North Central Women’s Regionals Preview

2013 College Series

It may be poetic justice that the hottest region in the country was going to have snow on the ground for their Championship tournament. The North Central Region hijacked five bids to the College Championships, producing some of the top talent in the country. I’m surprised there hasn’t been an Ultiworld discussion over whether or not they are collectively stronger than the Northwest this season. The rise of Minnesota adds a lot of firepower and the mercurial highs and lows of Wisconsin’s season leaves you wondering what they will bring to the table should they be on the fields in Madison. The number of bids and the collection of top talent saps some of the excitement out of it, but seeing how these teams stack up against one another in Northfield, MN Cedar Falls, IA will be fun.

Here are the seedings (by my estimation) and pools:

  1. Iowa State (WNC #1)
  2. Iowa (WNC #2)
  3. Carleton (WNC #3)
  4. Minnesota (WNC #4)
  5. Wisconsin (LS #1)
  6. Wisconsin-Eau Claire (LS #2)
  7. Northern Iowa (WNC #5)
  8. Nebraska (WNC #6)
  9. Luther (NC-III #1)
  10. Wisconsin-Milwaukee (LS #3)
  11. Winona State (WNC #7)
  12. Minnesota-Duluth (WNC #8)

Pool A: Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Northern Iowa, Luther, Minnesota-Duluth

Pool B: Iowa, Carleton, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Winona State

Pool winners play in Championship game and have locked up a bid. 2nd/3rd in each pool make the 2nd place bracket (winning their first game in this bracket locks up a bid). 4th/5th start in the 5th place bracket, losers from first round of 2nd place bracket drop down, and this is the final bracket with a bid. Last in each pool is eliminated.

Pool Play

Pool A

Iowa State's Becca Miller lets go of a sharp high release backhand

Iowa State’s Becca Miller lets go of a sharp high release backhand

Iowa State Woman Scorned comes into the Regional tournament the #1 seed, after trailing the region most of the season. To me, this never seemed a talent issue. Their coaches, the Seilers (Kevin and Lana), have had them building depth all season, not really concerned with margins of victory; just four of their wins came by 6 or more in the regular season. This allowed them to develop their young players, like freshmen Britnee Grimshaw, into solid contributors. The Four Horsemen of Scorn (I’m testing this out) – Sarah Pesch, Magon Liu, Cami Nelson, and Callahan nominee Becca Miller, all U23 selections – give them top end talent to match up with anybody, so don’t let their scores fool you. Even with an open rotation, they’ve beaten Tufts, Ohio State, and Carleton, championship-level opponents. Their vicious transition offense chews up yardage very quickly, with Pesch anchoring behind the disc. Nelson and Miller give them arguably the country’s best defensive pairing, and Liu is an elite playmaker. They went undefeated at Conferences, beating Iowa, Minnesota, and Carleton, and will look to do the same here.

Minnesota Ninja Ultimate has burst onto the scene this year, to the surprise of nobody in the know. The region has been sensing the rise of the program, who played well versus Iowa and Iowa State at last year’s Regional tournament. The buzz proved justified, with Midwest Throwdown serving as the breakout tournament. Their season has wins over three out of four of the other top teams in their region (they’re 0-1 vs. Carleton), as well as wins over UCF and Santa Barbara, and a strong Centex showing against Tufts. This deep team gets contributions from two sets of sisters: the DePalmas, Natalie and Emily, and the Regans, Emily and Greta. Downfield monster and U23 selection Sarah Meckstroth, Captain Andrea Crumrine, and 2012 FOTY Mindi DiPaola add more firepower to their arsenal. Both Crumrine and Natalie DePalma are 2012 2nd Team All-Region picks. With Coach Pat Niles running their show, the Ninjas are fully capable of breaking seed and being a 2nd seed in a College Championships pool.

