September 26, 2013 by Keith Raynor in Preview with 3 comments
Atlanta Ozone and Raleigh Phoenix have spent this season going in different directions. For Ozone, they’ve consistently been in the top 10 of the power rankings, even cracking the top 5. Phoenix has struggled from the outset, where their US Open performance put them behind the 8-ball. The Atlanta women racked up wins over Scandal, Brute Squad, Molly Brown, and Showdown. The North Carolina team was having trouble getting marquee wins, ending the season with an 11-13 record.
Those different directions put these teams in the positions they are now: Ozone as the heavy favorite and Phoenix fighting to protect their spot. They’ll be the top two seeds at Southeast Regionals in Decatur, Alabama, each looking to take one of the two tickets to the Club Championships.
It has been a strange season for the Phoenix women. Last year, they had their three founders on the roster, a strong trio of veteran leaders. This offseason, Cate Foster Yackey and Leila Tunnell both exited, with Lindsey Hack following them midseason. They underwent a coaching change, bringing in Carolina legend Brian Dobyns. The Phoenix roster changed dramatically.
Accordingly, their struggles out of the gate were understandable, but left many wondering how it would come together by the end of the season. Raleigh spent the body of the season finding and refining their identity, keying on how to use their personnel. They showed improvement at Colorado Cup, where they notched W’s over Schwa and Safari while losing close games with Brute Squad, Nightlock, and Heist.
The talent is certainly there. Phoenix’s four U-23 members — Shellie Cohen, Lisa Couper, Jessi Jones, and 2013 Callahan winner Claire Chastain — are all difficult matchups in their vertical stack. Heather Zimmerman’s speed and skill combination and Sharon Tucker’s talent and poise have provided a noticeable boost. Dobyns is a mastermind. The opportunity is there.
But opportunity is also what the challengers see. Nashville DeSoto hopes to return to the Club Championships, where they haven’t been since 2011. Playmaking cutter Ashton Wollett is a walking highlight reel, but it will be their depth that will need to step up. While they have a win (and a loss) over Inferno, they haven’t come close against higher level competition. However, they are 2-0 against the team a spot below them: Florida Tabby Rosa.
Tabby Rosa had a little buzz building coming into the year, where their roster revealed they were littered with Southeast college studs. However, they’ve been quiet since then, including losses to Inferno and DeSoto. They were outclassed at Virginia Fusion, where they went 0-6, failing to challenge the top teams in attendance…with one exception: a 15-13 loss to Phoenix. Their lone bright spot is that loss, coupled with their 8-5 half time lead. Of course, the question is if that game was a fluke and their 15-8 loss to Phoenix the day before is more representative.
Ozone looks like a strong pick to take the title from Phoenix and return to the Club Championships. The 7-team, 2-bid format is highly advantageous to the teams that finish in the top 2 in pool play, an extremely likely fate for the top seed. In two games against Phoenix, they are 2-0, including a 13-3 shellacking at Terminus. Their goals at the Club Championships extend beyond beating the type of team they’ll see in Decatur.
In the end, Phoenix struggled to beat teams expected to go to Nationals and pretty handily beat those who aren’t. While that probably doesn’t satisfy the Phoenix crew, it should serve to protect their chance to continue attending the Club Championships. The teams below are nipping at the heels, and this season and the format allow them to focus almost exclusively on beating Phoenix. After Ozone, only one of these teams can emerge from the arena.