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.

Women’s Bidwatch: #Bidwatch Bloodbath

The dust has settled after Centex, where many of the nation’s top teams went toe to toe, with lots of bids on the line. There are no major tournaments on the Women’s side before the Series, so while there may be a little movement, this is essentially the final bid picture. In the last rankings, which I didn’t do a write up for, Stanford moved up from the SW and took a bid out of the hands of Iowa State. Iowa State won Centex, so you can bet they are moving up. Who else went where? Let’s look at the Top 25.

3-27-WomensRankings

The big mover here is Iowa State, and rightfully so. I understand how their previous record pushed them lower, but it was clear they were way better than that number. Their (second consecutive) Centex Championship included wins over the #2, #3, and #4 team in the country and only one loss, to that same #4 team. They move up 12 spots to #8. UNC-Wilmington moves up 10 spots, scoring their second marquee win of the season by beating Ohio State in round one. Their Michigan win also looks a little better now. They’d add wins over Santa Barbara and Northeastern and good, close losses to Iowa State and Wisconsin in their 3-4 weekend. That leaves them just two spots outside of the bid picture (Bowdoin only has 6 games, would need 10 to qualify) behind Florida State. Tufts, North Carolina, and Michigan also move up.

Colorado takes an important fall out of the top 20, after going 2-5 at Centex. Their blowout losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota and solid loss to North Carolina didn’t help. Wisconsin only lost 98 points, but move down 4 spots to #12, after a 3-4 weekend in Austin. Whitman takes an 11 spot drop out of the Top 20, despite going 4-2. They could have used a marquee win, but their loss to Texas took away some of their opportunity. Florida State loses just 12 points, but moves three spots down (two if you don’t count Bowdoin), the difference between a strength bid and not.

#Bidwatch

I’ll list the total number of bids, list every team that is holding a bid, and italicize the autobid team, to give you a more complete picture:

  • AC (1): #13 Virginia
  • GL (1): #23 Michigan
  • ME (1): #48 Ottawa
  • NE (2): #4 Tufts, #17 Northeastern
  • NC (5): #2 Carleton, #6 Iowa, #8 Iowa State, #11 Minnesota, #12 Wisconsin
  • NW (4): #1 Oregon, #5 British Columbia, #7 Washington, #9 Victoria
  • OV (1): #3 Ohio State
  • SC (1): #24 Colorado
  • SE (2): #1 Georgia, #15 Central Florida
  • SW (2): #14 UC-Santa Barbara, #16 Stanford

The North Central takes back its fifth bid, the Northwest gives up its fifth bid. The Southeast gives up a bid while New England takes one. As noted earlier, the Southwest took a bid in last week’s rankings, which I didn’t write about. This gives us 3 two bid regions, 1 four bid region, and 1 five bid region. Man, the results are really close. #17 Northeastern is sitting on the final strength bid with 1824 points. Florida State is next eligible in line, with 1817 points. UNC-Wilmington has 1814. Those are all very close numbers, and scoring an extra couple of points in a game could have been all the difference for any of these three teams.

Iowa State’s big jump doesn’t help many teams, as they had only lost three games all year (to Northwestern, Ohio State, and Minnesota). Tufts’s only losses are to UNC, Iowa, and Iowa State, which did help UNC stay close in the rankings (just behind UNC-W). Basically, with no major moves, few teams really helped or hurt each other. Colorado’s fall didn’t help North Carolina, I guess.

All in all, it came down to who was winning games. Around this time, each year, conversation begins about what should merit a bid, and it often comes down to which is more important: Strength of Schedule or Wins/Losses. The USAU dictates who gets the bids, so the teams have to find the best balance they can. The USAU’s math should also seek to create a good balance between these two, but there will also be some who disagree. Teams also have to worry about getting experience so their team is best prepared for the Series. Sometimes, you have to play good teams and take lumps to do it. It is very hard to discover where the line is that you want to walk, let alone to walk on it by getting the results you want.

Take a look at five teams who show the differences in these ideas. Victoria and Northeastern have weaker schedules, but better winning percentages. UNC-Wilmington and North Carolina have stronger schedules but lower winning percentages. Florida State falls somewhere in between on these concepts. Victoria, for example, has 10 games total, including: 13-8 vs. UCSB, 11-3 vs. Stanford, and 7-6 vs. Sonoma. They have blowout wins over lesser teams and a single loss, by one point, to Western Washington. That huge margin of victory against Stanford is a significant buoy for them, but they have only a few games vs. high level competition, yet sit at #9 in USAU’s rankings. UNC is 9-12 on the year, including: 11-10 vs. Virginia, 15-13 vs. Ohio State, 13-10 vs. Northeastern, 9-6 vs. UCSB, and 12-10 vs. Michigan. They do have two losses to Pittsburgh, albeit close, and one bad loss to Michigan. Their resume has a lot of red in it, but most of it close games against strong competition. The story is the same for Northeastern and UNC-Wilmington. Florida State is 18-8, attending Florida Winter Classic, QCTU, their hometown Tally Classic, and Centex’s D-II. Their losses to lower tier teams at Centex in UCLA and Colorado College really make a big difference for them, as does a 6-10 loss to Northeastern at QCTU.

With so little left on the docket, this is mostly how the bid picture will be shaped. The Series is going to be very exciting. The Atlantic Coast has three strong teams fighting for one bid. The Southeast has three fighting for two bids. The North Central got all five bids they need, or else it would have gotten very crazy. Pittsburgh in the Ohio Valley, California and Sonoma State in the Southwest, Northwestern and Texas in the South Central, and Dartmouth in New England can all challenge current bidholders for the ticket to the Championships. Will anybody step back up to Michigan in the Great Lakes? Will it be Ottawa or NYU or someone else in the ME? It’ll be interesting to watch, no matter how you slice it.