May 29, 2022 by Graham Gerhart in Analysis, Recap with 0 comments
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Nationals is meant to be a celebration. Sure, it’s about the competition and trying to go the distance, but even making it to the big dance is an accomplishment in itself. The teams competing are the best in the nation, no matter how their season ended. Every game that’s played is a showcase of the best the college division has to offer.
But Saturday brought about the end of many teams’ seasons. For 12 teams in the women’s division, yesterday marked the end of the road. While most of the focus will rightfully be on the teams advancing to the semifinals this evening, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the players and teams that helped shape Nationals, despite not making a deep bracket run. So without further ado, here are the major takeaways from the first two days of Nationals for those 12 teams.
Colorado State Hell’s Belles (no.19 seed)
Before we even examine Colorado State’s run in the tournament, let’s remember that this team wasn’t even meant to be here. CSU went through the gauntlet that is the South Central, defeating many teams who have illustrious postseason resumes to get their spot in the tournament. While they were seeded 19th, they had already scored a victory by booking their tickets to Milwaukee.
Their run might not have ended in a playoff berth, but their performance in one the most top-heavy pools cannot be understated. There was very clear stratification in Pool C, and yet the Hell’s Belles women came to play in every match they had, even staying on serve with Virginia at half despite being down 7-4 to start. They may have ultimately ended at the bottom of the pool, but they earned the respect of their opponents. “We [Virginia] know we can play tight with the best teams in the tournament, but CSU gave us a good game,” said Virginia coach Keila Strick.
Watching CSU play this weekend also showcased a number of strong players. At the top of the list is Grace Goldenberg, the assist leader for the team, despite being a sophomore! There’s a bright future for the young star, and it’s clear that CSU has a building block for the next iteration of their roster, one that will also heavily feature the seven freshmen and three other sophomores they brought to the tournament. Their best defenders were Megan Kiefer and Grace Brown, two seniors who helped keep the team in games. Char Bokhof showed a lot of promise as a goal scorer.
Overall, CSU’s future is bright, especially if they can build off this tournament and into their next season. There’s plenty of room in the South Central for another powerhouse alongside Colorado, and they’ll have that opportunity in 2023.
Florida State Seminole Ladies (no.13 seed)
FSU was one of the surprises of the tournament, and the only pool #4 seed to break into bracket play. If people thought this was unexpected, they weren’t paying attention. FSU had the second-best regular season of any team at the tournament, and only lost a game at Regionals in the finals to Georgia, a product of their team playing with something to lose for the first time.
Coming to Nationals allowed them a rematch with Georgia, which they approached with eagerness. “We had a lot of fire underneath us for that game. None of us cared about fatigue or anything other than proving that we were not the team that gave up at Regionals, and we’re not the team that would sacrifice a game like that again,” said FSU captain Cami Lamont. They won on universe in a game that was one of the best on offer from day one. It set them up for a run to make prequarters, which they secured with a solid win over Northeastern.
FSU’s best quality was their zone. They moved mountains with it. It forced teams to rethink their offense and smothered world-class throwers. The zone frustrated both Clara Stewart and Marie Perivier, two of the best handlers in the division. On offense, Lamont was electric with their around throw, both flicks and backhands. Lindsi Allman was a steading force in the backfield, and Cam Curvey was excellent at exploiting mismatches. They all took their shots to Natalie Wilson and Lily Gullett, two cutters that knew how to use their size and speed to their advantage.
Lamont is in the top 10 assist leaders at the tournament and clearly deserved to be noted among the best throwers on the scene. Wilson was the team’s lead goal-scorer and block-getter, showing just how elite she could be. The entirety of FSU should be commended, though; this tournament was a statement for a team that was at the zenith of their talent. They may be graduating most of their team, but what a way to go out.
Georgia Athena (no.12 seed)
You can’t talk about Georgia without talking about Marie Perivier. Or rather, you can, you’d just be leaving out a player who posted a 9G/19A/10B statline against the best teams the nation had to offer. Georgia relied heavily on their star, and she delivered time and again. No player had more mileage at the tournament. There was barely a point she took off. There are good players, and then there are folk heroes. Everyone knows it. “We always have a chance when Marie is playing,” said one proud Georgia parent. “She’s meant so much to the team.”
