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Presidents’ Day Invite 2020: Tournament Preview (Women’s)

The west's best converge in San Diego for three days of top competition.

UCSD's Lauren Hanna and Western Washington's Samiya Ismail could be two of the top players at President's Day Invite this weekend. Photo: Paul Rutherford -- UltiPhotos.com
UCSD’s Lauren Hanna and Western Washington’s Samiya Ismail could be two of the top players at President’s Day Invite this weekend. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

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Despite the promise of any Valentine’s Day weekend plans, many of the nation’s best college teams are shirking their loved ones to face off in sunny San Diego. For the teams traveling from outside of the California coast, there might not be anything as romantic as the beautiful warm weather that this weekend promises. After a few years with spotty rainfall, we’re finally getting the blue skies that San Diego promises at this time of year, which means more ultimate and a higher level of competition.

This will be our first time seeing some of the highest-ranked squads in action, and a better look at others that have already put their mark on the season. There’s a healthy mix of fresh faces and returning favorites, leaving plenty of room for surprises and upsets to abound. That being said, the inclusion of power pools should ensure that only the best teams make it to bracket play, which undoubtedly provides some very thrilling matchups. By the end of this weekend, our view of the college division will become increasingly more clear.

Tournament Profile

  • Date: February 15-17
  • Location: La Jolla, CA
  • Weather: Mid-60s and sunny, with light wind
  • Top 25 Teams: 9
  • Competition Schedule

2019 Highlights

Filming Schedule

Filmed games will be available online next week for Ultiworld Full and Plus subscribers. Game schedules are subject to change.

Saturday

9:00 AM: Texas v. Utah
10:30 AM: Oregon v. Cal Poly SLO
12:00 PM: UCSD v. Colorado
1:30 PM: Power Pool Game (TBD)

Monday

8:00 AM: Quarter
11:00 AM: Semi
12:30 PM: Final

Stories To Watch

Can Anyone Out There Stop UCSD?

Coming into this season, it really seemed like parity might be the name of the game with these early West Coast tournaments, and then #7 UC San Diego handily won the Santa Barbara Invite without either of their head coaches present. If a reminder is need, these two coaches, Alisha Stoun and Carlo Mosca, were the masterminds behind one of the most efficient and crushing offensive teams ever seen in the college division. Last year’s UCSD squad was not just spoilt with talent, they were also more disciplined and more equipped than their competition, and it was almost all thanks to their coaches. This season, after losing a healthy swathe of their talent, it seemed as if UCSD’s coaching staff was going need to do some heavy lifting, but now… well, who knows now.

UCSD has picked up right where they left off in 2019, winning the Santa Barbara Invite and adding their ninth straight Southwest tournament trophy to their cabinet. At this rate, they may need to invest in a trophy room or a small apartment to house all their accolades. It’s all coming together for Dragon Coalition. The Hanna twins are turning into legitimate college stars, Maggie Pierce is a freshman who plays like a veteran, Pin-Hsuan Chen has an insatiable eye for perfect under cuts, and Alex Diaz is perhaps the best finisher on this side of the Rockies. In Santa Barbara, the team proved that their collective ultimate IQ was enough to match and overpower many of the teams we expect to see at Nationals this year, but their competition at President’s Day will provide another challenge altogether.

No, the field of teams coming to San Diego this weekend isn’t as deep as it was in Santa Barbara, but the top tier is of the highest caliber. The first team that may hold a chance at toppling UCSD this weekend is one that they’re all too familiar with. #9 UCLA had every chance to beat UCSD in the final in Santa Barbara but couldn’t quite seal the deal despite leading for almost the entire game. They may have lost in the end, but they proved they had what it takes to tangle with the reigning champs. UCLA was much less disciplined than UCSD three weekends ago, and that’s a good thing. They know exactly the fixes they need to make in order to take on this weekend’s home team, and have had plenty of time to work on their flaws. Expect a better, more focused BLU team in San Diego.

