Clemson and Central Florida cleaned up on Sunday.
March 20, 2019 by Daniel Prentice in Recap with 0 comments
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It was a fun weekend at Tally Classic, despite the favorites winning in both divisions. There were a few major story lines to emerge in each division, so let’s get right into it.
Clemson Clobbers Tally Classic Competition
Clemson‘s swarming zone defense overwhelmed their opponents at Tally Classic, and their veteran-laden roster was far more ruthless with break opportunities than any other team in the field. Their superior athleticism and offensive chemistry were too much for teams as they blew out every opponent they played.
The Tiger Lillies’ closest game was their 13-5 opening round game against Kennesaw State, and they outscored their opponents by a combined score of 81-22. They scored the maximum amount of points (13 on Saturday, 15 on Sunday) in five of their six games. For comparison’s sake, the rest of the Tier 1 teams at the tournament combined to do that just eight times. Clemson was the best team at Tally, and it wasn’t close.
Not only was Clemson the best team at Tally Classic, but it was the best they’ve looked this year. “This is probably the best I’ve ever seen our team play at our tournament, consistently,” said coach Libby Dewey. “We have our ups and downs, but this tournament, honestly, it was more of an up the whole time.”
Their zone defense was the biggest key to Clemson’s dominance. Rachel Conway was a terror as the Clemson deep, rejecting any throw that tried to go over the top. After their win in the final over Harvard, Harvard coach Lien Hoffmann even compared Conway to Sandy Jorgensen, in terms of defensive impact. Conway’s range and disc-hawking allowed the rest of the zone to play tighter and make simpler throws like resets a challenge. “They’re crafty up front. It looked like a traditional three cup in some respects, but then they were really unpredictable in their movements,” said Hoffmann’s co-coach Amber Sinicrope. “The reset seemed open, and then it wasn’t open.”
Dewey said Clemson’s zone is a product of some tinkering with a base defense the team has employed for years. “We have one zone we have been playing as a team honestly probably for the last five years. This year we came up with two variations on it that’s hit two weak points that are often seen in that zone,” she said. “It allows us to adapt to any team’s offense. If they start beating one of those variations, we throw the other one. It not only throws them off, but it hopefully hits the weak point that they’re hitting on.”
Being able to work together on a zone for so many years is certainly helpful, and that time together showed on the offensive end, too. Players like Elena Miyasato and Emma Ressler were both instrumental in the red zone, where many of Clemson’s possessions started thanks to their suffocating zone. They were almost as efficient on offense as they were oppressive on defense, and that was more than enough win Tally Classic. The field wasn’t especially strong, but the way they dominated every team the played still deserves notice.
Harvard and Notre Dame Potential Regionals Threats
While no team was on Clemson’s level, Harvard and Notre Dame formed a solid second tier at the tournament. Both teams looked like they could potentially be in the running for making a game to go at regionals.
Harvard made the final with just one loss, a 12-10 to Florida at the end of pool play. They grabbed a couple of close wins over Notre Dame along the way, and blew out South Florida, Tulane, and Illinois.
Audrey Sheehy was a goal scoring machine, while Andrea Brown was a solid quarterback in the team’s backfield. Karen Reyes and Michigan grad transfer Amy Stoddard were impressive as all-around playmakers. Harvard also employed a zone defense that was effective against most offenses. They weren’t as aggressive with it as Clemson was, but they did a nice job of staying at home, forcing a lot of throws, and waiting for the turnovers to come to them.
It was just Harvard’s second tournament of the year, and the coaches seem pleased with the growth they’ve shown since Queen City Tune Up. “We wanted to come into the tournament energized and excited and learning,” said Courtney Verhaalen. “It’s definitely a learning tournament for us. So I think the goal was to approach every game with a beginner’s mindset, which is what we did.”
“We saw Florida and Clemson both at Queen City, so a month or so ago, so it was a great opportunity to kind of have that bench mark to see where we’ve grown and still have the areas the we need to grow going into the rest of the season,” said Sinicrope. Hoffmann identified the team’s zone offense as one area that showed marked improvement, but that the game against Clemson highlighted the areas where they can still improve in that regard.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, suffered just two losses, both to Harvard, by a combined three goals. It was a nice bounceback weekend for Notre Dame after going 1-6 at Queen City Tune Up. In particular, their two wins over Florida, and their 12-11 double game point win over Florida State in quarterfinals demonstrated the club’s improvement. Katarin Jamsek was one of the most impressive players of the weekend, and when she and Colleen Scott were clicking in the Notre Dame backfield is when the team was at its best.