Georgia may not have made it past day two, but they proved they were able to compete with just about anyone. Athena had two DGP games with tough competition and only lost by more than two to UNC. In all their games, Georgia personified excellence. They also knew how to make the highlight reel. Martha Wilber had the most audacious skying grab of the tournament so far, which was just one of her 10 goals she scored over the course of the tournament. Alongside Wilber, Molly Schneider, Fiona Cashin, and Emma Jones formed a top end that could compete with any line in the nation. They were elite, even with Jones injured.
It just so happens that Georgia went up against a tough FSU team with a point to prove, and it’s hard to beat the same team twice. Georgia was literally one point away from the bracket, yet another sign that they belonged at Nationals and to be ranked among the best teams on display.
Northeastern Valkyries (no.17 seed)
As discussed on the broadcast, Northeastern looked good when they were able to get Clara Stewart going. Their central handler has a self-deprecating style on social media but played excellently all tournament long, especially as the team was lacking throwers. Northeastern had disciplined offense, something that was showcased in their game against Georgia, and had they not faced as any zones as Pool A featured, it might have been a different story.
They also might have walked a different path if their Callahan finalist hadn’t gotten injured. Duschia Bodet was playing every bit as advertised until her injury against FSU, and the Valkyries had a fighting chance at the bracket until that injury.
Clara Stewart may be graduating but Lucy Jin, Jasmine Der, and Britney DeRoehn are all returning, and they were massive players for their team. It’s telling that the Valkyries saw tremendous success against teams even when featuring a less experienced line. In the times when Stewart had to take a sub, Northeastern still had a number of holds. “We’ve been doing exactly what we needed to be doing to put ourselves in a position to score,” said Northeastern coach Jason Adams, “and that’s all anyone can ask for in these games.”
Purdue XPress (no.18 seed)
Who had Purdue making Nationals at the start of the 2022 season? Not many. They proved all their doubters wrong, and while they did not manage to pick up any wins in Pool B, they continued to prove their worth in close games vs. Pittsburgh and UC-Davis. No opponent could take a game off against Purdue, which is a testament to how well they matched the talent of their opponents despite not having made Nationals in recent seasons.
Purdue looked at their best when they were running their offense through Lauren Kitten. Kitten may be the most underrated player in Milwaukee, but her name should be known after how many talent players were stunned by her throws. Not only do her 12 assists mark her as one of the best throwers in the division, she earned those assists against some of the best defenders! Stephanie Nobbe and Hannah Rapp definitely helped with Kitten’s showmanship as easy targets for her downfield, but as a team Purdue was able to put up buckets, as seven players all scored two goals or more.
Purdue can also lean into this experience to guide them as a program for a return trip. They have a good chance at outplaying their 2022 record if they return in 2023, and the experience they gained cannot be undersold. In a region where everything is in flux, Purdue could be the constant to Nationals going forward.
Pittsburgh Danger (no.14 seed)
The story of Danger is a story of team defense and a really strong handler corps. The defense comes first, though. Very few teams were able to generate blocks like Pittsburgh. Whatever defensive reps they ran throughout the year came to fruition, as they had 11 players with multiple blocks and 45 blocks in total. 45! That’s the product of an elite defense if ever there was one. Even UNC only posted 46 through the first two days! Whether it was their zone, matchup, or transition D, Danger never made any offense’s life easy.
What’s perhaps the most impressive part of their defensive effort is that their lead block-getter was also their central handler. Annelise Peters earned seven blocks alone, a nice addition to her 10 goals and 12 assists. Peters was asked to do a lot for her team and was more than up to the challenge. Whether it was zone-breaking hammers, backhand bombs, or deep defense, Peters was the backbone of a dangerous Pittsburgh team.
