Northwest Women’s Regional Preview

2013 College Series

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Oregon Fugue, UBC Thunderbirds, and Washington Element walk into the College Championships…and then Victoria Vixens shows up. If you want to say the regular season doesn’t matter, talk to these four teams. After four strong regular seasons, they’ll be able to sleep a little bit easier going into a Regional tournament with four bids to the College Championships. Whitman and Western Washington don’t plan on it being a picnic, eying that fourth bid and a Victoria team with limited experience on the big stage.

The Northwest fielded two of the Finalists at last year’s College Championships in Oregon and Washington. Their top four teams have been widely considered four of the top 10 (depending on how people view Victoria), and you have to consider this a Region with multiple title contenders. That’s a lot of pressure. These players all know one another well, seeing each other all year long. Winning this tournament could result in a number one seed at the College Championships. “Although there are four bids out of our region, we do not take a bid to Nationals lightly,” noted senior Captain of #1 seed Oregon Fugue, Lily Herd, “Our goal is to win this weekend so that we can go into Nationals with a high seeding.” There’s a lot of pride in winning the most prestigious region in Women’s Ultimate, so expect that to be on display in Eugene this weekend.

Here’s the seedings (by my estimate) and pools:

  1. Oregon (PC #1)
  2. British Columbia (PC #2)
  3. Washington (PC #3)
  4. Victoria (PC #4)
  5. Whitman (NW-III #1)
  6. Western Washington (PC #5)
  7. Pacific Lutheran (NW-III #2)
  8. Montana (SKY #1)

Pool A: Oregon, Victoria, Whitman, Montana

Pool B: British Columbia, Washington, Western Washington, Pacific Lutheran

Pool winners make the Final and lock up a bid. Second place in each pool gets you into a game to go, with the loser falling into another game to go. Every team is in the running Sunday.

Pool Play

Pool A

#1 overall seed Oregon Fugue may be the favorite going into Madison, should they qualify (I have to write that part). They won both Stanford Invite and Pres Day, losing only one game all season (8-12 to UBC).Their roster is, as usual, stacked like an All-Star team. Junior Sophie Darch’s handling, where she often makes dominating her matchup look effortless, anchors the offensive line, with the dynamic cutting of senior Kimber Coles and a number of tall and athletic downfield targets, like playmaking sophomore Bethany Kaylor. On defense, Skyd Five Callahan nominee senior Bailey Zahniser propels their D-line’s offense with her take-no-prisoners approach of throwing anything and everything. “We have a bit of our target on our backs, going into Regionals the #1 seed,” acknowledged Herd, with sophomore Jesse Shofner adding, “Every team is giving you their best. It’s fun.” They’re the type of team that imposes their will, their speedy disc movement and aggressive cutting capped off with monster spikes in the endzone. They will turn it, and the only way to beat them is to be efficient when they give you those opportunities, which is a lot easier to write than it is to do. They’ve taken on the personality of Coach Lou Burruss, meaning on the field, they are passionate, wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are fiercely loyal to one another, operating under their difficult-to-explain Clown Tent (SS) philosophy. When I asked Herd about Fugue’s attitude, she replied “Work hard, have fun.” She went on to explain about finding the balance between those two. Shofner spoke to the team’s bonds, saying “We love each other, and we’re all unified through our [Clown Tent].” When they are all clicking, they’re a whirling dervish of Ds, hucks, spikes, smiles, cheering, and they’re the best team in the country.

A smiling happy energetic Fugue is a dangerous Fugue

A smiling happy energetic Fugue is a dangerous Fugue

The Victoria Vixens are the upstart of this season, and a bit of a lightning rod. The drama comes from a team that traveled to just two tournaments – Santa Barbara Invite and Stanford Invite – and didn’t play again until the Series. Without competing outside of California, they piled up enough good results to be USAU’s 9th ranked team. Wins over UC-Santa Barbara, Sonoma State, and a beating on Stanford powered their rank. They only lost one game – a close one against Western Washington – before the Series. Makes sense people would have doubts. Once they arrived at Conference Championships, however, they kept pace with Oregon, Washington, and UBC, though they also edged Western Washington by just two, demonstrating they are no flash in the pan. Victoria plays a smart and very skilled game, with a number of throwing threats, ranging from the hucks of Jen Brown and Corrinne Dunwoody to the break work from Katie Hikida. Out of their ho stack, they are adept at using field space, opening up the field for those throwers to work with. With lower seeds gunning for them, Victoria can’t afford to give them opportunities.

The Whitman Lady Sweets are a team on the middle ground coming into Regionals. They lack marquee wins from their two tournament regular season, but beat solid teams, like Colorado College, Western Washington, and Texas A&M. However, of those three teams, they lost to the two they played more than once (CC and WW). Playing D-III in the first round of the Series, they rolled their competition, not telling us much. Jeremy Norden patrols the sideline for the Lady Sweets and Julia Bladin, a 2nd team All-Region selection last season, remains their go to option. They lost in the game to go last year, and could find themselves in the same situation this season.