Notre Dame isn’t very deep, with just 18 players on the roster, but they are a gritty bunch, and their top players like Jamsek, Scott, and cutter TC Burrows were prepared to play a lot of points. It wasn’t quite enough for them to make their fourth straight Tally Classic final, but they did show signs that they could be in contention for the lone Nationals bid out of the Great Lakes.
Florida’s Up and Down Weekend Not a Cause for Concern
Florida‘s Tally Classic, much like their season, had its ups and downs. After starting their tournament by being upset by Notre Dame, they bounced back to win their pool by beating South Florida and Harvard. But they then lost their Saturday crossover game to Florida State on double game point. They claimed a comfortable quarterfinal win over Kennesaw State, but then were shut out by Clemson in the second half of their 14-3 semifinal defeat, and they concluded their tournament with an 11-8 loss to Notre Dame in the third place game.
Florida was missing some players, and lost a couple to injury over the course of the tournament, and that certainly didn’t help. But the team struggled to find a consistent groove offensively. Gabby Krajniak took up a lot of the touches in the backfield, and at times she was forced to make some questionable throws, as her cutters struggled to find a comfort and cohesiveness in their roles, especially against zone defenses.
There’s still a way to go for Florida as they continue work in their plethora of new players, most of whom got a lot of playing time on the weekend. Florida’s regular season is now over, with Conferences their next tournament on the schedule. It’s still shaping up to be a wide open battle for the one Southeast autobid, and despite the up and down results, there are no signs of panic from the team’s leadership. That’s probably a good sign for the team that’s taken the region’s lone bid each of the last two seasons.
UCF Proved Themselves
#8 Central Florida proved themselves as the team to beat in the Southeast at Tally Classic. After a winning their pool, they rattled off three straight 15-10 wins over regional foes Alabama, Florida State, and Auburn in quarters, semis, and the final, respectively.
The final was a matchup of the two most impressive teams of the weekend, UCF and Auburn, who’d gone undefeated on the weekend to that point. It was actually Auburn who won the opening stage of the game, getting the first two breaks of the game at 3-2 and 5-4 to take a 6-4 lead. But as soon as they went down two goals, UCF flipped a switch and ramped up the offensive efficiency. They went on a 4-1 run to get back on serve and take half, 8-7.
The second half was the Adam Vinson show. He tore Auburn’s defense apart with his speed, scoring multiple times on strike cuts to the front cone, despite everyone knowing it was coming. Auburn simply didn’t have anyone that could hang with him. After a couple of breaks to start the second half pushed their lead to 10-7, UCF’s offense was able to maintain the lead for the rest of the half, thanks in large part to Vinson’s unstoppable play.
They then got two late breaks to close it 15-10 out as Auburn got a little sloppy. The final win earned UCF their first tournament win since Carolina Kickoff in 2015. It was an impressive Sunday performance from UCF, winning the final and semifinal over Florida State as comfortably as they did. They proved their loss to Notre Dame the day prior was merely a fluke.
UCF came into the weekend off of their spring break, and the team’s coaches, Michael Taylor and Matt Helms, felt like the team didn’t come out with the right intensity in the first couple of rounds. But Taylor saw the loss as a positive for his team in the long run. “It’s exactly what we needed, the momentum we needed moving forward, especially having a loss this tournament. We went into thinking we could try and go undefeated this whole tournament, so that loss really affected us, and it was good that were able to bounce back and still come through and win the whole thing.”
With the tournament title, and their impressive performance in the bracket, UCF proved that their Warm Up performance wasn’t a one off. Their final opponents agreed. “We were not sure if UCF was the real deal, but hey’re absolutely the real deal,” said Auburn captain Rocco Magnella after the game. “They’re deep, plenty of talent, very fast.”
To UCF’s credit, they haven’t paid any credence to the outside opinions of how good their team is. “We knew after Warm Up that we were a good team,” said Taylor. “From Warm Up on, we’ve always had the same attitude that we’re not worried what anybody else thinks about us this year. We know that our confidence in ourselves is all we need to worry about. We have each other and that’s all that matters. No matter what happens, no matter what other teams think, anything like that, we know we got this.”
