The three Conferences of the Southeast Region – Gulf Coast, Florida, and Southern Appalachian (SAPP) – all held their Championship tournaments this past weekend. There was plenty we were looking for and some surprises along the way. Here’s a look at each Conference and a preview of expected seeding for Southeast Regionals in Tupelo, MS.
With Conference Championships taking place all over the country this past weekend and coming weekend, there’s been lots going on, but rarely is there more at stake than in Gulf Coast Conference. The disparity between talent and bids was notable in Tuscaloosa, as a number of solid Southeast teams had only a single bid between them. Round robin play would take place Saturday and Sunday morning, possibly ending the tournament (if a team went undefeated), or seeding a four team final bracket.
Saturday set the tone for a weekend of surprises. The tournament wasn’t even in the second round before an upset was scored, with #4 seed Vanderbilt VUDU beating #3 seed Alabama Ramma Jamma, 11-8. #2 seed Auburn Tiger Lillies started the weekend with #6 Miss St. and #7 Ole Miss, allowing them to cruise to easy wins. Tulane Muses, the #1 seed and definite favorite, started their weekend against Vandy. After a slow start, Tulane rolled into half with a 7-4 lead and didn’t look back, winning 12-8.
The third round would see Tulane take on the Auburn Tiger Lillies. The Muses would strike hard and fast to go up 3-0. At 4-1, the two teams would gut it out in a long hard point. The Lillies would take it, and with their second point, the momentum. They’d rattle off four more before Tulane could respond, winning another very long point. With Auburn up 7-5, the soft cap would come on. The Tiger Lillies would hold Tulane scoreless in the cap, winning 9-5, and putting them in the driver’s seat for the Conference title.
After a bye, Auburn would go into their game against Alabama in control of their own destiny – win out, take the bid. Ramma Jamma, coming off two games against the last two seeds and a bye, would go hard against Auburn. In a state rivalry game, the Bama ladies would keep their Regional dreams alive, winning 13-11. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt would fight off #5 seed LSU in a 13-10 game, meaning Saturday would end with the top 4 seeds 3-1 and LSU 2-2.
Sunday’s early morning game would pit #6 Miss State vs. #7 Ole Miss. The rain rolled in, making conditions less than enjoyable for all involved. Both teams probably were aching to win this one, but Ole Miss would dominate on their way to a 12-3 victory. Meanwhile, the top four seeds would each play one game against one of the other top four and one game against one of the bottom three seeds. Second round games included a big Tulane win over Alabama, 12-4, and another close loss for LSU, 8-12, at the hands of Auburn. The final pool play round would see Vanderbilt hand Auburn their second loss of the weekend to the tune of 8-4. The shocker would be LSU, who had been knocking on the door all weekend, finally breaking through with a 7-1 win over Bama, knocking them out of contention. LSU would find themselves still in the running as the teams went to the brackets.
The Semifinals had the 5-1 Muses going up against surprising 3-3 LSU, while 5-1 Vanderbilt would do battle with 4-2 Auburn. Tulane jumped out to a big lead against LSU as the rain & wind subsided, waltzing 11-3. Vandy took down Auburn, earning them a spot in the Final and a rematch with Tulane. VUDU would draw first blood, going up 2-0 before Muse Stephanie Hurwitz would bomb a huck to get them on the board. After trading a couple of runs, it would be VUDU who would take half, 7-5. Some highlight reel plays marked the early second half, with Vandy going up 9-6. Things would slow down a little bit, a lot of calls and discussion taking place on the field, perhaps the pressure of what was at stake setting nerves on edge. A long point would go the Muses’ way to make bring them to just a two point deficit. A huge handblock would get Tulane the disc on the next possession, where they’d use a goal line timeout. However, Vanderbilt would deny the score with critical defense, and a couple of possessions later, went up 10-7. A missed huck from Tulane would give VUDU the disc once more. Tulane would get a D, but it would deflect to a Vandy player, with VUDU punching in the Conference winning score, 11-7.
