Friday, October 17, 2008

College Ultimate

If you're reading this blog, I'm going to assume you are aware of the Conference 1 (C1) controversy that Cultimate started by announcing its plans to run a college national championship separate from the UPA college series.

Since the story broke a week ago, there has been a flurry of posting on and UltimateTalk about the implications of C1. I've had numerous people ask me my opinion about Cultimate's plan, both from the perspective of someone who's running for the UPA board of directors and as someone who cares deeply about women's college ultimate. It's rather hard to determine a definitive "stance" on C1 as there are a lot of unknowns. Cultimate has not publicly released details on its full plans for the college season, the details it has published on C1 still leave many questions unanswered, and discussions between the UPA and Cultimate are not over.

Even with all that uncertainty, there are a few things I know for certain:
  1. Over-hauling the college season is a good thing. Not throwing it into chaos, mind you, but re-designing the college season. This is something that the membership overwhelmingly called for in the UPA's strategic planning initiative and in online forums. It is also something that the UPA has made a priority (even before C1 emerged on the scene). I am strongly in favor of restructuring the college season to help address some of its current problems. As I see it, those problems include a lack of a meaningful and coherent regular season, poor distribution of bids to the championship tournament (e.g. calculating strength wildcards solely on the previous year's performances), huge disparity gaps between teams that must play each other at Sectionals, and geographic problems with the way teams are distributed in sections and regions. C1 has clearly been designed to try and solve many of these problems. Any over-haul of college ultimate needs to address these issues.
  2. There should only be ONE umbrella system for college ultimate. Players and teams should not have to choose between signing up with either the UPA or Cultimate to play out their college seasons. I know that both Cultimate and the UPA are looking into finding common ground for a plan that both parties can get behind. Their joint statement mentions the importance of an undivided championship and I don't think it can be stressed enough. From my personal communication with certain Cultimate employees and the UPA board of directors members, I think collaboration is possible. I also believe that stakeholders should be pressuring both Cultimate and the UPA to work together on this. The captains of teams invited to C1 are in communication, and I hope that they use their leverage to really push for a joint venture between the UPA and Cultimate. As should the general membership. It truly is in the best interest of everyone for there to be one college system.
  3. No team should be excluded from a shot at the title. While there have been certainly been dynasties like Stanford Superfly, there is actually a tremendous amount of flux among the top teams in the college division. In the past 10 years since the regional re-draw, a total of 55 different schools have been represented at the college championships in the women's division. Multiple teams have made it all the way to finals in their first appearance at the championships. That's a lot of turnover from year to year, suggesting that it is important for all teams (regardless of previous history) to have a shot at making it to the championship event in any given season. I think that different levels of play (e.g. Div I and Div II or a modified C1 and C2) are definitely appropriate for college ultimate as a way to both encourage growth of newer teams and to increase the level of play for high-level teams, but the dividing lines should be cross-able. No team should be excluded from a fighting chance at the start of the season unless it wants to be.
  4. The open and women's division should have the same structure. There are obvious differences in the number and distribution of open and women's teams in college. That doesn't mean that the competitive systems designed for the two divisions should be drastically different. Ideally, a new structure for the college division has the capacity to handle expanding numbers as more teams form around the country. That structure should thus be able to accomodate the different numbers of teams in the women's and open division. I'm certainly a proponent of regions being drawn differently for different situations (e.g. regions in densely populated areas like New England must be drawn-up differently than in more sparsely populated areas like Arizona), but the competitive structure of what it is required for a season should not differ on account of gender.
I'm excited for change coming to college ultimate and I know that the people at Cultimate and the UPA are too. I sincerely hope that they are able to build off of the common ground they share and build a new future that helps push the division forward.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Women's Worlds

With all the talk about Worlds and the state of ultimate around the globe, there’s been surprisingly little discussion about the women’s division. Without a doubt, women’s ultimate is growing around the world with more people playing and with more teams competing at a higher level. WUGC 2008 was a testament to that growth. Of the fifteen countries represented, three had not sent teams to the last WUGC in Finland four years ago. Additionally, the caliber of play showcased athletes and teams that were quite talented—I would say that the top nine teams were better than the top nine teams at the UPA Club Championships, easily making this THE most competitive tournament around.

I wanted to make sure that the teams playing their hearts out this past week got some press, so here is a bit about each of the fourteen other women’s teams at Worlds. First, the teams the USA didn't play, then the teams we played in pool play, then the teams we played in bracket play.

Teams the USA Didn’t Play:

France – Props to the French women for making the trip half way across the world, especially considering the country didn’t send teams for every division (notably absent: a French open team). I didn’t get to watch these women play at all during the tournament, but they played incredibly tight games against both Colombia and Ireland. I will say that their blue and white warm-up jackets were hot commodities at trade night and I wasn’t lucky enough to score one.

Sweden – I remember playing a tight game against Sweden four years ago in Finland, so I was surprised to see the team’s results this year. The team seemed quite young compared to four years ago, so perhaps the country is in the process of passing the torch from a veteran crew to the younger leaders. Given that the Swedish open team also seems less competitive now than it was in the past, I wonder how ultimate is faring in Sweden in general these days. Hopefully all the new opportunities for international play in Europe will help the Swedish ultimate scene grow as well.

