Santa Barbara Invite 2017: Tournament Preview (Women’s)

Where we'll likely see Round 1 of Stanford v Whitman.

UCLA’s Han Chen. Photo: Natalie Bigman-Pimentel —

The Santa Barbara Invite is usually the warmup lap for the Southwest’s top teams. Players can stretch their legs and test out their spring rosters against their neighbors. It’s very early in the season and made up of predominantly Californian teams, though it usually attracts a few from out-of-town as well.

For most other regions, this type of tournament would be a footnote; but in the competitive Southwest, the region’s strength makes this tournament notable on a national scale. This year, the tournament features brighter talent than ever: five Top 25 ranked teams will attend, including defending National finalists, #1 Stanford and #2 Whitman.

The median skill level will be as high as ever before in Santa Barbara, but it’s important to remember that the results here are rarely reliable indicators of how the season will play out. They’re helpful to revisit in retrospect, but the winner this weekend doesn’t get a free pass to Nationals. There’s a lot more road ahead.

Here again are the pools heading into the weekend.

Pool APool BPool CPool D
#1 Stanford (1)#2 Whitman (2)#15 UCLA (3)#18 California (4)
Victoria (8)California-San Diego (7)California-Davis (6)#12 Southern California (5)
San Diego State (12)Cal Poly-SLO (11)California-Santa Barbara (10)Arizona State (9)
Arizona (13)Santa Clara (14)California-Santa Cruz (15)Brigham Young (16)

Stories to Watch

The Battle We All Hope To See

The eleventh plague would have to strike to prevent Stanford Superfly and Whitman Sweets, the top two teams in the country, from meeting in the final. Then again, California has been a bit damp lately.

These elite teams can talk about chemistry building and player development all they want. But let’s be honest: If Superfly and the Sweets face off on Sunday, count on both teams playing as hard as they can. They’ve both lost a few big players since their matchup in Raleigh — Annë Rempel and Veronica Cruz for Stanford, Ari Lozano and Marlena Sloss for Whitman — but they retain largely the same rosters as the Nationals final.

It’s almost unfair that Stanford gets another season with Monisha White, Shayla Harris, Courtney Gegg, Caitlin Go, and Anne-Marie Gordon. And while White can no longer bounce the disc off Rempel, Hallie Dunham is the best substitute White could wish for. Courtney Gegg just keeps peaking downfield, and it’s unlikely Santa Barbara Invite will reveal a defender who can control her.

If all goes to seed, Whitman will have to reckon with the memory of their last meeting. Stanford’s defense hampered Whitman’s deep game and their handler resets during the College Championship final, winning 12-10. Most of the women who played in that game return this year, though Whitman has two notable additions: Gwen Ambler and Rohre Titcomb will be coaching the Sweets this spring.

This elite coaching booster pack is just what Whitman needs. Their loss to Stanford last year came in part from poor coaching decisions at key moments. Who better to step in than two women who collectively have coached or competed in 14 championship finals?

Whitman’s seniors — particularly Claire Revere, Margo Heffron, and Nina Finley — have been playing together for a long time. These Seattle youth ultimate progeny have one more year to take the Sweets as far as they can. Chloe Carothers-Liske (CA Roll, Happy Cows, WJUC), Lian Gamble (Nathan Hale HS), and Sarah Schwiebert (Summit, YCC Flood, OR 2nd team All-State ’15) join the Sweets as new blood this year. Carothers-Liske has already stepped into a significant cutting role downfield, and look for her to get a lot more minutes this weekend.

California & UCLA Rebounding Without Their Stars

Being a good team in the Southwest region is like being the middle child: maybe you got good grades, sure, but your older sibling Stanford came home with all A’s. You made Varsity, but Stanford is still the MVP. No matter how hard you try, you can’t beat them.

