Delving into some of the biggest storylines heading into this weekend in Appleton.
August 18, 2017 by Keith Raynor, Graham Gerhart and Daniel Prentice in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s reporting on the Women’s division of the 2017 Elite-Select Challenge is presented by VC Ultimate as part of their year-long support of our women’s coverage. All opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at VC Ultimate!
As the club season enters its second half, teams are beginning to really gear up for the Series. With the Elite Select Challenge falling later in the regular season than in years past, teams on the bid bubble have a better sense of what they need to do to set up their postseason success.
Here we take a look at some of the biggest storylines heading into this weekend in Appleton.
Date: August 19-20
Location: Appleton, WI
Weather: Mostly sunny in the low 80s all weekend, with winds between 5-15 MPH
Top 25 Teams: 12
Will Any Team Emerge As Favorites To Make Quarters At Nationals?
Over the course of the season, a fairly clear top seven teams have emerged that all feel like relative locks to make quarterfinals at Nationals. Without any of those teams present, can another team stake a claim as a quarterfinals favorite? Or, perhaps, multiple teams will prove themselves as true contenders for any of those 6-8 spots.
On paper, the likeliest teams to assert themselves into that top tier are Seattle Underground, San Francisco Nightlock, and Madison Heist, though Austin Showdown and Columbus Rival will feel capable as well. Without any of the true top teams present this weekend, the best of the middle tier should feel freed by no longer having to merely fight for fifth, sixth, or seventh place. If any of them are able to take advantage of that and rise above the pack with a convincing tournament win it could lead to a big gain in mental advantage for Nationals.
What Rosters Have The Most Notable Absences?
As the season winds down, tournaments such as the ESC are increasingly important for teams outside of bid range to make their last push and for teams within the top 16 to consolidate rankings points. That’s why it could be disconcerting for teams to show up at the tournament with a depleted roster. Unfortunately, the roster deficiencies of the top two seeds are quite evident — both #6 Seattle Underground and #10 San Francisco Nightlock will be far from 100% in Appleton.
Underground appear to be missing four of their core players — none of Katy Craley, Michaela Fallon, Emma Kahle, and Hannah Kreilkamp are on the Seattle roster for the weekend. Let’s not forget, we have already seen Underground play a high-level game this summer missing a slew of core players; during the Eurostars Tour, they were without several starters and it revealed some unsettling holes in both their offense and defense, as the Eurostars won handily. Either Underground has used that as a learning experience and have since plugged those holes or they could manifest in a very similar way in Appleton. With Underground sitting comfortably at ninth place in the rankings, it would take a lot to knock them out of bid contention, but their results will still be worth following.
Nightlock also has some noticeable truants; the absences of Rachel Habbert, Alina Kagan, Loryn Kanemaru, and Abby VanMuijen could be very apparent as they are all handlers for the San Francisco squad. While Nightlock has an abundance of handling depth, these four offer veteran experience to a team that is fairly young — even more so without their presence. Nightlock has had some tight wins and even tighter losses to a couple of the teams that they may face in the ESC bracket. Kanemaru and Habbert have both been known to take over games if necessary. Nightlock will truly have to prove their depth at this tournament.
How Big Of A Homefield Advantage Will Heist Have?
There’s not much talk of homefield advantage in ultimate, where the majority of all games played are neutral site matches. But #9 Madison Heist certainly has a track record of success when playing close to home. They’ve played in six such tournaments over the past three seasons1 and gone 24-4 across those events.
There’s a catch, however. The potential confounding variable here is the strength of the opposition. The field at this year’s Elite-Select Challenge is superior to North Central Regionals past and presents some tougher challenges than Heavyweights. Still, all four of those aforementioned losses came to elite Nationals teams. History indicates Heist is unlikely to suffer upsets and will be at least a semifinalist this weekend. It won’t hurt to have Sarah Anciaux and Georgia Bosscher together to help power their top end.
Which North Central And Great Lakes Teams Stake A Claim As Regional Favorites?
