Horsecows Close Season, Finish Fourth in Region

As with all things, even the ultimate frisbee season eventually comes to an end. The Flying Horsecows, who train without break from September to May, took off their spikes for the last time this year (well, except summer league) last Sunday following a loss to Ohio State in the backdoor finals of Great Lakes Regionals in Columbus, Ohio. For some it was the first season finale; for others, the last. Seniors Jamie Merchant, Adam Zucker and co-captains Nick Dent and Kristian Whitsett each played their final points of Oberlin ultimate last weekend, and as befits the Oberlin tradition of seniors at Regionals, carried the team on their backs as far as they could go. And in a season that was at times frustrating and at times deliriously exciting, “as far” took the Horsecows so close to Nationals they could smell it, but not close enough to hold.
Following a second-place finish at East Plains sectionals the previous weekend, the Horsecows received the region’s fifth seed. The tournament, structured as a double-elimination bracket, started in the pre-quarterfinal round, as the Horsecows squared off against Northwestern University, the 12th seed. The Vomit Monkeys had proven surprisingly tenacious at the Horsecows’ own tournament, the Great Lakes Open, on the first weekend of April. But Oberlin was not going to fool around, now that it was Regionals. Under a glorious and summery sun, the Horsecows came out strong and simply outplayed Northwestern, taking half 8-3 and coasting to a 15-4 victory. 

The victory landed Oberlin in the quarterfinals, and with a rematch against their Moriarity for the 2001 season, Indiana University. The Hoosier Mamas had beaten the Horsecows three times previously this spring –– at the first tourney of the year, Queen City, by a 15-12 count; and twice at GLI, by 13-8 and 15-8. So it was not just for a semifinal bid that Oberlin was competing with IU –– it was for revenge. 
At first, the Horsecows seemed ready to reap that revenge, sticking with the Mamas early almost point for point and going into half down by only two, 8-6. But the ’Cows were unable to maintain their intensity, and Indiana gradually walked away with the victory to advance to the semis, while Oberlin was faced with a long, hard road to the backdoor game, where each game could potentially be their last of the season.

The disheartening Indiana loss took its psychological toll on the Horsecows. The next game, against fellow East Plains competitors Denison University, was to prove far tougher than the ’Cows could have possibly imagined. DFUC jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the Horsecows woke up; and even then, they were not going to lay down and die. Oberlin came back to take half by the slimmest of margins, 8-7, and though they were never behind again, had to limp into the gate with a 15-13 victory.

Oberlin then learned that, contrary to their previous thinking, they did indeed have another game to play on Saturday, in the backdoor quarterfinal against Michigan State. MSU –– in addition to having perhaps the ugliest uniforms ever created (and yes, this is counting the 1970s-80s Houston Astros) –– had beaten Ball State in the previous round. Ball State, in turn, had been impressive in their earlier defeat of Oberlin sectional rival Dayton University. So the ’Cows were careful not to be overconfident in their final Saturday game. But they need not have bothered with the humility. The Horsecows rolled to a big halftime lead and continued rolling through the second half en route to a 15-8 victory.

With the day’s action done early in the afternoon, the Horsecows took some time to luxuriate under Big Mr. Sun and watch the women’s team –– the Praying Manti –– finish out the day’s play. And following the predictable Mexican dinner, Oberlin’s Horsecows retired for the night.

Sunday came, and with it the backdoor semifinal against the University of Illinois. The Horsecows have a history against Fist of God (formerly Men from Mars) –– two years previous they had beaten Illinois 16-14 in the Regional semifinal, and in the 2000 edition of Regionals had defeated U of I in the backdoor final by 15-12. So it was a fired-up Oberlin squad that came out to face their fates on the fateful Sunday morn. 

Horsecowmania reigned early, with Oberlin taking the first score and getting an early break to go up 3-1. On the next point, an up-winder, the ’Cows forced a turn at the Illinois goal line, and seemed ready to take not only a 4-1 lead but to poke in another break. The score might have broken Fist’s back –– if it had happened. But it didn’t. And U of I scored not only that point but forced a break of their own on the next to tie it up at three. The Horsecows came storming back with a 4-1 run and were, again, poised at UI’s goal, this time with a chance to take half and an 8-4 lead. But that didn’t happen, either. Fist scored to pull within 7-5, and Oberlin put the next one in to take half 8-5.

Once again, the momentum was on OC’s side as they came out of half. Not for long, though. A big-time second half team, Fist went on a 6-2 run to take their first lead of the game, at 11-10. Oberlin pulled even, and the two teams fought tooth and nail the rest of the way, with lead change after lead change, eventually leading to a tie at 16, hard cap at 17. Oberlin pulled out all the stops, and put in the score for a victory and a berth in the backdoor final. The stifling man defense and explosive long game of the Horsecows ultimately proved too much for Fist, and again, they went home with the taste of the North Coast and its hard, hard water in their mouths.

Thus it was that the backdoor final came, pitting Oberlin against Ohio State’s Leadbelly. Astute readers may recall that it was Leadbelly who only a week previous had taken out the Horsecows by the embarrassing score of 15-3. So it was with two home advantages that OSU came into the game: one was home field, and one was the home that they had erected in the Horsecows’ heads.

The game started fast and furious on both sides, but OSU got an early break to take a 3-1 lead. Oberlin stayed with Leadbelly into half at 8-5, but the Horsecows were in trouble. Exhausted and hobbled, and missing several key players due to injuries, the Horsecows’ tank was very near empty. The athletic boys from OSU came out just as fired up in the second half as in the first, and the Horsecows came out flat. OSU rolled to a 15-8 victory. Season over.

There were some misty eyes, yes, on the Oberlin sideline. But the far more prevalent sight was of smiles, and the sound of laughter was nearly universal. The season was over, yes, and the Horsecows had not made Nationals, it was true. There had been high expectations for the team that was to be this spring for many years previous. But that final loss did nothing to diminish the accomplishments of this team. It was a great team in many ways –– it at times featured some of the most exciting play ever seen from an Oberlin team, and came from behind in ways that OC has never done in the past. So it was with a song in their hearts and visions of frisbee seasons past and future –– Oberlin and not –– that the Horsecows departed from Columbus into the always bright future.

Jacob Kramer-Duffield is a member of the ultimate frisbee team



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