Wisconsin-Eau Claire Sol has proven themselves a growing and regionally competitive program. In another region, without such impressive top end strength, they would be a team in the mix. However, in the North Central, they are a darkhorse. They’ve had strong performances in losses to Minnesota, Iowa, and Florida State, while taking Ws over Wash U and Emory. They’re an athletic group with good chemistry that allows them to excel in the inclement weather of the region. Brit Gartner anchors their offense, which may be at it’s best when she’s getting a generous amount of touches. She’s supported but veteran receivers Mariah Dorner, Estelle Taquet, and Emy Marier. If they catch a tired Minnesota or wildly inconsistent Wisconsin at a low point, maybe they can pull a shocker.

Northern Iowa Pandamonium will be looking to get a boost from being the hometown team, since the field site change, and to break seed. They’ve consistently gotten comfortable wins over the teams below them at Regionals, but have struggled to compete with teams above them. Their best win is over Missouri. They’ll need to push their game to a new level this weekend on home turf. Watch out for returning 2012 2nd Team FOTY Danielle Sweet to make an impact.

Luther Freya will be fighting to put up some good results and continue success from their Conference Championship weekend. They went 6-2 at NC-III Conferences, getting some big wins. They lost a weather-challenged 4-6 game at Southerns against Minnesota-Duluth. The end of Saturday this weekend will offer a chance for some revenge.

Minnesota Duluth will have a challenging weekend ahead of them, if their regular season results are any indication. They have some close losses and have a win over a FSU-B team that made Regionals. The caliber of team they will see this weekend, however, could make it hard for them to put up a ton of points. They have a win over Luther and a close loss to Winona State, so they will get some chances to come away with wins.

Pool B

Iowa Captain Anna Pritchard extends for a grab at Conferences

Iowa Captain Anna Pritchard extends for a grab at Conferences

Iowa Saucy Nancy is the top seed in the pool and their results are those of one of the nation’s top teams. They have lost just one game out of region – a close game against Colorado – while besting the likes of Ohio State, Tufts, Georgia, and Virginia. “We are the strongest region,” claimed Captain Liza Minor, backed up by Iowa’s 8-5 record against the other top four teams in the region, “it will be a tough battle for each and every bid spot.” Nancy may be the region’s deepest squad, with top end talent like Chelsea Twohig and Minor, who are both versatile studs. Behind them, Bekah Hickernell, Jen Nowak, Audrey Erickson, and Anna Pritchard provide additional high quality depth. Of the teams I’ve watched this year, they also seemed the most comfortable with a variety of different looks on both offense and defense, giving them to ability to adjust to their opponents’ weaknesses. Iowa is the reigning champ of the North Central, and to them, that means something, Minor explained, “We still want to prove ourselves the best of the pack.”

Carleton Syzyzgy has put together a strong regular season for themselves that shows they have to be considered in the Regional title discussion. They have a pair of big wins over Virginia and wins over Ohio State, Central Florida, and Stanford. They’re kryptonite has been Iowa State, who beat them in the game to go last season and whom they are 0-3 against this season. Fortunately, Iowa State is all the way over in Pool A. They’re 2-0 against Minnesota and 2-2 against Iowa. Certainly, with senior handler Anna Reed, the team’s lone returning All-Region selection, they are capable of winning the pool. Reed has arguably the most explosive set of throws in the country. The talent around her, like veteran handlers Julia Snyder, Taylor Want, and Kirstie Barton, plus high impact cutters Grace Quintana, Flannery McArdle, and Marley Hartman-Filson, keeps teams from focusing on shutting down Reed while allowing Carleton to apply defensive pressure.

Wisconsin Bella Donna has shown us a little bit of everything this year. Their opener at Queen City had highs (a win over Virginia) and lows (and 6-9 loss to UCF). Midwest Throwdown saw them get whipped by Minnesota, lose to Kansas, and fall to Iowa, but they still took home a win against Northwestern. Then came Stanford Invite, where they rolled through some of the nation’s elite, slamming British Columbia & North Carolina, beating Washington, Stanford, and Santa Barbara, and coming within two points of beating Oregon in the Final for an undefeated win of the tournament. Hype and buzz shot up, but came right back down when Centex handed them losses to Santa Barbara, Stanford, and North Carolina. The ceiling here is very high, but they also have the potential to disappear against top talent. When things are working for Bella, it is often because majestic All-Region handler Rebecca Enders is calmly taking complete control of the pace of the game. She has a stable of athletic cutter/defender combos in Al Ellis, 2012 All-Region selection Biz Cook, and high flying Sara Scott. Anna Shanedling and Sydney Dobkin help Enders out around the disc. Coach Alex Snyder, one of the top vets in the Women’s club circuit, has had them running in rotation-specific lines this season, and it’ll be interesting to see if their roles are more defined and chemistry clicking because of that.