Colombia – The Colombian team was able to pick up Miranda Roth as one of its community player additions, although she was sidelined for much of the tournament with a slipped disc back injury. Ultimate in Colombia has grown by leaps and bounds recently, and the team was filled with athletic women coming from five different club teams, all willing to lay it on the line for their country. The team’s fast paced style helped them earn a surprise finish in the quarterfinals by beating Finland in a crossover game. Not bad for a team’s first appearance at a WUGC event! With the strength of the girls’ junior program, expect to see more good things from this team in the future…

Great Britain – Fury was lucky enough to play GB at CalStates back in June on the team’s North American tour, and they provided our closest game of that tournament. With solid handling and great receivers, GB has a pretty patient offense that allows its downfield cutters to get open for big yardage gaining cuts. The number of women who routinely make huge bids and athletic plays on the disc for this team is impressive—one of the more athletic teams at the tournament from top to bottom, I would say. Although losing in quarterfinals with three chances at game point must be terribly disappointing, the team has made huge strides in its cohesion and overall skill level from four years ago, aided in part by the creation of a British elite women’s league. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team wins Europeans this year.

Teams from Pool Play:

Mexico – this was the first year that Mexico sent a team to WUGC and I’m glad that Worlds was geographically close enough to enable the team to attend. The Mexican ultimate scene is still just getting off the ground, and the team benefited from picking-up two Texan players from the club team Showdown (Naz and Amanda Berens) to help boost their roster size and add some on-the-field leadership. Not as many women play athletics in Mexico as in many other countries, so the Mexican ultimate team included a number of women who had never played sports before finding ultimate. This is also the case for many women discovering ultimate for the first time at college in the U.S., and I’m always happy to hear of ultimate providing an athletic outlet for women that had never had any experience with sports before. The Mexicans had a number of handlers with solid disc skills and I can’t wait to see how far their team will progress in four years.

Switzerland – we had watched some game footage from 2007 Europeans of the Switzerland squad (where the Swiss took 3rd place) as preparation for our pool play game against them, and this team has a number of skilled players. Primarily playing a spread/horizontal stack offense, the team utilized break mark throws for big yard gainers and was not afraid to look deep—setting up most of their goals against us with long forehands. This team also won the Spirit Award for the tournament, a much deserved prize given what a pleasure the team was to play against. The team combined their competitive drive with a clear love of the game.

Ireland – Fury had played against the Irish women four years ago at the 2004 WUGC in Finland, so I can attest first hand to how much better the team is now. Four years ago, the Irish were best remembered for their youth, cheers, and winning the Spirit Award. Now, that team has matured into a squad that can consistently score points against the best teams in the world. Our 17-7 score against them this year felt like a completely different game than the 17-1 match we had in Finland. Benefiting from a coach (Lucy Barnes, formerly of Brute Squad) and the luxury of try-outs and regular training sessions, this team now takes itself seriously. Hopefully the women’s scene in the country continues to expand and get better in the coming years.

Italy – We have a player on loan from the Italians, and it was great to be able to show them how valuable Manu Argilli is to our team. The Italian team this year was significantly younger than the team was four years ago, but the squad benefited from its first coach and all 17 players worked hard for the game they obviously love. In our post-game huddle, the Italians passed out fliers for Paganello and their beaming smiles while talking about the infamous beach tournament makes me want to save up for the trip more than ever.

New Zealand – I was surprised to learn that the last time New Zealand sent a team to the WUGC was in 1994. As a result of lack of recent international results, the team was seeded towards the bottom of the draw, so they made quite a splash by going all the way to the quarterfinals. The team ran a German-iso-type offense with three handlers across, one isolated cutter in the middle of the field, and three other cutters positioned across the field further away. What made this offensive set work for the team was the strength of its handlers’ break mark throws. USA’s marks were challenged so much by New Zealand’s yard-gaining inside-out and around breaks that we had to make a number of defensive adjustments during the game to try and contain their throwers. I also have to say that our post-game huddle and games with the Kiwis were top notch.

Finland – After winning Europeans last year and earning the silver at the 2004 WUGC, we knew that the Finns would be formidable opponents. We didn’t have much opportunity to scout them before our game on Monday, so we had to adjust our match-ups and defensive schemes throughout the game—a tactic that could have served to keep them off-balance as we were constantly changing our D. This team has some of the most precise deep throwers I’ve played against—a deadly combination when you figure that they also have a bevy of tall, athletic receivers. Running a horizontal stack, the Finnish downfield cutters seemed to have endless space to work with, putting a lot of pressure on one-on-one defensive assignments. I know that the Finns were disappointed with their performance against us, but I was truly shocked that the team didn’t make the quarterfinals. I thought the skill on the team was easily on the caliber of teams that have made the semifinals of the UPA Championships in the past. I guess it’s a testament to the level of play at the tournament that such a talented team was squeezed out of the top eight.

Australia – Fury had the pleasure of playing the Aussies in an exhibition match before Worlds began, making them one of the few teams at the tournament that we knew our match-ups for ahead of time. Another tall team that runs extremely hard, Australia had a number of offensive weapons that were difficult to contain. Defensively, the team’s 1-3-3 or “Puppy” zone caused problems for teams and guaranteed a few turnovers a game for the Aussies. This was a good example of a defense resting on the shoulders of personnel, as the main marker in the zone had a smothering, aggressive mark that was very difficult to break once it was set. Another thing that really struck me about this team was its perseverance through an entire game. They really never let up and managed to have come from behind wins on double game point against both Zeitgeist and Riot in their pre-Worlds tour and against Great Britain in the quarterfinals in Vancouver. Those victories show an impressive amount of heart and desire that is even more amazing considering the team was a national team that had a limited time playing together before Worlds.