Montana comes in as the final seed, having earned they way in with a win of their Conference. However, they have almost no reported results, giving us precious little information. Their 1-4 record from PLU BBQ, including a blowout loss to the host team, doesn’t bode well in such a hyper competitive Region; in 3 meetings with PLU, Whitman won each handily. Just putting up good scores will be a victory for a program looking to grow.

Pool B

The British Columbia Thunderbirds come in the second seed for the second year in a row. However, the past two years, they’ve played third fiddle to Oregon and Washington, and the subsequent College Championships performances (19th & 11th place) left them way behind their Northwest brethren. As one of the nation’s top ranked teams, the expectations are for this season to be different. “Washington is still a great team this year, but we have won against them more often than not,” stated senior Captain Rena Kawabata, adding, “And to have been the team that notched Oregon’s only loss this season says a lot about what we will be bringing to Regionals.” Of British Columbia’s five losses, only one has come from a team outside of the region: a 6-13 stumble against a white hot Wisconsin squad. They’re 3-1 against Washington, including two wins at CCs, and 1-3 against Oregon. It is setting up to be the year they break through, and the T-Bird women sense that, wanting more from themselves, Kawabata telling me, “No matter how many bids our region gets, our goal is always to take the 1st one. The fact that there are 4 is irrelevant. We will be playing to win Regionals and we will do whatever we need to do to make that happen.” Led by dynamite Skyd Five Callahan nominee Catherine Hui and fellow Traffic player Kawabata, as talented a duo as you’ll find in the college women’s game, UBC is a threat this year. They also return 2012 All-Region selection Crystal Koo, who does a lot of the heavy lifting behind the disc. “We are a receiver heavy team and we look to get the disc downfield as opposed to swinging to handlers,” noted Kawabata, referring to the extensive complement of tall, athletic, and experienced downfield players on their roster. A strong weekend at Regionals could prove crucial for their confidence and give a clue to how far they can go at the Championships.

UBC's Crystal Koo's handling abilities make her critical to the team's success

UBC’s Crystal Koo’s handling abilities make her critical to the team’s success

Washington Element comes into the weekend the three seed, but knowing they are still the country’s reigning champion and confident in their talent. Their regular season returns are actually a little underwhelming, with a 10-5 record that includes a blowout loss to Wisconsin and stumbles against British Columbia and UC-Santa Barbara. Their Series results also include losses to Oregon and UBC. They lost a lot of talent coming into the year in Leah Fury, Jillian Goodman, and Kristin Gruver, but also returned a loaded top end. Unfortunately, word is that Sarah “CO” Davis, the team’s Callahan nominee, will be missing the rest of the season with an injury. This’ll put more pressure on 2012 All-Region selection Amanda Kostic and cutters Shira Stern & Barb Hoover to lead their offensive line. Lucy Williams, 2012 All-Region selection Alysia Letourneau, and 2012 FOTY Sarah Edwards will hold things down on their talented defensive unit. Coach Kyle Weisbrod, in his first year with Element, has his work cut out for him with a teaming missing its star and losing the season series against their top rivals, but the talent and leadership of this team could push them to success.

Western Washington Chaos comes in very similar to Whitman – stuck in the middle ground. They’ve got a very solid resume, with wins over aforementioned Whitman, Texas A&M, Victoria, and Colorado College. At Champies, Chaos played tight games with UBC, Washington, and Victoria, indicating they may be closer to breaking through than their Pool A counterpart. The last close game is most notable, as they are gunning for the bid Victoria brought in. 2012 All-Region player Lindsey Miller returns, joining Riot’s Callie Mah (who would be a star at a more noted program) to form a very effective 1-2 punch. If they and some of their young talent are hitting the right notes, they could find themselves headed to Madison.

Pacific Lutheran, or PLU, comes into this weekend having lost just three sanctioned games on a fairly weak tournament docket. All three of those losses came at the hands of Whitman, all by a margin of nine or more. If PLU steps their game up this weekend, they can push one of the contenders, but otherwise, they may struggle against some of the game’s elite talent.

Predictions

Pool Play

Pool A: Oregon, Victoria, Whitman, Montana

Pool B: British Columbia, Washington, Western Washington, Pacific Lutheran

Championship

Oregon over British Columbia

Second Place Bracket

Washington over Victoria

British Columbia over Washington

Fourth Place Bracket

Whitman over Pacific Lutheran

Western Washington over Montana

Western Washington over Whitman

Victoria over Western Washington

Final Thoughts

These teams have mostly played each other over and over, giving us larger sample sizes to look at than is typical. That’s why it is hard to see this tournament having too many upsets. Particularly with the loss of Sarah Davis, I think it’ll be tough for Washington to usurp UBC and may leave them vulnerable to a hungry Victoria team, but ultimately, their embarrassment of riches wins out. While I think Western Washington can and will push these top four, I can’t take them over any of the other four.