The Nebraska Cuddle Raptors are a team that is on the rise. In their three years competing in the Series, they’ve made it to Regionals twice. After not making it last year, they come in this year as the 8th seed. They’ve done well against their non-elite in region competition, but have some questionable losses, too. They’re a loud, spirited, high energy bunch led by Captains Emily Lander and Kathleen Lovgren. The Raptors are tall and athletic, able to snag discs and win hustle plays, and are happy to go horizontal when called for.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee Black Cat Women’s Ultimate is coming into Regionals after a very strong Conference Championships showing. Their regular season results left something to be desired, but this is after the team set out to take on tougher competition this season. However, at Lake Superior Conferences, they were able to win almost every game on the way to a third place finish. They will need to play confident and aggressive to break seed this weekend, relying on the play of Taylor Koehling and Heather Anhen.

Winona State Bad Monaz already have some wins over the regional opponents they will see this weekend and it could be important for their chances. Their 12-9 Champies win over Minnesota-Duluth shows them they can compete this weekend, but it will be hard to expect them to make an impact in such a strong field.

Predictions

Pool Play

Pool A: Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Northern Iowa, Luther, Minnesota-Duluth

Pool B: Carleton, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, UW-Milwaukee, Winona St.

Championship Final

Iowa State over Carleton

2nd Place Bracket Quarters

Wisconsin over Minnesota

Iowa over Wisconsin-Eau Claire

2nd Place Bracket – Semi & Final

Iowa over Wisconsin

Iowa over Carleton

5th Place Bracket

Northern Iowa over UW-Milwaukee

Nebraska over Luther

Minnesota over Northern Iowa

Wisconsin-Eau Claire over Nebraska

Minnesota over Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Final Thoughts

Alright, so that was confusing. Iowa State, Carleton, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota wind up your top five in that order. Iowa State, to me, is the best team in the region. Other teams might be deeper, but they’ve worked hard to develop their back end enough to keep up. Meanwhile, the Four Horsemen are unguardable. Even if a team holds them down, the Seilers will find ways to take use that group more effectively.

Iowa and Carleton are such a close pair, as their 2-2 record indicates. Carleton’s height and downfield play could mean trouble for Iowa. I’m curious who the weather favors: Iowa’s disciplined zone play or Carleton’s height and strong handling group? I think they split, like they have this year and like they did at Conferences.

I like Minnesota over Wisconsin in a general sense, but Snyder and Wisconsin’s experience can help them beat Minnesota at this point. It feels like a crapshoot when you’re prognosticating the Bellas.

It is hard to call – these teams have beaten each other all year – so this feels like guesswork, but rest assured these teams will emerge battle tested and ready to take on the country’s best.

Women’s Bid Watch: First Looks

The much anticipated first USAU college rankings (Open, Women) came out yesterday afternoon, giving us our first taste of not only the national picture, but perhaps more importantly, which regions had earned bids so far and what teams were in position to move those bids around. Let’s take a look at the Top 20 (chosen because that’s the number of bids), the bid picture, and what to expect moving forward.

Top 20

  1. UBC (NW)
  2. Oregon (NW)
  3. Washington (NW)
  4. UCSB (SW)
  5. Carleton (NC)
  6. Victoria (NW)
  7. Colorado (SC)
  8. Iowa (NC)
  9. Whitman (NW)
  10. Stanford (SW)
  11. Sonoma State (SW)
  12. Colorado College (SC)
  13. California (SW)
  14. Western Washington (NW)
  15. Tufts (NE)
  16. Virginia (AC)
  17. UCSD (SW)
  18. MIT (NE)
  19. Ohio State (OV)
  20. Minnesota (NC)

Regions not represented here are the SE (#21 Georgia), GL (#30 Valparaiso), and ME (#60 Ottawa). The Ohio Valley and Atlantic Coast regions had one team each in the Top 20 and they were both in the bottom 5. The Northwest and Southwest dominate these rankings, with the North Central falling just behind that. However, if you look a little closer, almost every team has only one tournament’s worth of sanctioned games – the majority of them either from Pres Day or the SB Invite for the west coast or Queen City for the east coast – and a few have some other scattered wins.