She wasn’t alone, though. Jessie Chan, Hannah Boyd, and Miranda Kosowsky all stepped up this tournament. They might not have been the household names on Pitt’s roster, but they did the small things to help their team score. Celeste Picone and Madison Pisone were reliably excellent, but it was Pitt’s depth that deserved to be highlighted. Where most teams consolidated their lines at Nationals, Pitt was spoiled for choice. It’s a testament to the work the program has put in over the years, and a win for them despite the way their season ended.
Stanford Superfly (no.8 seed)
Another year, another appearance of the most storied program in ultimate. There has to be jealousy from teams around the nation because it’s impossible to replicate the blueprint of what Stanford has going. Let’s not forget, this is a team of rookies, and only one of them had ever been to Nationals before. Despite Stanford’s history at the tournament, this was a fresh squad.
However, this unseasoned roster played UNC tighter than any other team in pool play and made the reigning champs look fallible. Not only that, but Stanford could pull out huge wins against tough teams. They ended the tournament with a positive record and a positive point differential, separating them from many of the teams eliminated around them. Their loss to UVM wasn’t the best display of the team’s talents, but they still took Ruckus to 15-13. At the end of the day, a prequarters berth after fielding a team of rookies is a result that any program would take, even Stanford.
Perhaps more encouraging than their record, Stanford’s players looked ready for the big leagues. Esther Filipek was a wonder on offense and was able to fire off hucks with the shortest notice. Her 18 assists put her as in 4th across the tournament, and she had 2 goals and 3 blocks alongside it. Between her and Xinzhi Zou, Stanford’s offense was in good hands.
The calling card of Stanford has always been their defense, though, and they continued to excel in it this year. While they had too many capable zones to count, they also had tremendous athletes that made person defense just as viable. Between McKinley McQuaide, Hannah Huddleston, and Anika Quon, Pool A was officially on lockdown when Stanford played defense. They also had a fearsome threat waiting in the backfield for their D-line offense in Anna Fisher Lopez, who made a strong case for herself as Stanford’s best player over the course of the last two days.
Stanford’s scary because this team is a promise of what’s to come. A lot of this roster still has eligibility, and they’ll be more dangerous than ever when they return in 2023.
SUNY Binghamton Big Bear (no.16 seed)
This was the first season in a while that a Metro East team didn’t enter the tournament as a 5th seed in the pool, a feat SUNY-Binghamtom accomplished with a very solid regular season. They took that same efficiency to Nationals, and showed plenty of talent in their games on Saturday, especially against William & Mary.
Jolie Krebs is the name to remember from Big Bear’s roster. Their center handler never shied away from making big throws or saving her team in high-stall situations. Big Bear didn’t have a lot of options when it came to players who could confidently move the disc downfield for major yards, so Krebs was always pushing the tempo to help get SUNY-Binghamton going on offense. She had the help of Anna Purtell and Samantha Gonzalez, two capable players in their own right, but it still was clear that Krebs was the most important weapon in their arsenal.
While falling shy of their goals for the tournament, Big Bear’s team of experienced veterans brought a lot of talent out of a region that has struggled in the past. It’s unclear how many are returning for 2023, but by qualifying for Nationals this year, they’ve already proven so much for their program.
UC Davis Rogue (no.11 seed)
It’s hard to look at this Rogue team and not think that they have way more potential than their results, and that’s even with a prequarters showing for the team! The Southwest squad feature a roster that will return at least 14 of their players next year, setting themselves up for further success. This Nationals was a success in its own right, but the team has to be happy about how they’re positioned for the future.
Getting back to the present, Davis placed 2nd in a strong pool and had massive victories over Tufts and Pittsburgh that have to be celebrated. The team used their zone defense to great effect, but also controlled pace through smart person defense and great downfield coverage when the going got tough. On offense, Davis was content to swing it between the handlers before an option presented itself. This meant that their assists were spread out across multiple players, and they had six players who tallied 5 assists or more, a feat only matched by UNC.
While their offense was fairly egalitarian, their defense was ruled by one transcendent player: Jules Madigan. Unsurprisingly, Madigan was the cog that made the machine work. No one gave more effort than the Rogue star, and she would often bring her team back from being down through sheer force of will. When remembering this season and all its stars, many folks will point to Madigan as being one of the faces of the 2022 season, and with good reason. Altogether, Madigan posted a 13G/9A/13D statline. That’s almost impossible to replicate and not a lot of players come close.
