Oregon Fugue retains plenty of experience going into 2016 season
For the first time in nearly a decade, Oregon women’s ultimate — also known as Fugue — will play a season without former head coach Lou Burruss.
Burruss retired as Fugue’s coach for personal reasons following the team’s win against Stanford in the 2015 USA College Ultimate Championship. As one of the most innovative coaches in college ultimate, Fugue will have a different look without Burruss.
However, Fugue returns six of seven players from the 2011 class: Olivia Bartruff, Rachel Hershey, Bethany Kaylor, Rachel Lanning Alex Ode and Jesse Shofner – the most fifth-year seniors the team has had in recent memory.
“It’s very unusual,” Kaylor said.
In all, Fugue lost only three players to graduation last season, and return experience in practically every position. The fifth-year experience will be especially important without Burruss, not only in teaching fundamentals to new players, but also to insure the team doesn’t get complacent after a championship-winning season. Although Fugue has made it to the championship game in each of the last four seasons, they’ve never repeated as champions.
“I think it’s helpful that all these players have won a national championship and lost a national championship,” Kaylor said. “… It might not be pretty, it usually isn’t, but it’s a really valuable experience to have. I think it’s what’s gotten us this far.”
But contrary to what the team’s past successes suggest, Fugue values other team goals just as much as winning championships. When the team lost to Ohio State in the 2014 championship, the team rallied around each other during adverse times.
“That year was my favorite year coaching because even though we lost in finals, the players had achieved our goal of loving and supporting each other through the good and the bad,” said Katie Weatherhead, who replaced Burruss as head coach.
Weatherhead, a former Fugue player and assistant coach, has spent eight seasons combined as either a player or coach in Burruss’s system.
“I’m still doing all of my duties I had in the past including calling lines and assessing individual performance, but also adding some more strategic guidance and big picture goals,” Weatherhead said. “…I feel pretty confident in my ability to continue the philosophies (Burruss) has instilled in this team.”
Fugue began the 2016 season on Saturday with at the Bellingham Invite in Bellingham, Washington. The team beat Whitman, Western Washington, University of Washington and Victoria, while dropping its only game of the day 11-13 to University of British Columbia.
The tournament offered an early look at what the 2016 team could be capable of, but also where it needs to improve.
“The team looked stellar,” Weatherhead said. “This preseason tournament is a really great opportunity to find out who we are and recognize what we need to work on.”
The post-Burruss era has officially begun for Oregon Fugue. The thought of winning back-to-back championships is remains on the minds of players, especially the fifth-year seniors. Complacency left Fugue unable to do so in years past, but with the returning experience and talent, 2016 could finally be the repeat year.
“We definitely have the talent and heart for a repeat this season,” Weatherhead said, “but only time will tell if these ladies can pull it off.”
Follow Will Denner on Twitter @Will_Denner
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