An offense’s worst nightmare, Robyn Fennig has not only been a Central Region monster, but also an integral part of the development of women’s Ultimate in the Midwest. Former UW-Eau Claire captain and now a leader on the University of Iowa’s Saucy Nancy, Robyn has been a top ten Callahan nominee and makes a huge impact on and off the field. Skyd is pleased to have had to the opportunity to talk with Robyn about growing Ultimate and taking people to school.
How did you first get introduced to Ultimate?
I came to college playing softball. As a college catcher with shot knees, my shelf life was going to be short. My knees could only survive one season. Sophomore year, I was looking for some team sport to fill the void. My friend Hannah got me to come to practice after months of harassing me. It was a 6 am indoor practice. Two weeks later I went to spring break with the team and I was hooked.
Did you play any sports in High School?
I was all about sports growing up. I played volleyball for three years, varsity softball for four, and basketball for four. I quit volleyball to concentrate on softball. I had never even heard of ultimate in high school.
What is it about Ultimate that you particularly enjoy?
The Ultimate Community is like nothing else I have never experienced. In Ultimate, there is so much support for new teams, so many resources, and so many great people willing to share their experiences. I have made some of the best friends in my life through this sport.
If you weren’t playing Ultimate what sport would you be playing?
Basketball, softball. Otherwise Team Handball. My fav sport ever.
What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of Ultimate?
Watching college basketball, school, school, and more school. I love watching my little sister do gymnastics and support her at cheerleading competitions. I also LOVE umpiring youth and high school fastpitch softball.
Tell us about your college Ultimate history/experiences?
I started playing at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for SOL in Spring 2007. The team went from last place in the Lake Superior Section (Spring ’06) to taking 4th at Central Regionals. SOL ended up falling short of qualifying for nationals for three consecutive years in the backdoor game. My personal record for backdoor games is 0-4. Now, I am a graduate student at the University of Iowa, playing for Saucy Nancy. I was shocked at how well I made the transition. I absolutely love the Saucies and I really feel integrated into their team dynamic. I also, have never been apart of a team where EVERY single person was as driven to help contribute to team success. It’s exciting to be apart of that.
When looking at colleges to enroll in was Ultimate in mind?
Not even on the radar.
Where/How have you honed your skills?
I have spent most of the time working on skills by myself. Lots of late nights throwing at nets and mats. Lots of throwing on my own in my yard at home in Muskego, WI (where I’m lucky enough to have a huge yard with lots of wind!) My first club season, one of my teammates showed so much interest in my development. I can’t be thankful enough to John Reynolds for helping me develop a passion for the game and an attitude to be a student of the game. Also I constantly play in as many tournaments as possible all year round.
Who are your heroes in Ultimate? Who do you strive to be like?
There are so many athletes in the game I strive to be like. I admire Gwen Ambler and Cara Crouch’s playing style. I respect and strive to be like Michelle Ng with her approach to reach out to the growing women’s Ultimate community. Also, someday be as knowledgeable about the game as Lou Burruss.
What positions do you usually play?
I started as a cutter. I got moved to handler. I try to weasel my way into cutting every now and then…unsuccessfully.
What’s your favorite tournament to play in?
No competition: Women’s College Centex. 1) The weather is bomb. 2) The competition is even more bomb. 3) Learning from some of the best through the coaching clinic has been invaluable. 4) I want to be the only person with a two-peat danceoff title with two separate teams.
What are you goals for Ultimate? Championships? To have fun?
I want to be apart of a Club title sometime. I would also like not only to play at College Nationals with Saucy Nancy (Iowa) this season, but do well. As for fun…I always have fun.
What’s your favorite Club team to root for?
Open: Madison Club. I have a soft spot for David Wiseman. Mixed: The team I play for, Drag’n Thrust. Otherwise I love the Chad Larson Experience. However, my permanent allegiance is to Pete Schramm and the Madtown Boozehounds. Women’s: I love my Central region teams. Otherwise Fury. I love watching and cheering on Georgia Bosscher.
Did you play club this past season? With which team? What was club like as opposed to college?
