20 Days of Nationals: University of Iowa Saucy Nancy

by | May 7, 2012, 10:05pm 0

20 Days of Nationals and the 2012 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate

Bekah Hickernell looks to swing the disc at Music City Mash-Up, Photo by Carolyn Sleeth

The University of Iowa’s women’s team, Saucy Nancy, has completely re-vamped their program to become one of the best in the college game today. In just two short years, the program rebuilt from the ground up to win the North Central Region in 2011, qualifying for the Division 1 College Championships for the first time since 2005. Saucy Nancy, the back-to-back North Central Region champions, has demonstrated that qualifying is not enough to satisfy the team in 2012.

Saucy Nancy was highly criticized last season for playing an extremely tight rotation, with few rookie players making it into the lineup. This season, Saucy’s focus centered on building a strong program to sustain itself into the future. With the 2011 North Central Region Coach of the Year, Mikey Lun, at the helm, Iowa has been able to expand offensive and defensive schemes to create a variety of looks. “As a team, we try to be flexible about roles, but everyone has found a niche. We’ve seen teams running more and more hybrid defenses – a testament to the growth of college women’s ultimate,” says Lun.  “Admittedly, I was naive to that last year before meeting Oregon in quarterfinals at Nationals. We have a lot more sets now, preparing for as many situations as possible.”

Chelsea Twohig gets low to continue to Liza Minor, Photo by Carolyn Sleeth

Since the team has developed more options, we see a very different and much deeper team in 2012. The expansion of the playbook has created many opportunities for every player to contribute on the field. “Everyone has stepped up. Out of the younger players, Anna Pritchard, Jenny Graham, and JoJo Petersen have gone from getting a one or two points a game last season, to being some of our best playmakers,” explains Lun.

Another issue plaguing Saucy in 2011 was emphasis on regular season performance. The team arguably peaked in mid-March at Women’s College Easterns last season, only to be passed up by other teams at the College Championships at the end of May. Lun discloses, “Last year was huge for us as a building block for this year. Obviously, getting Nationals experience was invaluable for all of our players. However, we were rarely challenged in the regular season last year and probably peaked too early because of it. Because the goal was just to qualify, the emphasis was never on peaking at the RIGHT time.

“Our main focus has been to see the big picture. We’ve been less worried about our regular season performance and more about improving throughout, peaking postseason,” describes Lun. This change in mentality has definitely shown in the Iowa results this season.

Liza Minor gets up for the score at North Central Regionals, Photo by Carolyn Sleeth

Though the team performed well in the early season, taking second to Iowa State at Midwest Throwdown and winning over Iowa State at Music City Mash-Up, Iowa had a pretty rough outing at Women’s College Centex. Even though their results were lackluster, Lun says that Centex was the team’s favorite tournament of the season. “Centex was easily our worst tournament record-wise, but it was the turning point of our season. It helped us identify our weaknesses in preparation for when it really matters.” He adds, “This season we knew that we couldn’t rest on our laurels and had to keep improving and working on different schemes.”

Lun sites the lack of mental game as a huge reason for the inability to finish games at Centex. “Mental toughness. We know that games will be incredibly competitive. We had 3 universe point losses in a row on Sunday of Centex. We led in all 3 games. Those losses accentuated the importance of finishing games and bouncing back after tough losses” he says. Saucy had a great opportunity to practice mental toughness at the West North Central Conference Championships in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In gale-force winds, many games were determined by the flip. Iowa was able to bounce back from a pool-play loss to Carleton in the 2nd place game, securing the 3rd seed overall heading into North Central Regionals.

Saucy’s focus and determination was tested on the first day of regionals. In the cold, rainy, windy conditions in Northfield, Minnesota, Saucy played well against Marquette and was challenged in two back-to-back games against Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was not until the Wisconsin pool-play game that we saw what the team was truly capable of. Lun describes the game, “The last time we had played them they drubbed us 15-5. We had also introduced a lot of new things between Conferences and Regionals, so there was still some uncertainty going in. Wisconsin came out hot. I felt fortunate to only be down 6-8 at half. We were able make some half-time adjustments and went on a run to win 15-10. Coming away with a victory gave us some much needed confidence heading into Sunday.”

After winning Pool B, Iowa earned a bye into semi-finals, where they re-matched against Conference rival Carleton. Saucy came out on fire and controlled the tempo of the game. It was clear that they were on the road for victory, and did not look back. The team executed well throughout the rest of the tournament, cinching the North Central Regional title again in 2012.

When it comes to Boulder, Saucy Nancy looks forward to the top-notched competition, “We’re looking forward to competing against all the best teams. Gotta beat the best to be the best.”

Saucy Nancy 2012 after winning the regional title, Photo by Carolyn Sleeth

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