For Davis, making the bracket was well within their abilities, going forward, there’s plenty of potential beyond that.
UC San Diego Dragon Coalition (no.10 seed)
Watch one UCSD game and you’ll come to the same conclusion as the rest of us: it’s Ava Hanna’s world and we’re all just living in it. UCSD’s star leads the tournament in assists at 30, and while her tournament may be done, there’s not much of a chance that record will be broken. Ava Hanna is an old-fashioned gunslinger, taming the Wild West and the teams she faced in Milwaukee.
Granted, we aren’t just talking about Ava Hanna here, but the entirety of UCSD. The team was on the cusp of greatness all tournament and just couldn’t put it together in time to overcome Tufts in prequarters. This largely was a product of their game against Carleton in the previous round, where D-Co couldn’t find any rhythm and played the sloppiest game of their season. This carried over into their prequarter before they corrected course, and it cost them a shot at quarters. The team can’t be too upset, though. They got to the bracket despite missing key pieces from their 2021 team and were still among the best teams to take the field at the tournament.
Praise for UCSD can start with their coaches. The team always is tactically brilliant, and they are consistent in their ability to take away the opposition’s favorite options. It helps that they have a killer zone and a defensive unit that loves to run fast break opportunities. UCSD will run away with games if not kept in check, which is one of the reasons they made it as far as they did.
When looking for takeaways, the performance of Abbi Shilts is another shining spot. Her 14G/11A/8D statline looks even better when you see her play in person. The freshman has a bright future on the roster.
Virginia Hydra (no.15 seed)
Thanks to the deluge of talent in the women’s division, not every great team is going to make the bracket. Add Virginia to a list with Georgia and Pitt for teams that many thought stood a chance of going beyond their seeding. To measure their performance, instead, we have to look at their performance against great teams. That’s where Virginia showed their potential.
On Saturday, Virginia played Carleton tight the entire game, eventually losing 12-10 but getting the closest of any team outside of the top eight to pulling off an upset over the top seed in their pool. “On day one, we didn’t play to our highest ability,” said Virginia coach Keila Strick. “Against Carleton, we came out firing. Scouting-wise, we knew the matchups we had to take seriously, and we adjusted our person D to accommodate their interest in going deep.”
Adjusting for Carleton was the difference-maker, and Virginia should be proud of that performance, along with the other great win they had on Day Two. They should also be proud of the individual performances of Abby Herrod, Elena Lensink, and Kira Flores. Flores led the team in assists while taking the largest share of carrying her team on offense, while Lensink played world-class defense all tournament and earned 9 blocks for Virginia across pool play. Strick was also quick to praise Jane Frankel, a captain on the team. “At any given moment on the field, she’s giving 110% effort, and is one of the best lead-by-example leaders I know,” she said.
For a team that didn’t make the bracket, Virginia sure looked like they belonged there, and with the development they have in the pipeline –which includes another year of Kira Flores on the team–Virginia’s future is as bright as many of the teams ranked ahead of them.
William & Mary Cypress (no.20 seed)
So frequently with 20th seeds it’s expected that their attitude on the fields is a ‘just happy to be here!’ frame of mind. Not so with William & Mary.
Not only did the team bring it against some tough competition, they also pulled out a win in a huge game where they had to dig deep for multiple points. Their final game on Saturday held massive implications for them, and they were able to emerge victorious on universe point that might not have mattered to the bracket but meant that they outperformed the narrative around 20th seeded teams across history.
While most of their narrative has to be put in perspective of their win over SUNY-Binghamton, it should be noted that they’re also a young team that is only getting better, and this tournament as a whole will help them get there. The team has only 7 players at a senior or graduate level and relied a lot on the depth of their roster beyond that. Isabella DiFulvio, Ann Vonasek, and Catherine Grossman came up big for them against Big Bear, but also across the whole tournament. They had a lot of reps before that final game and came through when it counted.