SAGA is gone...who will take the Championship in their absence?
May 7, 2015 by George Ehrhardt in Preview with 11 comments
Disclosure: The author’s daughter will be playing for Green Hope at Southerns.
The big unknown at 2015 Southerns is how SAGA’s absence will play out. After winning the championship in 2013 and 2014, the North Carolina club team’s eligibility in the high school series expired and its players scattered to form four new high school teams, all of which will arrive in Winston-Salem hoping to pick up where SAGA left off. That will be easier said than done, though, because Paideia (Atlanta, #1 seed) and HB Woodlawn (Arlington, #2 seed) both come to Winston-Salem after big tournament wins, hoping to take the title back to their home state.
Seeding deeper than the top two must have been difficult, with so many new teams in attednance. In fact, of the twelve teams represented, at least six of them are in their first year of existence. The upside is that spectators should expect plenty of upsets and excitement.
With the twelve teams divided into four pools, pool play, pre-quarters, and quarters are scheduled for grueling day of ultimate on Saturday, with the top team in each pool having a bye in prequarters. The final two rounds for placing are scheduled for Sunday.
Paideia comes in as the unquestioned favorite. In addition to winning the Georgia state championship, they also took on heavyweight competition in their home tournament, defeating Midwestern powerhouse Holy Family Catholic (Cincinnati) and the Warhawks, an NC club team warming up for YCC in August. Now that the Warhawks players have split into their component schools for Southerns, Paideia should have even more of an edge. Expect Blackman and NCSSM to put up spirited fights, but it’s hard to see Groove getting derailed in pool play.
Senior captain Syd Taylor-Klaus has been crucial, making big plays when the team needed them. She is backed up by a hard-to-defeat combination of skill players like Ollie Peterson and athletes like Ellery Koelker-Wolfe.
In Pool A, the most important game might be between the other two teams, because the loser has to face off in pre-quarters against what is likely to be a very strong team coming out of Pool B in the second spot. The seeding gives Blackman High School a slight edge. In their third year of play, they’re looking forward to seeing how far they’ve come. The team is led by its hard working captains, handlers Sofia Lima and Dakota French.
The final team is Pool A is the new squad from North Carolina School for Science or Math. In the face of tough competition, they’ve recruited well and played all season with awesome spirit. SMUG has faced some injuries, but hopefully their main handlers MC Worthington and Sydney Rehder will keep the offense moving well.
If this were a World Cup, Pool B would be the Group of Death. Both the top two seeds in the pool have strong records, and this first round match-up promises to be the biggest battle of pool play. Don’t be surprised if the winner of that game makes it to the finals, but the loser faces the challenge of playing through the winner of Paideia’s pool to get there.
The #2 overall seed HB Woodlawn rolls into Winston-Salem planning on going all the way. Their victory at the YULA Invite set the stage for a successful season, finishing second at the Watchung Spring Fling after coming back from a 7-3 halftime deficit in semis. Probably seeded below Paideia by virtue of strength of schedule, look for them leave it all on the field as they try to reverse that.
Junior Maddy Boyle leads the offense from the handler spot, assisted by Olivia Prosak, and their ability to read the flow of the game keeps the offense moving. Freshman standouts Caroline Tornquist and Ella Juengst have emerged as dangerous downfield receivers and aggressive defenders.
Carrboro arrives determined to show that their seventh seed was a mistake. In their first season, the Koi are peaking at the right time, rising from a mid-tier finish in January’s Wolfpack Invite to a hard-fought victory in the North Carolina state championships. Between the Spring League in Raleigh and the NC tournament, they beat the other NC teams at Southerns twice, their only loss coming to a homeschool team from Western North Carolina in pool play.
Freshman handler Kate Lanier has stepped up into a leadership role that promises good things in the years to come, as well as a steady presence in the middle at Southerns. Ellen Yu, a crossover athlete from track and field, uses her size and speed to consistently get open deep.
