May 20, 2015 by Keith Raynor and Katie Raynolds in Preview with 1 comments
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A compelling pool with at least two true title contenders, Pool B will be treacherous for every team in it. Here’s a look at the teams.
#1 Stanford Superfly
Since the disappointment of the 2014 College Championships, Stanford Superfly has won the breakup. They’re returning to nationals stronger, smarter, and better. They’re not strangers to the big games, and they’re hoping to reach the biggest game this weekend.
The secrets of a team’s success often boil down to keywords: for Oregon, it’s coaching and physicality. For Ohio State last season, it was relentless discipline, and Central Florida had their zone and swagger. This year, Stanford’s secret may be their execution. Stanford’s playbook has been the same all season: Monisha White is one of the most distinctive handlers in the division this season, and everyone knows when she has the disc. Joined by Callahan nominee and throwing phenom Steph Lim, Stanford’s backfield is composed, experienced, and ready to crank through any defense teams throw. Their height downfield is well known by now, but teams still aren’t able to contain Michela Meister, rookie Courtney Gegg, or Halsey Hoster.
With a very real chance at the semifinals, Superfly’s job on Friday and Saturday is to play conservative yet controlling games. Injuries hampered their success at Northwest Challenge, and they can’t afford to lose key players during pool play. If they can keep Hoster and Gegg in one piece Their person defense embarrasses teams, and efficiency will win them their Friday versus Middlebury and Dartmouth.
Their real challenge will be Washington Element on Saturday, a team hell bent on claiming the throne. Element knows the Stanford strategy, and they will bring specific weapons to this fight. But Stanford has thrived on consistency, mental strength, and power for months now. They aren’t the team they were last year.
Before the season even began, there were rumblings that Dartmouth would be good this year. They had picked up young talent like U19 star Juliana Werfelli, and veterans like Eva Petzinger and Angela Zhu were promising to bloom into big time playmakers. Last year they barely missed the show, taking 3rd in the region and watching nationals unfold from their couches at home.
This year, as the two seed in Pool B and the 7th seed overall, they’re putting on the show. Their 6-5 regular season record says more about the unusual structure of their season than it does about their consistency as a team. When the team locks in, they can execute.
If you ask Princess Layout about their seeding, they will likely mimic their reaction to Regionals: “What? We’re the two seed?” If you ask them to muse on facing their neighbors Middlebury again in Pool B, count on the joke: “Oh, you mean the one seed?” Every team this season has been the one seed for Princess Layout. Because if every team is the one seed, nobody is the one seed. Just like when when everyone is super, nobody is.
Dartmouth takes this approach seriously. Even situated as one of the top teams in the country, their captains still remember losing to Middlebury two years ago in the Regional semifinals. They had been plotting two moves ahead, already thinking about the final, and instead they never got there. Princess Layout won’t make the same mistake again. They let coach Eugene Yum worry about preparing for opponents; they show up and play as hard as they can.
One team Dartmouth should perhaps worry about is the criminally under seeded UW Element. Element, whose seeding was lowered due to those pesky meddling Sweets, has a head-to-head on the board over Dartmouth, a healthy 15-12 NW Challenge win. Dartmouth might as well have targets sublimated to their jerseys, and they will have to crank up their defensive pressure to protect their seed.
#11 Washington Element
Prior to Northwest Regionals, it was logical to lump Washington in to the “almost, but not quite” category of contenders. They had taken down Colorado, Whitman, and weakened Virginia and Stanford teams, but also been run off the road by the division’s upper echelon like Oregon, British Columbia, and full-strength Stanford. But their Regional Championship tournament changed their season and it remains to be seen if it’s for better or for worse.
Element finally broke through their glass ceiling, but it couldn’t save them from falling to the 11th overall seed, putting them on the third row of their pool. While a Saturday loss to Western Washington is enough to unnerve a bettor, it was their loss to Whitman in bracket play that kicked them into their double digit seed. But it’s their Saturday win over Oregon – a great bounce back after losing to WWU – that could prove most important. Along with a one point loss to British Columbia, the victory stands as a marker that Element is a real threat to rise to the top. They’re potentially a one seed in a third seed’s clothing.
Their hopes for a fourth straight season reaching the quarterfinals or further rest on finding a balance between their talent and their system. That requires buy-in, something Element has in spades.
“We buy into our systems, move the disc quickly, and play gritty defense,” said Washington captain Cami Canter. “Ultimately, our system is built on trust, communication, and movement.”
