This recap and the 2014 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate.
Throughout my entire shortened viewing of Queen City Tune Up*, I was incredibly pumped up. I saw many players that I’ve seen and played against before, as well as new faces that I did not recognize. On the surface, it was simply another early season college women’s tournament. However, there was one noticeable difference. More than any tournament I’ve ever been to, this weekend’s play left me wanting to watch more women’s ultimate.
I frequently encounter discussions about whether women’s sports has the ability to attract noteworthy spectatorship. Here’s an example related specifically to ultimate from an Ultiworld Facebook post about streaming a women’s quarter- and semifinal at the Labor Day Club Tournament back in September 2013. There were a couple commenters for and opposed to watching women’s ultimate. If there ever was an argument for the quality of play at tournament being a reason to watch women’s ultimate, this weekend was on the affirmative side.
This past weekend, I strictly watched the women’s side because it was the division that I was covering, and I didn’t want to miss anything with the short time I had. Normally, when I watch ultimate for leisure, I like to split my time 50/50 for watching the men’s and women’s division at a tournament, picking games that I think will be the most exciting based on the matchups and overall ranking. During a women’s game, frequent cues to leave and switch divisions include when there have been several long, high-turnover points or if a team is easily pulling away. None of those cues overtook me all day.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t points with high turnovers or teams that dominated their opponent. It means that I was captivated by the skills and abilities of the players on the field more so than I have been in the past at a women’s college tournament. One mistake by an inexperienced player was quickly counteracted by the spectacular play of another player on the field. Bids seemed bigger. Huge hucks went up and got completed past a bidding defender. Fantastic Ds and offensive grabs were aplenty. The stakes were artificially high, as if they were playing for a Triple Crown Tour tournament win, because every team had a high level of intensity and something to prove.
I suppose it could be argued that I’m biased in saying that women’s ultimate is on the rise in terms of quality and visibility, and therefore more people should pay attention to it. I’m deeply involved in multiple avenues that focus on women’s ultimate and I consider myself a proponent for women’s growth in this sport. However, beyond my desires for growth, there are some tell-tale signs that this is not just wishful thinking.
Comparing this year’s Queen City Tune Up results to last year’s, I took a look at the scores. This year in pool play, the winning teams beat the losing teams, 489-246, totaling 735 points played on Saturday. In 2013, the winning teams outscored the losing teams, 447-256, for a total of 703 points. Using this raw data, that’s 32 more points played in the same amount of time (both tournaments had equal round times and hard cap time limits), which suggests a higher game pace. This higher pace in games is certainly appealing to the sidelines and other fans.
In addition to the higher game pace, there was more parity from top to bottom compared to last year’s QCTU. This year on Saturday, only 2 teams remained the same seed, with 11 different games that ended in an upset. In 2013, 5 teams kept seed. It’s been the norm to expect most games to play out to seedings/rankings, with the upset being an unusual happenstance. There is a shift in the game where upsets continually seem to be on the brink of happening, thereby allowing for the expansion of people’s interest.
College athletes are taking the sport more seriously. Teams are doing more ultimate-tailored, higher intensity workouts as credible sources for ultimate fitness become available. On top of that, more players are competing at the club level. I saw many plays that displayed athleticism. Jacqueline “JJ” Jarik skied everyone by at least 3 inches in a pack of at least 5 on a defensive play. Cami Nelson caught the game winning score on a well-executed layout to beat UNCW in a comeback win, 13-11. Shellie Cohen threw several pinpoint full field hucks for scores. Alika Johnston’s quickness was unmatched and broke down zone defenses. Every game I watched I witnessed something that impressed me by any college-level standards, women’s or men’s, pre- or post-regular season.
There’s no doubt that 2014 will bring a noteworthy college women’s season. Stakes are higher as visibility is increased through USA Ultimate, ESPN, and the general ultimate media. Players know this and are responding to it positively. Saturday’s games of Queen City Tune Up excited me. I found myself restraining cheers as players made thrilling plays so that I could quickly tweet about it. I wished that I could come back to see how Sunday played out. As I drove away from Ramblewood Park, with 3 hours ahead of me on the road, I couldn’t help but think that this season will bring the highest quality and most exciting college ultimate yet.
*Note: On Sunday, I participated in USA Ultimate’s Coaching Development Program in Atlanta to become a certified coach. I recommend it to anyone looking to raise their coaching skills and knowledge.