Women’s Ultimate Places 14th
Thirty-two of the top college ultimate teams in the country descended upon Rogers Field in Devens over Memorial Day Weekend to stake their claim to the UPA National Championship title.
Despite being seeded 15th (out of 16 women’s teams), the young MIT team, making only its second appearance at the national tournament, put forth an extremely strong showing in the competition, leaving many fans optimistic about the team’s success in future seasons.
The MIT team, fielding ten rookies and only four returning players, reached the national level of play after a solid performance at the New England Regional tournament, which was held this year at Yale University on May 5-6. Entering the tournament as the third-best team, MIT’s women’s ultimate team beat out 12 others to qualify for the national tournament, along with the women from Tufts and Brown.
MIT defeats Middlebury to qualify
MIT opposed Middlebury, the fifth seed, in a qualifying game that proved to be an exciting contest. The teams traded the first few points of the game, but soon MIT found itself down 6-3. MIT coaches James P. Sarvis G and Tessa C. Warren G, mindful a national berth was slipping away, called a timeout to change MIT’s defensive strategy to a zone-and-one, in which the team played a standard zone defense while one player would mark Middlebury’s best player whenever Middlebury had possession of the disc.
The smart play and tenacious defense of Aimee L. Smith G seemingly single-handedly shut down Middlebury’s offense and turned the game around. The trio of Kathy L. Dobson ’03, and rookies Kathleen M. Rubritz ’04 and Nancy Y. Sun ’04 were equally vital to MIT’s turnaround as they blocked almost every disc that Middlebury tried advancing downfield.
Forcing turnovers, MIT made a steady comeback. The play of the half came as handler and first-year player Cordy E. Crockett G picked up the disc on a Middlebury turn. Rookie April P. Rasala G, seeing that Crockett would be forced to throw backhand by a misguided and unsuspecting Middlebury defense, cut to the deep left corner of the endzone in anticipation of a Crockett backhand huck. Crockett delivered, and after Rasala’s grab above two Middlebury defenders, MIT led at the the half, 8-7.
MIT kept the intensity on in the second half, thanks in large part to the team’s skilled handlers in Mira E. Wilczek ’03, Crystal Hsu ’01, captain Pei-Lin Hsiung G, Crockett, and Sun. Hsiung, the go-to woman on a play reset and the recipient of the team’s Keystone Award, led her team’s effort as she committed no turnovers the entire game.
Highlights of the second half included Wilczek connecting a beautiful forehand huck to an open Lori A. Eich ’03 in the endzone in the middle of the second half to put MIT ahead 12-11. In the next point, Hsu pulled out her trademark hammer throw and placed the disc perfectly in the back of the endzone to receiver Chrissy B. Dobson ’03. The score was 13-11 and MIT never looked back before defeating Middlebury 15-13.
Team plays intensely in losses
In the first game of pool play in the national tournament, MIT faced New England region foe Disco Inferno from Brown, which was seeded sixth. After a short warmup, the game was underway and MIT, refusing Brown breakside passes, stayed with Brown for the beginning of the half. Two points before half, Kathy Dobson caught a Sun pass just outside of the endzone. Dobson broke her marker and connected to Alison H. Wong ’03, who had beaten her defender and was cutting to the front corner of the endzone. Wong made a signature one-handed catch to cut Brown’s lead to 7-3. Brown made the next point look easy, though. Taking a lesson from the MIT offense Brown hucked deep to an open player in the endzone and took the half.
MIT was unrelenting in the second half. Receiver cuts by Eich, Rasala, and rookie Jen J. Yu ’02 aided the flow of the MIT disc up the field. For one point, Chrissy Dobson found her sister cutting deep and threw a forehand that ended up staying in the air longer than she intended. Kathy kept with the disc and skyed three Brown defenders for a goal. On defense, senior Chun-hua Zheng was instrumental in creating Brown turnovers as her speed and agility allowed her to beat her Brown counterpart to the disc. These efforts were not enough, however, as the MIT women fell to Brown 15-6.