“Real unfortunate that our section only gets a single bid. Too many of these teams deserve a longer season,” tweeted the Tulane twitter, later adding “Kinda hard to leave the field.” For the second straight season, Tulane would come in the favorite, only to be unseated, with Vanderbilt coming out on top. The tide is rising in the Gulf Coast Conference, the heated competition for bids breeding more resilient and harder working teams. Vanderbilt is a bit of a mystery and it’ll be interesting to see how they fit into the Region in a week and a half.
The scene in Gainesville, FL differed greatly from Tuscaloosa’s. While seven teams battled for just one bid in the Gulf Coast, Florida had six teams vying for five bids. Still, bragging rights, mental edges, and Regionals seeding were all up for grabs. The tournament itself had some pretty defining tiers coming in: at the top, Central Florida and Florida State would presumably vie for the Conference title and Regionals seeding, where they would be in the mix for a bid to the show; Florida and South Florida would make the next tier, two teams looking to surprise the top tier and best each other. The final tier would be the two B teams, Florida-B and Florida State-B, who would be aiming to defeat one another to win the final bid.
The first round of round robin pool play would see two top tier teams against two middle tier teams: UCF would play Florida while FSU would play USF. The Central Florida Sirens would open up early on Florida FUEL, a trio of breaks digging a quick hole. FUEL would never recover, and UCF would take their first game, 13-5. Florida State Seminole Ladies would have similar success against the South Florida Scallywenches. They’d open with a layout Callahan by Rebecca Williams, obviously a huge statement.They’d add another before half, this time by Caroline Davis, and take half 7-1, on their way to a 13-3 victory. Florida State-B would upset Florida-B, a convincing 13-7 win.
The second round would see the second tier teams blow out the third tier teams while the #1 seed Sirens would get a look at #2 seed Seminole Ladies. Some early breaks would be big for Central Florida, allowing them to control the first half, holding FSU to just three points. Florida State, unsatisfied with their sloppy first half, would clean it up somewhat, but couldn’t overcome the deficit. UCF would beat the Seminole Ladies for the first time this season, 12-7. The next round would pass without upset, though South Florida was able to push Florida before falling, 11-8.
Closing out Saturday, we had one final game of note, a matchup between FSU and UF. Florida is a program not used to being overlooked in their own Conference, but their results coming in did nothing to discourage it. However, the reigning Southeast Region champs made their statement. Undoubtedly behind Jenna Dahl and Jackie Fane – the two names every other team in the Conference knows they have to stop – FUEL was able to shock the Seminole Ladies, winning 11-10.
After a final round of pool play Sunday morning, we’d get into the bracket. Florida State and USF dispatched of the pair of B teams without much trouble. Florida State would get a chance to get revenge on Florida for their Saturday loss and South Florida would get another crack at a UCF machine firing on all cylinders. Central Florida went up early and never let the Scallywenches gain any traction, taking that Semi 13-6. A more rested State squad was also not interested in playing around with Florida, rolling them 13-4, and setting up the expected and anticipated 1/2 Final and 3/4 3rd place game.
Central Florida would open the Final on offense and the teams would trade to 2-1. The Sirens would take the first break for a 3-1 lead. Bogged down by calls, physical play, and rain, the intensity level of the game stayed high. The Sirens would add another break in the half and take it 7-4. With lightning strikes starting to appear, the game was forced to be called and the Conference title awarded to UCF. While that ending may not be dramatic, UCF showed throughout the weekend that they have the potential to dominate. UCF’s Coach Joe Tilley and FSU’s Coach Matt Childs were both having a bit of a chess match, showing some strategies and holding back others, so who is to say what these games mean. It is very possible we are looking at four of the top five teams in the Region.
