California-Santa Barbara - 2011 College Women's Champions

Posted: May 31, 2011 11:30 AM


Carleton College (O)   Wisconsin
California-Santa Barbara

What's the definition of a dominant player? How about having 10 assists and 2 goals out of 13 total points in a game? How about playing through both an elbow and ankle injury? How about leading a team to its fifth consecutive finals appearance and a second National Championship? Yeah, we'd say UC-Santa Barbara's Carolyn Finney (#11) is the definition of a dominant player, too. We're getting ahead of ourselves, though: there was certainly a lot more to UC-Santa Barbara's 13-9 win over Michigan Flywheel in the championship game than Finney's transcendent performance.

2011 DI College D4F Roeder (7)
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Roeder []

Gray skies and a slight wind greeted the two teams set to face off in the finals. Michigan, building off of the confidence and energy that had won them their semifinal game against Oregon 15-9, looked amped and ready to go, their sidelines singing a familiar rotation of cheers to the beat of a cowbell. In comparison, UC-Santa Barbara looked slightly somber, although it would be wrong to mistake their seriousness for anxiety: each player held an expression of intense focus on the line, fire burning in their eyes as well as on their jerseys.

Both teams had serious obstacles to overcome: Michigan, a team that has had problems maintaining confidence throughout their games this season, had already lost to the Skirts once in pool play;  they had also lost two starting players to injury, Anna-Maria Paruk (#33)--fractured rib, completely out--and Vicki Chang (#28), nursing a severely sprained ankle. UC-Santa Barbara was equally injured and tired: their small roster and tight rotation meant that their players were exhausted after four days of competition, and their star handler and Callahan finalist Carloyn Finney (#11) was suffering from a hyper-extended elbow and sprained ankle that had been plaguing her since Regionals. It was impossible, then, to guess which team would win before the start of the game with any type of certainty.

The Burning Skirts came out hard at the beginning of the game, Finney assisting two quick points and giving UCSB and early lead. Michigan retaliated, scoring easily on the Skirts with their smooth throws and well-timed in-cuts. Callahan nominee Becky Malinowsky (#11) was on fire on both offense and defense at the beginning of the game: assisting goals and getting huge Ds in the endzone, Malinowsky kept Flywheel's offensive flow going and denied Skirts players Marie Madaras (#14) and Finney their coveted deep looks.

The score was 4-2 UC-Santa Barbara. Michigan patiently worked it down the field, but UC-Santa Barbara wasn't going to let them take the point: UCSB's Alicia Thomson knocked Flywheel's disc out of the air, only to immediately receive it in the end zone from Finney, a bullet of a pass thrown right down the middle and into Thomson's gut.

2011 DI College D4F Roeder (4)
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Roeder []

The Burning Skirts may have been up by three points, but they certainly weren't looking as hot on defense as they were the day before. The Skirts were letting all of Flywheel's in-cuts go off, making Michigan's cutter flow unstoppable and enabling them to score two points in a row. Once UC-Santa Barbara screwed their defensive heads back on, Madaras robbed the extremely athletic Flywheel starter Kim Kulpan (#13) of the disc and put it big to Finney, who called a time out after receiving the disc. UCSB punched it in after the brief break, Finney to Madaras, making the score 7-4 UCSB. After letting a big throw go off and and a score by a high-release backhand from Paula Seville (#22) to Malinowsky in Michigan's endzone, UC-Santa Barara took half with an easy assist by Finney to Madaras in the front left corner of the end zone. The score was 8-5 Skirts, and Finney had assisted every point.

After the half, Michigan came out guns blazing, more determined than ever to even the score. Flywheel's Annie Fisher (#89) had a huge layout catch before Malinowsky threw it hastily to Kulpan in the end zone, Kulpan miraculously catching the disc behind her back for the score 9-7.

Then the unthinkable happened: after catching the disc in the endzone from handler Stephanie Karba (#1), Finney collapsed on the ground, visibly shaken and covering her face. As Finney limped off of the field, it was clear that her right ankle was seriously causing her pain. Would Finney be able to continue playing? What would the Skirts do without their scoring machine and deep threat? As Finney went off, Michigan's Chang threw a beautiful high-release backhand to Malinowsky, who assisted a Flywheel goal. Things were not looking too good for UCSB without Finney: not only was she involved in every single score up to that point, but she also clearly inspired an incredible amount of energy which kept her team winning.

Unfortunately for Michigan, Stanford coach Jamie Nuwer was tightly taping Finney's ankle over her cleat; Finney immediately went in, her ankle immobilized but momentarily stable. Finney received the disc in the endzone from Karba, proving that she was back in the game and determined to win.

2011 DI College D4F Roeder (1)
PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Roeder []

At this point, the wind picked up tremendously. UCSB threw zone on Michigan, but Flywheel didn't collapse under the pressure: their handlers managed to put the disc through the middle of the cup to Kulpan twice, working it down the field with incredible patience and eventually scoring before soft cap was put on.

UCSB's game point was incredibly lucky: after throwing a great down-wind huck that landed in the back of Michigan's end zone, a Flywheel handler immediately dropped the disc, allowing the Skirts to take the disc at their endzone. After some frenzied cutting, Finney threw a huge, arcing blade to the back left-hand corner of the endzone, which was miraculously caught. UC-Santa Barbara won the game 13-9, clinching their second National Championship title ever. The team was ecstatic.

When asked about her standout performance after the big win, Finney deferred the question and spoke to her team's dedication and strength. "Our biggest challenge was not letting our guard down, since we had already beaten Michigan in pool play and it would have been easy to go into it thinking that we could do it again. So we saw this as just another game with a new team, and we played our game. We had a small, young team, and the new players really stepped it up this season." As for her compromised physical state, Finney said with a smile, "The adrenaline's going, so I can't feel anything right now."

Andrea Romano, UCSB alum and part-time coach, spoke about the the Skirts' attitude going into the match. "All season, we've had a goal: to be quick, but not to hurry," she explained. "We knew that if you come out slow, you're already behind. So we wanted to set the tempo of the game." When asked about UCSB's opponent, Romano said, "Michigan did a good job of capitalizing on our mistakes, especially in the end. They didn't make it easy."

Michigan's coach, Naomi Warren, was in high spirits after the game despite Flywheel's loss. "This was our first time in the finals, and we wanted to make sure that we weren't caught up in the hype," she said. "We just treated it like another game, and played our game." When asked how it felt seeing her team make it to the finals, Warren responded, "Honestly, it hasn't completely sunk in yet... it's an incredible feeling. I think I really started to get it when we scored a few points in a row, and I thought, 'Wow...this is a 7-5 game, and UC-Santa Barbara is a powerful competitor. We're in this.' And the second moment was when we got an upwind point and the crowd went crazy and everyone was cheering. Yeah, it feels really good."

2011 DICollege Logo cropped

Final Standings:

1 - California-Santa Barbara
2 - Michigan
3T - Oregon
3T - Stanford
5T - Colorado College
5T - Iowa
5T - North Carolina
5T - North Carolina-Wilmington
9 -  Washington
10 - Iowa State
11 - California
12 - Carleton College
13T - Northwestern
13T - Ottawa
15T - Florida
15T - Tufts
17T - Ohio State
17T - Washington University
19T - British Columbia
19T - Virginia

Full results



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