The haters may hate, but Metro East Regionals was once again a dramatic weekend filled with upsets and big performances.
May 5, 2016 by Grace Feinman-Riordan in Coverage, Recap with 4 comments
Say what you like about Metro East Regionals, it’s certainly not predictable. This year was no exception. With two very different climates between Saturday and Sunday, massive upsets, and unexpectedly narrow margins, there was thrilling ultimate to watch all weekend. In the end, the Ottawa Lady Gee Gees advanced to Nationals with an impressive pair of days, reclaiming the title they relinquished over the past two seasons.
Wild Roses And Gee Gees Top Saturday Pools
Saturday’s weather — warm and sunny with almost no wind — made for good ultimate, allowing throwers to show off their hucks. In Pool A, top-seeded UConn showcased their dominance, with one-sided wins over Rutgers, Yale, and Stony Brook. Cornell, coming in seeded last in the pool and 9th overall, relied on the strength of their program to grind out contested victories against those same three teams.
In the last round of pool play, UConn faced Cornell in what became a real thriller. UConn started strongly, relying on players like Cassy Hunter and Montana Bertoli to stretch the field deep, with Marissa Aldieri often putting the shots up for them. It seemed like a lopsided affair when UConn took half 7-3, but a Sarah Angle sky on the other side of the break brought Cornell back within three and shifted the momentum of the game in the Wild Roses’ favor.
UConn’s lead shrank to 9-7 by the time the soft cap went on, setting up a game to 11. After another Cornell goal to bring them within one of the Huskies, Olivia Olson got big to deny a UConn shot to the endzone; Cornell worked it down the field to tie the game at 9. The teams traded holds to make it 10-10, setting the stage for double game point. The final point was long and messy, with turfed discs in both endzones. Cornell cleaned it up first and with an upline throw to Lilly Mendoza, won the game and the pool.
In Pool B, Ottawa reigned supreme, going 4-0 on the day against Princeton, Rochester, Columbia, and NYU, though their day started a little slowly. Rochester gave the Gee Gees a tough first half in the opening round of the tournament thanks to solid play from Kate Cowie-Haskell, Luisa Neves, and Grace Grande; the teams remained close to 6-6, though Ottawa pulled away during the second half to earn a comfortable 13-7 win.
All weekend, it seemed like the Gee Gees just had more gas in the tank. The closest game they had in pool play was an 11-8 victory against Columbia, who had perhaps the deepest squad in the pool. Ottawa, on the other hand, relied on just ten players who operated with exceptional chemistry; they utilized their break throws as well as knowledge of each other to great success.
Ottawa Overcomes Sloppy Weather In Bracket Play
Sunday was cold and wet, with the rain causing a slew of execution errors and turnovers throughout the morning as teams adjusted to the new conditions.
Having finished second in their pool, UConn drew Rochester as their quarterfinal foe on Sunday morning. It was a fiercely contested matchup, with the Huskies’ big sideline squaring off against Rochester’s indefatigable drive. Michelle Landis was huge for the EZ Women in this game, shredding the UConn cup and throwing her cutters open in the endzone. Cowie-Haskell and Gillian Crysler also played with indomitable fire for Rochester, generating Ds and coming down with big grabs in the rain. After trailing for much of the early going, Rochester finally took the lead at 8-7 on the final point of the half as Neves threw the assist.
Coming out of the break with the soft cap already on, UConn and Marissa Aldieri were not to be deterred and they clawed their way back to 9-9 to force another universe point. After lots of turns, calls, and mistakes from both sides, the Huskies were able to punch it in for the 10-9 win.
Elsewhere in the quarterfinals, Columbia took down pool-winning Cornell 11-9, and Rutgers beat Princeton 12-9, surprising upsets after Saturday’s action. Ottawa had the most emphatic victory of the round, thrashing Yale.
This set up an Ottawa-UConn semifinal, the top-seeded teams in the tournament clashing just for the right to compete in the final. Nevertheless, the game felt like the bid-clincher. Despite UConn’s Saturday misstep against Cornell, throughout the weekend these two teams had proven to be the most exciting, with the Huskies’ obvious speed and athleticism on one side and Ottawa’s calm offense and team chemistry on the other.
The game started with a series of trading points. Corinne Giorgetti, perhaps the unsung hero of the Gee Gees, worked as a tireless cutter, coming down with big grabs despite her small frame. Maude Carrier-Laforte was highly effective going upline for Ottawa and she was frequently able to bail her team out with her lefty break throws. On the other side, Hunter proved her speed and persistence time and again, whether it was attacking deep or cutting under. UConn also relied on the safe hands of Ariel Virgulto, who seemed to always be open deep. But as much as the Huskies liked the long ball, Ottawa proved they were capable deep defenders.
The teams traded punches in the first half, with Ottawa eventually taking half 8-7. The Gee Gees, with their calculated risks, scored three straight out of the break to make it 11-7, and salt away what ended as a 12-9 win for the Canadians.
In the other semi, Rutgers Nightshade edged out Columbia, setting themselves up for a finals berth and a chance to steal the region’s single Nationals bid.
Ottawa held easily for the first score, with Izzy Bédard finding her sister Camille in the endzone. Both sisters were crucial for the Gee Gees all weekend, with Izzy providing a calming presence behind the disc and Camille dominating as a fearless downfield cutter. While Ottawa preferred to work the disc, Rutgers’ most effective tool was Amy Zhou’s monster pulls and huge OI hucks to space for fast, tall cutters like Janine Hlavaty and Sarah Bright. Ottawa’s strategy of valuing the disc served them well in the first half – they broke away early to take an 8-3 lead. Despite some sloppier second half points from the Gee Gees, Rutgers never really recovered, and Ottawa claimed the Metro East Championship, 12-6.
Parity Harbinger Of Brighter Future For Metro East
As predicted in our Regionals preview, the story of the weekend may have been the parity between the teams, which led to a number of “upsets” throughout the tournament. Unlike in previous years for the Metro East, when teams have stormed through pool play and finals seemed a foregone conclusion, most games in the tournament were close ones. For example, Stony Brook, a small team in its second year, put up serious points against every other team in their pool, losing by as little as one and never by more than four. Despite their roster of just ten players, Stony Brook certainly proved themselves.
As we watch the sport continue to grow, results like these are a good sign for the development of college ultimate. Parity among teams is a better sign for the region than previously vast talent gaps. Between the new-found consistency of UConn and Columbia’s programs and Rutgers’ sudden run, this year that parity was more pronounced. This is likely due in part to Metro East teams playing — and sometimes beating — teams from other regions.
While the Metro East still has a lot of progress to be made to be competitive nationally, these close games are definitely the first step.