Who outshone or failed to live up to expectations during the first two days of Nationals?
December 19, 2021 by Jenna Weiner and Olivia Alongi in Recap with 0 comments
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Information about the teams populating the College Championships field was at a premium two days ago. Through pool play and the prequarter round, we’ve had a lot more opportunity to learn which clubs and stars could deliver on the big stage. The pressure of the College Championships can be revealing even in a traditional season, but it’s nearly the whole story in 2021.
The Southwest Region
Raise your hand if you thought all three teams from the Southwest would make it through to the quarterfinals. Power Ranking watchers and hometown homers put down your hands, everyone knows not to trust Ultiworld’s assessment of teams or hometown bias. All kidding aside, that #5 UC San Diego and #9 UC Davis both knocked off higher seeds in their prequarter matchups while #4 UC Santa Barbara held up their end of the bargain in winning Pool C validates the hype around the Southwest this season.
With five teams ranked in the top 15 in the last pre-Nationals power rankings, it seemed clear coming into this weekend that the California teams out of the region would be real threats to contend with, but having three teams advance to the quarterfinals — the first time any region has accomplished this feat since the Northwest in 2016 — is another thing altogether. The hype is legitimate and well-deserved, and there is a real, albeit slim, chance that we could see all three Southwest teams advancing to the semifinals as well.
Okay, so we left Annelise Peters out of our blurb for #7 Pittsburgh Danger in the preseason Power Rankings. We’ve heard you and we’ve learned our lesson. Annelise Peters is very good at the whole “playing ultimate” thing and she is wreaking havoc on the division in the process. Very few players in any division at any level can throw both a perfectly placed 40-yard bladed flick and a 40-yard cross-field hammer, let alone on the same point, let alone in college. That was Peters though in Danger’s prequarter game against #6 Western Washington, throwing over and through and around anything the Chaos defense threw at her, just as she did all weekend. It didn’t matter if it was zone or person defense, Peters didn’t care, often casually marshaling the disc up the field against zone defenses as if they weren’t even there.
Off the field, Peters preaches togetherness and the trust that all 26 players on Danger have for each other, a more than capable captain as a veteran leader for this dynamic and growing Pittsburgh team. On the field, she is a force to be reckoned with in all facets of the game and we, and teams and players around the country, will be sure to remember and recognize her name for years to come.
UC Davis’s Shah should think about stealing US Women’s National Soccer team’s Sam Mewis’ nickname “Tower of Power” because the similarities between these two players align in many ways. While Mewis plays with her feet, Shan plays with her hands… and feet. Yes, she really does use everything from her feet to her head to force turns and she’s quite successful with it.
Racking up five blocks, four assists, and three goals (at least in the limited stats kept at the tournament so far) would lead you to believe Shah’s been playing since high school at the very least but that would be false. Shah has never faced this many talented teams, and definitely not all at once, yet she’s proved in her play to stay poised and confident as she makes her way down the field. In Davis’ prequarter game against Texas Melee, Shah stuffed the stat sheet, at one point catching back-to-back goals while also kicking in a pair of assists and a staggering four blocks on the game. Rogue played really well as a team, but Shah led the way, with her family providing great support from the sidelines.
It is pretty impressive how Shah simultaneously takes this game and her team so seriously while also keeping it light and fun for her teammates, which are the best possible qualities a team could ask for from their captain. “It’s really an honor to watch my teammates all buy into every game we play,” Shah said. “It’s not even hard captaining this team because every single person wants to be here and wants to work.” It’s clear that the team already has and will continue to trust Shah.
Saying this now, before anyone else, get ready for Rani Shah because she is on track to become a huge star in the Southwest. In the meantime, all we can say to Rogue’s quarterfinal opponent Washington and any other future opponents is: good luck.
The Ohio Valley Region
Sunny, dry Norco, California is a long way away from the snowy, freezing fields outside of Columbus, Ohio, the site of the Ohio Valley regional championships this year, making for quite the adjustment for the three Ohio Valley teams in the D-I women’s division making their way West for college Nationals. Pittsburgh Danger, Pennsylvania Venus, and #23 Ohio Stacked Cats all came into the weekend with expectations on the lower side, especially in regards to no.16 and no.18 seeds UPenn and Ohio, respectively. While Pitt, as the no.6 seed, had their eyes on at least a place in the quarterfinals, if not further, Venus and the Stacked Cats would well exceed what was expected from them if they made the bracket. Make the bracket they did not, though, with the two teams combining for a 1-7 record in pool play, with the only win from UPenn over bottom seeded SUNY-Binghamton. However, with Pittsburgh making it through to the quarterfinals despite a blowout loss to lower-seeded Texas Melee in pool play, the Ohio Valley has in fact lived up to what we thought they might do in the unfamiliar sunshine of Norco, no more, no less.
