Florida Winter Classic 2015: Tournament Recap

The first elite tournament of the 2015 college women's season is in the books. Find out what we learned about the top teams from Orlando and what it means for the rest of the season.

Shiru Liu (Texas) throws a backhand against Florida. Photo by Billy Dzwonkowski — UltiPhotos.com
Shiru Liu (Texas) throws a backhand against Florida. Photo by Billy Dzwonkowski — UltiPhotos.com

The first major results from this college women’s season are in. If you were hoping one January weekend would solve this season’s mysteries (and I dearly hope you weren’t), you’ll find yourself disappointed. But teams are more developed at this point in the year than in the past and Florida Winter Classic probably offers more relevant information than ever before.

That’s in no small part to a strong field and meaningful regular season. With the entirety of Pool B making the semifinals and Kansas Betty walking away the winners, we’ve garnered some information about who will be bringing what to the party this year. Let’s take a look at the insights of Orlando.

Hail the Ladies of Lawrence

No team came to Orlando with more momentum than Kansas Betty. Their 5-1 weekend and tournament victory are a rich return on their investment and they leave town with even more reasons to be excited. They beat Central Florida twice – including in the final – and Wisconsin twice. Florida State was the only team to take them down, and did so on a double game point during which Kansas had a good look at the game winner only to have their receiver suffer an injury.

Betty displayed an advantageous ability to attack from multiple angles. “They were very effective hucking deep from cutters and took advantage of our players being out of position,” said UCF Coach Joe Tilley.

Kansas’s efficient possession based offense survived varying conditions. Saturday was calm and Sunday gusty. Wisconsin is an intense man defense team and UCF is an aggressive zone team, but Kansas cut through all comers in multiple contexts. Queen City and Centex are both on the Kansas docket, so we’ll have plenty of time to get a chance to see how high the ceiling is.

Sirens’ Song on Repeat

If you thought Central Florida would fall off the map with the graduation of Sunny Harris and Mariel Hammond, it’s safe to squash that notion. Another appearance in another final is a continuation for UCF, who made the semis and finals of every tournament they attended last year. They’re leaning on their next generation of playmakers to carry them through: Steph “Eli” Williams, Shayna Brock, Alexa Wood, and freshman Janina Freystaetter.

Despite dropping three games, it was still a pretty impressive run for UCF. For a team depending on a few players — including an injured Williams — playing a ton of points, making it to the final and putting up a fight with a seven game schedule is a strong showing.

“We had a tough pool and had to go against three teams with a first round bye on Sunday,” said Coach Joe Tilley. He noted he had to rely on his veterans more because the team has had to cancel a lot of practices, leaving rookies underdeveloped. “They really showed some toughness out there.”

Freystaetter lacks polish and will go through some growing pains, but she has the ability to make huge plays and doesn’t play scared, making her perfect for what the Sirens need.

Mixed Bag for Fever

Ohio State turned in a middling weekend commensurate with a team still finding itself while undergoing a lot of changes. Stevie Miller was expected not to play, but surprised the team and her opponents by taking the field. But OSU struggled facing Southeast teams (perhaps some sort of revenge for football season), dropping their games against Georgia and Central Florida handily. Their last loss was a consolation matchup with Northeastern.

Mostly, the team seemed out of sync, and understandably so. Jenna Galletta and Katie Backus both looked strong in their handling roles, and the team should be able to continue their efficient system. Whether or not they can make the same big plays Fever did in a title run is still an unanswered question. Nobody will take them for granted this season.

Florida State Commanding Attention

The Seminole Ladies may be the weekend’s biggest surprise, snagging five wins and just a single loss. Few would have pegged them to win Pool B (clearly the tougher pool, producing all four semifinalists) and be Saturday’s only undefeated team. FSU couldn’t take down Central Florida again in the semifinals, when the wind made zone defense more effective, but that’s not much of a blemish on a fine weekend.

As a team that’s struggled with pressure, another huge victory is Florida State’s 3-0 record in double game point situations. They beat Kansas, Wisconsin, and Central Florida (after a near collapse allowed UCF back into it) with the score tied and game on the line, plus beat Texas in a close 12-10 game.

“It’s a great learning and growing experience for us to repeatedly come through on huge points and do what needs to be done,” said FSU captain Kristin Lloyd. Lari Ferreira came through with goals in all three games, just one of the members of a veteran core that is reaping the rewards of the dues they’ve paid.

Perhaps the fringe spot that the Seminole Ladies have long called home will not suffice this season.

Loose Ends and Look Aheads

Like Ohio State, Northeastern looked like one of the strongest squads coming into the weekend and turned in an inconsistent performance. They go back to Boston 4-2, but perhaps frustratingly didn’t get to play any of the teams that finished in the top three. Their losses came at the hands of Ohio State (which they avenged) and a double game point quarterfinal exit against Wisconsin, whose athleticism and pressuring defense overcame the Valkyries.

Georgia raised some eyebrows when they rocked Ohio State 11-6 in round two and Hannah Leathers was probably the most talked about player at the tournament. And while their supporting cast does look much improved and poised, getting thumped once by Kansas and twice by Northeastern has to leave a sour taste. Queen City Tune-Up is their only other elite event of the year and it represents a huge opportunity for them to tune their game and score key wins.

Wisconsin’s 0-3 Saturday didn’t stop them from making the semifinals with a big win over Northeastern, 11-10. Unfortunately for Bella Donna, that was their lone Tier 1 victory. But their athleticism, size, and aggressiveness was on display; Lorraine Guerin was particularly impressive in her ability to make big grabs but also hurt teams with smart throws. They’re talented and it will be interesting to see if they can set themselves apart from the logjam in the North Central.

Texas had a tough weekend, going winless in Tier 1 and registering a pretty ugly win in the wind over Florida in prequarters as their lone conquest. However, they only brought 15 players and turned in very competitive performances in their losses. Shiru Liu was very clearly one of the most skilled throwers at the entire tournament, but her workload seemed like a lot to handle. Melee could use some reinforcements downfield, but have very disciplined and skilled throwers and enough energy to be in it with any team.

From Tier 2, Auburn Nova was a cut above their competition. They came the closest to scoring an upset (13-8 against Wisconsin) in prequarters and were mostly unchallenged by their peers. Sunday’s wind was perfect for their big throwers and huge four-person cup, and it was very positive for the team to continue strong play through the whole weekend. The Southeast should be on notice.

Video

Ultiworld took game footage of seven games at the tournament. Get access to the tournament package for $30, or get a season-long subscription (individual or team) for big savings! Subscriptions are a great way to get footage of your team, your opponents, and many of the best teams in the country.

Special thanks to Joe Tilley, who provided Ultiworld with some equipment to produce higher quality video of the tournament.

  1. Keith Raynor
    Keith Raynor

    Keith Raynor is a Senior Editor and the Business Development Manager at Ultiworld. He co-hosts our Deep Look podcast and does play-by-play and color commentary. He coaches UConn Rise, the college's women's team. You can reach him by email (keith@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@FullFieldHammer).

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