2014 D-I Regional Preview: South Central (Women’s)

Texas Melee.
Photo by Daniel Brooks – UltiPhotos

At Midwest Throwdown, Colorado State coach Lance Everette lamented that many people overlook the South Central because it can be difficult for Colorado and Texas teams to travel east or west.

But this season, the South Central has been difficult to overlook: University of Texas Melee upset UC Santa Barbara at Centex, Colorado State Hell’s Belles defeated University of Michigan Flywheel at Midwest Throwdown, and the University of Colorado Kali won close games against Whitman (12-11) and Victoria (13-12) at the Northwest Challenge.

For the first time since 2010, the South Central has a strength bid. Not only that, but they have two strength bids to fight over, and the region has never had more teams clamoring for a ticket to Nationals. Texas and Colorado are likely favorites for the first two bids, but behind them the board is open: can Colorado State beat Colorado College after a 12-13 loss at Conferences? Can Kansas hold their position over these Colorado contenders to take the third bid? Could Colorado State’s aggressive play overcome Kansas’ clean handler-offense? Can any of these scrappy contenders surprise Texas or Colorado?

The Favorites

It’s hard not to look beyond Regionals for University of Texas Melee and University of Colorado Kali. Both teams have had incredible regular seasons that arm them with big-game experience and justified Nationals aspirations. Last year Melee and Kali battled for the lone bid, and Melee came out comfortably on top 15-9. This year, both teams have a shot at Nationals, so the question becomes who will take the first class ticket to Nationals.

Texas Melee came into Conferences off a glorious Centex run, in which they knocked down the first-seed UCSB Burning Skirts and lost only one game against the tournament champions, Central Florida. Indeed their only losses so far this season have been to the country’s top teams (Oregon, Ohio State, Central, Florida, etc), and they seem ready to not only reach Nationals but also to place higher than their four-way tie for 17th last year.

Melee will lace up at Regionals with a full roster, returning two of their veterans, Shereen Rabie and Jasmine Venzant, from knee injuries. They will join Melee’s core of players who will be threats on both sides of the disc, such as the dynamic Kayla Ramirez and the formidable Brady Stoll. Melee knows how to grit through games, and most of their South Central opponents will struggle to put their offense in a choke-hold long enough to win.

University of Colorado Kali has a similar pedigree this year. They have been back and forth across the country this season to play some of the top teams nationwide, adding impressive wins and impressive losses to their stats sheet. They have grown and improved throughout 2014, developing chemistry between their talented veterans and their all-star rookies. Kali will make it out of their region unscathed next weekend.

Christina Mickle (yes that Mickle) returns after an ACL tear last May with a full Molly Brown season under her belt, a Callahan nomination, and big throws for Kali. She’s joined by fellow Molly Brown players like Dori Franklin, Meagan Cousins, and Rebecca Mitchell. Freshman Nhi Nguyen, a now two-time USAU U19 Worlds member, has already been huge for Kali, and her defensive intensity is promising for the team’s future.

In all their travels, Kali managed to miss playing anyone in Colorado or in their region until Conferences, yet their easy handling of Colorado State and Colorado College forecast that these teams don’t pose serious threats to their chances.

University of Kansas Betty has had a breakout season that they can be proud of regardless of their Regionals record. Their red-heavy record at Centex doesn’t show their progress throughout this season, and their easy Conferences win indicates that Betty rests just outside of the elite-level door, knocking to come in.

Photo by Kevin LeClaire – UltiPhotos

Kansas relies on a smooth, well-oiled offense between Christine Baker, Kaitlin Fitzgerald, and Kat Songer, but on defense they lack the physicality of teams like Oregon and Northeastern. Betty will score efficiently, but they have less experience generating breaks against teams who won’t drop the disc. They can capitalize on turns, but this season they may not have the defensive arsenal to take down the heavyweights in their region. Then again with a wealth of strength bids, Betty doesn’t have to be faster than the bear — just their friends.