Across the D-I women’s division in the opening two days of play, nearly every team rolled out some form of zone defense to slow down and stifle opponents’ offense, even in mostly still conditions. While the added pressure on throwers did force a fair number of productive turnovers, without any real wind helping them out, many teams simply sliced and diced their way through the zones that they saw. Teams such as the aforementioned UC San Diego and UC Davis used zone defenses to great effect on their way to the quarterfinals, demonstrating the effectiveness of a good zone against rosters still getting comfortable with each other. That being said, the comfort of the top teams in particular, often featuring the best throwers in the division, in picking apart zone defenses made points feel like a literal walk in the park.
All told, zone defenses were used to some success in the first two days at Nationals, but without any significant wind, they didn’t reach their full potential potency and likely will be increasingly impotent as the quality of offenses increases the further into the bracket we get.
Without additional context, knowing that all four top seeds won their pools with perfect records might make this one a buy, but looking at the performances and not just the results from the first two days drops the title favorites in the division to a mere hold. Each pool top seed — #1 Carleton, #2 North Carolina, UC Santa Barbara, and #3 Washington — all had closer than expected calls with teams they’d expect to dominate.
Carleton were even early with bottom seeds in the pool Florida State in their first game of the weekend before eventually pulling away, and Syzygy were also tested by what is admittedly a solid UCSD team. For UNC, their hiccup came in their game against Georgia — admittedly after they had already won the pool — but going down two early breaks is never great and they looked solid but not overwhelmingly dominant against Western Washington and UC Davis. UCSB racked up the biggest point differential of the four, with a +30 across four games, although nearly half of that came from their game against Boston University and the Burning Skirts struggled to put away a Michigan team that Texas had blasted the day before. Washington had a pair of easier games and a pair of tougher games, making a comeback to beat Virginia on universe and beating a Colorado team that couldn’t make it to quarters by a mere four points.
Across the board, while all four teams are still in position to make it to the semifinals, their performances the first two days means that at least one, if not more, may suffer an upset loss in the quarterfinal rounds.
The South Central Region
It was a disappointing end to the weekend for the two teams out of the South Central region as both #8 Colorado Quandary and #10 Texas Melee failed to win their prequarter matchups as arguable favorites, if not by seed then by previous performance this weekend.
Coming into Nationals as the overall no.5 seed, there was a thought that Quandary could make a credible semifinal push with the depth of talent on the roster. To not only finish third in the pool but fall short of even making it to the quarterfinals is a letdown for this Colorado team, who will have to look to 2022 for another shot at the Nationals bracket.
Less was expected of Melee ahead of the weekend, but dominant performances day one and a blowout upset of Pittsburgh Danger in pool play early on Saturday set the stage for Texas to come up big in their prequarter match against UC Davis. Instead, it was Rogue who made the bigger statement. While not advancing with a quarterfinal berth is not a shortcoming based on seed, the promise Melee showed through pool play left us wanting more, and between the two, the South Central comes off looking the worse for wear, at least at this round of college nationals.
This is a sell not because there were no upsets — there were — but instead because of their relative lack of magnitude in potentially shaking up the division. Sure, no.13 seed Chicago took down no.8 seed UCSD in pool play, but by a single point and it’s D-Co moving on to quarters, not Supernova. Yes, UC Davis beat two teams seeded higher than them in Texas and #12 Georgia, but just scroll up to see why Davis might have been a fair bit better than seedings may have dictated. Okay, #17 Virginia has scraped and scraped to a well-earned quarterfinal place, but their only real upset was against Colorado, who then faltered in their prequarter game against UCSD. And fine, Texas looked very good against Pitt, but like Colorado, fell against Davis just as Georgia did.
In the end, there have been only six total upsets across 44 games so far, and none have come against the pool top seeds. No major upsets yet, but the rest of bracket play could make this entry rocket up towards the buy line if Davis, Virginia, UCSD, and Pittsburgh can carry momentum in from their wins in the last round of games today.