I have only played mixed. I really am interested in playing women’s, but I have never really lived in a place where it’s realistic to play on a team where I can practice. I have played the past two seasons with Drag’n Thrust from the Twin Cities. The most major difference: I do not attend practices. I love that I get to play with some of my best friends and have fun. There really is less pressure for me because I am not necessarily a vocal leader on the team, maybe on the field, but I like taking the pressure off and just playing.
What’s one story that always comes up whenever you think about Ultimate?
Ninja and Layout Ds. I love Layout Ds. Spray paint tattoos.
You have taken an interest in helping to grow many women’s teams in Wisconsin. Tell us about that experience and your views on the growth of women’s Ultimate in general.
I started playing on a team that had eleven players. All of us were new (our captains were the only people with experience) and the experience I gained helping to establish a program at UW-Eau Claire has been unlike anything I have ever done. The challenges to establishing a team when you get to practice on a single basketball court most of the year (November through April), you learn to be flexible and creative. Trying to get other players hooked on the game you love, you have to be enthusiastic and positive. To get that team to compete with elite teams in only three years, you have to be more driven and motivated than those teams. It’s that experience that I am eager to share with other teams in our state. I have organized opportunities that our team would have benefited from, like UW-Lacrosse, come up for skills clinics weekends, and to discuss our techniques that have been really successful. Some of my best friends started the team at UW-Whitewater and I love being able to give input. UW-Stevens Point restarted a team two seasons ago. Many hours were spent on the phone with my good friend and fellow Eau-Claire Alumnus, Alex Kensgaard, who was their coach. It was fun teaching him the ropes of women’s Ultimate in the region.
What is it going to take for women’s Ultimate to make advances?
In order for women’s to really take off as a sport, I think there needs to be a more active involvement from club players, and opportunities to reach out to geographical regions in the country that ultimate is not yet big in, i.e. the Midwest.
I had this idea this summer, to make a weekend experience for the teams in the Central. It’s still in the works, but I hope that we can make it happen this year (likely in Whitewater). I liked the idea that Michelle Ng had with Midwest Throwdown last year to give a club player to a new team as a coach. I think that getting local club players involved helps to disseminate the best ways to start and grow new teams. My goal is to take some of my friends, like Alicia Carr (Minnesota-Duluth), and give her to a team for a weekend. She understands first hand what it’s like to start a new team and be a successful player in the game. Plus she will be around at local tournaments to take an active stake at what is going on with their team. She can help relate to the struggles of these smaller teams that a player at a bigger school with good ultimate history cannot. Saturday will be practice time and skills clinics. Sunday would be a small round-robin, USAU sanctioned tourney WITH observers. I have a few friends who are observers and I would like these new teams to have exposure to playing with observers. Like I said, it’s still in the works, but I’m hoping to shoot for the end of March or first week in April. I have a bunch of people interested, it’s just finding the right date and the fields to host.
Another experience that I am so excited to have been apart of was starting our annual skills clinic for a Girl Scout troop in Eau Claire. The girls love the game and have some wicked flicks. It is fun and exposes these young girls to a sport they never heard of and gives SOL the opportunity to become active in the community. There is one girl who I have been e-mailing back and forth with since our first clinic. Her story to me makes it worth it. She has told me that she is not very good at sports like soccer or basketball, but she is really good at throwing a disc. I love that she will be able to be active and have fun with a sport she would have been unaware of. Her and her dad even came to watch us play some tourneys. That type of relationship with young girls in the community is huge. It is where growth in our sport is going to come from, young kids are the future of the game.
What’s something everyone should know about Robyn Fennig?
My family has always poked fun at my inability to buy winter coats with long enough sleeves, because it seems that I have a wingspan that rivals an ape. I am 5’6″ and my wingspan is about 5’10″…that’s +4.
What’s something everyone shouldn’t know about Robyn Fennig?
I had knee surgery in November. I tore the remaining cartilage in my right knee during Club Nationals (making it knee surgery #3 on that knee). Hopefully no one will be able to tell I took the last two months off.
Have you thrown your fire?
Nah. You have to save that one in your pocket for emergencies. I mean I have thought about it when I am getting worked by another team at Ninja, but real ninjas don’t cheat.