For an Ultimate program with 7 national titles and 4 other finals appearances in its history, placing 13th at Nationals was a disappointing finish for Stanford Superfly in 2010. The team also graduated its star fifth-year player, Emily Damon. But, instead of thinking of 2011 as a rebuilding year, Superfly has bounced back to be a top contender in the women’s field this season.
Superfly returned 12 players from its 2010 roster, four of whom got important club experience in the off-season. Go-to cutters Jen Schmerling and Sam Law both played for Nationals-qualifier Mischief in the mixed division, while handlers Elaine Hart and Caitlin Rugg played for bay area women’s teams Zeitgeist and Slackjaw, respectively.
The team also benefited from a bevy of experienced pick-ups. Stanford graduate programs lured players from UCLA, USC, and Harvard to Palo Alto, instantly increasing the skills and ultimate IQ of the team’s “rookies.” In particular, Jennie Wang was able to translate the handling skills that earned her 1st Team All-Region accolades in the Northeast last season into being one of Superfly’s starting cutters this year. Another notable Stanford recruit was freshman Mikela Meister, a skilled athlete fresh off of winning a bronze medal at Junior Worlds in 2010.
The athleticism and talent on the team helped Superfly start the 2011 season off with a bang, winning the fall Sean Ryan tournament and January’s Santa Barbara Invite. The team then opted out of playing in the competitive college President’s Day tournament and traveled to Hawaii to play in the club tournament, Kaimana Klassik, instead. Superfly bonded on the beach and made it to the semifinals at Kaimana, beating an experienced group of UC-Santa Barbara alumni, but the lack of exposure to other college teams may have hurt Superfly going into its home tournament, the Stanford Invite. Stanford lost to both new (UCLA) and old (UC-Berkeley) regional rivals in pool play, including giving up a late lead in the stadium showcase game against Cal. After narrowly besting Washington in the 5-8 bracket, Stanford again lost to Cal, 7-12 this time.
After struggling against some teams that Superfly would need to beat at Regionals, the team’s next test included more national-level competition at Centex. In Austin, Stanford posted big wins over ranked UNC and British Colombia, but fell in the quarterfinals to UNC-Wilmington. In the consolation bracket, Michigan surprised Stanford in a lopsided 5-10 affair, but Stanford was able to end the weekend on a win by avenging a pool play 1-point loss to Oregon, beating them 9-7 for 7th place.
Under the careful tutelage of long-time coach Robin Davis (in her 10th year coaching the team) and new-comer Jamie Nuwer, Superfly redoubled its focus after spring break, including early morning sprint practices that helped the team deepen its bonds of trust in one another. Superfly hardened its resolve when the final bid allocation was released with only 3 bids for the new Southwest region. Stanford had losing records against 2 of its regional competitors and had not played #1 ranked UC-Santa Barbara since January. Not intimidated, Stanford swept its Conference Championships by beating Berkeley 13-5 in an upwind-downwind game. In that game, Stanford relied on the field position afforded by Rugg’s long throws and the turnovers generated by its various zone defenses. Knowing Regionals would be played two weeks later on the same Morgan Hill fields gave a mental boost to Superfly as they worked to hone their strategies for windy conditions.
Southwest Regionals had shifted the field orientation as compared to the Bay Area Conference Championships, so teams had to contend with a cross-wind rather than strict upwind-downwind scenario. On Saturday, Superfly still plowed through its competition, only giving up a total of 8 points during the day. In quarterfinals Stanford faced Southern California, a team that qualified for Nationals the year before and an opponent Superfly had not yet seen in 2011. Stanford won 15-8 and then had a rematch against Berkeley in the semi-finals, a game-to-go to Nationals. Relying on a tight rotation, Superfly took half 8-6 before widening its lead to 15-9. The team was now Boulder-bound! Stanford gave UCSB a game in the finals, going on a 4-point run to tie it at 12’s before UCSB finally came away with the 15-12 win.
Currently ranked #5 in the nation, Superfly has confidence in its ability to peak at the right time and has the potential to beat any team it sees in Boulder if its star players are clicking.
Photos by Andrew Davis