Fifty-six hours on a bus for five games of ultimate? For UVic’s women’s ultimate team, it was a small price to pay for a championship.
The Santa Barbara Invite is the first elite college ultimate tournament of the 2013 spring season. Held over 1500 kilometres away on University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus, the tournament features the best West Coast ultimate teams. With little to no recognition going into the weekend, UVic’s women’s ultimate team, the UVixens, came home with the gold.
The UVixens kicked off the fall season by winning the 2012 Canadian University Ultimate Championship (CUUC) in Kelowna, B.C. With that win, the team gained valuable confidence heading into the more important spring season. The team took down regional rival UBC twice at CUUC in October including during the finals, which only fuelled their confidence further.
Coach Phyllis Bruleigh says, “I think it’s important for the girls to know that they can win against a team they would traditionally look at with fear in their eyes.”
Bruleigh and her husband, Kevin Bruleigh, are in their second year coaching the UVixens and can be credited with much of the team’s recent success.
The spring season is what separates the good teams from the great in elite college ultimate. A terrific fall means nothing if followed up with a wimpy spring. The UVixens got off on the right foot this spring by knocking off tough competition in Santa Barbara on January 26–27. They beat notoriously strong UCSB, Stanford and San Diego State en route to a championship win over defending tourney champ Sonoma State.
“The UVixens are traditionally underdogs, so we go into tournaments and no one thinks that much of us,” Bruleigh says. “We, as coaches, would have been happy to hold seed, which would’ve had us finishing eighth, but we won.”
With the win, UVic has finally started to gain notoriety in the world of college ultimate. With the target now firmly on their backs, the UVixens don’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“By no means is the work over,” says Bruleigh. “We have a lot of work to do; we have a lot to build on. If anything, this just inspires the girls to get better.”
The college season spans from January to May with the big prize coming at the end of May. The USA Ultimate College Championships, to be held in Madison, Wisconsin, is the goal for all college ultimate players. In the past, for the UVixens, just fielding a team at practice was concern enough, let alone attending high-calibre tournaments.
This year, the team boasts a deep roster with skill in all positions. Bruleigh is happy with her top players but gives a shout-out to the teams’ depth, which has been a problem in the past.
“The beauty this year is that we are so deep … I have the confidence that anybody on the team can go out there and do their job.”
Fourth-year lefty Katie Hikida had a huge tournament for the UVixens in Santa Barbara. Her disc movement and decision-making was paramount in the team’s 5-0 record down south. Bruleigh compliments Hikida’s play.
“When [Hikida] played on O, she did her job. She intimidated the other team, and she scored,” Bruleigh says.
Fourth-year Jen Brown also had a break-out tourney according to Bruleigh. After taking a year off for traveling, there was the potential for Brown to come back rusty, but all rust, if any, has lifted, and she’s playing at the top of her game.
After the fall success at CUUC and the recent Santa Barbara Invite victory, the spring series, culminating in the college championships, seems like an appropriate — and reachable — goal. With only 20 of approximately 250 ultimate teams qualifying for the championships in May, UVic is cautiously approaching the prospect of attending.
In order to qualify out of the North West region, UVic has to go through three of the top five teams in women’s ultimate. The University of Oregon, University of Washington and UBC have each won the elusive college championship over the past five years. UW won last year, U of O in 2010 and UBC in 2008. With a notoriously difficult region, nothing is set in stone.
One thing is for sure: the UVixens are here to stay. With a fully stacked roster, including four Team Canada U23 players, UVic is looking to be strong for at least the next two seasons. For now, the focus remains on this season and qualifying for nationals.