The next two challengers are actually teams that we haven’t seen play a meaningful regular-season game yet, but the promise of their talent is just too great. #6 Western Washington Chaos and #5 Colorado Quandary are both hoping to leave their mark on the women’s college division this tournament, and a statement win over UCSD would certainly do just that. WWU always benefits from the healthy Washington youth scene, but their strength this year is in their veteran core. Chaos returns U24 star Samiya Ismail, along with two huge contributors to their 2019 success with Ruby Cassidy and Eleanor Joselyn. Add Tova Breen and Eleanor Heberlein’s power defensive talents to that core and it’s hard to find a weakness in this roster. UCSD has yet to face a team that has the veteran talent to match their own, and WWU could be an opponent they can’t just beat by relying on their impeccable system. It’s an old sports adage: bet on the team with more talent. At this point, it’s easy to make a case that Chaos are that team.

If Colorado is to take down UCSD, it’s with a completely different tack from Western Washington. Quandary are embracing their youth movement, with arguably the best rookie class of the entire college division. Stacy Gaskill and Skye Fernandez are as close as it comes to five-star recruits, and they have their U20 teammate Bailey Shigley with them for good measure. Colorado doesn’t have to wait for these rookies to get up to speed, they’re going to be the ones setting the speed in any game they play. As a team, Colorado reformed their team identity last season and became a gritty defensive unit that was more than happy to wear their opponents down. Against UCSD, they’ll have their chance to put that to the test, and also to show just how much their young core can do against a team that also prides themselves on their defensive effort. This will happen sooner than later, too, as these two will meet in pool play due to Colorado’s surprisingly low seed at this tournament.

The final team that could really push UCSD to the edge is a foe that needs no introduction — they played D-Co so many times last year that they’re already very well aware of each other. #11 UC Santa Barbara may have missed on their chance to square up against their in-region rivals at SBI, but they have the pieces to shake UCSD’s otherwise immovable foundation. No team plays person defense like Santa Barbara, and while they definitely needed to clean up their offense after their home tournament, they’ve had plenty of time to get that ready as they head into this weekend. The Burning Skirts and D-Co play at two very different tempos when they have the disc, and the change of pace might just be enough to throw UCSD out of sync. Either way, this is a matchup that has the makings of a Duke-UNC rivalry — if the two teams weren’t so friendly with each other off the field.

Have Quandary Had Enough Time to Put it Together?

Yes, I know we just talked about how Colorado has the potential to beat UCSD and win the tournament outright, but there’s another side to that coin that could be a whole lot more concerning. Along with a new name, Colorado Quandary has all the makings of a new team that could be a little rough around the edges.

Colorado made the final at Nationals two seasons ago, but the old guard from that team is well and truly gone, and their current roster looks very different from the one that went all the way in 2018. Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, though. In the case of Colorado, it means quite the opposite. Adding Stacy Gaskill and Skye Fernandez to a team with Bailey Shigley and Saioa Lostra seems a little unfair. Even ignoring the fact that Shigley, Fernandez, and Gaskill have played together on the 2018 U20 national team, they’re all individual talents that are truly two-way players. In regards to veterans, Quandary return Rachel Wilmoth, Sarah Nadler, and Emma Capra. So much of Colorado’s success in the past was based on their offense, but on paper, this Quandary team has a lockdown defense.

As of right now, we haven’t yet seen this team in action, so it’s all conjecture at this point. The odds that this team underperforms are pretty low, but there is a scenario where they struggle at President’s Day. There’s a nonzero chance that their lack of outside practices and tournament reps could come back to haunt them. Many of the teams they’ll be facing this weekend — including UCSD in pool play — have had plenty of practice time in ideal conditions and have a high-level tournament under their belt. If Colorado still has to sharpen their edges as the weekend progresses, it might be to their detriment.

Luckily for Colorado, their pool should give them plenty of time to find their footing. Aside from UCSD, who is the one team every opponent should hope to avoid, Colorado is facing #25 California and Whitman, two teams that will enter the tournament with their own learning curve. Both Cal and Whitman have had a chance to compete already, but with rosters heavy on underclassmen, the Pie Queens and Sweets are playing the long game with this season, and have been giving reps to their younger stars even on crucial points.