Teams from Bracket Play:

Germany (Quarterfinals) – The team’s statistics showed that a few players on Germany bore the brunt of the workload for this team, and those players were quite good. The term “workhorse” instantly comes to mind in describing their cutters—always on the move attacking space after space for the entire possession. Combine that cutting ethic with quick disc movement by the handlers, and you have a formidable offense to contend with. Our quarterfinals game was a bit lopsided against them as their defense wasn’t able to generate many turnovers against us, but they challenged the Canadians earlier in the week and definitely deserved their quarterfinal berth.

Canada (Semifinals) – After being Regional rivals with the Vancouver women forever, Team Canada was definitely the team that we knew the best of all the teams at Worlds. While that may have helped with our match-ups, we were definitely caught off guard by the fire they brought to our semifinals game—enabling them to instantly go up 3-0. The team’s six out-of-province players definitely helped the squad by adding handling skills, defensive intensity, and great cutting to a team already full of great handlers, savvy defenders, and athletic cutters. Our game was a battle every step of the way until we earned a couple breaks with an unconventional zone, but I expect Traffic to be extra motivated in its hunt for a UPA medal now that the players have had the bitter-sweet taste of bronze.

Japan (Finals) – There’s no doubt that the Japanese were our biggest rivals this year. After being rather humiliated by them in March at the Dream Cup, we dedicated hours and hours to studying game film to identify their offensive strategies and top players’ preferences, improving our fitness to be able to run with them, and practicing our offensive sets that were going to be needed against their zone and poaching D. Despite all that preparation, the average quickness on that team still surpasses ours, we still struggled against their zone during their come-back in our cross-over game on Wednesday (we were up 10-6, but lost 15-14), and their handlers still made minced meat of some of our marks. Losing those two games was probably the biggest reason we were able to come out on top in the finals—it’s much easier to overanalyze your losses than your wins and we were able to rally around the small adjustments we identified after our crossover loss. There is no doubt that across the board, the Japanese team is extremely talented. The precision, decision making, and execution of the team’s handlers are tremendous and the downfield cutters make well-timed cut after well-timed cut, all at breakneck speed. Both our crossover and finals games against them had a number of turnovers, but many of those were forced by incredible defensive efforts and I have a virtual highlight reel still running in my head from the number of plays made by both teams in those games. It’s great that so many of those moments were captured in photographs and on film as I’ll want to relive the battle for years to come. I’m incredibly honored to wear the #5 jersey I traded for with the Japanese captain this year.

I could go on and on about my teammates on Team USA as well, but this post has already become long enough. Suffice it to say that I’m incredibly proud of the way that every person on the team came together and contributed to the team effort. Earning gold at a WUGC has been something Fury has been working towards since 2000, and it’s so amazing to finally realize that dream. Luckily, our performance at Worlds was not flawless and we still have lots to work on to keep our focus sharp for the upcoming UPA Series. Let’s see if we can find that elusive double peak…

Friday, May 16, 2008

Some scattered late thoughts Friday night

  • So sad to see (or really, hear about, only caught a few points) Texas losing to Michigan State. They were so fun to watch in both the UW and Wisconsin game. I love wide open ultimate, with lots of hucks to athletic receivers, and tenacious D that fights for every point. Texas and Wisconsin played their hearts out in that game, and both got killed the next round...that's ultimate, and life, but it was so very sad.
  • On that note, no one gave much love to the bottom four seeds, and I was very impressed with all of them. I caught a bunch of Northeastern games - they had solid fundamentals and were SCRAPPY! And teams played down to them, so what the hell does that mean, when every team you play "plays down" to you? Something about their style forced the other teams, including UBC, out of the comfort zone and into a turnover-laden, swilly huck place. Not pretty. But I imagine the other teams underestimated how much Northeastern's D was interrupting their flow. Maryland was also scrappy and hardworking, but really hurt from the lost of their star player, Charlie Mercer. MIT had lots of heart, particularly in the final round. And Michigan State! Well, they're in the prequarters so you'll be hearing a lot more about them.
  • Players that pop - Lucia Derks, Wake Forest, carries the team on her back; Anne Mercier, man, no one can stop her, and she just seems so much older and more mature, and she's a sophomore!; Michelle Ng and Gina Phillips, they played fantastic in the two Texas games I saw; Georgia Bosscher, baller for Wisconsin.
  • Everything's all messed up so now UCLA has by FAR the easiest road to the finals. UW has to go through Ottawa; UCSB has to go through Oregon or Wisconsin. UBC seems Michigan, who has played really well all tournament. UCLA sees the winner of Carleton/Michigan State. And no all Canadian finals :)
  • Last note and then I'm finally going to bed. It is so so so hard to cover all the games. I fee l like I miss so much, and I don't get to talk to players and coaches the way I want to. I'm also trying hard not to be biased and watch only the teams I know, or only the teams that I think will make it far, particularly in pool play. But there are six games per round and sometimes all the games are really close. And sometimes something unexpected happens, like Texas losing to MI State, and I have to sprint from field to field to get the story. So, I'm sorry if my coverage of your team isn't as complete as you (and I) want it to be - I'm doing my best. Beg the UPA for 2 reporters per division! (And THANK YOU FRANKIE - he's here and helping me)
  • Off to bed. That write up took 3.5 hours and I didn't get any sushi

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nationals Bracket

As I was filling out my bracket for Rodney Jacobson I was amazed by how hard it was to pick the outcome. The level of parity in the women's division grows every year, but this must be the first year where no team's seed is safe. For every favorite (UCLA) there is a wildcard (Ottawa). For every perennial qualifier (Carleton) there is a newcomer (Northeastern). For every exciting regional re-match (UBC vs. Oregon) there is a battle yet to be played out (UW vs. Wisconsin).

