March 26, 2016 by Katie Raynolds in Recap with 7 comments
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SEATTLE — Day One of the NW Challenge featured something many tournaments this year didn’t: good weather. With dry skies and some fickle sunshine, the division’s top teams were finally able to face each other and actually play ultimate.
Today teams from Pool A and B played 10 games, including a showcase game between Oregon and Washington which Ultiworld livestreamed. With no uncontrollables influencing play (besides a stolen Oregon van), the day went entirely to chalk.
The Comeback Kids From PA
Pittsburgh walked into their second game off a disheartening second half in which Stanford outscored them 11-2. Western earned a healthy lead in the first half 7-4, and out of half they doubled down and build an 11-6 margin. They ate away shots for lunch: Abbie Abramovich cast a looming shadow in the endzone, and Western shot at her and Jendy Edgerton again and again. They were almost always open; and they almost always scored.
Pittsburgh looked uncertain when captain and star Carolyn Normile wasn’t on the field. They could still score, but their choices were riskier and the pace slowed. When they were behind by five – a margin with “game over” spelled all over it – Pitt rallied. They held, and then opened fire.
Western Washington can be fast, strong, and skilled, but they’re not quick. And when Pitt is at their most dangerous – if you will – they are moving the disc quickly with low stall counts and smart deep shots. Normile and fellow captain Vaughan Skinker amped up the pace, and burned through a WWU defense on their heels. Pitt broke three times in a row to close their margin, 11-12.
WWU kept shooting and reached the doorstop 14-11. But Pitt wasn’t done. While the sidelines argued about cap timing, Pitt punished Chaos’s frequent away turns and critical drops, clawing their way back into the game with three breaks to tie the game and force double game point. After a Western turnover, a Normile huck landed Pitt on the goal line and Katerina Pagano caught the gamewinner to seal the comeback victory, 15-14.
Behold the Bidwatch
With most of the division’s upper crust making up the bulk of the field, bid fever isn’t quite as infectious at Northwest Challenge as it is as some other major events. However, since it is only a week before the regular season wraps up, desperation is setting in. Let’s look at the four teams that could make for big changes comes next Wednesday.
Western Washington (USAU: #18, 1808 points) is the lone true bubble team at the tournament. Currently, they do hold onto a fourth bid for the Northwest. With the #1, #3, and #10 ranked teams in their pool, there were and are plenty of points up for grabs. An 0-2 Friday, including blowing a 14-11 score against Pittsburgh, won’t strengthen their resume. A strong weekend, however, should solidify the Northwest against late pushes attempt to raid their bid coffers.
UC-Davis (USAU: #15, 1849 points) may be in Tier 2 – which is unfortunate, as the tournament failed to find another Tier 1 team to keep the pools even – and thus has a lot to lose and little to gain in pool play. They have to keep the blowout scores coming just to avoid losing points since every team is 600+ points behind them. But should they get their crossover shots, they could help shift some points to the west coast…or give them up, and hurt teams like WWU, who beat them earlier this year.
Dartmouth (USAU: #40, 1480 points) is pretty far out of the bid picture right now, but if they perform as preseason projections indicated, they could really make a huge impact on landscape. For one, a majority of their games from the regular season will be at this tournament, giving them some larger weights. Secondly, they provide a direct connection to the teams from QCTU, meaning as Dartmouth nabs points, they help teams like Colorado College (USAU: 17) and Maryland (USAU: 27).
Victoria (USAU: #31, 1654 points) offers a connection to both Davis and UC-San Diego (USAU: 19), and could potentially hail mary themselves into contention with some big upsets. Getting blown out by Stanford – just barely past the 600 point threshold – is a wasted opportunity, but losing to UBC 15-10 won’t be a bad look. While the Vixens’ chances aren’t great, many of their earlier games are going to end up thrown out and a majority of their resume will be composed of their NWC performance, making this weekend a unique platform.
Stanford’s Defensive Clinic
Stanford’s day started with an 11-2 run on Pittsburgh to win, and it ended on a 15-1 romping of the Victoria Vixens. In both games they submitted the textbook defense we’ve come to expect from Superfly. Everyone downfield has their head on a swivel and as a result their catch blocks seemed to outrank their endzone saves or forced errors. Add a dominant Courtney Gegg and Anne Rempel to the mix, and Stanford rolled.
Against Pitt, after a slow start, Superfly found a groove. Rempel took on Carolyn Normile and used her length to challenge the Danger star’s deep looks; Gegg drew in with Linda Norse and challenged her downfield. Versus Victoria, Stanford’s marks ratcheted up the pressure by denying early stall count looks, setting up downfield defenders for run through Ds when throwers had to desperately look to third or fourth options.
Losing two of the division’s premier defenders – Steph Lim and Michela Meister – in the offseason didn’t seem to dent the defensive prowess of Superfly. From top to bottom, Stanford’s stars and role players won their matchups consistently. The day was the most impressive performance on D we saw this season.
“Real” Dartmouth Debut Postponed
If you thought we’d get to see the full cast of Princess Layout this weekend, you’re in for some disappointment. The New Hampshire team is still riddled with injuries, with no less than four key players unable to compete Friday. Chief among those was Jaclyn Verzuh, the insanely talented freshman prodigy that was supposed to help propel them into the elite tier. But Piper Curtis, Jaquille Jones, and Carolyn Sussman were all sidelined today, forcing Dartmouth to continue to lean heavily on a young bench and the backfield play of Julianna Werffeli and Angela Zhu.
Its a lot to ask such a young and unseasoned team to go toe to toe and pound for pound with some of the hardest hitting teams in the country. Whitman took control of their matchup with a 4-0 run out of half to stretch the lead to 12-7 and some big plays for breaks were too little, too late for Dartmouth to get back in; they succumbed 15-11. With tests against Stanford and Washington looming, Dartmouth will need to either find a miracle man – and don’t rush him, or they’ll get lousy miracles – or step it up.
We all know the marquee names for these cream of the crop teams, but several less-hyped players had excellent Fridays:
Michelle McGhee (Stanford) — McGhee didn’t see a lot of field time last season, yet she was everywhere today for Stanford: run-through Ds, backhand breaks, endzone plays, you name it. She had a few raw moments, but was a breakout player on the day.
Linda Morse (Pittsburgh) — Morse is the perfect counterpart for Normile’s deep range of throws. She can shade under and to the breakside for inside looks, she can break deep for full field hucks, or she can drop back to handle in zone.
Ella Hansen (Oregon) — Hansen is not a low-profile player for Oregon, but with Wahlroos and Ode out she had the opportunity to step into bigger shoes during the showcase game, and she took it. Not only was Hansen a staple in Fugue’s backfield, but she defended the Oregon endzone twice and had a high impact run-through D.
Cami Canter (Washingt0n) — As a hard-moving handler for Element, Canter was the driving force of their best offensive possessions today. She understands what her offense is trying to accomplish and the spaces to attack, crucial in their small-space backfield focused offense.