Making history: women's frisbee clinches championship

by Cody Fujii | 6/29/17 5:40pm

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Source: Courtesy of Lionel Ng

In May, the No. 2 Dartmouth women’s ultimate frisbee team embarked on a run that culminated in the team’s first USA Ultimate Division I College championship. In a tournament that included twenty teams, the Big Green finished with a 7-1 overall record, collecting impressive victories over No. 1 Stanford University in the quarterfinals and No. 4 University of Texas in the finals. Coach Eugene Yum and team members Erica Ng ’19 and Jaclyn Verzuh ’19 recounted the team’s path from pool play up to the euphoria in the aftermath of the title-clinching point.

Pool play

The tournament opened with two days of pool play. Dartmouth was placed in Pool B with No. 7 University of Notre Dame, No. 18 University of Delaware, No. 14 University of Florida and No. 11 University of Oregon. Despite its low seed, Oregon cruised through the first round with a 4-0 record, upsetting the Big Green 15-10. Dartmouth secured victories over its other three opponents to finish the pool in second place.

Jaclyn Verzuh: On Friday we beat Delaware handily, as expected, and then surprised No. 2 in our pool and No. 8 overall Notre Dame with a surprisingly one-sided victory that left us 2-0 and unchallenged after Day one. For me, this was a moment where I thought, “Hey, we could really do this thing.”But our next opponent, Oregon, was not a team to look past.

Eugene Yum: Oregon played an extremely great game against us. We came out a little flat. It was particularly hot and muggy that morning. I don’t know if we were lethargic, but it definitely gave us a rude awakening.

Erica Ng: They were playing really well. They’re a fantastic team. We were not playing at that level. There were a lot of messy turnovers and it was apparent the team was suffering from lower injuries that affected how well we could play.

Yum: But we won the next game against Florida, which was a good sign that the team was refocused and shook off the loss.

Pre-quarterfinal

Because the team finished second in pool play, it needed to play a pre-quarterfinal against No. 15 University of Michigan to advance. Under the intense pressure of the elimination round, Dartmouth shone, delivering a knockout 15-7 blow.

Yum: We played Michigan once before in Seattle, but it was a mudfest. Although we lost that game, we prioritized deepening our roster over winning. That game helped us figure out what their playing style was and which players to cover. So during our rematch nothing really surprised us. When we scout other teams, we stick with our strategy, see how that runs against other teams, and then adjust if necessary. We try not to worry about players on the other team. The only thing I look for when scouting other teams is if they do something unusual that would throw us off.

Quarterfinal

Because Stanford University and Dartmouth were seeded first and second respectively, Dartmouth vs. Stanford was the anticipated final. However, Dartmouth’s loss to Oregon during pool play steered this matchup into the quarterfinals instead.

Yum: We played [Stanford] in the finals at the Stanford Invite, so a lot of the fans were looking forward to that game. It seemed like it was being hyped up because it was the No. 1 seed versus the No. 2 seed.

Ng: They were the national champions from last year and definitely a team we were looking to beat.

Yum: It was a great game. They have a lot of all-stars on their team. We tried to vary our lineup with different personnel and luckily powered through it.

Ng: Everybody was firing on all cylinders and Stanford just couldn’t stop that. It’s hard when the whole line of players on a team are all-stars, and the next line of players as well. A lot of criticism that people would say about our team going into the tournament and the whole season is that we have a lot of star power but not a very deep lineup. [Outside commentators like Ultiworld] call Angela [Zhu], Jaclyn [Verzuh], and Julianna [Werffeli] the big three of our team. Then they will sometimes give honorable mention to Caitlyn [Lee] and Piper [Curtis] and Lily Eisner. And they will also sometimes give honorable mention to other players on our team, and you start to realize that a lot of really great players on our team aren’t being mentioned. Other teams only have their own version of the big three, and as solid as their other players are, their next line up has trouble competing against our next line up. That was apparent in this game – you can’t say it’s just our big three, it’s the whole team, and it’s the sideline.

Semifinal

In the semifinals, Dartmouth defeated No. 5 University of British Columbia 14-8. The first half was very close, ending slightly in favor of Dartmouth 8-6. In the second half, the Big Green stifled the Thunderbirds’ offense, allowing only 2 points while scoring six.

Yum: In previous nationals, we’d always lost in the quarters, so this was new territory for us. I remember that game being very close in the first half. We were up 7-2 at one point, and then they came back, and at halftime it was 8-6. It was a tight game.

Verzuh: We had to drive half an hour to the stadium, feeling the jubilation fade and the nerves settle in again. This game would be on ESPN3, and in front of a larger crowd than we had seen so far. By this point, we had played four games in the last 24 hours. It was windy in the stadium, and neither team played efficient offense. Points were long, and the game felt long. We managed to grind it out, hanging onto a few more downwinders and eking out a few more upwind breaks.

Ng: With B.C., in the first half, we had some long periods where neither of us would score. But after the first half, it was smooth sailing for us.

Final

Dartmouth secured its first championship by defeating No. 5 University of Texas 15-9.

Verzuh: The finals were the first time Ultimate would be live on cable. Afterwards, friends told me they saw me on ESPNU in Las Vegas sports bars, on airplanes and all over the country. It was a pretty unbelievable experience.

Yum: We faced Texas at the Stanford Invite in the finals, and they were a tough team there. No matter what, we could never pull away from that team. They were a team that was very fast with the disc in terms of pace and movement with the disc.

Ng: The final was intense because the first quarter of the game back-and-forth, very tight. But we eventually wore them down because we were playing great zone defense. When you play against a zone, you have to make a lot of throws, and they would get worn down and make mistakes and turn it over, and then we would score.

Post-final

With the win over Texas, the team cemented its status in Dartmouth history with its first ever championship.

Verzuh: I don’t think I allowed myself to think about the fact that we could actually win the thing since we lost to Oregon, trying instead to focus on playing one point at a time, but at that moment it was real, and we made history and won the 2017 college title. It was such a privilege to do it with this group of people. Something we said all weekend was 19 vs. 7, because there are seven players on the field but we were using each of the19 people we brought to nationals to win each point.