#1 Oregon Fugue vs. #4 Iowa Saucy Nancy
Coming in to the first women’s semifinal, Oregon and Iowa had yet to face each other this season – but they were not without some troubled history. They met in the quarterfinals of the 2012 College Championships just a year ago. In that game, determined by an exciting back-and-forth universe point, Oregon ended Saucy Nancy’s season after trailing earlier on. You can bet that both teams remember that close game well, and each was craving this semifinal win here in Madison.
Still, coming in, both teams were focused on playing their game–not their opponents. For Iowa, this meant continuing the clean O and pressure D that characterized their quarterfinal game against Virginia Hydra. For Oregon, this meant playing aggressively on both sides of the disc and being prepared and willing to adapt whenever things were in need of adjustment. Both teams were just coming off quarterfinal blowouts, with Oregon defeating UBC 15-4 and Iowa defeating Virginia 15-6.
As expected, the game was close for most of the way. However, play was sloppy early as both nerves and the weather seemed to play a factor. Both teams struggled with good decisions, crisp throws, and secure catches. Especially going upwind, throws were more often floaty than not, and both teams (particularly Oregon) were putting what seemed to be unnecessarily long throws into the wind.
In fact, for the first half of the game, teams simply traded downwind points. Both teams were in their traditional zones–(that are really anything but traditional)– Oregon in their junk zone and Iowa in their 4 woman cup. But despite the many turns, the first half was not without its big performances. After Chelsea Twohig went out in the first point with an ankle injury sustained on a deep D, she came back in, treading gingerly but playing sensationally downwind. Darch was equally as effective distributing the disc downwind, and this handler shootout (complete with a first half hammer from each) was a fun one to watch. Also big in the first half were Iowa cutters JoJo Petersen and Jen Nowak, who had four goals for Iowa. For Oregon, Bethany Kaylor and Kimber Coles were solid as ever, with Coles going deep a couple times for Darch. Since the first half saw zero breaks from either squad, Iowa took half at 8-7.
The key turning point didn’t come until the game was tied at 9s. Oregon’s Sophie Darch broke her mark by throwing upline to Bethany Kaylor for the score, taking the first break and the first lead of the game for Oregon. Oregon would go on to score another 3 straight points after that– including another key upwinder. After Morgan Zajonc zoomed out of nowhere to make a key D on an Iowa throw into space, Jesse Shofner found herself trapped on the sideline. Oregon called a timeout after an uncontested foul on the mark and no stall count on. Coming out of the timeout, Oregon executed to perfection. Iowa set the cup on Shofner, who put it right over the top to a wide open Ashley Young. Young immediately looked into the endzone to find Morgan Zajonc for the bookends and the second upwind break of the game. This took the score all the way to 12-9, and though Iowa would get two more points, they were unable to match Oregon’s run, falling to Fugue for the second year in a row – this time in the semifinal by a score of 15-11.
There were a few key components that led to this outcome for Oregon. First of all, despite the fact that Oregon was often missing on more hucks than they were hitting, they were playing their game, even when it didn’t seem to be working. They threw aggressively, hucking frequently and applying their defense– in which they place great trust–upon incompletions. As Coach Lou Burruss said before the game, “We do things differently. That’s an advantage, even if it isn’t always as effective.” There is little means of prepping to play Oregon besides playing Oregon, something that Iowa has not had the chance to do this season.
More importantly, Oregon was able to make some crucial halftime adjustments that led to that first upwind break. First, Oregon changed their D line strategy coming out of half. They put some of their best defenders, Bailey Zahniser and Alex Ode, on Liza Minor and Chelsea Twohig respectively, in order to contain these two players that had strong first half performances. Secondly, they focused on the space from the far brick to the upwind endzone. In the first half, Oregon would work the disc fairly easily to the brick, only to put up speculative throws into the swirly endzone winds. They decided to slow it down when they reached the brick, and they seemed to succeed as evidenced by both their upwind breaks.
Also key for Oregon may be the fact that they have had a lot of close games this season, games which they have almost always won– the notable exception being their single loss to UBC, which they avenged both in the finals of Stanford Invite and in the quarterfinals here in Madison. Helpful in this tournament specifically, mentioned Coach Burruss, was their pool play game against Minnesota. “It was good to have a game where everyone was against us – our opponents, the entire crowd, and the observers. As the number one seed, everyone wants to knock us off.” Oregon responded fantastically to the pressure and pulled away in the second half after an 8-7 first half – outscoring Minnesota 7-2.
As for Iowa, they certainly didn’t play poorly. They had many great throws by handlers, great cuts and catches by cutters, and great d’s both deep and in the cup. But, they didn’t play the kind of clean, crisp offense that they needed to pull out the victory against Fugue. Too many uncharacteristic throwaways from handlers didn’t give their cutters a chance at the incredible catches of the Quarterfinals. Moreover, the usually fluid movement of Iowa was disrupted by the Oregon junk zone, and there certainly weren’t as many options available for Iowa throwers as they are used to having.
With the victory, Oregon Fugue advances once again to the finals of the College Championships where they will face Carleton Syzygy, a team that Lou Burruss once led to their only College Championship to date. Last year in the Finals, Oregon fell to familiar regional rival Washington Element in a 15-7 loss. Expect Oregon to come out fired up and ready to play. I would especially keep an eye on Callahan nominee Bailey Zahniser, who was extremely quiet in this game. She might very well follow up a reserved performance with an explosive one. In any case, the matchup between Fugue and North Central champs Syzygy is sure to be one to watch.