Nexxgen Women’s Ultimate

Nexgen

The Nexgen Tour has emerged over the past two years as a household name in Ultimate. Aside from winning the Callahan, it might be the best way for Ultimate fans to find out who you are. Taking a cut of some of the best Open college players, Nexgen travels the country playing elite club teams, filming and streaming their games in high quality video. In order to make the team more fun for the fans and expose more players to the masses, they tend to pick from teams around the country. They also add an international player and usually someone from a smaller school who was maybe overlooked during the season.

What they don’t have is a Women’s tour. This isn’t really about that, because I’m not here for that argument. This is about, if they did – and I could totally see Without Limits joining forces with them to try and make this happen – who would be on it? Which 15 college women’s players have the skills, flair, and geographic distribution to form a badass team of collegiate superstars? Here’s my guess at it.

Claire Chastain, Nexgen tailor made, throwing a low release flick

Claire Chastain (UNC-Wilmington) – This was the first person I thought of. There’s some others – who will come later on the list – with arguments for the title, but she may very well be the most exciting player in Women’s college Ultimate. You never really know what’s going to happen when she’s got the disc or when it is in the air, headed in her direction. A full arsenal of the throws that make crowds go “Oooooh” and all the big layouts you could ask for. There’s a reason she was the only active college womens player invited to the Team USA World Games tryouts.

Paige Soper (Ohio State) – Coming off her huge breakout season last year, “Diddy”‘s legend has grown this season, culminating her Skyd 5 Callahan candidate selection. Hyper competitive, Diddy brings fire and intensity to the field. Her throws are textbook and she fears no team, matchup, or throwing situation. She’d make a great addition.

Magon Liu (Iowa State) – I’ve made pretty clear my fandom of Magon’s game. Whether it is on frozen fields with Iowa State at Midwest Throwdown, or in the wind and sun of Sarasota with CLX, Mags is a big play waiting to happen. Her layouts are the ones where you turn to someone on the sideline and go “I didn’t think she had any chance of getting to that.” She’s also got that trusty high release backhand. Yes, there’s definitely arguments for Becca Miller or Cami Nelson, but if you want to leave fans wide-eyed, I’m taking Mags.

Anna Reed, possible robot, with a dirty low release backhand

Anna Reed (Carleton) – There probably isn’t a more dominant handler in the college women’s scene right now than Anna Reed. With a nuclear-level flick bomb, she can essentially alter the field of play. She might be a robot – in which case, she might not be eligible – but she also just might be a total badass with a disc in her hand. A lot of Nexgen highlights could start her getting a great D, picking it up, and boosting it with gusto.

Lien Hoffman (Northwestern) – Aww man, those first steps are killer. With Anna Reed, Diddy, and company hucking to her, Lien might not be the most exciting player to watch, but that’s because her defender probably won’t be in the shot anymore. Batman-like disappearing abilities aside, Lien is a well rounded cutter, able to hurt you underneath too, and is more than willing to take on the opposition’s top cutter when coming down on the pull.

Michela Meister, alliteration inspiring beast, with an extension grab

Michela Meister (Stanford) – The Stanford Superfly superstar seemingly shows sensational skills…ok, alliteration be damned, this is who I’d pick to fight with Claire Chastain for “most exciting player”. And maybe Bailey Zahniser. But anyway, Michela is the “do everything” stud who would probably play everywhere on the field for the Nexgen ladies.

Shellie Cohen (North Carolina) – If you didn’t think Shellie would appear on this list, you’re probably a first time reader. Her play spoke pretty loud and clear at Nationals last year, and she continues her dominance this season. Her tall frame gives her some of the biggest throws in the country, and she’s just as capable of skying for the big backhand as she is putting it up. I’m also thinking she’d be pretty entertaining in front of the camera for nexgen’s segments between games.

Lane Siedor, versatile star of Georgia and Ozone, with a layout grab

Lane Siedor (Georgia) – Did someone order more tall handlers? Well, college handlers, anyway. Lane sees tons of touches in the middle of Georgia’s offense, scanning the field while her mark stalls away in vain. But when I saw her in Sarasota this past year playing for Ozone, she spent most of her time downfield, digging up discs before they hit grass with giant layouts. Poised veteran with the disc, big time playmaker without it.

