A very tough trio at the top of Pool D.
May 27, 2022 by Scott Dunham in Preview with 0 comments
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The 2022 D-I College Championships return to Milwaukee, though they are partially back to a traditional Nationals. While the Fall championships felt wholly unique, this turn has some oddities — namely, the lack of a rankings-based regular season — but in many other ways is business as usual. Once teams hit the field, expect a lot of what you’ve come to know and love about Nationals: drama, surprises, and the memorable moments that make legends. From John Stubbs to Dena Elimelech, the legacy of college stars is built around what happens over these four days.
We will be there to bring you all of the action, with cameras pointed at more games than ever and a reporting team that will take you inside the huddle. In these previews, we’ll offer a snapshot of each team and the competition they’ll face when play begins on Friday, May 26. Watch ultiworld.com/live then for updates in all four college divisions!
Seeding: D1, no.4 overall
Power Ranking: #4
Path to Nationals: Def. UC Davis 13-12 in Southwest semifinal; def. UC San Diego 13-6 in final
Roster & Schedule
The UC Santa Barbara Burning Skirts are reaping the rewards of building a strong program. Despite graduating some massive stars, they have simply reloaded with new recruits and are back at Nationals for the fourth time in a row out of the cutthroat Southwest. Recently, they’ve picked up a few experienced rookies, but mostly the team has been built through attracting and developing new players.
The captains attribute “our team culture and mentality as well as our depth” to enabling the team “to secure wins over almost every team we play.” The Skirts indeed had another very strong season, with an imposing 27-2 record (2nd in the field only to undefeated UNC), winning their home tournament Santa Barbara Invite and President’s Day as well as the stacked Southwest regional championships, and snagging a top pool seed just as in the Fall.
In line with their intimidating reputation, UCSB is a deep athletic team that epitomizes the “win with your legs” philosophy, grinding teams down on both offense and defense. The contributors run deep, but rising above is their goal-scoring and block-getting machine Elsa Winslow. Julia Hasbrook and Vienna Lee were untested rookies in the fall, but after Nationals both put themselves in the Rookie of the Year discussion (and Hasbrook made the podium). They are now battle-tested and running the show behind the disc along with Yu Ishii and Maria Sutherland. However, UCSB is a cutter-driven team, and breaking out downfield this spring have been Devin Quinn and Laura Blume. Both rookies have been racking up the highlight grabs and blocks all season. Look for cutter-to-cutter flow and tight person defense as once again the Burning Skirts’ “goal for Nationals is to win.”
Seeding: D2, no.5 overall
Power Ranking: #5
Path to Nationals: Def. British Columbia 12-9 in Northwest final
Roster & Schedule
One of the few teams that might be deeper than UCSB is the University of Washington Element. They have been running “28 deep” all season and are the only team to bring that full complement to Nationals. That wasn’t the case at some earlier tournaments due to conflicts and injuries, leading to some losses to other top 10 teams (including pool-mates UCSB and UVM, as well as Colorado and UCSD), but they ran unscathed through challenging Conference and Regionals fields, including comfortable wins over #6 UBC in both finals.
Like UCSB, Element has a high-flying superstar in 2021 POTY Abby Hecko, but UW is much more of a handler-driven team, and in NW Regionals they finally brought together their full set. The discussion needs to start with Element’s Callahan nominee and perennial all-star pick Steph Phillips. Exuding calm, Phillips picks apart defenses with penetrating breaks and pinpoint hucks: power or touch, upwind or down, she delivers. Together with Fall BPOTY Amy Nguyen, she also forms a seemingly-unstoppable give-go tandem, allowing Element to take whatever the defense is offering. Add in the versatile Ikky Elmi, and Element has a handler trio likely unmatched in the division, but there’s more. 2018 USA U20 handler PX Rong returns to the team after missing out on Fall Nationals, and although she missed some tournaments during the season, reports are she was busting it up at Regionals. Finally, with Phillips, Elmi, and Rong missing much of the season, Element often handed the D-line handling over to freshman Mae Browning. She rose to the occasion and has developed dramatically over the course of the year.
Downfield, in addition to Hecko, look for the scintillating Nicki Chan skying taller defenders and then celebrating the goals in style, while rangy Mixtape alum and 2020 USA U20 selection Sophia Palmer is equally comfortable as a deep threat or coming under and showing off her throws. With the prediction of significant wind in Milwaukee this weekend, look for Element to benefit from the strong disc skills extending across their roster. As they have been doing all season, Element is focused internally on being the best they can be rather than results, but their trajectory suggests that they are capable of making a deep run in the bracket again this year.
