New England D-I Regionals 2015: Tournament Preview (Women’s)

The two-bid New England Region looks like a fight for the top between Dartmouth and Tufts. But there are some sneaky good teams eyeing the backdoor game.

Photo by William 'Brody' Brotman - UltiPhotos.com
Tufts star handler Qxhna Titcomb. Photo by William ‘Brody’ Brotman – UltiPhotos.com

This season has been a long one for the New England teams; persistent wintry conditions meant limited practice time, and every team from the region went into big tournaments knowing they were under-prepared. Now, at the end of the season, there are no more excuses.

Two bids are on the line and the two favorites, Dartmouth Princess Layout and Tufts Ewo, look evenly matched. The format strongly favors the teams that win their pool, ratcheting up the importance of Saturday’s play. For the teams of the New England region, she who hesitates may be lost, and wind up watching livestreams of Milwaukee.

Tournament Profile

  • Date: May 2-3
  • Location: Amherst, MA
  • Bids Available: 2
  • Score Reporter

Dartmouth is Finally on Top

Dartmouth has spent the past few seasons knocking at the back door of the region, trying to come in. This year they’re holding the key. When asked how it felt to be seeded first in the region, the Dartmouth captains jokingly replied, “Wait, what… we’re the one seed?!”

Their game is good, and they’re going to try to fight the nefarious effects of being on top. They have the deepest bench in the region, and a lot of their talent is young. Julianna Werffeli’s name is being tossed around for FOTY, and Angela Zhu was in her shoes just last season. Both give their backfield a lot of versatility and Werffeli in particular is a defensive menace.

Dartmouth’s success on the field isn’t just good personnel; they know how to give each other space and time on offense, and they capitalize. Concepts like stretching the field or exploiting the break side are fundamentals in ultimate, but they’re rarely respected and done well. Dartmouth knows how to use their real estate, and they won’t hesitate to launch an away look to a blur named Patricia Neckowicz or Callahan nominee Eva Petzinger.

What sets Princess Layout apart is their depth and versatility. Their top seven is New England’s strongest, and their bench can comfortably step in. The Dartmouth roster features enough well-rounded skillsets to take coach Eugene Yum’s adjustments and apply them midgame. It’s what has allowed them to go toe to toe with some the best women’s teams in the country and what could guide them to defending the one seed.

Tufts Riding a Real Star

Tufts is the likely choice for taking the strength bid for the region. They aren’t untouchable, but they’re close. Ewo only lost four games this season, and three of those teams (OSU, Kansas, Colorado) already have their tickets to Milwaukee. If Tufts can maintain their offensive efficiency through the weekend, they could steal the front seat from Dartmouth.

Ewo has a penchant for flying under the radar every season. They produce wins at every tournament, are rarely blown out, yet they are never the breakout upset, the crash and burn, or the heavy favorite. Instead, they are usually something much rarer in the college scene: they are consistent.

Tufts’ ascent into the elite echelon began in 2011, and since then they have returned to nationals every year. Their performance at nationals has varied, but the team has a knack for rebounding. Stars come and go – think Claudia Tajima, Michaela Fallon, Emily Shields – but for those keeping track, one of the most consistent factors since 2011 has been Qxhna Titcomb.

Ewo is far more than one player, and they are better for it. Laura Fradin and Jojo Emerson have built their own roles next to Titcomb’s. Emily Eibl, Rachel Kramer, and Winnie Zhang have emerged as vital cutters. But it’s hard not to think of this Regionals and this post-season as the perfect coda for Qxhna’s exceptional college career. Her lunging backhand break has become such a hallmark of their game, they could put her silhouette on the jerseys. Her presence is felt by everyone, on the field and on the sidelines.

Milwaukee or Bust for Northeastern

The Northeastern Valkyries were formidable last year. They were tall, physical, and talented, and they had all the pieces to qualify and succeed at Nationals. The stars seemed to align for their success. This season, the skies are against them. One brutal winter and three ACL tears later, the Valkyries are a different team.

“Younger players are taking on huge roles, and our star players are really going out there and making plays when we need them most,” said coach Jason Adams. “We are as dynamic as we’ve ever been on both O and D because we’ve broken down some of the walls that typical team roles might put up just due to sheer necessity.”

Their stars include Mei Brust, Hannah Walter, and Melissa Ellis, all of whom were big parts of the Valkyries’ success last season. Joined by Nicole Canning, this quartet almost took down UCLA in their first game at Centex, proving that when they have their cards in order, they can shut any handler down.

The Valkyries are ranked fourth going into the weekend. This rank says more about the ever-increasing strength of the region than it could say of the relative weakness of Northeastern’s program this year. But Northeastern will still have to ramp up their offensive conversions if they want to upset anyone and gain a bid of their own again. After qualifying last year, anything less will feel like a disappointment, seed be damned.

Middlebury Primed to Play Spoiler

The Middlebury Lady Pranksters were having a quiet yet successful (and undefeated) season before I-85 Rodeo in late March. But two wins over Wisconsin, a big upset over nationals-bound Pitt, and one win over Georgia made their season much less peaceful.

The Lady Pranksters have perpetually been a lurking danger in the region, but this year they’re in the spotlight. Their big wins have catapulted them there, as well as their choice to go to Division I. Middlebury didn’t trade a shot at winning a national championship just to end their season a couple of weeks earlier.

Leading the way for the underdog are some top talents that could rival the region’s best. Senior handler Aly Fassett-Carman is a force to be reckoned with and can be imposing with the disc, and she’s joined by Grace Benz and Clara Gottesman downfield.

Voted Most Likely to Come So, So Close: Harvard

The 2015 season puts them on the cusp of being a top-level New England team, but this may not be the year Harvard Quasar breaks through. They have won games over a range of mid-level teams from different regions, including Wisconsin, UCSD, and North Carolina. Helmed by India Stubbs and Eliza Pugh, Quasar has the roster this year to upset a shakier Northeastern (they only lost 7-8 at conferences) or Middlebury.

Eliza Chan and their depth have good disc skills, but she and her teammates have to play with confidence and grit this weekend to help the team earn upsets. Looking towards Quasar’s future, newcomer Mia Bladin has already been an all star in youth ultimate, earning YCC titles for the Seattle team and playing on the 2014 WJUC team. But she’s playing D-I soccer for Harvard, which means her commitment level is understandably limited.

MIT Looking Polished 

Under the expert tutelage of coach Shellie Cohen, MIT had an impressive year of growth. Their win-loss record has a lot of red, but their wins over Michigan and Florida aren’t small potatoes. SMITe, lead by 5th year Lisa Liu, has a skilled and clean offense.

Defensively, however, MIT has struggled to shut down other teams’ games, and they will have to bring something special against physical teams like Northeastern and Dartmouth. But expect good games from them, and expect this team to become more skilled and nuanced in the next few years.

  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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