Southeast Women’s Regionals: Recap and Reacts

The culmination of an exciting season in Southeast Women’s, Regionals finally took place this past weekend. There were a lot of uncontrollables that took the teams away from the ideal: a postponement that left a lot of teams scrambling to find ways to keep their rosters flush, rains for the days leading up leaving the fields soggy & muddy, a shockingly beautiful Saturday morning, followed by a chilly and drizzling Sunday that kept the fields waterlogged, and a seven team format that made pool play a two day round robin. Making the best of a weekend that is built up, prepared for, and fantasized about all year is its own sort of mental game. Seven teams had to win that one, and beat the best teams in the region (that could attend), and claim whatever glory awaited them.

For those who haven’t checked them, UltiPhotos has some fantastic shots from the weekend, done by the talented Christina Schmidt.

Recap

A great weekend was not without flaws for Georgia Dawgma. This team showed up with their full roster and a cadre of fans in tow, a nice advantage to combat the battle vs. uncontrollables. They beat Florida and Florida State by six a piece, and rolled out early enough against Central Florida in the Final that they folded. Essentially, when they played the top ranked teams, they played very well. For a team with aspirations for the big show, that is an important trait to demonstrate to yourself. Central Florida kept it close in Pool Play, and while Georgia came out 9-7, the game was a 5-5 battle where Georgia could never really separate themselves. It is tempting to say this is more a reflection of the Sirens than Dawgma, but two other games give pause to that: Emory and Georgia Tech. Saturday’s battle with Emory was one of the tournament’s most exciting games. Emory went into high gear and Dawgma had to recollect to keep from letting it get out of hand. They took control, and didn’t relinquish it, but they came close, winning 13-11. A similar pattern played out in Sunday’s sluggish conditions, going down early, taking the lead, and then not putting away a weaker Georgia Tech team; this game, however, was irrelevant to standings, so not sure how Georgia approached it. The focus should definitely be on this team being the best in the Southeast.

A Georgia parent (the father of 7SL’s Emily Lloyd) bailing water out of the #1 field endzone. It was that sort of Sunday.

In contrast, the Central Florida Sirens put on a consistent performance, beating the lower seeds solidly, but really having to fight the other top teams. Against Florida State, they actually played catch up most of the game, trading after going down early. However, with the game at 9s, they made a three point run to end it. They would then go down early to Florida, 0-3, on Sunday. Now, this game, like UGA’s against GT, didn’t matter really, and the Sirens would take half 7-5 and win 9-6. They were overpowered by Georgia in the Final, an intense game quickly getting out of their reach. Against Florida in the game to go, UCF would win 13-5, but the game was closer than that score reflects – a common theme on Sunday – with a few breaks falling the Sirens’ way. Still, you can’t take away that this team proved themselves the second best team in the region and their only losses were only to the one team probably stronger than them.

This weekend’s results were a surprise to most, but not to Florida Fuel. They were confident they could beat the top teams in the region, and opening with a double game point loss to Florida State, while disappointing, was also proof of that. They set a great tone for their weekend. The Georgia game didn’t go as they would have hoped, but they didn’t look totally overwhelmed either. They took care of business against Tech and didn’t falter when they ran into Emory coming off their Georgia game. The only real surprise was Sunday morning, where a terrible case of the dropsies rendered their top end players unable to get any traction against a capable VUDU squad. The Vanderbilt game came as a definite shock and put FUEL in danger of missing the bracket. However, things worked out in their favor, and they took advantage. Whatever issue they had in the Vandy game infected Florida State for their backdoor Semi. FSU went up 3-1, with some of the fresh legs of their studs having just arrived that morning, but from there, the Seminole Ladies just couldn’t keep it together. I’m not sure what happened at such a crucial game, but they fell apart and FUEL walked from there, winning 9-5. The game to go saw the Florida ladies bidding for everything and giving what they had, but some bad luck and tired legs might have been too much to get past with Central Florida on the opposite sideline. They are likely pleased with the weekend, however, and proved they have the young talent to be in the picture again next year.

The other side of that is Florida State Seminole Ladies Ultimate team, who have to be pretty beat up physically and emotionally. Hard hit by the postponement, they were missing two of their top five players on Saturday and some other rotation players. They barely got by FUEL in round one, couldn’t hold on against Central Florida at the end of Saturday, and were put down by Georgia despite a full FSU effort. They did get back Lauren Collins, SJ Campbell, and some other notables on Sunday, which I thought would lead them to more success. Their fumbled game against Florida must have left them feeling helpless – oddly enough, Emory had some of those exact issues against Florida State in the round prior – and frustrated. No doubt, they didn’t expect their season to end where it did. However, there are some good signs for this group’s future.