Despite the difficulties, I didn't back down from the challenge of picking a bracket. Call this a preview, call it bulletin-board material, call it a spectators guide, call it biased, call it what you will. These are my predictions:

Pool A:
UCLA (2-1)
Michigan (3-0)
North Carolina (1-2)
Maryland (0-3)

Congrats to Maryland for qualifying for the first time in the school's history. Beating Pittsburgh at Regionals is not a small accomplishment and Maryland's top line is solid. However, I think the team will earn it's victories on Saturday in the consolation round as opposed to on Friday in pool play. After being beat by UCLA in the first round, UNC will have re-focused and dispelled with any jitters by the time the Pleiades meet Michigan. UNC beat Michigan soundly back in February in windy conditions, but Michigan has been steadily improving and honing its game, punctuated by a flawless performance in gusty weather at Regionals a few weeks ago. I bet that Flywheel avenges its loss and goes on to upset UCLA. A bold prediction given how many strong players UCLA has on its roster, but I think that Michigan may have more players able to utilize deep looks. Calling this upset has big ramifications later in my bracket, but I'll stick to my guns to make it interesting. Either way, this game will be a battle down to the wire.

Pool B:
UBC (3-0)
Oregon (1-2)
Carleton (2-1)
Northeastern (0-3)

Northeastern is a young team (mostly juniors and sophomores) who won the Northeast Region by beating MIT in finals. On its first trip to Nationals, the team will likely struggle against the wide-open, faced-paced offenses of UBC and Oregon. Carleton is the team in this pool I predict will outplay it's seed. Syzygy hasn't posted an incredible win-loss record this season, but the team played incredibly well at Regionals and had the opportunity to beat Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Oregon has a number of great players on its roster, but does not play a conservative style of ultimate, which could hurt the team if Carleton doesn't relinquish the disc much. Offensive efficiency is why UBC will win the pool. Oregon will give the Thunderbirds a much closer game than the blow-out at Regionals where the Fugue decided to save its legs for the backdoor, but UBC's depth and consistency should win out.

Pool C:
Washington (2-1)
Wisconsin (3-0)
Texas (1-2)
Michigan State (0-2)

Michigan State won Club Nationals in 1983 before the women's college division was formed, but this will be the first time MSU will have qualified for Nationals since the late 1980's. The team has a few skilled athletes and a number of seniors who could catch Texas off-guard if Mele isn't careful. Texas has been known to drop games to teams it looks passed, but I'm assuming that Texas will be fully fired up to be playing in Boulder. Wisconsin is also stoked to have another shot at the title and won't be happy with another quarterfinals exit. In fact, I expect that Wisconsin takes it to Washington in the last round of the day. The top of Washington's roster includes a number of exceptional players, but Wisconsin could earn turnovers by putting pressure on the Element players who don't play club. It will be a battle for which team gets to refer to itself as UW.

Pool D:
Ottawa (3-0)
UC-Santa Barbara (2-1)
Wake Forest (1-2)
MIT (0-3)

This is the only pool I have predicted going according to seed, but that doesn't mean there won't be a number of hotly-contested matches. All eyes are going to be on Ottawa to see the team that has been in hiding since winning Vegas out of the blue. Ottawa's small roster should be fresh on Day 1 and I anticipate they win out their games. The real test will be against UC-Santa Barbara's athleticism and deep game. Wake Forest is another newcomer to the Nationals scene which will be used to the run-and-gun offense that UCSB plays because it is so prevalent in the AC region. Depth could be an issue for Wake matching up against the higher seeded teams. MIT upset Dartmouth twice at NE Regionals, but did not had a particularly impressive season before that and I would be surprised if they pulled out a victory in pool play.

Carleton (B2) v. (C3) Texas
Washington (C2) v. (B3) Oregon
UC-Santa Barbara (D2) v. (A3) North Carolina
UCLA (A2) v. (D3) Wake Forest

I think all of these games go according to seed, with the two games between the B and C pools providing the most nail-biting entertainment. Winning the tough pool play game between Carleton and Oregon essentially decides which team will make quarters since the difference between the 2 and 3 seeds in pool C is noticeable. I would love to see a rematch of Washington and Oregon--the two played a close cross-over game at Regionals where Washington won 8-6 at the hard cap. These teams know each other well off-the-field and it would be a showdown between the Suver sisters. Not good for the NW strength bids, though. :-(

Michigan (A1) v. Carleton (B2)
Ottawa (D1) v. Washington (C2)
Wisconsin (C1) v. UC-Santa Barbara (D2)
UBC (B1) v. UCLA (A2)

This is getting exciting! I like how the quarters field I predicted is exactly half west coast and half non-west coast teams. I think that Michigan will hold off Carleton and earn Flywheel its first semifinals berth since I can remember. Nice accomplishment for the team that proved it was a contender early by winning both CCC and Elite Eights in the fall. The Washington is one of the few teams at Nationals that Ottawa has played this season, beating Element 10-6 in the quarters at Vegas. Both teams should be fresh for this game and will invoke an old rivalry between some of the Junior Worlds players from the USA and Canada. Ottawa is the taller team and if Washington can't contain the step-around breaks of some of the Lady Gee Gees' handlers, the game will go in the Canadians' favor. UCSB versus Wisconsin will be another tight game. The two teams have split their games this season, most recently with Wisconsin pulling out a one point victory at Centex. UCSB will benefit from additional coaching help this weekend, but I like Wisconsin's chances of knocking off last year's finalist. Wisconsin has really impressed me with how focused they've been the past few seasons and I think this is the time for it to pay off. UBC against UCLA is another great match-up. UCLA is the only team to have a winning record against UBC this season, which is part of the reason for UCLA's number one seed going into the tournament. UBC dominated NW Regionals, but never actually had to play against a quality team who was in an elimination situation. Despite having the best player in college ultimate, I predict that UBC falls to UCLA in quarters.

