Four American women's teams are headed to Lecco, Italy, for the 2014 World Ultimate Club Championships. Read about their game plans and their early season results in this preview.
July 8, 2014 by Alex Rummelhart and Keith Raynor in Preview with 2 comments
The double peak — maybe one of the most difficult accomplishments and physical challenges in sports.
But for the top American club Ultimate teams, double peaking is both a reality and opportunity in 2014. Teams in each division will compete and look to win at the WFDF World Club Championships in Lecco, Italy, in August and then the USAU National Championship in October.
It’s not easy, but it has been done before. As recently as 2010, Revolver and Fury captured both titles on the Open and Women’s side. Will this year see an American team capture this Double Crown in the sport of ultimate?
In the third of three articles, we examine the Women’s Division.
Seattle Riot — 2002 World Champions, 2004 and 2005 National Champions, and 7-time National finalists — are ready to add to their resume in Lecco.
Riot started a full month early in prep for this Worlds season. “Our tryouts were by far the most competitive pool of players we’ve ever had,” captain Rohre Titcomb says. The Seattle squad set their roster in early May and got straight to work.
They’ve clearly seen results after an outstanding showing at the 2014 US Open this past weekend, finishing with a title and a 9-0 record.
Riot will move forward with three phases to their season: a pre-worlds phase focused on hard practices and early training, a lead up to Worlds, and then a lead up to Nationals. The team plans on charting progress and making adjustments in each phase, believing that their team can be better in each facet, despite the adversities of such a tough season.
The biggest challenge for Riot might be funding for their trip, as financial concerns already have several players missing the tournament.
Five players won’t be playing in Italy: Katy Craley, Elle Burstein, Callie Mah, Shira Stern, and Shannon O’Malley. Of these five, four handle, so team leaders are challenged by having to balance a different roster look (with players in different roles) for Worlds, and then reintegrating those handlers back into the core after August.
“We have a lot of players who can both cut and handle. Gwen [Ambler] has done both for Riot, for example,” says Titcomb. “So we’re feeling good about the flexibility we have in our roster, but it just adds another layer of complexity to that third and final phase of our season.”
Riot will be well-prepared with strategies and team chemistry. Already they are working on shoring up their offense against poachy defenses and integrating players into strong roles. Riot also joins many of the other elite teams with big roster moves and key recoveries from injury — meaning the Seattle team feels confident.
“Last year we had some gaps due to injuries,” Titcomb explains, “and people stepped up. Now we can build forward with that and only get better. We’ve already started looking at our weaknesses from last year and practicing hard to improve upon them.”
“Something that sets us apart,” Titcomb says, “is the consistency in our roster. Not only do we have great continuation from last season, but some of us have been playing together for a long time. For example, Shannon O’Malley and I have played together since high school…we’ve been playing around each other for 15 years; those are the kind of connections that a lot of our opponents don’t have.”
Titcomb cites this community as a key attribute that sets Riot apart. The players are not only a tight-knit and fun group amongst themselves, but also very involved in the Seattle ultimate world, doing everything from coaching to building the Seattle ultimate culture. This group does a lot with their fan base and their city, and these are the connections that they expect that this will help fuel them to bring home a World Championship.
With the resounding win in Minneapolis at the US Open, they will head into Lecco as perhaps the favorite.
San Francisco Fury
The nine-time national champions had their seven year streak ended last year by Scandal, but look to capture both a world championship and national title again, as they did in 2010. Matty Tsang will continue his successful coaching as he guides the team into the summer of 2014.
Fury goes in with the goal of winning that double crown again, and believes all American teams should have similar aspirations. “There are a lot of good teams headed to worlds this year,” says Kaela Jorgenson. “Any of the USA teams have the potential to win, the Japanese are always incredibly good, and we can’t count out the Colombian team. I would say our team focus has been to sell out on Worlds.”
Like many other teams, Fury started their season early in preparation. “Tryouts were earlier and we had to set our team earlier than usual as well,” Jorgenson said.
Fury is as strong as ever with their own roster additions: Chow, Duffy, and Romano only add experience to an extremely veteran squad.
Jorgenson believes this history at the elite level — a history that rivals any on the international stage — will be a great boon.
“Our team has a lot of experience playing in international tournaments and we excel in high pressure situations,” she says. “We also are a very resilient team and so the excitement and potential confusion of a week long international tournament and travel will only bring us together as a team. As far as this season overall, we are ready to put in the work to bring the championship back to the Bay Area.”