That quote sums up pretty well how UCF is playing this year. They’re clearly enjoying playing together, visibly more so than they have they last couple of seasons, and they play with absolutely no lack of confidence. They suffered a blip at Tally Classic in their loss to Notre Dame, but they showed who they really are with their streak of 15-10 wins on their way to the tournament title. And what they are is the best team in the Southeast, at least through this point in the season.
Shorthanded Auburn Maintain
The final didn’t go the way Auburn had hoped, but they were able to maintain their status as the Southeast’s number two team and, more importantly, hold onto a second bid for the region. That they did all that while missing some key players make it all the more impressive. Luke and Sam Smith were both absent all weekend, Michael Strobel didn’t make it to the tournament until Sunday morning, one of the team’s captains Mark Shannon missed time, and Harrison Lott broke his foot at the tournament.
The team’s struggles against UCF could largely be chalked up to their depth limitations, as they began to make tired mistakes that allowed UCF to retake the lead and then pull away. “They started to bracket all of our set plays, and…we got a little stagnant. I think we were probably a little gassed in the second half. We just started to feel the weekend a little bit,” said team captain Rocco Magnella.
Eric Sjostrom also didn’t have his best weekend as a thrower, though he did prove to be a tough matchup for teams downfield, where he spent a lot of his time on Sunday. But Magnella had an impressive tournament in the team’s backfield, and freshman David Perry looked like he may have sewn up Southeast Freshman of the Year honors. So there were plenty of positives for Auburn, despite not being able to field their most competitive team, and others not playing their best.
“Winning a tournament in the regular season is never our goal. We have a good base going into Easterns,” said Magnella. “We should have everybody back except for Harry for Easterns, so I think that’s our peak for the season before going into sectionals and Regionals. I love how the team played, the spirit of the team, throughout the weekend. I think it was a success overall.”
Auburn, now sitting at 18th in the USAU rankings, and holding onto the final strength bid, will have to perform well at Easterns if they are going to bring a second bid to Regionals. But based on how they performed this weekend without the players they were missing, they should be in a fine spot once they’re all back.
Southeast Picture Comes Into Focus
Coming into the weekend, there were a lot of eyes waiting to see how Alabama would play. They had jumped into a strength bid the previous weekend, but they fell well off of it with their this weekend’s performance. Right out of the gate, they dropped a game to Cincinnati that essentially ended their chances of earning a bid right then and there. Alabama ended up 2-4, with a close win losses to UCF, Tulane, and Harvard all dragging down their ranking. The Southeast is now down to two bids, and Georgia will need a big weekend at Easterns at the end of the month if they’re going to get it back to three.
One team that will be sad to see the third bid leave the region is Florida State, who went undefeated on the weekend apart from their losses to the two current bid holders, Auburn and UCF. Florida State again showed flashes of being a team capable of stealing a bid come Regionals, but struggled for consistency against those two top end opponents. Their handlers, in particular, lacked the clean play needed against the teams with the most efficient D-line offenses.
Head coach Jordan Huston hopes that, with the opportunity to get reps against those two teams that they may well be trying to steal a bid from next month, will be a learning moment for his team. “I think the biggest takeaway from the Auburn and UCF games is the realization for our players that they have to give maximum effort for a full game if they want to get a win against either of those teams. Both of them bring the energy from the very beginning and if you’re not ready to at least match it, you’re going to find yourself in a hole that’s very difficult to climb out of.”
There was still enough for Huston to feel good about the direction of the team, though, in spite of those two losses. “I’m encouraged with the potential of our team and the direction we’re headed. When we’re playing our best, I truly believe we can beat anyone. That being said, we’ve struggled mightily with consistency and that will continue to be our main focus during this last part of the regular season. I’ve seen improvement in that department but we still have a ways to go if we want to reach our goals.”
Alabama-Huntsville also looked like a team that could be a pesky opponent come Regionals; they gave tough games to both UCF and Auburn, and they ended up finishing fourth. They were long and athletic, and played without fear against the region’s favorites. Southeast Regionals are always a gauntlet, and UAH looks like they could be a part of that this season, even if they have very slim chances of making out of the region themselves.