The game against UCSD looms large, but apart from that, Colorado should have pretty smooth sailing as they start their season in San Diego. Their ceiling is nothing short of the tournament title, and their floor is likely still making the bracket.

UCLA’s Shine Hasn’t Worn Off Yet

Under most circumstances, making nationals the year prior and then coming in second at a premier West Coast tournament to start your year would mean something more than a 7th seed. UCLA is coming off their best tournament finish in over two years, only to be trapped behind Western Washington in a fiercely competitive Pool B. It appears the TD of the tournament chose to downplay recent results in favor of last year’s Nationals finish as a seeding factor.1 While this certainly should come as a disappointment to UCLA, it’s by no means a setback.

BLU played their hearts out in Santa Barbara, and while they didn’t win, their stock is still way up. Every player on the roster seems to fall into one of three camps: tenacious defender, relentless cutter, or power thrower — though several manage to pull off all three. UCLA’s roster not only is 24 players deep, it also is well coached and has a game plan that is tough to stop. Ask UCSB if you need any convincing. For a team whose brand has become entirely centered around good defense, Santa Barbara couldn’t do enough to slow UCLA’s host of offensive talents, and lost 11-9 in a game that was controlled by UCLA from early on.

It would be an exercise in futility to try and list all of UCLA’s talented players, but it’s safe to say that they have a cornucopia of athletes. Stephanie Yen has come into her own as a downfield threat, Malia Smith remains a red light for opposing offenses while playing terrific after a turn, and Erin Doyle is the type of talent that causes opponents to question her eligibility with anguished sighs.2 In Santa Barbara, no one on the team was overworked, and even their best players had plenty of rest throughout the bracket, as they never tightened lines too drastically. That’s a testament to their depth, but also to the trust that the BLU coaches have in their players.

Without any glaring weaknesses on their roster and an improving track record of success, there isn’t much doubt that this team will do well. The question is only how far they’ll go.3 The obvious roadblock to UCLA’s success is Western Washington, the team seeded ahead of them in their pool. WWU has just as many returning veterans and a better record at Nationals then BLU. The biggest critique of UCLA coming out of SBI is that too many of their turns were self-inflicted, and they won’t be able to get away with those against a team like Chaos. The matchup between these two teams should be very telling, especially as it will determine their seeding in the power pools. If UCLA can pull out the win on Saturday, their path to semis is very clear.

There aren’t many teams at this tournament that can match BLU pound-for-pound, and just one or two wins over opponents with similar skill levels will set them up in a prime position for Monday.

Western Washington Set to Start Their Warpath in San Diego

Western Washington’s 2019 Nationals run ended with a gigantic ‘what-if’. After trading points with Dartmouth throughout their quarters match, Chaos had the chance to end the game with a hold. We all know how that ended, but this year’s team is set to make that 2019 loss an afterthought. For Chaos, it all starts with a strong showing at President’s Day, something that has eluded them in previous years.

Even with the loss of Riley Tauer and Maddie Gilbert, Western Washington’s roster has the pedigree of a Nationals finalist. Ruby Cassidy, Eleanor Joselyn, Vail Dark, and Samiya Ismail can comfortably take on any other top tier of players on talented teams, which we’re primed to see this tournament. The team also returns head coach Alyssa Weatherford, who was instrumental in the team’s 2019 season and now has another year of experience under her team’s belt. The possibilities for what she can do with this roster are endless.

As with any team that hasn’t played a sanctioned tournament yet, there are worries about this team’s ability to start firing out the gate, but it’s a lot harder to make that case considering all the returning veterans and a focused coaching staff. This is a team that knows how to win games and expecting anything less than that would be selling them short.