Their offense is, at it has been in its past, best when the disc is pinging around rapidly until a big break side gainer or huck opens up. It has been grad student transfer Emma Kahle that’s releasing many of those throws and her ability to open up the field triggers their offense. Kahle’s influence is big enough to make her a Player of the Year quality star. While her targets vary, fellow grad student transfer Tess Young is the most frequent recipient, a threat to catch the most goals of anyone in Milwaukee.
Defensively, Canter’s description of gritty is apt. Lauren Sadler – yet another grad student transfer – is an elite defensive playmaker. Young is a run through D machine and Element has a stable of intelligent and hardworking defenders and schemes to frustrate opponents. What may spark their defense’s ability to generate breaks is the return to form of senior Sarah Edwards, who missed most of the spring.
“[She] is a firecracker,” said Canter of her senior teammate. “She has the ability to absolutely take over and when she does, it’s amazing.”
With Edwards adding additional explosiveness to a deep team, Washington cannot be treated like a bottom half team. They are 1-1 against Stanford and have a win over Dartmouth this season, plus plenty of motivation against an Ohio State team that ended their season in 2014. It is likely we’ll see them turning to what was so effective last year: wearing team’s down with depth and defensive tenacity in the first half and, once they’ve done so, snapping them in the second half.
“When we play our best, we set the pace,” said Canter. Their pace can be brutal and effective and their ability to play their game – to buy-in – through adversity will likely define their nationals.
#13 Ohio State Fever
There’s no way around comparing Ohio State Fever to their historic national champion predecessors. They know it. We know it. There’s no point in pretending.
“This year definitely has a different feel,” said Ohio State captain Jenna Galletta. “Last year we had an incredible season. We came into Nationals wanting to win it all and also we came in knowing that we could win it all.”
The run Fever put together in 2014 will go down as a great, but that’s behind them now. Fortunately for Fever, they are ok with that. Defeating their past would be even harder than defeating the foes they’ll face in the future. “This year definitely has that underdog vibe, but I think that gives us some extra drive to show what we’re made of,” added Galletta.
A resume check confirms their status. They are 6-4 against the field, but removing their trio of Ws against 19th seeded Texas and they have played below .500 ultimate. OSU’s schedule reads like a who’s who of near misses and game to go losers: wins against Wisconsin and Michigan with losses to Tufts and Georgia. Their biggest victory is a one point game against UCLA. What’s missing is elite competition and games against the teams in their pool.
“This year is we really haven’t gone head to head with very many west coast teams,” noted Galletta, whose team has not played a single team scheduled to play them Friday and Saturday. “This year we will definitely have to focus on being able to adapt to different styles of play.”
Their roster and team intelligence does grant them malleability. The three headed coaching staff of the famous DeAnna Ball, Brent Reeb, and Nick Hamilton excel at managing attitudes and forging focus. Star Stephanie Miller, along with Katie Backus and Catelyn Ramsey, all can play multiple roles, even if the former mostly handles and the latter mostly cuts. Galletta fills her role as deep thrower and field general admirably and the team has a full array of sizable athletic threats to throw out line after line. The return of freshman Sadie Jezierski, however, gives the team an element of unpredictability that few teams will be prepared for.
Ohio State is striving to keep what they can the same from last year. The team has not shown the ability to dictate game flow – and resist the attempts of the opposition to claim tempo – that made them so successful in Cincinnati. They are without the superstars or regular season acumen that characterized their run.
“Good energy and focus. We’ve got some early games and we’ll need to be full throttle right from the beginning. And dance parties, definitely gonna need some good dance parties,” said Galletta. They still have strong leaders, strong culture, and the lessons of last year to live by.
#18 Middlebury Lady Pranksters
“Making it to a certain point isn’t really our goal,” says captain Aly Fassett-Carman, “Our goal is to play as well as we can. I think we can surprise teams because nobody really saw us coming to Nationals in the first place.”
Have fun. Make some noise. Surprise a few teams. The Lady Pranksters’ goals for nationals are simple, and likely too easy for them to accomplish given their record this season. They come into the tournament as one of the least bloodied teams: they only lost once to Georgia and twice to Dartmouth during the regular season. They also made plenty of noise, becoming the story of the weekend at I-85 Rodeo.
Dartmouth, their New England partners in crime, call the Lady Pranksters “surprisingly determined.”
“They’re the strongest willed team, willing to grind out games until the very end,” the Dartmouth captains agreed. “They’ll put their bodies on the line for the game.” Scrappy play, abetted by Fassett-Carman’s strong backfield and Grace Benz’ cutting, will earn the Lady Pranksters points this weekend, even if it’s not enough to close out their pool play games.