Michigan (A1) vs. Ottawa (D1)
Wisconsin (C1) vs. UCLA (A2)

Michigan will have made a great run through the tournament to get this far, but I don't think the squad will have enough experience to counter Ottawa's club-savvy roster. Ottawa makes it to the finals to uphold the recent women's division history of teams making the finals the first time they qualify for Nationals (UW in 2005, UCLA in 2006, UCSB in 2007). Meanwhile, UCLA will be trying to hold of Wisconsin for the third time this season. UCLA will have played a extra game by this point, but I have faith that BLU's coaching staff will have made good use of its deep roster to allow the team's stars to shine in this game. UCLA makes it back to finals.

Ottawa (D1) vs. UCLA (A2)

Not the all-Canada finals that some have predicted/hoped for, but I think these two teams represent the field well. Ottawa represents the teams that benefit from Juniors and/or Club experience while UCLA represents the home-grown teams without those advantages. Playing on the third day of a tournament with tough games each day will be different than Ottawa's experience at Vegas where (because of a low initial seed) the team only saw Nationals-caliber squads on the third day. Additionally, not attending any tournaments in-between Vegas and the Series means that Ottawa's women might be in "track shape", but they might not be in as good "tournament shape" as UCLA. This is definitely going to be a fun game to watch and I would bet on multiple lead changes. My money's on the Americans pulling it out. UCLA's program has been building towards a first place medal for years now, and I think this is the season when those dreams come true.

There you have it, folks. I know that many of these predictions will turn out to be false and hopefully others disagree with some of my picks (so I can win the bracket competition...). But what fun would it be if everything was a foregone conclusion?

Good luck to all the teams and competitors!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

AC Regionals* Women's Write Up

*This post is heavy UNC. Sorry. It was the best I could do.

About two months ago, I wrote about Brian's "Exceptional" speech to the UNC women's team. At that time, Brian was speaking to the girls about NYNY and their first trip to Nationals. At some point during NYNY's regular season, the team got together and decided that to make Nationals, they would have to do something more, different, rare....exceptional. Therefore, the team started practicing at 6am. They made Nationals that year for the first time ever.

Now, for all I know, Brian could have been bullshitting me and the girls. Either way, it got the girls taking exceptional measures to accomplish what was so uncommon - a Nationals birth. They had already traveled to two Cultimate tournaments when the funds were not there and some members of the team were upset about the money. In retrospect, they probably did not even need to go to those two tournaments to make it to Nationals. But, they wanted to be sure. Each individual player began putting in extra time outside of practice. I would end practice right on time and players left and right would drop to the ground and start doing planks, pushups and situps. I would begin to walk to my car, and would take one last look down at the turf, and there they would be, still doing their conditioning. Brian and I both offered to stay late, come early to practice, to work with girls individually on skills. Many took us up on those offers. They took exceptional measures. They truly deserved to have accomplished something that UNC has not done since 2001.

Sorry this is a biased review of AC Regionals. People can feel free to make their own comments.

Pool Play
Our first game was against Duke. Oddly enough, even though they are only 20 minutes away from us, this was the first time we played them all spring. Brian and I decided to throw as many zone looks as possible at them and then go man when it went to swing handler. It basically worked beautifully and we won the game pretty easily. Our second game was against UNCW, which was after a bye. It was hilarious to me that one of UNCW's best players traveled every time she hucked a forehand and then complained when we called it. But, the observers did not over turn any travel calls. My first real tournament ever, back when I played with Michigan State (which, congrats Infamous ladies), was Terminus in 2002. We played UNCW first game on Sunday. Michigan State was basically a new team. I think a women's team competed the year before at Sectionals...but, most of the year they played on the guy's team. Anyway, EVERY throw we made they called a travel. Even when they were up like 10-2. I will always remember asking their captain to lighten up a bit. I am not saying that we should have been allowed to travel, but seriously? Anyway, it just made me laugh inside so much to see these UNCW women traveling so much, getting called for it, and then throwing a fit.

Well, we beat them, but I must admit it was tight in the end. Lia English is a pretty damn good player from UNCW and we gave her too many backhand hucks. For the most part, UNC runs two teams (one offensively focused and one defensively focused) and at the end of the game, I had to call lines. The line I called in worked it up the field for probably almost 50+ passes and then turned it on the endzone line. It was not on a greedy look, just a poor execution. They got it right back, scored, and then pulled. We got it back again, and scored. 15-12, game over. UNCW must have spent everything in that game because they lost the next backdoor game 15-8.

We played Florida in the semifinals. I was interested to see how Florida's best receivers would do as handlers, and they did just fine. Unfortunately, they did not have the supporting cast necessary to match us, so the game was somewhat of an "easy" win. The girls stayed in their teams most of the time and I remember that our "D" line really, really worked hard out there. The points they were in created LOTS of turns and exhausted FUEL. I was always tempted to put in Janna or Kate Scott on those "D" lines to give them more offensive help, but honestly, they were doing a better job by turning it and playing hard D on the UF ladies. The best players on UF were exhausted after our "D" was in there and our "O" line had no trouble marching it up the field. Later in the game, I began to give our "D" more offensive power, just so we could end the thing. I distinctly remember players like Lauren Edwards and Lisa Kirkley from the "D" line playing exceptionally well. They were constantly open and making cuts and grabs that they have not made all season. Also, we have a wonderful freshman named Maquire who was always making the right cuts and completing very perfect reads on the disc.