The Troublemakers

“We consider ourselves a national caliber team, so we’ll be there to win, and we’ll bring the kitchen sink.”

Lance Everette and the Colorado State University Hell’s Belles are coming for everyone in the South Central, and with their roster and their record, they could feasibly steal a coveted bid.

Strong graduate pickups in Christy Cheung (from Kansas) and Becca Miller (from Iowa State) lifted Colorado State from a solid but overshadowed team to a team that can roll with the big kids. Cheung is a fierce defender and the Swiss army knife of handlers: for proof, see the no-look behind-the-back lefty backhand she used to score at Centex. Miller’s blend of experience and speed will make her difficult to cover, and her highlight reel reads like that of a much taller player.

Now add the Hell’s Belles Callahan nominee, Paige Applegate, and their quiet workhorses, Tessa Behnke and Roz Reynolds. Colorado State has more ways to win a game than most of the teams in the South Central, and they’re hungry for the opportunity to prove their mettle.

Colorado College Strata is also eyeing the juicy strength bids, developing their mental toughness so they’re ready to meet Colorado in pool play on Saturday. Strata can execute fluid offense and they can build stead leads against teams like Ottawa and California. Their losses in the regular season have been close, and they will no doubt relish rematches against their Colorado and Colorado State neighbors.

Lisi Lohre, their 2014 Callahan nominee, shapes their offense with her consistently massive hucks and hammers. Her dominant handling will carry Strata through most of their pool play games against weaker teams, but Strata will have a battle to break seed against the bevy of talent above them.

South Central Rising

Washington University WUWU look stronger and cleaner than they have in years: their win-loss record doesn’t reflect their marked improvement compared to last season or even this fall, but they took their pool at Centex and they continue to take Kansas and Colorado College into infuriatingly close games. Eileen Duffner takes control of WUWU’s offense as their primary handler, bringing the team a clear focus every time she’s on the field. Indeed for WUWU, Regionals represents yet another chance to take these teams to task in much tighter games.

Texas A&M Stacked has an impressive record behind them this season that includes losses only to Texas Melee and to the D-III team Rice University Torque. They played and beat a lot of lower-ranked schools in their region like Texas State and Texas-Arlington, but this year Stacked hopes for some bigger wins in their Region so that they can snag one of the coveted bids.

Despite their lofty ambitions, Stacked still must look ahead at the longer game: their team will be graduating a lot of their big players this year, so Regionals is an invaluable opportunity to hand the reins to the next generation. For now, Stacked relies on HIllary Lumpkins and Kristin Reid for down-field momentum with Paige Grandjean behind the disc.

Sometimes when you step on the field you’ve already won. Texas State Trainwreck will be at Regionals for the first time in their team’s history, holding their 4th seed at Conferences against teams such as UT-Arlington and University of North Texas. Going into the last tournament of their season, Trainwreck is all about the experience: play the rookies, rematch local rivals, and relish the opportunity to gain experience at a higher level. In a year filled with South Central teams rising, Trainwreck will happily ride along.

Predictions

Bring on the upsets.

  1. Colorado Kali
  2. Texas Melee
  3. Colorado State Hell’s Belles
  4. Kansas Betty
  5. Colorado College Strata
  6. Washington University WUWU
  7. Missouri State
  8. Texas A&M Stacked
  9. Texas State Trainwreck
  10. Texas-Arlington Yetti
  11. Arkansas
  12. Texas (B) Mayhem
  1. Katie Raynolds
    Avatar

    Katie Raynolds took a break from Seattle ultimate to test out the Midwestern scene, but now she's back in the Northwest to investigate this "bubble" she keeps hearing about. She played for Northwestern Gungho, two seasons with Chicago Nemesis, and now plays for Seattle Underground. Katie serves as Ultiworld's Women's D1 College Editor, and is damn proud to cover women's ultimate. You can reach her by email (katie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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