Seeding: D3, no.9 overall
Power Ranking: #9
Path to Nationals: Def. Northeastern 7-2 in New England semifinal; lost to Tufts 8-4 in New England final
Roster & Schedule
Vermont Ruckus is clearly a program on the upswing. After making Nationals in the fall for the first time in decades, they are back again after another strong season. They have an impressive record, only losing twice to #1 UNC and splitting with pool-mates UW during the regular season. Vermont’s final loss came as they dropped the NE regional final to Tufts, admittedly struggling in the howling winds1. However, they “definitely grew from that tournament,” and hope to use that experience in the more moderate breezes of Wisconsin.
Sarah VonDoepp and Allison Huresky are the steady presences with the disc for UVM, but like UCSB, Vermont is more cutter driven team. Kennedy McCarthy has shown superstar-level dominance in both the college and club games. Lylah Bannister has had a breakout season as a go-to deep threat, and Marina Godley-Fisher is often the key to their offensive flow. Unfortunately, prime goal-scorer Maya Fein-Cole will not be playing at Nationals, as she injured her knee (again) in a scrimmage against Middlebury a few weeks ago. Ruckus is “hoping to see some younger cutters like Sophie Acker step into her place on O-line.”
The addition of Emily Pozzy at NWC seemed to take the team to another level, as the freshman hybrid showed off an array of smarts and skills belying her age–smothering defense, penetrating zones, and the best hucks on the team. Speaking of hucks, Ruckus has surely shown a propensity toward the deep game, often with Pozzy, Godley-Fisher, or McCarthy coming under and hoisting it deep even into coverage, counting on one of their towering cutters skying the pile. On the occasion that those hucks don’t connect, Vermont defends fiercely to get it back, with O-line stalwarts including VonDoepp among the teams best defenders.
Seeding: D4, no.16 overall
Power Ranking: #22
Path to Nationals: Def. Yale 15-9 in Metro East final
Roster & Schedule
Like Vermont, Fall 2021 was the first time making Nationals in more than 20 years for SUNY Binghamton. Last time around as the 20-seed, they put up some close games against bracket teams, and were able to pull out a double game point win in their very last game vs Michigan. This year, they move up a rung to the 16-seed2 and they are looking to build on that experience this weekend. They’ve had a solid season, spending most of the year on the Ultiworld Top 25. Undefeated tournament wins at No Sleep Till Brooklyn and Northeast Classic sandwiched a disappointing outing at Rodeo that included all four of their losses.
Big Bear returns all but one player from their spare Fall roster. They add half a dozen new players to expand their depth, but the big names are the same as in the Fall. Sam Gonzales anchors the backfield along with Ava Champitto, and Anna Purtell and 2022 Callahan nominee Alyssa Pelkey roam deep, while freshman Jolie Krebs does it all—blocks, skies, hucks.
William & Mary Cypress
Seeding: D5, no.20 overall
Power Ranking: Unranked
Path to Nationals: Def. NC State 15-12 in Atlantic Coast third-place game
Roster & Schedule
Want to get your college team to Nationals? Maybe the secret starts at the top—getting the school to hire as president an ultimate player, coach, and Ultiworld contributor like William & Mary’s Katherine Rowe. Both W&M teams were dark horses at Regionals, but perhaps the biggest surprise in either division is Cypress grabbing the extra AC size bid at regionals. All bets were on hyped upstarts App State and well-established program UVa to take the bids behind UNC, with NCSU, Liberty or James Madison touted as the likely candidates to take advantage of any mistakes from the favorites. However, Cypress put together an impressive run at Regionals, beating JMU, App State, and NCSU convincingly in the bracket to take the back door final. While as the 20th seed, there will certainly be some “happy to be here” vibes, and they are massive longshots to make the bracket, they’ve got to be looking to grab a win or two, starting with that pool play game vs SUNY Binghamton that is being filmed Saturday afternoon.
Cypress has been flying under the radar this season. Discussion of the team has to start with their Callahan nominee Kirsten Knisely hucking it deep to an array of receivers, including Kelsi Putnam, Isabella DiFulvio, and Catherine Grossman. Favoring a horizontal stack, Cypress generates handler motion between Knisely, Kate Burns, Kendall Barton, and Karen Minecci as they look for openings downfield. Going the other way, Sabra Ellison centers the D-line.
Reported as 35+ MPH ↩
Remarkably, this represents the first time since the redraw more than a decade ago that the Metro East representative has not been seeded last, much less as a pool 4-seed. ↩