Wake Forest. Man, we can not get our heads around Wake Forest's defense. Also, I think I made a coaching mistake when it came to guarding Kennedy. They went up 3-0 on us, we called a time out, tried to adjust, called lines, and got nothing. I think the score was 5-1 at one point, Wake, and Brian and I both looked at each other. Either A) we had to go on one hell of a run now or B) we had to start thinking about the game to go. Half time was approximately 9-1 (yes, we were playing to 17) and we both agreed that plan B was the better option. Surprisingly enough, when we went with plan B, the girls started scoring and the second half was much more even. Leslie Peck had a really nice layout D during this run and the girls just were not going to give up. The score of the second half was 8-6 Wake and that was with everyone playing evenly and Janna Coulter not playing. Wake has a starting seven and definitely two of the girls (Lucia and Kennedy) hardly ever come out. What I really like about our team is that we do not have to depend on any one or two people that much and everyone plays. I can not handle calling lines, it makes my head spin. Long story short, we lost, we moved on. Congrats Wake Forest.

Game to go
Vs. UGA. I have never in my life seen that many lay out Ds by a women's college team in my life. The rain started falling and the girls were bound and determined to go to Boulder. Jill Simmerman, Julie Ellison, Heather Zimmerman, Erin Wiltgen all hit the ground. Jill Simmerman had three lay out ds with one of them being exceptionally sick. I do not think Heather had ever laid out on D before this game. Erin did not get the layout d, but she had also never hit the ground before on D. Kelly Gillis made a sick layout grab in the corner of one end zone toeing the line. Julie made 2 incredible bids with the disc coming to her player on a deep shot, about shoulder height, and she would get the D. I think both times the UGA player called foul. First time, the UGA player retracted her call I believe, second time, we did not go to the observer but should have as he later admitted he would have ruled it as a clean D. Somewhat of a coaching mistake because that D happened right before the lightening delay and Julie wanted the Observer to rule on it when we got back to the field. She talked to Brian and I about it during the lightening delay (which was about an hour and we were up 5-1) and we said to not go to the observer as they did not have the best angle. We resumed play, UGA kept the disc but went back to thrower and they scored. And they scored again. 5-3 now and probably would have been 6-1 if we would have let Julie go with her gut. But, no worries, the girls took half 9-4 I believe. The layout Ds kept coming, the rain kept falling, and Lynn Pudlo, Kaitlen Baden, Karen Kimel got multiple run through Ds. Suzanne Willis and Sarah were getting hand blocks. Claire never stopped running. Janna was pulling end zone to end zone in shitty weather (and did I mention she is a freshman? I can not tell you how nice it is to have a player on a women's team that can pull like she plays open. It really helps your defense). Julie Ellison was bombing 60 yd flicks around four person cups to Ashley Barfield streaking deep. Dorothy Scott was the ever consistent, smart, solid handler. Kate Scott never stopped running. I kept yelling to her - "Kate Scott, get the disc in your hands, now!" She did, and that was exactly where we wanted the disc. In the hands of our 5th year veteran.

We won that game 17-7. If you were there watching it, you would probably agree the the girls played every point like it was double game point. The girls played every point like it was their last. They played like if they lost that point, the "curse" would creep in.

After the game, Lisa Kirkley, one of our seniors and someone I played with during my two years on the team, came up to me and said, "Thank You." I responded with a quick "No. Thank YOU."

Looking forward to Boulder. Good luck to all participants. Thank you Rachel Joffe for a well run Regionals. And, Thank YOU Pleiades 2008.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

South Regionals Preview

SOUTH (Baton Rouge, LA)

The South Regionals aka The Highlander Classic (“There Can Be Only One”) is going to be a very interesting tourney to keep an eye on for a few simple reasons: 1) there is only one bid, 2) there are eight teams with a realistic shot at getting the bid to Nationals, and 3) the amount of quality ultimate in the region is growing rapidly. I can hear the murmuring in the wind already – ‘If you build it, the South will rise again.’ Or something like that.

I am a fair amount older than the players who will be playing this weekend, so I’m not sure if the 80s cult film ‘The Highlander’ is something that this generation is familiar with. For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s basically about a bunch of immortals who can only be killed by being beheaded. There are only a certain number left walking the Earth, and they are summoned to battle each other until there is only one left.

Just as ‘The Highlander’ was not going to win any Oscars, the South is highly unlikely to produce a National champion (or even a team that reaches the semifinals). Regardless, this year’s tourney has the potential to be the tournament of the year, drawing attention to a historically overlooked region and signifying a turning point in the region’s evolution.

Pool A
In the role of Connor MacLeod is St. Louis SLULU. [No offense to the St. Louis women, but that has to be the second worst name in women’s ultimate. St. Louis St. Louis University Ladies Ultimate? What’s next? The William and Mary Marys? The University of Virginia Virgins? The Illinois Illini… oh, right.] Despite being the overall number one seed, SLULU is the underdog that everyone wants to root for. Led by Kara O’Malley and Tricia Wong, St. Louis showed vulnerability at Frostbite, but otherwise, they have had an impressive season including an upset over Texas at the Texas Throwdown.