Playing UCLA late on day one gives them time to settle in before taking on their toughest pool play opponent, and while Chicago or Colorado College could play spoiler, Western Washington feels like all but a lock for power pools. Chaos is coming into the tournament ranked incredibly high for a team that has taken a while to heat up in past seasons — now’s their time to show just how competitive they can be.

Forget About UCSB at Your Own Risk

UC Santa Barbara are currently riding a two-game losing streak into this weekend, showing real signs for concern with the program. Except, no, that’s entirely the wrong takeaway from their performance in Santa Barbara. Right up until semis, the Burning Skirts were rolling teams, and showing how punishing a defensive-minded squad could be. Heading into the President’s Day Invite, they’ll have another shot at making their defense the center of attention.

It’s not just UCSB’s defense that makes them an inarguable finals contender, their offense is of the highest caliber, too. They may not play mistake-free ultimate and often sacrifice possession with ill-advised hucks, but they also can break a team’s spirit with their fast-break goals, and run downhill when they have any sort of a lead. Yes, they get those leads from their defensive unit, which boasts players like Nicki Yang and Leah Forester, but all their athletic defenders play elite offense when they’ve earned a turnover, which is why so many of UCSB’s wins are by such large margins.

In San Diego, they’ll once again be in a situation where their defense can thrive. None of their opponents in pool play have the depth to really cause UCSB to flinch, and even if Oregon or Cal Poly SLO can give more on offense than expected, UCSB still sits in the driver’s seat with their own offensive line. No one wants to face down Kaitlyn Weaver, Elsa Winslow, and Jasmine Childress. What happens in power pools may be another issue, but it’s all but a guarantee that UCSB is getting out of their pool.

What to Expect from Oregon and Texas?

There’s no need to bury the lede with these two teams. Oregon and #16 Texas are both 2019 Nationals attendees who lost their best players and a handful of seniors at the end of last season. That’s by no means a death sentence for a team — as UCSD so forcefully showed at SBI — but it does raise a lot of questions that need answering.

In the case of Texas, their questions center around which players will be taking Domenica Sutherland’s touches and generating the same blocks Sierra Jensen would get in any given game. Caroline O’Connell will clearly remain the center handler for Melee’s offense, but she can’t do it alone, and really needs handler depth alongside her. She still has Ivy Harrison and Lauren Gregorczyk downfield, but that can’t be the extent of their offense. Mindy Radike and Brianna Stedman are welcome additions to the roster, but it’s unclear how much of an impact they will have in their first tournament with the team.

Without any additional information, it’s tough to say how Texas will fare early on. Despite being seeded first in Pool D, Melee will have to face a reinvigorated #17 Stanford team, and a #21 Utah squad that now has a chip on their shoulder. The history of the Texas program indicates that they deserve respect and should be considered a threat to make it deep in the tournament, but they have also always had a star of some kind that was a definitive playmaker, and their current roster doesn’t pop off the page like it has in previous years. There’s plenty of room for cautious optimism with Texas, but the emphasis may be on ‘cautious’ at this point.

For Oregon, it’s more clear who has been handed the reins of this team. With Ella ‘One Throw’ Hansen gone, Rachel Hess, Maddie Boyle, and Kaiyana Petrus are going to be taking control on almost every point they play. Oregon may not be the high-rolling team of old but the bones of their offense remain strong. They’ll need to prove more on the defensive end, though. Fugue’s identity has never been centered around their team defense, and they often relied on individual players to take over when necessary, only this season they are short on players with that disposition. There’s a path forward for this team, but it hinges on how well they can cause turns, and what they do with the disc once they take possession of it.

Three Teams Hoping to Make a Comeback After SBI

With the President’s Day Invite kicking off the second leg of the Southwest Triple Crown Tour™, there are plenty of teams arriving in San Diego looking for redemption after falling short in Santa Barbara. In most instances, a good performance over the weekend could be the difference between earning a bid for their region, or losing any chance of getting there later down the line. With that in mind, here are three teams that are looking for an improvement on their January results.