Bid Watch

Here’s a breakdown of, if the season were to end today, how the bids would shake out, with strength bids in parentheses and the teams earning those strength bids.

  • AC (0)
  • GL (0)
  • ME (0)
  • NE (0)
  • NC (1): #8 Iowa
  • NW (5): #2 Oregon, #3 Washington, #6 Victoria, #9 Whitman, #14 W. Washington
  • OV (0)
  • SC (1): #12 Colorado College
  • SE (0)
  • SW (3): #10 Stanford, #11 Sonoma State, #13 California

It isn’t hard to see how those Top 20 rankings translate into the Northwest and Southwest hogging all of the bids! This isn’t unusual. Last year – the first year of this bid system – there were five regions with no strength bids when the first rankings dropped. In 2011, if I correctly applied the current bid system to their rankings, it would have been another five 0 bid regions in the initial rankings. For reference, 2012’s final rankings had six regions with no strength bids (New England, Metro East, Great Lakes, South Central, South East, and Ohio Valley) and 2011 would have had four regions (ME, NE, OV, SE) with no strength bids. From what I see, it looks as if typically the bids spread to the regions already holding a bid, so you end up with a few 2/3 bid regions and one region with 4/5.

Looking at a few results, there are couple of things that could have made these rankings look different. Three teams (well, four, but one could have been either way) jump out at me as teams that could have changed the early bid picture: Texas, Iowa State, and either Central Florida or Florida State. Texas Melee’s location means they actually have seen a bunch of the Southwest teams ranked ahead of them at Pres Day. Of their five losses this season, three are at the hands Southwest teams, most notably a 7-12 loss to bid-holding California. If they beat USC, California, and keep it close with Oregon or UCSB, it wouldn’t surprise me if hold a bid, but alas. Iowa State Woman Scorned is a weird one to call out, because they are 12-2 with losses only to top 20 North Central teams. The issue, as far as rankings go, is that they are completely content to spread playing time and win games 15-13 and 13-11, even against lower ranked teams. Of their 12 wins, only three have come by six or more points (Maryland, Emory, Colorado St.) This lack of dominant wins hurts their numbers, keeping them from pushing high enough to take another bid for the North Central. Finally, the Southeast is a mess, as Georgia, Florida State, and Central Florida have beaten up on each other. If Central Florida only loses to Georgia at FWC and puts up those good scores at QCTU, they position the SE for another bid. The same is true of FSU, except they were a step away at QCTU. Georgia gets a pass for being the top ranked SE team.

The question at this point is what we should expect moving forward. Competition between the coasts kicks off this weekend with the Stanford Invite, where Carleton, and more importantly, North Carolina and Wisconsin – two teams not yet factoring into the bid picture – will compete with Northwest and Southwest teams. How these teams fare against the Southwest strength earners (California, Sonoma, and Stanford) will be important and I would be surprised if North Carolina didn’t yank a bid for the AC. The more important tournament is Women’s Centex in a couple of weekends, where the strength earners of the Northwest and Southwest will be attending and will see the top teams from pretty much every other region. The bid picture could change dramatically in Texas, where a Florida State, Pittsburgh, or Wash U could take extra bids off the hands of the evil empire of the NW and SW.

Keep tabs with the #BidWatch hashtag on twitter.

Midwest Throwdown Women’s 13: Recap and Reactions

The weekend’s biggest tournament, Midwest Throwdown (MWTD) gave us a bit of everything: nationals contenders battling each other, up and comers making big moves, upsets, and disappointments. Saturday’s cold and windy gave way to a less cold and breezy Sunday, giving teams different looks at one another in the same weekend. Let’s take a look at what went down and what it all means. Note: I was coaching this weekend, meaning I saw too little to really give nuts and bolts analysis.

