April 1, 2014 by Keith Raynor in Analysis with 14 comments
Its been quite some time since the castle atop women’s college ultimate has flown any flag other than Oregon Fugue’s. Sunday, basked in the glory of actual sunshine (rather than gray rain clouds), Ohio State Fever broke through the castle gates and conquered the throne, ripping it away from the division’s royalty. A 7-0 Northwest Challenge was adorned with a crown jewel: a 15-11 victory over Oregon.
Both teams were undefeated – Oregon 6-0, Ohio State 5-0 – going into their highly anticipated Sunday matchup, a certainty thanks to the tournament’s pre-arranged format. The two impressive programs, both making deep runs at the College Championships last year and boasting some of the nation’s most talented players, were mostly chewing through the NW Challenge squads, setting the stage for a major showdown.
The contrast in styles was immediately evident, with Oregon pushing their trademark high octane pace while Ohio State chose to work methodically and opportunistically. An intensely competitive Fugue sideline was in direct opposition to the laughing and cheering Fever substitutes.
It was actually the reigning national champions that blinked, giving up the game’s first break with two uncharacteristic unforced turnovers, making it 2-1 in OSU’s favor. Fortunately for Oregon, Fever would give back the lead with their own backfield turn, and Oregon was soon ahead, 3-2
At this point, Fever settled in offensively, and their patience and vision in the red zone, in particular, became a vital instrument for their success. Cassie Swafford, Ohio State’s Callahan candidate, piloted the team back to a lead, and her squad would not relent as they approached half time. After Swafford pulled in a Fugue misthrow, she’d unleash a huck that put Fever on the goal line, where Swafford would eventually get open for a break to take half, 8-6.
Ohio State was able to impose their will on the game, much to the detriment of Oregon. There were some flashes of the quick movement the Eugene women are so well known for, but OSU was able to limit Oregon’s opportunities for fast breaks by playing a possession-based offense and playing great defense on throwers as they transitioned into cutters. They also forced a high number of horizontal dump throws between Oregon handlers, disrupting downfield rhythm and opening up opportunities for dump turnovers.
Burruss’s Oregon teams have had a tendency to wear teams down in the first half and then break them in the second with big runs. Ohio State’s efficiency and the game’s slower pace gave them some resistance to Fugue’s second half push.
In addition, Fever was doing a lot without star handler Paige Soper; Oregon used Sophie Darch and other defenders to tactically force Soper upfield on her dump cuts and deny her resets in the first half. Swafford, along with Jenna Galleta and Stephanie Miller, didn’t flinch.
“We just kept playing our game,” said Soper afterwards, “We continued to play with patience and watched out for [Oregon’s] disruptive defense, including their aggressive marks.”
Fever continued to tilt the field their way in the second half, never letting Oregon gain enough momentum to comeback and punishing them for their mistakes. The Columbus ladies resisted the Fugue pushback, getting a big endzone D with a 10-9 lead, regaining their two point gap. They’d find new ways to get Soper the disc on upline dish passes and swings.
The game concluded, appropriately, with a crisp Ohio State red zone possession capped off by Swafford catching the game winning from Soper. The smiles on the faces of Fever displayed the type of pure joy that indicated a meaningful triumph.
“Oregon is one of the best programs and teams that we have played in existence of our program,” said Soper after the victory, “[This win] validates that we are creating a very strong program that can compete at the top level.”
The victory over Fugue wasn’t the only feather in Fever’s cap. No other team registered double digits against them and their smallest margin victory was three, in their final game of the weekend. Perhaps no game was more impressive than Ohio State’s matchup with host Washington Element, where Fever dismantled their opponent on every level on their way to a 15-2 win.
“UW was in their third straight game and we went up 3-0 and I think they mentally shut down,” said Soper, somewhat casually shrugging off that success. Its emblematic of her team’s confidence and high expectations. Their discipline and maturity is another strength few teams can compete with. Soper credits the coaching staff with the team developing in this manner.
Ohio State has the composure, the balance, and the talent to run the table for the rest of this season. Their winning streak was extended to 21 games in Seattle and will likely be intact when they arrive in Cincinnati, with something of a home field advantage. Fever’s set be the #1 seed at nationals and a favorite to bring home a hard earned title.