California Berkeley Pie Queens: Ending their SBI weekend with a 2-4 record isn’t very inspiring for Cal, but as noted many times this season, Cal wasn’t focused on immediate results in January. Their young roster has done a lot of growing up this season and will continue to do so this weekend. It’s probably too much to assume that the team will make the bracket, but they have the athletes to do it. Throwing prowess is another issue, though. Cal is a springy team that plays aggressive, fast-paced offense, even to their own detriment at times. Against the right opponent and in the right conditions, Cal could do just enough to get themselves back in bid contention.

Cal Poly SLO Motion: SLO is a lesson in the dangers of a short roster. Despite the talent that the team has amassed over the past few years, they haven’t been able to find enough capable players to fill out their roster, and it cost them heavily in Santa Barbara. With Kelli Dickinson injured, the team didn’t have enough pieces to compete with other star-studded rosters. Unfortunately, not much has changed for them going into this weekend. They still are bringing the shortest roster of all teams, with only 17 players, and an injury or two could derail them entirely. Still, they have comeback potential. No team that includes Thalia Ward, Sherita Li, and Vanessa Beeler can be counted out completely. Making power pools would be a massive boost in confidence for the team. Making the bracket would be proof of concept that they still could be a threat in the Southwest.

Utah Spiral Jetty: After having a hot preseason, Utah cooled quickly at Santa Barbara, losing four of their games and playing close in their wins. The team had some obvious flaws to fix, most notably a stack that sat too deep and forced their throwers into high-stall situations. The good news for Utah is that their problems from SBI are fixable and the talent is there. Kyra Khoroujnikova has generated most of the buzz for the team but Jess Olsen may be their most pivotal player, as her throws are what drive Spiral Jetty’s offense forward. Lauren Radke and Anna Cassell are also essential to a team that is a little short on playmakers but has plenty of heart and grit. For Utah, getting over Stanford or Texas would be a major win, but even if they fall short there, they have a chance in the backdoor power pools to make the bracket, which is what they should keep in the back of their mind. Stanford and Texas are tough matchups, but they could have a much easier opponent in prequarters if they make it there.

Will Any Team Pull Off a Cinderella Story This Year?

Last year, in a tournament that eventually featured nine Nationals qualifiers, Cal Poly SLO came from nowhere to make the semifinals against UCSD and eventually finish 3rd overall with a 6-1 record. They did all this despite coming into the tournament as the 12th seed. If you like underdog stories, last year’s President’s Day was exactly your cup of tea.
This year the odds seem even more stacked in favor of the top teams, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t one or two teams that could beat the odds.

Whitman Sweets already have a win against Oregon from a January tournament and are likely better than their no.13 seed. Chloe Carothers-Liske and Kaia Roast headline a team that is young but shows a lot of promise. If they can gain confidence with a win or two early in the tournament, there’s every chance that they could outplay opponents in the lower power pools and make their way into the bracket.

Chicago Supersnatch have all the makings of an underdog, including bringing only 18 players to the tournament. Still, they cleaned up in a warmup tournament they played in Iowa. Despite the short roster, Chicago boasts a lot of veterans, including Nancy Cheng, Bri Morales, and Cassandra Brown. They’re also bolstered by Claire Schmitt, a young star with a powerful throwing arm. Assuming they don’t wear out too quickly, Chicago will be a headache to beat, even for the favorites this weekend. They’re in a particularly tough pool, but that shouldn’t prevent them from sneaking through to bracket play if they play their cards right.


  1. And even that comes with a disclaimer, as Texas is seeded ahead of Colorado? 

  2. More than once at SBI I was asked whether Doyle was a fifth-year or grad student. That she still has another year of eligibility left shocked people. 

  3. Shoutout to Moana. 

  1. Graham Gerhart
    Avatar

    Graham Gerhart is a Senior Staff Writer at Ultiworld, focusing primarily on the Women's and Mixed divisions. Graham graduated from the University of Cape Town in South Africa after playing 4 years with the UCT Flying Tigers. He now lives and works full time in San Diego. Follow him on twitter @JustGrahamG

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