Recap

Improvement was the big goal for Iowa Saucy Nancy this past weekend, as Captain Liza Minor told me coming in that they were looking to “improve in every game” and “be able to adjust quickly to different looks.” The numbers and context indicate they had the opportunity to accomplish these goals and did. They opened with an easy 15-3 win over Texas A&M, were upset by an energetic and locked in Minnesota team to the tune of 10-11, then battled with regional rival Wisconsin for a 13-11 victory, taking second in Pool B. Their crossover game with D-II would be with a Wisconsin Eau Claire team riding a 49-12 aggregate from their first three games and that Minor had noted as a team that had “proved they had the skill and athleticism to be a challenge,” and true to form, it was a close 10-8 game in Iowa’s favor.

For Saucy, Sunday’s change in conditions would give them a different set of factors to react to and new looks, which is what they were hoping to get. They took out Valparaiso 15-9, dominated Colorado St. in the semis 15-3, and got their revenge against Minnesota 15-8. After some close games with the upstart Ninjas at an Indoor Tournament, there were eyes on this matchup, so being able to rebound from their Pool Play loss has to make them feel confident putting a check mark next to “improve on the weekend.” It wasn’t a dominant or perfect weekend by any means, but their only loss was a one point loss to a good team.

The big story from MWTD has to be Minnesota Ninja. A lot of folks I had talked to coming into the weekend had mentioned them as a team to watch. They justified the hype. They beat each of the Big 3 on the weekend (Iowa St., Iowa, and Wisconsin), including a 14-7 blowout over a struggling Bella Donna squad in the opening round. They’d score that critical 11-10 victory of Iowa in the second round before taking care of business against TAMU (15-7) and their crossover against Truman State (13-4) on their way to an undefeated Saturday. They weren’t just sneaking up on teams; Minnesota was controlling games.

Their Sunday opened with a 15-7 win over Notre Dame and a 6-2 opening against Iowa St. Iowa St. would come back in the second half and bring it to universe point, but Minnesota would finish the job. While they were unable to keep up with a comparably fresh Iowa squad, it was a weekend to be proud of. I’m left wondering: if they had had a game against Colorado St. in the semis rather than a double game point grind with Iowa St., would the finals would have broken the same way?

It was a tough weekend for Northwestern Gung Ho, because they played very well, and in other tournament formats, would have finished much higher. The return of Lien Hoffman helped boost the Hos to a very strong Saturday, with 14-6 and 13-3 victories over Emory and Wash U to start the day. They’d take a double game point win over Iowa St. to win the pool and notch a marquee win for their season. However, a 13-7 flop in their D-II crossover game against a battling Colorado State team sent them tumbling into the 9th place bracket. Yep, they won Pool A, beat a nationals level opponent, and flubbed a game to fall out of championship contention – ouch!

Sunday would yield at 13-6 win over Emory, a 15-12 loss to a Wisconsin team out for redemption, and a 13-11 win over Purdue to get 11th place. It is hard when a 5-2 weekend results in you dropping 7 spots, but the ranking algorithm won’t care, so I would call the weekend a success, even if they were aching to get matched up with Iowa and Minnesota.

I hope it wasn’t me that jinxed Wisconsin Bella Donna by pegging them to win this tournament. Coming away from this weekend with a 15-12 win over Northwestern and winning 9th place might make up for their 11-13 loss to Iowa in Pool Play, but the 14-7 loss to Minnesota and 10-6 loss Kansas in their D-II crossover game are brutal. I don’t know if there were personnel issues Saturday, but they rebounded Sunday, at least.

Reactions

Minnesota vaults from the regionals conversation to the Natties hot list. Expect them to break into the Top 15 in Ultiworld’s Power Rankings. Emily Regan was awesome for them this weekend and they didn’t look like a fluke to me. The windy conditions could lead to some odd results, but Sunday was clear enough that seeing them win in both sets of conditions and over each of the top three seeds is a sign these ladies are for real. Wherever they play next, eyes will be on them to see if they can continue this run of success. I’ll tell you: what they’re selling, I’m buying.