I think most people didn’t know what to expect from Emory Luna, and they made a strong impression without making any real impact. They didn’t have any trouble with shorthanded Georgia Tech or Vandy squads, making them perhaps look like they belonged in the top five rather than the bottom three. They gave Georgia easily the toughest test of the weekend, battling every step of the way, but ultimately fell short, 11-13. The letdown carried over to the FUEL game, where they never really got their footing under them. They were pretty helpless against Central Florida’s zone and transition offense combo on Sunday, but then fortune smiled on them. Florida’s loss to Vandy meant if Emory beat Florida State, they would break seed and be in contention. That obviously didn’t work out, but they played better against FSU than that score indicates. An oddly successful weekend for them considering they went 2-5 (forfeiting their 5th/6th game against Tech to go study for finals).

I’m afraid we won’t really know what Georgia Tech or Vanderbilt were capable of. Tech had eight players Saturday, with some very notable absences, including Leah Tsinajinnie (graduation). Vanderbilt had only nine. Both made their mark on Sunday, but ultimately, weren’t able to show their full arsenal.

Reactions

Georgia and Central Florida both have the makeup and resume of teams that should be middle of the pack at the College Championships. I’d be very surprised if they finished near the bottom but equally surprised if they made a run deep into the tournament. I still have concerns about Georgia’s health, as they seemed to be nursing injuries throughout the weekend. Amble Johnson will have them very prepared for the competition, but he’s not a magic healer. Central Florida has shown the capability to beat top teams but some consistency issues have plagued them. I do have questions about how they match up defensively when forced out of their very strong zone defense; their transition offense coming out of that zone is incredibly effective. I’ll probably do a more detailed analysis in the coming weeks.

Looking even further into the future, it is really hard to say what the Southeast will look like next year. I’m no Southeast historian, but there is a massive amount of talent leaving – possibly the strongest class ever. Georgia’s group of seniors could probably win the region by themselves, as much a comment on their ability as their numbers. Central Florida will still have Katie Fox and Amy Price, but that’s a far cry from the trove of talent they have now. The Fane/Dahl era of Fuel will end, and that’s a tough adjustment to make for a young team. Florida will still have a strong stable of downfield playes, but can Alana Hardeman shoulder the throwing load?

A lot (or all?) of these Dawgs have played their last Southeast Regionals…but their last games for Georgia will be in Madison.

For those outside of Regionals, I’m sketchy on details, but I believe all of the Gulf Coast’s major players are losing their stud handlers that power their offenses (Tulane’s Stephanie Hurwitz, Vanderbilt’s Emily Dayton, Alabama’s Abby Sedlacek, Auburn’s Katie Cuson) and South Florida also has a large senior class, featuring Teal Dabney and Tessa Walter. Georgia College’s and Tennessee’s small rosters are seeing their top players move on as well.

Super early, mostly baseless, prediction is that Florida State is the team to beat next year. Kristin Lloyd will probably be the best player in the region come spring, and they’ll have Kari Tomarelli, Skylar Taggart, Kearstin Rew, and Alleigh Grover in big roles. Tomarelli, in particular, is one of the region’s rising stars. Georgia Tech has added so much young talent and, after Tsinajinnie, their handlers are all returning. They’ll come into the year with a trio of handlers ready to go and Donnya Ajdari downfield, and could threaten to win SAPP. Emory’s status is also up in the air, and with so much uncertainty for them and Georgia, it should be noted that the SAPP should be really interesting.

Florida Women’s Conference Championship Preview

What the Florida Conference lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality. The conference features two of the Southeast’s brightest national contenders, but it isn’t all top heavy. Behind Central Florida and Florida State are two more of the region’s best teams in Florida and South Florida. With five bids to regionals, the pressure isn’t really on, yet these teams want to not only build momentum for the next level in the Series, but also want to be in the best position for success in Tupelo.

The Setup

Seeding

  1. Central Florida
  2. Florida State
  3. Florida
  4. Florida-B
  5. South Florida
  6. Florida State-B

The Format

A round robin for bracket placement will result in all six teams having a shot on Sunday. The top two seeds will get byes into the Semis.

The Teams

The Favorite – Florida State Seminole Ladies Ultimate Team

The question of who the top team in the Conference is probably won’t be answered until Regionals, but for the favorite in Gainesville, Florida State’s 2-0 record vs. Central Florida wins the day. After putting together one of the strongest years their program has ever seen, they fell just short of earning a third bid to the College Championships for the SE, but as Coach Matt Childs explains, “Ultimately, if you’d told me in January that the Southeast would have 2 bids to Nationals, I’d be ecstatic.” With the bid situation almost guaranteeing them a Regionals berth, the focus is all on that tournament. Champies, for the Seminole Ladies, is about preparing themselves to top out UCF, Florida, and company, developing and honing strategies to counteract their top opponents. Childs also wants to make the easiest road to a Nationals bid as possible, adding, “I would like to finish at least 2nd at conferences so we can avoid playing Georgia in the Semis.”

