Pool A Preview: 2015 College Championships (Women’s), Presented By Ultimate Central

Top seeded Oregon is a heavy favorite, but Pool A is filled with intensity and intrigue.

Oregon swag.
Oregon swag. Photo: Nathan Kolakovic — UltiPhotos.com

Pool A is an amusing mix of teams. There are pairs that are very familiar with each other and have played multiple times this season, like Central Florida and Florida State, and then there are teams that no one knows anything about, like Notre Dame. While the gap between the top and the middle seems vast, after the #1 overall seed, there’s not even a script to be flipped.

Oregon Fugue sits at the top of the entire Nationals field, and is quite confident going into pool play on Friday and Saturday. Overall eight seed Notre Dame is coming off an undefeated season and is ready to prove that they deserve their high placement, while UCF and Florida State are ready to continue battling it out in their sixth meeting this season. University of Victoria Vixens are coming in as the lowest seed in the pool after taking the fifth bid from the always strong Northwest, and are secretly loving their underdog situation.

Pool A also may feature the most highlight reel plays of any pool. All five teams are aggressive and athletic. They’ve each made a habit of delighting the folks at Ultiphotos with their bids and skies. They’ll find one another familiar as they each fight fire with fire. Pool A could quickly turn into a game of one-upsmanship on an epic stage.

All of these teams are looking to shake things up in pool play; how will the chips fall?

#1 Oregon Fugue

What else can be said about Oregon? They churn out top talent year after year, and Coach Lou Burruss has perfected the art of fine-tuning his pieces into a well-oiled machine by May. They are at the top of the rankings, as they have been all year. There have been close calls, and they aren’t infallible, but Fugue always comes back when they are knocked down even a centimeter.

They have only met one team in Pool A during this past regular season, and it is the lowest seed, Victoria. However, this game was only decided by two points, which you can be sure Oregon won’t forget. Knowing Fugue, they won’t underestimate anyone in this tournament. Last year didn’t go according to their plan, and this year they will be chomping at the bit to get back to the final. Notre Dame, UCF, and Florida State are all teams that they have studied up on, and their quick disc movement is sure to work to their advantage.

Oregon comes equipped with what they need from the opening pull. They don’t make a lot of complex strategic adjustments, but when they find a weakness, they hammer it like they’re in a video game boss battle. Fugue wins by playing Fugue’s game and making you play Fugue’s game or…well, game over. They’ve done it against the best teams in the country: they’ve beaten every other one seed, every two seed they’ve played, and every three seed they’ve played. Of course, the lone two seed and only three seed they’ve yet to see are the ones in their pool, but their approach likely won’t change.

Answering Oregon’s talent and confidence is one tough test. The book is out on Alex Ode, Jesse Shofner, Hayley Walhroos, and Beth Kaylor. Even once you get past that foursome of high-end green-lit superstars, facing down Olivia Bartruff, Ashley Young, Lily Weaver, Kaitlyn Brunnik, and freshman Ella Hanson is a daunting task rarely achieved. You know they’ll turn the disc more than most teams, but you also know they’ll turn more heads than most teams with eye popping Ds and turn more opportunities into breaks with their pedal to the metal transitions.

#8 Notre Dame Womb

Notre Dame Womb has had a phenomenal season so far. They have a 26-0 record going into the weekend, and are ready to finally play the biggest teams in the country. Are the biggest teams ready for them and their unorthodox game?

They saw a couple teams that will be present this weekend earlier in the season, but have just missed out on playing a few other teams in spring tournaments, including Florida State at Tally Classic. That makes Notre Dame an almost complete mystery in Milwaukee, and everyone is well aware of it.  The schedule did the new kids on the block no favors. The first game of Pool A pits Womb against Oregon in what may turn out to be a showcase game of Notre Dame for the other 18 teams to dissect.

What outsiders are likely to find may surprise and befuddle them. The only name from the team to even register a blip is that of captain and emotional leader Kelsey Fink. After Nationals, people will know more about Julia Butterfield, Amalia Carmona, and athletic rookie Sarah Lipscomb. Yet watching Womb play, their game tediously balancing on an intense trust in one another and a full tilt mindset, it is hard to decipher the exact how of their success. By the time you’ve put your finger on it, they’ve already stomped a footprint into your chest.

The women of Notre Dame know that their lack of experience with the other teams could be looked upon as a disadvantage, especially in a pool with two pairs of teams that are used to playing each other. Despite this, they’re feeling ready. “We work well together adapting to different playing styles,” says Fink, “so I have full confidence in our players to learn quickly the strengths and weaknesses of our competitors”.

Whatever happens with this mystery team who nobody saw coming, expect to hear music blasting during halftime and see the players just enjoying being at Nationals.