I’m also a believer that Northwestern is flying under the radar. Last time we saw them was QCTU, where their Sunday struggles marred a solid Saturday. Adding Iowa St. to their list of marquee wins (along with Georgia) is important for a team that is on the fence when it comes to the big show. Their performance probably won’t be talked about, but this team is quietly putting together some wins indicative of a team that could play their way into Madison, if they can find consistency…or get hot at Regionals.

Iowa State Woman Scorned went 5-2 on the weekend and finished third

The more I think about it, the more Saucy Nancy and Woman Scorned’s weekends look even to me, despite Iowa winning it all and ISU managing only third. Iowa St. was short Becca Miller on Saturday, and I imagine that she’s the one they’d assign to Lien Hoffman in that Northwestern loss. I’m not ready to take either out of the top 10 teams in the country nor separate one from the other.

What does this all mean for Wisconsin? That Kansas loss is really going to hurt in the USAU rankings and failing to even keep the Minnesota game close will also do damage. Those losses combine with their 6-9 loss to UCF at QCTU to drag them down, I’m theorizing. This team is plenty talented enough to rebound and these things are far from settled, but this weekend was a big step back. Their win over Northwestern, however, is a nice consolation prize. That leaves them sitting at #26 in USAU rankings (which just dropped while writing this) and outside of Wild Card bids – the North Central is currently a 2 bid region.

I’m still not sure what the heck happened at 3 PM on Saturday in St. Louis, but it was shocking to say the least. It is not unreal to see TAMU and Emory – who had both struggled in their Division-I games – fall to St. Louis U and Notre Dame, teams who spent a lot of their outdoor time in the wind and cold and had strong Saturdays. An inconsistent Wash U team ran into a zone-favoring Valpo squad when the wind was strongest. Kansas and Colorado State solidly beating Wisconsin and Northwestern, respectively, I do not have an explanation for. Those scores were 10-6 and 13-7; in those windy conditions, CSU was able to hang 13 on Northwestern. I’m not sure what to make of it. Even Iowa and Iowa St. were only able to close out their matchups (vs. Eau Claire and Purdue) by two points a piece. All in all, the 9th place bracket was suddenly populated with more than half of Division-I. Colorado State goes home 5-2, got a win over Northwestern, and finished in 4th, which ain’t too shabby. Valpo finishes 5th with a 6-1 weekend, including a win over Wash U. That makes them the top ranked team in the Great Lakes, according to USAU, and nobody else in that region looks like a favorite, so watch out. Shouts out to those teams and their fellow bracket busters, Kansas, Notre Dame, and St. Louis.

The season continues on, each tournament adding more and more intrigue.

Up Calls: Recaps, Tourney Results, QCTU (W) 7 Stars

Your heads up for what’s going on in Ultispace:

  • QCTU headlines the weekend, with UNC Darkside trouncing Ohio University in the Open Final and Iowa State Woman Scorned edging Carleton Syzygy in the Women’s Final.
  • Down in Louisiana, LSU defended home turf en route to a Mardi Gras XXVI Championship win on the Open side, over Arkansas, who was also undefeated up to that point. On the Women’s side, Illinois was mostly unchallenged in an undefeated weekend.
  • North Greenville went without a loss at the Turkey Snatch Classic (Open) in Asheville, NC, going home as the Champs.
  • Cal-Poly SLO bested Claremont in the Pres Day Women’s Qualifier, adding SLO Motion to one of the West Coast’s premier slates.
  • As has been noted by both major Ultimate media outlets (impressive), the Puget Sound Postmen scored themselves a big DIII win at DIII Warmup.
  • Early Spring stumbles for both sides of the Michigan Ultimate family, as neither team made the bracket at Queen City, a combined 4-6 record.
  • I spent most of the weekend on the Women’s side, and to give you a little taste, here’s my 7 Stars Line: Shellie Cohen, Liza Minor, Anna Reed, Chelsea Twohig, Rebecca Miller, Alika Johnston, Sunny Harris. Wanna know why? Wanna see honorable mentions? Check back, I’ll have a full rundown.