Club ultimate looks to rebuild after losing eight valuable players

Fugue huddles at the Stanford Invite before the semifinal game against Whitman. (Photo courtesy of Gabby Aufderheide)

Falling short of a goal in a sport is always tough, but what’s tougher is coming back the next year better and stronger because of it.

Oregon women’s club ultimate, also known as ‘Fugue,’ has the goal of winning the national championship every year. They always considers themselves championship contenders and understand that there is a target on their back because of their past success.

They have won three national championships in the last six years, but tied for third place in last year’s tournament.

Now, Fugue not only has to come back from that tough semi-final loss last season, but also must rebuild a team that lost eight key players (seven to graduation and one to transfer). That included all three of the team’s captains, Jesse Shofner, Alex Ode and Bethany Kaylor.

“When big players like that leave, we have a lot of opportunity for younger players to step up into those roles and I think that that’s what’s going to happen this year,” senior captain Kaitlin Brunik said.

Shofner was also a 2016 finalist for the Callahan award, the most prestigious award in ultimate — comparable to the Heisman in college football.

“Jesse did dominate the field a lot, so it allows for people to take up that space that she was in and allow them to dominate the field in their own way,” senior Gabby Aufderheide said.

While only seven players play on the field at once, losing that many significant athletes is a big deal. But that gives the rookies an opportunity to shine and show what they can do.

Unfortunately for Fugue, their first tournament in Chico, California, that they usually use to develop those rookie players, was cancelled due to weather conditions. Because of that, the veteran players have been forced to realign their normal fall tryout process and find other ways to give rookies playing time.  

“Chico is usually a really good time for bonding and getting people hooked who are a little on the edge, but it’s also just a ton of play time. So people improve really quickly,” Aufderheide said.

Now, Fugue will utilize their upcoming Oregon Fall Ultimate Disc Games tournament that they host as they try to cement a season roster to develop as they get closer and closer to the anxiously anticipated national championship tournament in the spring.

For most teams, third place in a national competition is nothing to sniff at. But for this Fugue team that has been historically known for winning, they expect to win and were not satisfied with their third place finish.

“This year, we have that in our back pocket,” senior psychology major Sarafina Angstadt-Leto said. “That happened, and we all experienced it, so we’re really using it to make us hungry for this season.”

The past two times that Fugue did not win the national championship, they came back the next year to win. This year’s athletes feel like that could be the case once again.

“Whenever you come off of a big loss like that, there’s this anger that fills you and this want to do better and improve yourself,” Aufderheide said. “So the next year, it’s always easier than it is if you had won to like work hard the whole season, because you know how heartbreaking it is.”  

Brunik had similar sentiments to share regarding Fugue’s tough championship tournament loss.

“I think that that put a lot of things in perspective for most of the team, we definitely took a lot away from that,” Brunik said. “I think losing actually motivates you more to work hard, and so I think that will give us great motivation this season.”

Follow Kylee O’Connor on Twitter @kyleethemightee