Stanford has been the Southwest Regional Champion for three of the last five years. During the same period, the California Pie Queens qualified for Nationals twice (once as the Regional champions), and UCLA qualified four times. These California teams would be dominant most other regions, but in the Southwest they can’t unseat Stanford when it counts.

The #18 California Pie Queens and #15 UCLA BLU each lost high-profile players last year. California graduated Marisa Rafter, the 2016 Callahan winner and our resident point block queen. UCLA bid farewell to Kristen Pojunis, STF All-Star and more importantly an incredible player.

It speaks volumes about these programs that both California and UCLA should be just as strong this season. The Pie Queens’ nearly Marxist distribution of playing time has hurt them in some big games, but it also means they aren’t burned badly by turnover. Jackelyne “Kobe” Nguyen is one of the most exciting up-and-coming players to watch in the division, and she’ll be a tough assignment for any team this weekend.

UCLA’s notorious duo may be no longer, but most of Han Chen and Kristen Pojunis’ rookie class — which Coach Alex Korb called the best in BLU’s history — remains. Beyond Chen, Kathleen Lo, and Camille Wilson all return this year. BLU’s pace might look different without Pojunis in the endzone for Chen (or vice versa), but that doesn’t mean they’re any less dangerous.

The road to Southwest Regionals begins here. Both California and UCLA are using Santa Barbara Invite as a warmup tournament, but it’s also their first chance to prove that they don’t deserve to be middle siblings any longer.

USC Shedding Their Underdog Status

The #12 USC Hellions of Troy excel at clawing back into games. They’re no strangers to messy, all-out brawls of games. They can face an early deficit and still drag themselves into a lead. They dug through a long list of Southwest teams to qualify for Nationals last year, where they tied for 17th.

So imagine their surprise when they blew by UCLA 11-4 in the KFall final. Fall tournaments are fall tournaments, sure. But the Hellions saw little attrition since last season, and they’re well positioned to shift into second place in the region this year. Captain Julia Johnson has control over their backfield, while Connie Chan and Catherine Chung are big contributors downfield.

USC enters Santa Barbara Invite as the overall 5-seed. Like every other team, USC is approaching the weekend with an eye on development and fun instead of rankings or upsets. But their pool’s 1-seed, California, is within spitting distance for an upset. If USC gets used to bigger margin wins, they could change the regional script this season.

The Victoria Vixens Rebuild

The Victoria Vixens lost or graduated 11 women since last season, including Naomi Redmond and Caroline Dunwoody, who were the motors for their offense. The Vixens coaching duo, Kevin and Phyllis Bruleigh, have started to rebuild the team’s system around the new roster, but the seams will be visible this weekend.

Victoria has developed a lot of hybrid players over the past few seasons — Mairin Berezan, Daisy Petrucci, and Natasha Wong come to mind — and these women will have more responsibility this year. Sophomores Claire Lee and Anna Fox will also be effective downfield cutters for the Vixens — they’re both tall, fast, and fearless.

The Vixens have a lot of script to rewrite in the next few months if they want to get into the conversation in the brutally tough Northwest. The Vixens have rarely had stellar regular season results, and this season’s fresh start could come with growing pains early.

UC Davis And UC San Diego Ready To Change The Narrative

Every season, UC Davis and UC San Diego almost break through into the crowded upper echelon of Southwest teams. Last year, UCD Rogue beat Western Washington, Colorado, and California (twice) during the regular season, but they couldn’t reach one of the “final four” spots at Regionals. The UCSD Psychos had a healthy resume of mid-tier wins last year. They even beat UCD on Saturday of Regionals, but lost on Sunday in the fourth place bracket.

These UC schools follow parallel paths in the region, and their parallels will continue this weekend. UCSD is the 2-seed below Whitman in Pool B, while UC Davis is the 2-seed after UCLA. UC Davis fought a close game against UCLA at the Sean Ryan Memorial tournament and could challenge them again, but UC Davis is unlikely to upset Whitman this weekend.

  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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