Syzygy of Athleticism, Skill and Attitude Carries Carleton to Quarters
Carleton’s women’s A-team, one of the most decorated college women’s division teams in the sport’s history, entered the 2012 season poised to finish in typical Syzygy fashion at the College Championships in Boulder, Colorado. Year-in and year-out, the team recruited athletes, some of whom with years of Ultimate experience, and had become synonymous with excellence–but in 2012, they had one of the youngest rosters in their team’s recent history and failed to qualify for the College Championships.
Many people attribute this in part to the recent surge in talent in the North Central Region as a whole, with the rise of new teams and reemergence of others. As someone who has had season after season ended by Syzygy at Regionals, I noticed it was not the lack of talent, but mentality serving as the nemesis of Carleton’s success in 2012.
The team looked rushed, jittery, and nervous in the backdoor final against Iowa State in 2012. Both teams looked scared, as though they were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.
Senior Flannery McArdle explains, “It was sort of a wake up call not qualifying last season. It forced us to not think about winning, but rather focus on playing for each other. This season, we have valued the time we have together. We haven’t put pressure on ourselves to win tournaments, but focus on building each other.”
If you watch Syzygy play in Madison this weekend at the Division-I College Championships, you will see them playing a different game than they did in 2012. The difference is not in skill level, but in the team mentality which shines through in every possession of Syzygy Ultimate the team plays. This is an attitude that exudes confidence in themselves and in their teammates. Continuation cuts that set up three throws prior because they know the throw will be there. Syzygy 2013 offense is a seamless combination of patient movement and aggressive, wide-open deep looks. It is controlled chaos relying on taking what they are given, being creative, and believing in each other’s disc skills. It is a style that is difficult to scout, difficult to predict, and even more difficult to shut down.
With this new attitude, Carleton has emerged as one of the strongest teams in the country this season, winning a five-bid North Central Region. Among all the rebuilding in the women’s college division, it is a feat that only one team among the field of teams at Madison can claim.
Syzygy alumnae Emma Dobbins and Anna Snyder agree. Dobbins says, “It is definitely a mentality thing. Syzygy has always had talent, but never that attitude to believe we could do it.”
Anna Snyder agrees, “We lacked the consistency to win in years past at nationals. We would play well and beat teams we had no business beating, and fall apart only to lose to teams that we should have beat handily.” By taking away the focus on winning and placing the focus on team chemistry and love of game, the winning has largely taken care of itself.
“Last season we had eight rookie players. And we didn’t do right by them,” says junior co-captain Julia Snyder. “This season, we can’t say that because as a team we increased our commitment to each other and commitment to building everyone’s skills. We would have track workouts and just throw for an hour afterwards, building the confidence and skills of everyone.”
“We just didn’t talk about last year and focused on Syzygy 2013,” Julia Snyder adds. “That is important in the North Central where you are indoors for so long. You need to focus on making everyone better when you’re paying $250 an hour to get indoor space.” Helping newer players improve disc skills only allows all of their players to take advantage of the rare indoor practice space and get improve. “We are literally investing in everyone.”
Better disc skills also allows players to be creative. Senior co-captain Anna Reed highlights, “You might see a different game because this season we gave ourselves permission to break from tradition and play to our personnel’s strengths. We are really looking to use what we have to our advantage and break the typical Syzygy expectations.” As a result, you see a more fluid team offensively with pose and confidence.
Syzygy has always had the skill and athleticism, but this newfound confidence will take them far this weekend. The team needed to falter in 2012 in order to find their inner strength as individuals and as a team.
One seemingly insignificant and routine layout score in their morning matchup against Georgia, brought the entire sidelines rushing to the endzone to bring up their teammate who had given Syzygy beaming with pride. McArdle explains, “This weekend is about celebration and celebrating Syzygy 2013. We play hard and play for each other. This weekend is a celebration of us and all we have accomplished.”
To an onlooker like me, who has watched this team develop, succeed, and falter over the years, this year’s squad is almost magical. For all the talented teams here, three key qualities of success have really aligned for Carleton: skill, athleticism, and attitude.
All photos by Adam Lerman.