The SAPP Conference Championships had more in common with Florida’s than the Gulf Coast’s. While the weekend originally had two neat 8-team pools, one team dropped early in the week and another just before the games were played Saturday, leaving a new 6-team round robin with backdoor bracket play to follow. The oddity here was the presence of Georgia College, who as the (now) lone D-III team in the Southeast, would compete and have their scores count, but would not factor into D-I Regionals bids on their way to D-III Nationals. This meant four of the five remaining teams would be headed to Tupelo.
Round one actually had a bit of a bang to start, with #5 seed Tennessee Boss upsetting #2 seed Georgia College Lynx Rufus, 13-11. Both teams have small rosters, so a first round matchup was a well played game that just had Tennessee looking efficient, led by the versatile Rachel Smith. #1 seed Georgia Dawgma, resting legs and protecting their injured rotational players, had one of many cruising games throughout the weekend, beating #3 seed Georgia Tech Wreck 13-5. #4 seed Emory Luna had a close first half with #6 seed Georgia State Vixen, but pulled away in the second, 13-8.
The second round was home to more upsets, and another Dawgma walk, 13-5, over GC(SU, formerly). Luna would see crosstown rival, Tech, who was without a number of key contributors, including All-Region handler Leah Tsinajinnie and Captain Xenia Wirth. The Emory women would jump out early, taking a 7-2 half, much on the back of the defensive play of Abbey Hewitt. However, led by the handling of Ashley Smith, Wreck would claw back in the second, but it would be too big a hole to climb out of, with Luna winning 13-9. Meanwhile, Vixen and Tennessee were battling it out. Both teams rely on a strong handler/cutter duo and a key support player, but Vixen’s use of the break side helped separate them on their way to an 11-9 victory. The final two rounds of Saturday play would see convincing wins from all of the top seeds. Sunday had one final round of pool play, where Tech would beat State 13-4 and Georgia College would fight off an Emory comeback, 13-9.
At this point, the bid picture was almost entirely settled. Only an 11:00 AM battle between Georgia State and Tennessee would have a bid on the line. Tennessee, undoubtedly still feeling the previous five games on their short roster, struggled to keep up with a deeper Vixen squad. They’d take the last bid, 13-6. In the Final, Georgia College took it easy in a loss to Dawgma. Emory would beat a reinforced Georgia Tech squad, 11-6. However, both of these teams have a shot at getting hot at Regionals and finishing in the top five. Lynx Rufus would beat Luna in an uninspired placement game, 15-5, while Wreck would do the same to GSU, 15-1.
Looking back at the Conference Championship weekend that was, I think we can get a pretty good idea of seedings, but not how the results will play out. Most of these teams have knocked each other around enough to leave doubts. Does Florida State’s CC stumble indicate that they, of the big three, are vulnerable to a Regionals upset? Does Florida, a team with plenty of big game experience and a winning culture, have another shocking run in them? It is tough to say. Here’s my initial crack at seeding Southeast Regionals:
- Georgia Dawgma
- Central Florida Sirens
- Florida State Seminole Ladies
- Florida FUEL
- South Florida Scallywenches
- Emory Luna
- Georgia Tech Wreck
- Vanderbilt VUDU
- Georgia State Vixen
- Florida State Seminole Ladies-B
Dawgma is the top ranked team, by USAU math, and has the head-to-head with Central Florida. UCF is 2-2 vs. FSU and finished ahead of them in Conferences. USF I put ahead of Emory, as USF has two USAU wins over Emory (Emory’s win over them was unsanctioned) and a higher ranking profile. Emory finished above GT at Conferences and beat them twice. VUDU’s wins over Tulane and Auburn should put them above Vixen. If FSU-B drops, which is possible (6 1/2 hours to go to Tupelo), the bid order as I understand it would send another to Tennessee first, Tulane second. Since I don’t think it’d make it past those two and I don’t know what happens after that, we’ll leave it at that. If Tulane draws in, they’d take the #9 seed (yikes, wouldn’t want them as last seed in my pool) and Vixen would be #10 seed. Tulane entering the picture really could change the complexion of the tournament.
What an exciting season the Southeast has had. It all comes down to what happens in Tupelo.