The only two regions currently without a definite favorite are the Great Lakes and the North Central. With the top two Great Lakes teams and top three from the North Central present this weekend, ESC is an opportunity for these clubs to establish themselves as the favorites in their respective regions. Which of them, if any, will take that chance?
The Great Lakes has been an entertaining power struggle between newcomers #12 Columbus Rival and stalwart #18 Chicago Nemesis over the last few seasons and those teams, again, will duke it out for what will likely be just one Nationals bid. Rival took the first round of this fight in 2017 at the Select Flight Invite a few weeks ago and may be poised to definitively close the door on this conversation with a convincing win in Appleton. The two will meet Saturday in pool play, as Nemesis tries to get back on level footing with their younger counterparts. Both teams appear to be sending full rosters to ESC.
In the North Central, Heist has been the team to beat in recent years, but a stronger #19 Minneapolis Pop and #25 Kansas City Wicked make the picture in the NC a bit murkier than usual. Pop and Heist have a pool-topping battle on tap for Saturday, but Wicked will have to earn their way into the bracket to have any chance of facing their would-be regional rivals.
Can Bent Straighten Out Their Season?
After six straight years of alternating between qualifying for the Club Championships and not, we always knew #15 New York Bent would be on the bubble again this season. While they fell in the game-to-go in 2012 and 2014, they finished fifth in the Northeast in 2016. Still, they’ve remained one of the strongest programs outside of the perennial qualifiers.
This year’s squad is a mix of young talent and veteran experience, as they return Julie Sussman, who earned a gold with Slow White last season. Their season has gotten off to a rocky start though, with far too many blowout losses. A victory over Schwa was the only win they picked up at the Pro-Elite Challenge in July; their semifinal finish at Chesapeake Open with a pair of five-point losses to the two finalists only served to underscore their place in the national pecking order — well ahead of the mid-level, but a significant step behind the elite.
Currently sitting at #22 in the rankings, it may be asking too much for Bent to earn their way into bid contention this weekend, though they may have a chance if they run the table in Appleton. Either way, they should still be gearing up for the gauntlet that is Sunday of Northeast Regionals, as several regional rivals are in a similar position.
Which Bottom Seed Would You Bet On?
In a tournament that is designed to connect potential up-and-coming teams with more well established programs, the bottom seeds at ESC have historically proven to be little more than cannon fodder. In fact, the bottom seeds have just two wins in pool play over the past three years combined at this tournament — both belonged to Rival, who failed to even advance out of prequarters.
If you’re looking for a longshot this year, Kansas City Wicked is your best bet. While the program has never really had the star power to earn a spot at Nationals, this season they are the only team heading into ESC undefeated — they enter the weekend with a squeaky clean 12-0 record and haven’t played very many close games. Wicked’s pool match-ups are also to their benefit. Kansas City certainly does not have the firepower to compete with a complete Underground roster but they may be able to spark something by playing them straight out of a bye and using their athletic prowess to punish Underground as the Eurostars did a little under a month ago. Even if they cannot defeat the 1-seed, they could push #20 San Diego Wildfire to the brink. Wildfire had an incredibly discouraging PEC and seemed out of rhythm on offense; if Wicked can capitalize on this, San Diego has not yet shown that they are able to come back from a deficit going into half. Lastly, DC Grit is not the most terrifying No. 12 seed to have to go through, as they’ve suffered considerable losses to teams ranked well below Wicked.
A pool over, keep an eye on Maddy Frey and Atlanta Outbreak, who would love to catch regional rival #24 Raleigh Phoenix in the throes of a rebuild.
Ultiworld will be filming three women’s games this weekend, to be released after the tournament. Access to the games will be available to Full and Plus subscribers. Here are the games:
- Austin Showdown vs. Chicago Nemesis (Pool Play)
- Madison Heist vs. New York Bent (Pool Play)
- Final (TBD)
Rockford, IL, while touted as close to Chicago, is less than 90 mins from Madison ↩