The third team in the pool, Brookwood (Snellville, GA) is a new team, but one with tournament experience at Deep Freeze and Terminus, and a second place finish at the Georgia state tournament. Playing against top competition from around the Southern region should be a good test and help them take the next step as a program. Senior handlers Emily Ruengivivatpant and Katie Endicott facilitate the offence, with Sydney Tucker leading an exciting receiving corps and playing tough defense.
Chapel Hill East stands as the highest seeded of the four post-SAGA teams. In contrast to SAGA’s final year, Eclipse brings a young team, with 13 of its 15 members sophomores or freshmen. They have had a successful year, finishing in the top several teams of every tournament they entered. Young though they may be, head coach Josh Hertzog’s legacy of success with SAGA can’t be discounted.
Expect the team to be led by the two seniors. Handler Jane Carsey keeps the offense moving, while Katie Cubrilovic’s quickness and disc skills make her nearly impossible to cover.
Seeded 2nd in the pool is a new combo team of Yorktown and Washington-Lee High Schools (Arlington), the Y-Lee Coyotes. Unlike the new NC teams, most of the players are new too, but that didn’t stop them from doing well at the YULA invite or Watchung Spring Fling. Look for them to use their athleticism to try and jam up more experienced teams’ offenses. Sophomore captain Rachel Hess leads the handlers and isn’t afraid to air it out to her athletic receiving corps, led by cutter Katherine Sanz.
The final squad in the pool is Paideia’s JV team. They’ve come a long way this season, from getting blown out by University School Nashville early in the season to a gritty one-point loss at the Paideia Cup, and they look to keep up the intensity against the tough competition in Winston-Salem. Though young, their players have risen to the occasion, especially the way Maggie Aschmeyer has grown into the handler role and Bess Renjilian cutting downfield.
Aside from the HB Woodlawn-Carrboro matchup, Pool D might see the most drama on Saturday. As befits a 4th-5th seed matchup, the top two seeds look evenly matched, and the third seeded team has tournament wins on its resume, too, so it can’t be overlooked.
The University School Nashville comes in as the top team from Tennessee, after winning its state tournament handily. They also came in 3rd at Terminus and Deep Freeze, and at the Paideia Cup hung tough with a strong team from Holy Family Catholic. USN has its sights set on taking home the championship and showing that Tennessee’s growing ultimate scene can hold it’s own against the more well-known ones in Atlanta and Raleigh.
USN brings a veteran roster of mostly seniors to Southerns, led by handlers Metta Devine-Qin and Hannah Aaron throwing to big play receivers Annie Wiemerskirch and Carson Thomas.
The last of the four NC teams is Green Hope (Cary). The new squad started on a high note, winning the Wolfpack Invite in January, and beating Chapel Hill East in Raleigh area league play. Part of their success stems from the new schemes that coach Mike Shyu has implemented, and it will be interesting to see how the strategy fares against top competition from elsewhere in the region
Senior Allison Bashford is the heart and soul of the Titans of Mischief, giving 100% on offence and defense every point. Cutter Kathy Liu is a feature of the downfield offense, capable of getting open under, but always looking for the big gain.
Grady High School arrives from Atlanta with a large team for one only two years old. On offense, sophomore Georgia Smith is having a breakout season, and look for her to throw assists to Sally Cummings and Eavan Hendry.
2015 Southerns and Girls HS Ultimate
The array of new teams makes the brackets hard to predict, but it also has to be seen as a success for USAU’s development strategy. Allowing SAGA to play as a club team for two years built a core of committed, experienced players; forcing the team to disband may have upset some, but by pushing them out into their own schools to recruit new players, the number of area teams literally grew fourfold. Allowing the Y-Lee combo team looks like the same strategy, and hopefully it will follow the same trajectory. The next question for the region is how to expand girls HS ultimate beyond the four core cities represented in Winston-Salem this weekend.
Whatever the future holds, 2015 Southerns should see plenty of spirited and exciting action between the top girls teams of the Southeast.