Women’s Centex 2015: Tournament Preview (Tier I)

Women's Centex has risen to a destination tournament, a mecca of competitive college women's play. Here's a preview.

Centex 2015If Northwest Challenge is the Evil Empire, then Centex is the Without Limits Empire. 44 teams will grace the UT Intramural Fields this weekend. Forty-four. Teams from every region except the Metro East and the Northwest are attending. Without Limits has built a staggering army of loyal teams, elite and developing alike.

Sadly, the season wouldn’t be complete without the weather impeding a Without Limits tournament. Austin is projected to receive significant rainfall on Saturday, and it’s possible the tournament may lose access to a third of their fields. If this does happen, the tournament may have to sacrifice the Tier I and Tier II crossover games and reshuffle the bracket, or even change locations.

Rain or shine, the twelve teams in Tier I have a lot on the line this weekend: from bids to redemption to pride, each team has something to prove and a team they need to beat.

Bid Scare for South Central

The latest USAU rankings were announced on Tuesday, adding a fresh layer of pressure to the South Central teams, who lost a bid to the Northwest region.

Colorado Kali (USAU #8, UW #8) has had the tidiest win-loss record this season between the three attending teams. Their only losses have been to teams ranked above them, and their veteran players look more polished and cohesive at every tournament. While they’ve had little trouble dispatching teams looking to upset them, they still stand at an unpleasant 0-6 vs. top 10 teams.

“We need to clean up our downfield offense so our handlers don’t have to reset the disc as much,” said coach Claire Chastain of how Colorado could match the nation’s elite. She also added that the defense needed to do a better job keying in to the opposition’s biggest difference makers.

If Kali can use their depth against their lower seeded foes, it might free up their best defenders — Megan Cousins, club veteran Lisa Doan, Nhi Nguyen, and Jean Russell — to apply pressure to the stars they’ve struggled to contain. They’ll be one of the favorites at Centex and look comfortable to get a bid for the South Central, a stark contrast from this time last year, when they nervously traveled to the Northwest Challenge.

Texas Melee (USAU #21, UW #24) and Kansas Bettyon the other hand, now face an uphill battle after both teams stumbled at Midwest Throwdown. Melee’s win-filled record from the weekend belies the mental loss they had to University of Chicago in the semifinals. When they’re on, they punish the break side with impressive inside looks. When they’re off, they can take impatient options that don’t connect with the cutters.

On their home turf, Texas stands a much better chance of executing. Lauren McKenna and Kelly Lavine will have to take over games on offense,  and they need to shut down their opponents’ playmakers. With the bid stakes so high, it’s unlucky that one of their guaranteed games is against their neighbor, Colorado, but both teams know their path to nationals could end up going through one another.

Almost a month ago Kansas Betty (USAU #20, UW #16) was flying high: they were ranked 5th in the Division, and everyone wanted to dance with them. Several upsets and close games at MWTD, however, have shunted Betty further down the list.

Without Clare Frantz and emerging scoring threat Kelsey Akin, a lot of responsibility is left on the shoulders of Caitlin Fitzgerald and Jenni Corcoran. Both players perform well under the pressure, but their overuse limits Kansas’ offensive options.

Betty is the last seed in Pool B and potentially the most dangerous fourth seed in Tier I. They face an uphill battle in a pool topped by their regional rival, an unfortunate circumstance for a team hungry for their strength bid back. Despite the aforementioned injuries, Kate Eshelman will be back in rotation, and coach Loren Schieber will be back as well.

A Long Winter for the Northeast

Neither Tufts nor Northeastern have been to a tournament since Queen City Tune-Up in February, making them the biggest question marks in Tier I.

The Northeastern Valkyries (USAU #14, UW #19), who took 2nd place at Centex last year, will look very different going into this weekend. Despite retaining Melissa Ellis, Mei Brust, and Hannah Walters from last year’s nationals run, the Valkyries are a much younger team. Their returners have to take on more responsibilities onfield, and their rookies have to step up into roles faster than Northeastern is used to.

Add several months of winter, and the Valkyries are facing a different season than last year. With little outdoor practice, they’re starved for some sun and green grass.

“We haven’t been able to play much yet with all the snow – we’ve only had 3.5 hours of indoor practice since QCTU and no outdoor time at all,” coach Jason Adams writes, “Obviously we’d like to do well at Centex but we have to get ourselves ready for the big games we’ll have at Sectionals and Regionals.”

The Valkyries will be working their fundamentals this weekend. At Queen City Tune-Up, they struggled with endzone execution and consistent man defense. At a tournament known for its upset potential, they will have to convert cleanly and utilize their veterans’ strengths if they want to survive.

Tufts (USAU #17, UW #10) has had the same hiatus this spring, but they will likely have a stronger welcome back. Captain Qxhna Titcomb made waves at WCBU where she and the USA Women’s team earned gold, and she says the break between tournaments doesn’t worry Ewo: instead the team has used QCTU as motivation going into this weekend.

They will need a high level of mental focus to hold steady in Tier I; the Northeast’s second bid would be a welcome prize for the SC and NC contenders they could face. A loss to Texas would spell trouble for a team with big potential and bigger ambitions.