In the second game of the day, MIT faced the Seaweed from UNC-Wilmington. To paraphrase some MIT women, the game was not the friendliest of the tournament. MIT lost this contest as well, falling victim to high winds and Seaweed’s quick offense. Despite the atmosphere, MIT played clean and cool-headed and even improved their level of play. MIT fell 15-5.
In stark contrast to the second game, the last game of the day saw MIT against the Spirit Award winners from Swarthmore, the 10th-seeded Warmothers. Having suffered two losses in the same pool, both teams saw this match as the go-to game to advance to the championship bracket. And each played like the championship was on the line.
Thanks to scouting reports, MIT, the runners-up for the Spirit Award, was able to key in on the two Swarthmore players who essentially made the Swathmore offense run. Rasala, Kathy Dobson, and Chrissy Dobson took turns containing receiver Jenny Hoedeman while Smith taught yet another lesson in defensive tactics as she denied Warmother star and the 2001 Callahan Award recipient Lindsay Goldsmith.
The MIT offense relied heavily once again on the big throws of Wilczek, Sun, Hsu, Hsiung, and Crockett. Early in the second half, MIT’s Rubritz skyed for a Crockett pass over two Swarthmore defenders. She immediately threw a dump pass to Hsiung, MIT’s Spirit winner, who found Hsu open on a swing pass. Hsu completed the play to an open Eich in the MIT endzone, evening the score at 8.
Swarthmore took the next point, but MIT came back as Sun connected to Rasala cutting deep. The teams traded points until 11s, when Swarthmore started pulling away. The intensity of the game never let up until MIT was handed its third loss of the day at the hands of Swarthmore, 15-12.
Team finishes in 14th place
MIT hoped to continue playing the way they finished against Swarthmore in the consolation bracket the next day. The first team they faced on Sunday was the University of Wisconsin. Fighting for the right to play for 13th place, MIT defeated Wisconsin, thanks in part to strong play by Crockett as a deep deep defender. Perhaps the most difficult time of the game for the apparently liberal-arts majors came when they had to pick up women to defend for their person-to-person defense. MIT players sporting numbers such as infinity, i2, h-bar, epsilon naught, and the root of -1 were identified as “double zero,” “I-two,” “h,” “E-zero” and “negative one” by their Wisconsin counterparts.
Crockett was crucial in denying Wisconsin a long game. Wong aided her team’s efforts with a strong defensive performance, laying out for a D-block and forcing her player to throw the disc away on numerous occasions. MIT took the game 15-8 and ensured finishing the tournament at a higher ranking.
The MIT women faced the Rogue from University of Illinois to play for 13th place. These women knew their constants and imaginary numbers.
Both sides played a long game. Sun continued her forehand prowess while Rubritz, Zheng, Eich, Rasala, and both Dobsons made key cuts deep and in. Rogue caught on to MIT’s play, though, and set a cup zone on the next point. Instead of playing the usual three handlers against a three-person cup, MIT dropped one player to the popper position. Rasala and Chrissy Dobson were able to cut to the open spaces as handlers Sun and Hsu forced the cup from side to side. Hsu made a pass through the cup to Dobson, who found Rasala cutting to the middle of the field for a quick pass. Rasala put up a beautiful forehead to wing Wilczek who completed to Kathy Dobson in the endzone. Despite fantastic plays like this one, MIT was unable to overcome Rogue and lost the match.
In defeating Swarthmore, the team wrote Institute history by being the first women’s ultimate team to upset a higher seed in the national tournament. Along with the Runners-Up Spirit Award, MIT took home 14th place.
It is clear the team has come a long way this year. The four veteran players, Kathy Dobson, Hsu, Hsiung, and Smith, along with coaches Sarvis and Warren, were faced in the fall with the challenging task of recruiting new players and then teaching them to play ultimate, a sport not found at many high school campuses. The practice schedule, less intense than one of a varsity sport, and fun practices drew enough players for the spring season in time to achieve a squad size comparable to teams from other schools. The current team is a mix of former soccer, volleyball, and basketball players, and even musicians and players who had never played a competitive sport in their lives.
To be sure, the success of the team next season will rely heavily on how successful the team is in recruiting new players. Hsiung adds, “We welcome all players, beginners and experienced, to join us for a successful 2002 season.”