A lackluster start to the season at the US Open — a 4-3 performance in pool play, including back-to-back losses for the first time ever; a loss to Riot in semifinals — will give the team plenty to work on as they head towards Lecco. The lack of execution at times could be taken as a sign of early season rustiness — expect a better appearance at WUCC.
Fury has been watching a lot of film in preparation for Worlds, but it has largely been of their own games, to analyze their own weaknesses, rather than for a prep for other teams. There are simply so many unknowns that they believe this self-focus will be far more valuable.
Despite the loss last year, Fury is still the team to beat in Lecco; it will be hard to find another squad that can match their experience and confidence. What’s more, they are hungrier than ever after last year’s second place finish.
Washington DC Scandal
In 2013, the women’s team from D.C. made history, ending the stranglehold Fury had on the national championship as Scandal took their first national title. Now the group looks to keep the momentum, taking their fire to Lecco.
“Our goal for Worlds and Nationals is to win,” says Scandal’s Opi Payne. “Right now, everything is about how to best prepare for Worlds. Once Worlds is over, we’ll focus on Nationals, but we have to approach this season one step at a time.”
Scandal’s goal is honest and calculated, rather than wishful thinking. The team has confidence they can do well, especially based off of their experience against other top teams. Like the other US teams, Scandal also has the experience of the U.S. Open (and several other tournaments) which not only provide top games against American foes, but also matches against the best of the globe.
Scandal struggled at the US Open, dropping four games of seven in pool play and missing the semifinals. They showed moments of skill and, like Fury, their struggles were often execution-based.
Scandal plans on spacing practices out this year, to give physical and mental breaks to all team members. They also plan on making a bigger effort to spend time with each other outside of practice, to help cement their bond.
The group also have several long-term goals that involve the process, rather than the product. They want to learn several defensive systems pre-Worlds and want offensive cutters and handlers to be able to adjust to different types of threats. This will serve them well with the variety of opponents.
A strong and deep roster will also help with the challenges of a double peak. “I think this depth will also carry us far into the season,” Payne says. “Peaking twice in such a short amount of time is going to take a true team effort.”
Scandal has a big test ahead; this is the year to prove that they belong at the top and that 2013 wasn’t a fluke. With the team heavily prioritizing Worlds, they’ll be physically ready, but can the squad mentally handle the competition and pressure as the number one?
It is fair to say Showdown exceeded expectations in snagging a semifinals spot with a great run at the 2013 Club Championships. They’ll be hoping to deliver the same type of performance in Lecco. Success would be a turning of the tables after their 2010 World’s, where they came in seeded 6th but fell at the way to a 15th place finish.
The Texas women have some key experience to fall back on. The name on everybody’s lips will be Cara Crouch, the Team USA star who can carry the heaviest of loads with her considerable abilities. But she isn’t alone: the Forth twins bring additional international experience, along with the team’s U-23 representatives, and 2010 vets like Jess Huynh, Tina Woodings, and Janel Venzant.
New faces such as Julie Malacek and Kimber Coles bring club experience to the table. Mariel Hammond and Sunny Harris, fresh off a torrid season for Central Florida, are also going to be key pieces for Showdown.
Crouch, along with Sarah Blyth, are two major components for the Texas women who won’t be with them during the regular season. More than any other of the US women’s teams bound for Italy, Showdown is looking at two different seasons.
“Worlds is tricky for us because our roster for that tournament differs so much from our series roster,” said captain Shereen Rabie. “Everyone has been training for a while now for the [WUCC] tournament, and we’ll be incorporating a lot of last year’s strategy into Worlds.”
That means Showdown will be putting on a bit of a balancing act: trying to succeed at Worlds while also trying to prepare themselves for a run at the USAU title.
“We’re trying to maintain last year’s success while also getting some touches with our new set up and personnel,” said Rabie.
At the US Open, Showdown, missing some of their key Worlds pieces like Crouch, went 3-4 and, like many of the women’s teams at the tournament, had ups-and-downs throughout the weekend.
Having last year’s systems, which Showdown demonstrated a firm grasp on by season’s end, will provide some reassurance and support. However, how Texas manages the challenges inherent in trying to blend together development and peaking remains to be seen.
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