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September 18, 2011
By DAVID REYNOLDS - Bulletin Sports Writer

On one field Saturday during the Virginia Fusion Ultimate Frisbee tournament at the Smith River Sports Complex, one player sprinted step-for-step with a rapidly moving disc, catching up to it only as she snared it while sliding in the back of the end zone.

On an adjoining field a few minutes later, another competitor wasn't so lucky. Her dive toward a Frisbee in the scoring area came up a few inches short, and she got face full of grass and dirt instead of the catch.

Despite the differing outcomes, both the plays made the same point.

This is a serious sport.

"There's a lot of sprinting. It's different from a lot of sports in that you sprint really, really hard for a few seconds and then stop," said Jenny Fey, who plays for the Washington, D.C., based Scandal. "It's a lot of stop-and-go, which can be jarring."

Seven of the eight women's club teams at this weekend's event placed in the top-10 at the national club championships last season, and for most of them, this is the final tune-up before the qualification process begins for nationals this year.

And watching them effortlessly whip the Frisbee all over the fields Saturday, it was easy to forget that developing those skills is a little tough.

"The skill set you need for the throws is really, really hard," Fey said. "Going from not being able to throw at all to throwing a little bit, there's a much bigger jump to being able to throw really well, especially when there's people playing defense on you."

An Ultimate field is set up a lot like a football field, except it has 20-yard end zones. Its most basic rules are that players can advance the Frisbee in any direction by passing it to teammates, and no one is allowed to run once he or she has control of the Frisbee. If the team with possession of the Frisbee lets it hit the ground, the other team takes possession.

But along with those simple rules are a handbook full of much more complex ones that deal with fouls, pivot feet and other violations.

The only team in the Elite Club division to escape Saturday's pool play without a loss was Riot (3-0), a team from Seattle that finished third last season at nationals.

Riot captain Gwen Ambler said one of her team's goals this weekend was to gain experience playing in the Eastern time zone, as games at nationals will begin at 9 a.m. EST - 6 a.m. Seattle time.

Only about half of Riot's roster was able to make the trip, Ambler said, but there were a few other benefits of Riot making the cross-country trek.

"Often teams don't bring their full roster when they come out West, so now, although we're not bringing our full roster out East, we get to see them at their full strength and use this as a really great scouting tool," she said.

The tournament caught some rain during its morning games, making the Frisbee a little wet and the grass a little slick. Despite the cold and wet weather, a couple of players welcomed the rain because it made the ground a little softer for diving.

"We're used to this weather. It's been raining so we feel like we're at home," said Lizzy Shiel, captain of Chicago's Nemesis (3-1). "We were hoping for warmer weather, but hopefully (today)."

On the college side of the tournament, North Carolina (4-0), Dartmouth (4-0), Swarthmore (4-0) and Penn State (3-0) earned the top spots in today's championship bracket after sweeping pool play. They will be joined in the bracket by Virginia (3-1), Delaware (3-1), Pittsburgh (3-1) and James Madison (2-1).

Tournament play begins at 8:30 this morning, and the last championship game starts at 3:30 p.m.