While FSU’s game has grown more versatile and their roster deeper, it still feels like their offense is operating at its best when Megan Reeves (#17) is shooting up the line and putting up a huge huck. Sarah Clark (#7) has emerged as a big time target for Reeves and her fellow handlers. However, it may be Lauren Collins (#22) that ends up impacting their game the most. No longer is she just a tall and rangy receiver. In part due to her time with mixed club team Sabre Corp, LC has developed fantastic disc skills, in addition to a shutdown defender able to match up with the region’s downfield elite. Add in giant throws from SJ Campbell (#3) and the young, versatile talent of Kristin Lloyd (#10) and you’ve got a product that is capable of winning more than just the Conference.

The Challengers

No contender in the region is closer to being a favorite than University of Central Florida Sirens. Almost all of us know the story of the 2012 Sirens, who dominated the region, an unquestioned favorite to take the lone bid to the College Championships, who fell short when it counted. Their road to redemption begins here, where they will look to defend their Conference crown. UCF’s regular season has been stronger than Florida State’s, but the two have seen each other twice, and both times, FSU won. Florida State is 5-5 against common opponents while UCF is 4-5 and both of the head to head FSU wins were at the early season Florida Winter Classic. I wouldn’t blame anyone who’d put their money on the Sirens. I imagine they’ll be taking a similar approach to FSU’s, meaning, should they see each other, they won’t be full throttle; the coaches from both squads are looking to gain the strategic advantage without showing their opponents their hands. However, both of these are passionate teams, with Captain Mariel Hammond adding, “Our approach will be to take these games like every game is the final game to go to Nationals. We need to bring that fire and intensity every game.” Once the pull goes up, both squads may have trouble holding back.

Central Florida maintains some aspects of last year’s dominant squad – namely, the effectiveness of their zone play. They are an aggressive defensive group that will battle in the air and hustle to spots to close windows before the offense can hit them. That attitude carries over to their fast break and handler-cutting heavy offensive looks. Sunny Harris (#23) is the lively centerpiece behind the disc and in the back of their zone, while Mariel Hammond’s (#12) forceful cutting, with the help of Amy Price (#3) propels their downfield offense. Katie Young (#9) and Samantha Fox (#26) have become huge parts of the Siren disc movement and their contributions are critical to the team’s offensive success. However, their leadership is quick to praise their depth. “Our team has been bit by the injury bug at several key positions,” explained Coach Joe Tilley. He was seconded by Young, adding “[Injuries] forced us to trust those 2nd year players and rookies with field time, and I think it has paid off tremendously.”

It may be a down year for Florida FUEL in many people’s eyes, but smart teams know not to look past them. They’ve seen Georgia three times, Central Florida twice, and Florida State once, and most of those games were close. They’ve been going up against tough competition all season at QCTU, Music City, and Centex. The Regional title, if it were a belt, would still be wrapped around their waist. Jenna Dahl and Jackie Fane are still two of the region’s most dangerous handlers and Morgan Hartmann is plenty capable of getting downfield to catch their hucks and breaks. Their primary zone looks put their best players in position to move around, confusing offenses and forcing turns.

South Florida Scalleywenches is the last team really in the running. Tall Teal Dabney might be the first thing you notice, with her big pulls and over the top throws attracting attention, but Tessa Walter is the player to watch. As their primary handler, the team needs her breaks and reset cutting to help their offense when the deep game isn’t working. She has a number of viable targets, and with Dabney, MK Stephan, and Morgan Brazel, they tend to win a high percentage of battles in the air. Coach Jordan Knoten has them running a zone that puts the 6’0″ Dabney and her lengthy wing span right in front of throwers and their athletes downfield to eat up whatever floats past. This squad has been nipping at Florida’s heels this season and this tournament might be the perfect time for USF to strike.

The Longshots

Florida-B Diesel and Florida State-B finish out the grouping here. Diesel’s put together a solid year, with no B team they played keeping it close, and nearly beating Alabama. Meanwhile, FSU-B’s squad has two wins on the year and both were blowouts. Both of these teams have seen plenty of games and one of them will get to extend their season.

Predictions

Florida State over Central Florida in the Final. South Florida upsets Florida for third place. Florida-B takes the last bid over FSU-B.

  1. Florida State
  2. UCF
  3. USF
  4. Florida
  5. Florida-B
  6. FSU-B