India Stubbs (Harvard) – We need someone who hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure because their team isn’t on the National scene. Hello India Stubbs. She gives you the name recognition you’d like, carrying the Stubbs-gene, and she’s a very talented player whose experience playing on stud-filled teams (Junior Worlds, Bucket) would let her integrate quickly. You could also try Sasha Bugler from Maryland, who’s a confident break thrower that plays killer downfield defense, or if your heart is set on D3 (like Tommy Li), Claire Baecher from Williams is a hell of a player.

Catherine Hui, suspected teleporter, with a grab at Club Championships, as photographed by Brandon Wu

Catherine Hui (British Columbia) – She may very well be this year’s Callahan frontrunner. Frontrunner is a good term, too, because she’s usually running way out in front of her defender. I’m not sure if she is cutting or teleporting, leaving a comical trail of roadrunner dust in her wake. She was pegged by Skyd as one of the best targets at Nationals last year. No, not college nationals, club nationals. Yeah, she’ll be a highlight reel feature.

Fuguers (Oregon) – Maybe you’re wondering at this point “Uh, where are the players from last year’s college Final??” Well, it is their own fault there’s too many of them. Luckily, Nexgen takes two Oregon players, so we better too. Oregon alone brings Bailey Zahniser, Sophie ❤ Darch, Kimber Coles, Jesse Shofner, and Bethany Kaylor to the table. The first three in particular jump out to me and it is hard to pick two of them. Bailey’s Skyd 5 Callahan candidate selection and penchant to take super aggressive choices should get her a spot, and while my heart – anybody who knows me can attest – would choose Sophie a million times out of a million, Kimber’s fiery and confident style is the kind of personality and player that the Tour could use. Plus, she’s already traveled with them, helping out behind the scenes. Time to get in front of the camera, Kimber. Bailey Zahniser and Kimber Coles, folks.

Sarah Davis (Washington) – The woman known as “CO” is the Callahan nominee from the reigning champs, and their roster is stacked with exciting players. They have four U23 players (Davis, Shira Stern, Alysia Letourneau, and Amanda Kostic), plus Lucy Williams and Barb Hoover are extremely tough matchups. You could get into a bit of  Fugue-ish situation here, but CO is the pick, with her athleticism, pretty puts, and “do anything to get the disc” cutting.

Claudia Tajima, better known as Zilla, demonstrating why she is better known as Zilla

Claudia Tajima (Tufts) – You didn’t think I’d leave out the last Callahan frontrunner, did you? To be honest, I’m a bigger fan of Hailey Alm, and their teammate Emily Shields is pretty awesome, too, but if you want the type of plays that will make Tyler Kinley go “Let’s get another look at that,” then you want Tajima. Another fiercely competitive personality who fears no match up, Tajima has the puts and the defense to fill in nicely with this group.

We leave the final spot for the international choice.

Of course, there will be players I could have chosen, but didn’t. Chelsea Twohig, Sunny Harris, Becca Miller, Biz Cook, Alicia Thompson, and Meagan Cousins fans probably won’t be my friend anymore. But tell me you wouldn’t tune in to see if this squad could beat Fury or Riot?

Up Calls: Weekend Results, BVH on Ultimate’s identity, and U-23 teams

Most of the news comes from on the field, where it was a big weekend, so let’s jump to it:

  • Stanford Invite (Open) was the biggest show in town, and Oregon Ego was the last man standing, topping Carleton 15-11 and avenging their only loss on the weekend. Tufts had a breakout weekend, Texas A&M showed some potential to be elite, and Wisconsin and Pitt looked less than dominant. Texas, Arizona, and Central Florida all have to be heading home disappointed.
  • Not far behind, the smaller Stanford Invite (Women’s) did bring together the nation’s best from the left coast with some guests from elsewhere. Oregon Fugue wouldn’t be outshined by their male counterparts, making a late comeback in the final to beat Wisconsin 17-15. Wisconsin played party crasher with an amazing weekend, while UC-Santa Barbara and North Carolina performed below expectations.
  • Nashville also saw some nationals contenders slug it out for Music City Mash-Up (Women’s). Ohio State got some payback on Georgia for a pool play loss by beating them in the final to finish a strong weekend for both. The biggest surprise is Texas Melee winning just a single game. Florida also struggled to a D-II Championship.
  • In other results, Missouri wins Huck Funn (Open), Georgia wins Tally Classic (Open), NYU wins Delaware Classic (Women’s), and Florida State wins Tally Classic (Women’s).
  • Over on Skyd, Ben Van Heuvelen adds another two cents to the longstanding argument about how the changes in the Ultimate landscape threaten its identity.
  • After much handwringing on the part of the tryouts, USAU named their Open, Women’s and Mixed U-23 teams. Congratulations to those selected and many U-S-A chants to come!
  • USAU shows off their disc for this year’s college series.

Whew! Hopefully, this week we can take a more in depth look at the U-23 rosters and another look at the Women’s Southeast now that Music City and Tally are in the books.