#12 Florida State Seminole Ladies

Last year Florida State was in a completely different situation from where they are now. They failed to steal the solo bid for their region from rival Central Florida, watched a team they knew they could beat nearly make it to the title game, and vowed that the next year would be different. And they certainly followed up on that promise. This year, they finished above UCF and left them fighting to get a second bid for the region. Of course, their trip to Milwaukee comes complete with a matchup with their good friends from down the road.

In the final game of Southeast Regionals, they held their own and claimed their rightful title as champions, with a 31-6 record. They have notched wins over a number of teams appearing in Milwaukee, including UCLA, Colorado, Virginia, and Kansas. The lone first timer in the field, they’ve left no doubt about the legitimacy of their claim and nobody will glance twice when they flash their invite.

The Seminole Ladies have a core group of veteran seniors that all know how hard they have worked to get to College Nationals. Their seasoned vets have been through a lot together and grown into confident, connected, and effective personnel groups. Skylar Taggert, Kari Tomarelli, Alleigh Grover, Carolina Gonzalez-Llanos and Lauren Brunner pilot the offense and set up Kristin Lloyd, Lari Ferreira, and Lisa Fitton. Lloyd, a senior captain, is all about wanting it more: “Just being here is not enough. We’re capable to make a run and really surprise some people, so that’s what we’re going to set out to do.”

For FSU, it is the build up to Friday and Saturday that powers them. With everything they’ve put in, there’s no room to overlook anyone, and they’ll play every game like they are the old FSU teams that came up short for so many years, fighting for their reputation with every point. They’ve got the chops and will just have to scale the mental hurdles that have bounded them in the past.

#13 Central Florida Sirens

UCF has had a very up and down year. At Queen City they showed that their zone could still dismantle teams, and they rolled through the slightly smaller field at Music City Mash Up this year, taking down Carleton, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh along the way. They had a decent showing at Centex, and all of this added up to earning a strength bid for the Southeast, where they kept with Florida State in the final.

Central Florida's Stephanie "Eli" Williams scans the field.
Central Florida’s Stephanie “Eli” Williams scans the field. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Central Florida is an extremely young team. Young enough, according to Coach Joe Tilley, that most of the players don’t understand how difficult getting to Nationals is because the majority of them haven’t ever not made it, including star rookie Janina Freystaetter. This puts a lot of pressure on those more experienced Sirens, and their coaching staff, to keep the others grounded. Stephanie “Eli” Williams, Alexa Wood, Jessie Baldwin, and Shayna Brock bear much of that load.

However, this confidence from inexperience could greatly lend itself to UCF’s playing style and end up being extremely helpful. Their goal this weekend is to break seed, and they know how to make adjustments in each situation to achieve it. The Siren approach is a well defined doctrine that their players know and have faith in.

What history they do know is certainly present in Pool A. Regional rival that they’ve played six times, lost to in the Regional final, and has one of their former players filling a key role? Check. Matchup with the same Oregon team that they were inches away from upsetting in the semifinal classic last season? Check. Confidence they can beat anyone? If they can check that box Friday and Saturday, they could find themselves right back in the bracket.

#17 Victoria Vixens

The University of Victoria Vixens have surprised themselves this year. After graduating 11 solid players, those who returned thought that this would be a transition year. Instead, their coaches pushed them and they had a number of extremely close games, including one point games against Whitman and UCLA, and a 12-14 loss to Oregon at Sectionals mere weeks ago. Despite their less than perfect record from the season, UVic has shown that they can play closely with these top teams and do well. They’re particularly looking forward to playing Fugue again, as their game in sectionals was very close, and full of great plays from both sides.

With such a new squad of players, being able to depend on their teammates became a huge part of the team mentality, and it has shown in the improvement of the Vixens’ season. From losing to Oregon 13-3 at the Stanford Invite to only losing by two later in the year, it is obvious that this team is coming together at the right time. The other three teams in the pool are unknowns to the Vixens – and vice versa – and they are pumped to meet them on the field.

Victoria is an explosive team that is even better when teams are off guard. They send long bodies flying regular in search of Ds. They rocket into lanes with surprise run throughs on poaches. They make plays on upline cuts defenders expected them to back off of. Led by Kate Scarth, Corinne Dunwoody, and Lexi Omand, the Vixens play with guts, and that lets them spill some.

Instead of looking despondently at their lower bid, they are hoping to use it to slide under the radar. Captain Naomi Redmond puts it very simply: “We’re used to being the underdogs and we’re exactly where we need to be. We’ll be looking for some upsets in pool play and we’ve got them right where we want them.”

  1. Liz Gates

    Liz Gates has been playing sports her whole life, and finally found ultimate in highschool in Cincinnati. She played for Ohio State Fever and won the national championship. She has also played three seasons of club mixed in Ohio, and most recently joined a mixed team in Iowa.

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