The questionable weather could also favor Tufts’ handler-focused offense: Titcomb is flanked by returners Jojo Emerson and Laura Fradin in the backfield. The weather may also limit deep looks, so despite missing one of their strongest deep threats for the weekend, Ewo could still come out on top.

How Good Is Ohio State?

If you’re a fan of the college women’s division, you’ve likely wondered this at some point. Can Ohio State (USAU #13, UW #9) be the top 10 quality team some believe them to be? Are they a true program?

Centex will provide much more defining answers to those questions after a weak start to the season at FWC transitioned into much stronger appearances at QCTU and Commonwealth Cup. Their resume includes good wins over Tufts and Central Florida, along with easy wins against weaker competition. Now they’ll face some familiar squads and a potentially elite bracket.

The other wrinkle is that Fever is not the lone Ohio Valley representative in the rankings. Pittsburgh is in position to win a second bid in the region…or, should either team implode and lose their bid, a real challenge at Regionals. That’s something OSU hasn’t had in years.

UCLA BLU Looking Strong

The season UCLA (USAU #5, UW #4) is having right now is one of the stories of the division. It might be the best they’ve looked since 2008, when they wound up the #1 seed at nationals. BLU has been on a tear, with big wins over Colorado, Washington, and British Columbia, announcing themselves as a contender. It’s no wonder they enter Centex as the team to beat.

“Coming into Centex as the number 1 seed is really exciting for us because I think it reflects how well we’ve done so far this season & how far we’ve surpassed our original expectations,” says BLU captain Margot Stert. “But it also puts some pressure on us to keep up the momentum and to not let off the gas at this point in the season. And it puts a target on our backs for other teams.”

Teams looking for usurp the top seed better come correct and play a complete game. UCLA thrives in the closing points of tight contests. Their physical style of play and big play capability combine to be dangerous to challengers not prepared for a fight.

Seminole Ladies In Control of Their Fate 

Florida State (USAU #15, UW #14) was in the midst of their best season ever, but suddenly they now have to fight to right the ship. A 16-4 record should make FSU feel pretty good and hungry for more. Their only losses have been to Tufts, Central Florida twice, and now, Auburn. For the second straight year, Auburn played spoiler for the Seminole Ladies at their home tournament. Now they have to defend the bid they’ve spent years falling just short of claiming.

“We shouldn’t have been in that position,” said FSU captain Kristin Lloyd. “We have to fight for every point and we know that.”

When the Tallahassee women are playing intense and focused, they have the depth and speed to match most teams in the country. There’s no real star to this team, but they’ll go 10-12 deep very confidently. With Lloyd slowly returning to the field, they’re getting only deeper. Key bid relevant matchups against Cal and Kansas – both on the bubble – await them in pool play.

Central Florida (#10) Knows What They Want…

…to win Centex.

They’ve done it before, and they have no intentions of letting the title go, despite a shakier record than last season. They rolled through Music City Mash-Up last weekend, competing against a deck of D-III and lower-level teams and winning the weekend a combined 90-25. The Sirens are a much younger team this year, so their focus for Centex will be clean execution instead of aggressive dominance.

“If we [were to not] play to our potential, then we are playing sloppy ultimate,” coach Joe Tilley says, “Since our team is so young it’s important that we are efficient. We don’t have the luxury of rotating in a lot of players.”

Count on Central Florida to execute many of the same notorious plays, but look for different faces: Alexa Wood, Steph Williams, and Shayna Brock have all stepped into the big shoes this season. Freshman Janina Freystaetter has been an early Rookie of the Year candidate, as well.

Iowa State Looks to Return to the Top

Anyone who watched Iowa State and Notre Dame duke it out in the Midwest Throwdown semifinals knows what Iowa State is capable of. Superstar Cami Nelson, Janani Ragothaman, and Sara Stuedemann played out of their heads on defense. If a disc was in the air, Nelson was contesting it. On offense, their mental focus produced goals, and they fought the eventual champions Notre Dame until the end.

If that Iowa State team shows up Saturday morning, they could break seed. They face an undeniably tough pool including UCLA and Central Florida, but they’ve had more practice time than Northeastern and the teams are well-matched.

Bidwatch: Key Pool Play Games

Six teams head to Centex on the bubble: FSU (15), Cal (23), Kansas (20), Texas (21), Tufts (17), USC (25).

Of these six teams, they are congregated into two of three Tier I pools: Florida State, Cal, and Kansas populate Pool B while Tufts, Texas, and Southern California reside in Pool C. That means each game faces two other teams fervently looking high value wins to secure regional bids. The Southwest teams most certainly don’t want to show up at Regionals with #2 Stanford and UCLA standing between them and the big show. If things go sideways for the other teams, they may find themselves in competitive one bid regions.

That means each of the three rounds – 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00 – feature two vital battles for bids. Each point in the margin of victory could loom large, and a blowout could result in a critical swing in rankings points.

This continues into Sunday, when teams could have critical opportunities against “sweet spot” teams (ranked up to 250 points below) from Tier II, like Colorado College, UC San Diego, and Chicago. Fellow Tier I teams Ohio State and Northeastern are also not safe should they fall apart in Texas.

  1. Katie Raynolds

    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 ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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