Since their last appearance at Nationals in 2007, FUEL’s goal has been to return to the big show and be the dominant team that is was in the past. Many of their strong players were coming to the end of eligibility or moving away from Gainesville, so the team was left to enter a rebuilding stage. In the three years that I have been playing, I’ve noticed a significant change in practicing and focus. For many of the veteran players, last year was a crucial year where we learned the most about each other as players and experienced a strong dedication to the team. Practices were longer, track workouts were more intense, and we would all meet to lift weights together. With only 2 bids to Nationals and UNC and UNC-W in our region we knew there was a lot of work to be done at Regionals. Our mentality was there, but with a small team of only 14 players, our physical strength wasn’t at its best. I personally felt that last season, the team had peaked too early and was struck with an unlucky number of injuries, but whatever the reason may have been, FUEL’s season ended with a bigger hunger for nationals entering the next season.
We lost 3 seniors last year, so the core of our team was here to stay and with a lot of recruiting, FUEL’s new roster was increased to 22 players. At this point many of us had been playing with each other for three or four years, and had adopted a specific role on the field, so jumping into the season, we knew what we had to do. The rookie class for this year was filled with very athletic girls that were quickly brought up to speed with how we play. CCC allowed us to see our competition and, more importantly, see how we all played with each other in a competitive tournament. The spring began with FWC, which brought in most of our conference competition along with regional competitors. We ended the weekend as champions for the second year in a row. With the mistakes in mind and the determination to fix them, we were back to practice for our second and biggest tournament of our season before the series, Presidents Day.
The Presidents Day tournament was our opportunity to travel to the west coast and put FUEL on the map for the season by playing big name teams. Everyone hears about ultimate being more competitive on the west coast, and about certain big name teams that were going to be present at the tournament, so this was the test to see where we as FUEL fit in. When pools went up we saw that we were seeded 16th and in a pool with Oregon, USC, Sonoma, and Arizona. Day one ended with three great wins to put us at second in our pool, only losing to Oregon. We were pumped and knew we had to rest up for a big day on Sunday against Cal, Ottowa, and Carleton College. Results of day 2: we were beaten three times in a row, but they were the best games we had ever played. Games were physical, calls were made, intensity was high, and our flow was on point (minus the Carleton game). One of the worst days of Ultimate this season for FUEL is also one of my favorites. At the end of the tournament, FUEL finished 11th overall, breaking seed by 5 places.
FUEL usually attends Southerns every year and for the past two years, we have made it to the finals, but never won. This year meant we had business to take care of. With a win against Georgia in semis, we were matched up against Ohio State in the finals. We knew nothing about the team and didn’t know what to expect, but all that mattered was that we played our game and that’s exactly what we did. FUEL came out very strong despite windy conditions and took over the game and before we knew it the game was over 13-4. With tears in some of our eyes for finally being able to conquer Southerns, we received our winning disc and went home champions.
Conference was in Orlando and consisted of all the Florida teams. Every year around the series the weather reminds of the fact that we live in Florida, and this year was no exception. Watching Ultimate on the first day of Conference was beyond frustrating with the windy conditions and the heat made things worse, but FUEL maintained control of the games. After winning all our games, we were on to Regionals, our ticket to Nationals. Even though all season we had beaten all the teams in our region, upsets are always a lingering possibility. Saturday morning, our first game of regionals, the rivalry mentality took over. FUEL started the game flat and Georgia used this to their advantage and took over. The score was 10-5 to Georgia. After some serious re-focusing, FUEL found their connections, worked the disc, and had a miraculous come-back to end the game 12-10. We were rematched with Georgia again in the finals. With the wind picking up a little, FUEL chose to use their zone and it worked. Stopping the big hucks down field, we forced Georgia to play their short game and after some sick D’s we converted them to scores and started pulling away. Final score 15-3 to FUEL, we made it to Nationals!!
Our first Nationals appearance in four years and lots of senior players means we are ready to bring everything we’ve got to Boulder. We’re excited to have earned a spot at nationals and we won’t take it for granted. Practices since Regionals have been geared towards working out kinks and we can wait to be in Boulder and show everyone who we are.