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.

Southern Appalachian Women’s Conference Championship Preview

The region’s largest Conference features the Southeast’s top Dawg as well as some of the other strongest squads. Many of the region’s top highlight reel players will be taking to the beautiful fields of Statesboro to fight for one of the tickets to Regionals, and the best places in the pecking order. The heavy favorite will be UGA’s Dawgma, and some of the drama will be missing with GCSU, one of the most dangerous teams in the Southeast, going to D-III. However, it is hard to tell how Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Emory will shake out, and history says they’ll be playing each other very tight.

The Setup

Seeding

  1. Georgia
  2. Georgia College
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Emory
  5. Georgia State
  6. Tennessee
  7. SCAD

Format

Things will be a bit unusual, as two one of the eight seven teams are going to D-III (GCSU), so there are really six teams vying for four bids. A late drop by another team that was headed D-III altered the format from two pools to a round robin. The D-III situation won’t be a factor till everything wraps up. The seven teams will play in a single pool, with four games and a bye Saturday and two more pool games Sunday. If you place top two in the round robin, you get a bid, and will play in the Final, with the loser of that dropping into a backdoor. The third and fourth place finishers from pool play will compete Sunday, with the winner locking up a spot and playing the backdoor 2nd place game. The loser of the 3/4 game will fall into another backdoor game for the final bid spot.

The Teams

The Favorite – Georgia Dawgma

Georgia Dawgma is the easy favorite in the Conference. Their only game against SAPP competition is a 13-5 FWC win over Emory, but their performance on the national stage certainly puts them a head above the rest. Amble Johnson’s comfort level with his team has reached a maximum in his 5th year with Dawgma. They have veteran leadership, talented young players, and the best top end and depth in the Conference. It’ll be a tall task for anyone to challenge them, even with them protecting themselves for Tupelo. However, we’ve seen them let games slip away from them before, so they’ll have to execute to come away unscathed.

The names are familiar at this point. Lane Siedor, Hannah Leathers, Emily Lloyd, Julia Fuster, Margie Quinn, Courtney Farrell, Katie Franchot, Anraya Palmer, and Kate Hines form a nasty rotation of talent that can put opponents through the ringer without exhausting their legs. It seems unreal, but I feel like Emily Lloyd has flown under the radar this season as more people find out who Lane is. Make no mistake about it, she might be the best cutter in the Southeast. Margie Quinn and Courtney Farrell both have become not only reliable resets, but playmakers in their own right, who can find their athletic cutters with impressive throws. I’m not sure what their health situation looks like – they always seem to have some variety of maladies – but I expect they’ll be nursing a few wounds that will open their rotation some.

The Challengers

Even if they are going D-III, Georgia College Lynx Rufus might be the second best team in the Conference and in the top half of the Southeast as a whole. They run a small 9-10 person rotation, but the talent level within that small group is high and they have great chemistry from their time with one another. They’ll find and expose a matchup whenever they get the chance and will utilize quick disc movement to put opponents on their heels. Marissa Hicks leads this group, a dependable cutter and strong defender who is able to grind out matchups. They don’t always get it done in the prettiest fashion, but they do get it done better than almost everybody they face.

Georgia Tech Wreck would love to score a signature win on their way to Tupelo. They fell a point short of beating Florida at Music City, possibly recalling memories of their Classic City Classic performance, where they fell to Florida by a pair and South Florida by a point. They’ve won more close games than they’ve lost and seem poised to make a move. Leah Tsinajinnie still supplies them with a large percentage of their offensive firepower, with her hucks and breaks, but they’ve put the pieces around her to defend well and rest her. Captains Xenia Wirth and Lily Ponitz are both downfield threats, while Donnya Adjari and Sandhya Srivatsan frustrate opposing cutters. Ashley Brown and Cate Woodhurst give them the additional throwers necessary to punch in short field and fast break scores.

Still looking to push over the hump, University of Tennessee Screw will bring their hard nosed play to Statesboro looking to notch the necessary wins to culminate in a Regionals berth. They took a short roster to Florida Winter Classic and played good games versus South Florida and Williams. However, they struggled at Music City and have displayed inconsistency this season. Rachel Smith is the anchor for this group, a combination of height, speed, explosiveness, and big throws that make her a uniquely difficult matchup. She’ll be aided primarily by Elodie Kruk, who leads their speedy cutting group to get downfield on fast breaks or after Rachel’s initiating cuts.

It has been a long season for Emory Luna, sporting a lot of hard knocks from their 2-13 record. Taking on a very competitive regular season, Luna hopes their challenging competition has best prepared them for not just Conferences, but Regionals as well. They tend to spread out their downfield playmaking with cutters Abbey Hewitt, Meg Harris, Ariella Faitelson, and Caroline Pearson, but a lot of Emory’s offense flows through the hucks of Zina Stavitsky and break throws of Nellie Ochs. They’ve had some impressive performances, but have been hamstrung by consistency issues. If the Luna ladies bring the pieces together in Statesboro, they could do a lot of damage.

The Longshots

The growth of recently formed Georgia State Vixen could finally payoff for them this Series. They were able to push teams all season long at Queen City Tune Up Open, T-Town Throwdown, and Freaknik. With Coach Michelle VanHandel – and some help from her friends – they’ve been polishing their game. Victoria Thompson’s soft break forehand shines in their vertical stack, her veteran handling skills driving their offense upfield. Molly Snipes provides one of the Regions fastest downfield targets, making her a threat to force the turn and immediately strike. Irene Tsinajinnie and Hae Sin continue their upward trends, helping navigate zones used to slow down Thompson and Snipes, while utilizing nice upline cutting in man situations to keep things moving. Their struggles against Regional and Conference opponents are the only things holding me back from putting them as a Contender; they can compete with the teams above them, but doing it all weekend long is a tough ask.

One of two newer squads, the ladies from Savannah College of Art and Design come to (what I believe to be) their first Conference Championships, and have not only gotten in some games already, but seen success. They’ve notched a win over FSU-B and one over Florida-B. They have struggled against the tougher competition in the Region, so expect them to be focusing on trying to play tight games, win hard points, and scoring an upset somewhere.

The other newer squad is Armstrong Atlantic, who I admittedly know almost nothing about. Haven’t seen them, haven’t heard much about them, and only know that they are going D-III and won’t get to, because sadly, they dropped out. Maybe next year, kids!

Predictions

Let’s test my ability to be objective:

Georgia and GCSU finish top two, Georgia wins Conference. Georgia Tech, Emory, and Georgia State take the other bids, in that order.

  1. Georgia
  2. GCSU (D-III)
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Emory
  5. Georgia State
  6. Tennessee
  7. SCAD