. I enjoyed reading all the comments on Skyd and RSD about how they “don’t deserve to go” or “will most certainly get killed at nationals” or “this bid system is so flawed”, etc.

Last year no one thought Luther would do anything and they took down Florida. Not saying that Duluth will likely win, but you never know. Rankings don’t mean a lot when the post season rolls around and teams have already been seeded. It all depends on who is smart enough to maneuver the system and who is peaking at the right time.

SOL was not expected to cross over into Division 1 at Centex (i.e. the best pre-nationals tournament that existed in 2010), but we beat UCLA 15-6, we went up 4-0 on Oregon only to lose by 2, and we beat UC-Santa Barbara. We didn’t win the whole tournament, but we upset some top teams and made some noise.

SOL 2007: We qualified for Regionals. Underdogs, extraordinaire.

For you guys who are still reading this and thinking, “Robyn, that’s nice and all, and it works in the women’s division, which does not compare to the Open Division. You play women’s…you can’t possibly get the Open Division,” I ask you, how does this not apply? Did UNI beat the #1 seed Kansas in the NCAA tournament in the same year (2010)? Sure, UNI didn’t go on to win it all, but they sure did do something, didn’t they?

The taking point: the entitlement attitude won’t get you far in anything you do, unless you have the money to buy your way through life (but last I checked, there is no ultimate tournaments that allow you to buy yourself into finals). At some point, you have to earn your spot. That’s why the underdogs are so captivating to 90% of the people following, because they relate to that feeling, and it’s easy to get behind them when they finally succeed.

Feature photo by Andrew Davis

Originally posted at http://robynplaysultimate.blogspot.com

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