[On a side note, if I have a daughter, I’m naming her Frankie O’Malley Jr. Or maybe O’Malley Rho. Or just Rho’Malley. There’s something about that name that equates to being a high caliber player.]

St. Louis will have to contend with last year’s representative at Nationals, Truman State aka Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (played by Sean Connery). Just as we know that Truman is not one of the fifty states, we know that Spaniards don’t have Scottish accents. Though they are 1-2 against St. Louis this season, their last two matchups have been decided by one point. Amanda Carron, Mona Baucom and Noelle Peterson will be their keys to success.

Playing Daniel Larusso is Oklahoma. They are a long shot but they have proven that they can compete with several of the other contenders in the region. What they haven’t proven is that they can consistently beat every single one of them when only one spot is on the line. Jessica Hoppe, Mary Henson and Mr. Miyagi will be crucial to their success. [I know that this is the wrong movie, but don’t tell Oklahoma that. If they just listen to Miyagi and the rockin’ tune ‘You’re the Best’, all the teams will fall like the members of Cobra Kai.]

Pool B
Because I can only remember so much from ‘The Highlander’, I’ll reach into the world of Star Wars and increase the dork factor of this preview by ten.

Texas A&M is Darth Maul. Except for the select few in College Station, nobody could have predicted their Sectionals win over Texas. Very little is known about where they came from, who they are and where they got that cool double-bladed lightsaber. What is known is that they beat Texas and that makes them scary.

Unfortunately for the SkyU ladies, Kansas is Obi-Wan McGregor. Kansas is a hard team to read. They’ve lost decisively to teams like St. Louis, Truman State and Wash U., but they’ve also beaten both St. Louis and Truman State and notched other quality wins against Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Oklahoma. They lack the consistency needed to be a major threat for the top spot. Tasha Parman and Paige Blair lead the way for Betty.

Auburn is an exciting young program but they don’t have the depth to seriously compete this year. Consider them the young Anakin Skywalker (not the annoying adolescent version but the cuddly one from the first crappy movie).

Pool C
In the role of the big, bad Kurgan is Texas Melee. They are the powerhouse, heavily favored to start the season but their stumble at Sectionals has put a major chink in the armor. Coupled with a loss to St. Louis at the Texas Throwdown, they are definitely beatable, but if they can maintain their confidence, those two losses will look like aberrations after this weekend. Look for Michelle Ng, Becca Shelton and Gina Phillips to be a crucial part of their success this weekend.

Vanderbilt enters as Luke Skywalker (the Empire Strikes Back version as opposed to the 2 Live Crew version). They are young and decently battle-tested, but they are still not quite ready to take down the Texas Empire. Despite being seeded second in the pool, I think they are likely to finish third. They keep the bulk of the team intact next year, so look for them to take the step up and return with a green lightsaber and black uniforms that make them look like a cross between Italian Blackshirts and Catholic priests.

Washington WUWU (owners of the third worst name in women’s ultimate) stumbled in pool play at Sectionals, but lost both games by one point. Being seeded ninth belies the fact that they are a legitimate threat to Texas and the top spot overall. There’s no adequate analog for WUWU relating to The Highlander or Star Wars; however, this is Washington we’re talking about. I’ve heard that they’re twelve stories high and made of radiation. They also possess the most disturbing uniforms in all of women’s ultimate. Ninja Turtles to watch include Kate Stambaugh, Abby Stephens and Tracy Horner.

Prediction: Texas. As much as we all want to see an underdog come out on top, we all know that The Kurgan would have kicked Christopher Lambert’s ass in real life. Truman State will upset St. Louis in pool play. Kansas upsets Texas A&M but loses to St. Louis in the quarters. Texas holds seed and beats St. Louis in the semis and Truman State in the finals.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

NW, SW, and ME women's Regionals Previews


Now that Sectionals are over, it's time to get giddy about the fight for the right to throwdown in Boulder. I'm going to start with the regions that I think are mostly likely to produce the eventual national champion.


As always, the depth in the region is very good with six (arguably seven) national caliber teams. Though the region has essentially been the House that Stanford Built, I would be surprised if the top three seeds (Washington, UBC and Oregon) don't qualify for Nationals. The biggest mistake for any of these teams would be to overlook Stanford, Western Washington, Cal and Pacific Lutheran.

Pool A
One of the great stories this season has to be Element's rise to the top while dealing with the loss of their captain Sarah Plants. Element will dominate their pool on their way to a potentially intriguing crossover game against Oregon. In the battle of 'Who's the Best ______ St.?', Humboldt St., Oregon St. and Sonoma St. will fight for the two spot. I'm putting my money on Humboldt, but Sonoma St. is a sleeper here; D'Vine features Brinn Langdale, an exciting young player to watch in the years to come.

Pool B
Despite falling to Washington twice at Sectionals, UBC has the feel of a team that knows their time is now. This being Kira Frew's senior year coupled with winning the inaugural NCUS title, the Thunderbirds will face a lot of pressure knowing that the Callahan and the South-of-the-Border-Nationals is tantalizingly within their grasp. PLU is a very interesting team on the rise and their rematch with UBC will be an interesting one. Having played UBC to a tight 8-10 loss at Sectionals, they will be going into the game with a lot of confidence. Their coach, Jaime 'Idaho' Arambula, is a brilliant motivator and may help the young Reign squad find an edge to pull off the upset.

