Illini ultimate Frisbee team seeks revenge in Regionals



By Anthony Zilis

The athletes of the 29th ranked Illinois women’s ultimate Frisbee team have one thing on their minds going into Saturday’s Regional Tournament – redemption.

Last year, the team came into the competition with the top seed, poised to take one of two qualifying spots for the Ultimate Players Association (UPA) College Championships. But its season came to an abrupt end as after losing to Indiana in the semifinals.

“It was a big downer last year when we got upset,” said junior captain Tania Reitz. “It was a pretty big shock.”

The Illinois team goes back to Regionals this weekend seeking what eluded them last year – a trip to nationals. This time around, senior captain Ashley Chan knows it will be different when the third-seeded Illini (23-12) head to Detroit.

“We don’t take teams for granted like last year,” Chan said. “We come into every competition knowing that there’s going to be good competition regardless of how teams have done in the past. We’re not really underestimating teams.”

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This year, the team knew it would take hard work for them to exceed what they did in their previous trip. Reitz thinks the team, particularly her younger teammates, still has a bad taste in its mouth from last year.

“Losing and seeing how it affected the older people really made them want it,” Reitz said. “There’s a lot more team unity and team dedication this year.”

This sense of determination is why coach Matt Pasienski, Reitz and Chan all use the same word when describing this young, but experienced, Illini team – dedicated.

“It’s really important because if you have dedication you have people going to tournaments, going to practice, working outside of practice,” Chan said.

She said practicing through what has been a long, cold winter has been vital to this team’s success.

“A lot of times it can be really hard to focus,” Reitz said. “You motivate people by … reminding them over and over about nationals, really, so they remember their goal.”

Playing indoors during the cold weather did not come without a cost. A major part of ultimate Frisbee is adjusting to the wind and the outdoor elements, something that is lost indoors.

Pasienski said one of the main focusing points of the Illini this spring has been assimilating themselves to the weather. This included throwing and catching, which Reitz said takes up about 80 percent of every practice.

“Those are the fundamentals, you have to have those down to win,” Reitz said.

While making a few adjustments to their throwing style, the trio agreed the Illini’s in-your-face style of play sets them apart from any other team they play.

“We’ve played a more athletic and more intense style of ultimate than anyone we’ve played, and we’ve surprised some opponents,” Pasienski said.

Chan also said team cohesion is a strength for a group which has most of its players returning.

“The mood of our team flows together, there’s not one person that can make or break our team,” she said.

The captains emphasized that it is their role to keep the team focused and motivated throughout tournaments.

The team’s dedication has not kept them from making mistakes, which they know they must eliminate come Saturday.

“Inconsistency, that’s our weakness,” said Chan. “We sometimes just get into funks where things just aren’t working right on the field.”

Pasienski knows the team must cut down on the errors which have plagued it during some of its losses.

“It’s just focusing on the things that keep you from making turnovers,” Pasienski said.

The team knows that if it makes it to nationals, it’s going to be a tough road to a championship. Pasienski, who has been at this level before as a player at the University of California-Berkeley, tried to temper expectations by emphasizing how difficult it would be to beat four or five top teams in a row.

His players, though, remain confident. While trying to keep her expectations confined to qualifying for nationals, Chan admitted she is expecting to do more than just qualify.

“There’s no point of going if you’re not planning on winning it,” said Chan.