Pool C
Oregon will have to contend with the revitalized Pie Queens squad. Not much has been written about Oregon and their emergence this year under coach Lou Burruss. Their top seven, which includes Molly Suver, Jessica Huynh, Shannon McDowell, Chris Norton and Julia Sherwood, is as strong as any in the women's game. They are more than capable of taking down Washington or UBC, and I think the likely Washington/Oregon crossover will be one of the more interesting games to watch this weekend. Berkeley started the season with solid results at Santa Barbara and Vegas but they've taken the Britney Spears ride to shame since then. Much of this has to do with Nat Wu's injury. With her back in action, she and Cree Howard give them a forceful combination that could lead to an upset.

Pool D
It goes without saying that the Spawn of Rasputin has the knowhow to take one of the spots. Amazingly, they have only missed the trip to Nationals once since 1995 (in 2000). Superfly has a lot of pride and their solid showing at DUI has them primed for a strong performance at Regionals. The key for them is whether their role players step up and perform at a high level to take the pressure off of Cassel, Barghelame, Founds and Damon. Western Washington features an aggressive game and the coaching wisdom of Ron Kubalanza. They simply lack the depth needed to take out the top three teams. I wouldn't be surprised if they have an impressive Saturday but fade late in bracket play.

Prediction: A lot of excitement but boring results -- Washington, UBC and Oregon in that order. Oregon beats Superfly in a tight game to go.


Most agree that five teams are in the mix - UCLA, UCSB, Colorado, Arizona and USC. The weather has forecast warm temperatures this weekend (highs in the mid-90s), and depth will play a pivotal role in this weekend's outcome.

Pool A
The top spot out of the region is UCLA's to lose. Their big five - Taz, Gizmo, Cosmo, Kix, Fresh - gives them the confidence and swagger to compete with anybody. Their Achilles' heel appears to be playing to the level of their competition and their continuing problems with their nemesis, the Burning Skirts. At Sectionals, they played very sharply in the semifinals but lost some of their edge in the first half of the finals against Santa Barbara. They'll have a decent test against Arizona in pool play, but otherwise, they should be able to march into the title game with relative ease.

The big question for Arizona will be how much the lack of elite competition will hurt them. They recently traveled to DUI to play some of the elite teams and that decision may help them compensate for missing out on the Stanford Invite and Centex. Scorch has been a team that has been grossly overlooked all year (currently #20 on the RRI, #26 on the UPA), and have received essentially zero attention despite having a great deal of depth and a couple star players like Julia Tenen and Jodi McCloskey. They'll be going into this weekend with a big chip on their shoulder and will factor in as the weekend's biggest wildcard. Don't be surprised if they take away some of their male counterparts' thunder if Sunburn fizzles in San Diego.

Pool B
This pool has the potential to be the most exciting pool this weekend with UCSB, Colorado and USC duking it out. There could easily be a three way tie with point differential determining who faces UCLA in the finals. UCSB will definitely be the favorite, having beaten both Colorado and USC this season (2-0 vs. Colorado and 1-0 vs. USC - the margin was two points in all three games). The Burning Skirts played well at Sectionals despite being without Katie Barry (broken toe) and Andrea Romano (foot injury). Barry is almost a lock to play at Regionals, but Romano's presence remains a mystery. As a senior, she'll obviously do whatever it takes to play, but having been out all season may pose some chemistry problems in Tucson. Kaela Jorgensen is becoming a star, and along with fellow sophomore Carolyn Finney, they'll take the reigns next year and keep the Burning Skirts highly competitive.

Colorado has had an up and down season with their recent down being a disappointing performance at Centex. They'll have to be ready for the hot weather in Tucson. They certainly have the athletes and the talent to finish out the year in their backyard, but they'll have to find the mental edge they've been lacking all season. Kali split their previous matchups to USC, both of which were at the Stanford Invite.

USC has had a breakthrough season but lost Alice 'Swift/Balls' Chen, one of their captains and playmakers, to an ACL/meniscus tear in the game against UCSB. Her loss hurts the Hellions, but Anne Ohliger, Mary Kate Hogan, Lindsey Cross and their emerging young players will keep them in the hunt. Colorado St. could steal a spot into bracket play if any of the top three letdown their focus.

Prediction: Pain. Clubber Lang says, 'Ain't no fool who gonna predict nothing when they put themselves on the line.' Actually, I'm fairly certain he said no such thing, but Mr. T rules.

METRO EAST (Princeton, NJ)

Being originally from the East Coast, I'm a big fan of double-elimination bracket play. In geographically larger regions, it doesn't make as much sense; but when it is in effect, there is something wonderful about teams fighting to stay alive every step of the way. It also makes Sunday at Regionals feel even more like the playoffs.

The Anton Chigurhs did a number on their section, taking it to a very respectable Cornell squad with an impressive 15-7 win. Having been fairly invisible since Vegas, Ottawa validated their status as a frontrunner by allowing exactly seven points against them, all of which were in the finals.

The trio of Pittsburgh, Maryland and Cornell figures to be the most likely to take the second spot. I wouldn't be surprised to see Pitt and Maryland face each other twice, once in the semis and once in the backdoor finals. The winner of their likely semis matchup will have an interesting option in the finals against Ottawa -- go all out for the win or save some energy to avoid the common pitfall that has plagued many teams who have lost a tough game in the finals.

NYU is seeded above Cornell but they haven't proven over the course of the season that they can beat several quality opponents in a row. For them to have a legitimate shot, they'll have to beat Cornell in their likely quarterfinal matchup. Getting to the semis is crucial in this format.

Prediction: Ottawa and Pitt. Maryland beats Pitt in the front door semis but loses to them in an epic backdoor final that goes to double game point.