A wild weekend in Virginia finished with Northeastern on top and plenty of shockers along the way.
March 1, 2023 by Bridget Mizener in Recap with 0 comments
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AXTON, VA – Much has been made of the “chalky” nature of the college division these days. Last year’s Nationals gave us virtually no meaningful upsets, and this year’s early season tournaments have largely followed the same trend. The top four finishers at Queen City Tune- Up were seeded 1-2-4-3. At the Presidents’ Day Invite, it was 1-2-5-3. Yawn.
Enter Commonwealth Cup Weekend 2, where your top four finishers were seeded 4-7-1-11. Is it upsets you wanted? We got ‘em. Do-or-die breaks? Got those too. Hold-your-breath universe point endings? Absolutely. And a complete shakeup of the bracket from top to bottom? Hold my Gatorade. With a surprise finalist, a slew of exciting games, and the emergence of some new challengers, the weekend out in Axton gave us all we could ask for and more, capped off with a Northeastern Valkyries win over Yale Ramona 12-10 in the final. And this wasn’t just some hometown tournament either. With eight Top 25 teams in attendance, Commonwealth Cup Weekend 2 had big implications for the Nationals bid picture and regional battles across the country.
Monogram Foods Smith River Sportsplex Madness
There’s no denying it, this weekend was about as not-chalk as it gets. Here’s the rundown:
- Nearly half of games played on Saturday were upsets (42%; 16 of 38). Compare that to 23% (9 of 40) and 18% (7 of 51) of pool play games at Queen City and Prez Day, respectively. That’s incredible! We’re going to have a heck of a time crafting this week’s Power Rankings, so wish us luck.
- 14 games this weekend were decided by a single goal. Virginia Hydra were involved in three of those games, and went 1-2. SUNY Binghamton Big Bear went 2-0 in such games, Michigan Flywheel went 0-3, and Pittsburgh Danger went 0-2. Oh, the cruel whims of fate! When the margins are this slim, just a goal or two is a huge deal.
- Finishes were all over the place as those tight games and upsets wreaked havoc on the final standings. The biggest movers include:
- No.20 seed South Carolina Scorch went undefeated on Saturday and rose 10 spots to finish in 10th place.
- No.3 Michigan went 0-4 in pool play and fell eight spots to 11th.
- No.11 UPenn Venus made the semifinal and rose seven spots to 4th.
- No.6 Georgia Athena gave up a four-goal lead in prequarters to the aforementioned UPenn and fell eight spots to 14th.
- No.14 Tennessee BOS went 0-3 on Saturday and fell six spots to 20th.
Just looking at this list gives me whiplash. The higher they were seeded, the harder they fell, and the lower they were seeded, the further they rose? Or something?
All this chaos made its mark on the bracket—more on that below.
Northeastern Outlasts Yale in Closely Matched Final
My hunch is that not many people would have put money on a Northeastern versus Yale final matchup for all the marbles this weekend. Yes, Northeastern was coming off an undefeated Florida Winter Classic, but their competition there wasn’t exactly a who’s who of Nationals contenders. And Yale, who rarely ventures south, was an unknown quantity outside of the Metro East, where they took second place at last season’s regionals. So how did these teams find their way to the final?
Northeastern’s path was the smoother one, but that’s not to say it wasn’t without intrigue. Their first test was against an undersung SUNY Binghamton Big Bear. The New York team’s athletic top end pushed the Valks into some uncomfortable positions, but Northeastern held Binghamton off with superior depth and structure. That was the theme throughout pool play, where the Valkyries outclassed most of their competition, including a 13-6 win against a shorthanded Virginia team reeling from a universe point loss in the previous round.
Despite winning their pool, the Valks didn’t have an easy path through the bracket. They drew regional rivals Brown Shiver in quarters, and then had to face Virginia for the second time this weekend in the semifinal—and it’s never easy to beat a good team twice. Though Northeastern grabbed two quick breaks to take an early lead, Hydra clawed back to force universe point. Northeastern is an experienced zone team—they ran it themselves a large majority of the weekend—and that experience was a key factor as they worked it against the Virginia zone for the hold, the win, and a spot in the final.
Yale’s path was a little bumpier. First of all, Ramona (affectionately shortened to “Mona”) doesn’t get out of the region much and this weekend they faced teams the program had never seen. Expectations were mixed.
“Using the momentum that we had coming in second [at Metro East Regionals in 2022]—I could feel that we were ready for the challenge of playing these new teams out-of-region,” said captain Ellie Jose.
Captain Sungshil Johnson was a bit more candid. “We were all so scared coming into this tournament,” she shared.
Nevertheless, Yale’s Saturday began about as well as they could have hoped, with solid wins against Georgia and Michigan to start the day. But in game three they took a beating, 13-4, at the hands of Brown.
“We’ve seen Brown before, so our returners were a little bit complacent. And Brown came out really strong, so props to them. We started to hang our heads; we knew Pitt was coming,” explained Jose.
In the second half against Shiver, Mona’s leadership made the decision to rest their starters for the upcoming game against Pittsburgh, which helps explain the lopsided Brown scoreline. The decision paid off when Yale snagged a universe point win against Pitt, and the top spot in Pool B along with it. Winning the pool vaulted Mona into a very favorable position in the bracket, as they avoided the heavyweights and instead drew UMass, Penn State, and UPenn, against whom Yale gave up six goals or fewer on their way through the bracket to the semifinal.
Mona’s momentum carried them into the final, starting off the game against the Valks with a quick break. From there, the two teams’ stars took turns playmaking as the teams traded holds for much of the first half. For Yale, Jose and Wilhelmina Graff put in serious work, both having the full complement of elite handler skills: a complete toolkit of throws, difference-making athleticism, and tenacity on defense. For Northeastern, Clara Stewart broke open the Yale defense with big throws on several occasions, and Elise Freedman was a spark plug on both sides of the ball.
The first moment when the game’s momentum tilted towards Northeastern was at 5-5, when the Valks went box-and-one on Jose. They had run it in the semifinal against Virginia’s Kira Flores too, but that set wasn’t something Northeastern had practiced much coming into the tournament. For coach Jason Adams, it was a testament to the team’s strategic adaptability.
“There’s a couple teams across the division that are really running through individual players, and those players are sometimes too good to cover in conventional ways. One of our big things is knowing that we have a lot of moving parts that we can use,” said Adams.
Adams was complementary of second-year Elyse Hall’s performance as the “one” in the box-and-one, calling her “our defensive grinder.” Her tenacity on Jose helped Northeastern get that initial Yale break back, returning the score to serve at 6-5.
To Yale’s credit, on the very next point Jose sat and their offense punched in the hold. For the Mona captains that was an illustration of the team’s depth, since Yale is a veteran squad and only graduated one person in the last year. Outside of Graff and Jose, several players got it done for Yale throughout the day, including Caroline Eldridge, who owned the deep space in the final. Jose also described Lucie Warga and Ellie Mamantov as “anchor” handlers.
However, it became clear as the game wore on that Yale was starting to run out of gas. Graff and Jose had been playing serious minutes all weekend, and it began to show in the later stages. On the final point, Northeastern was able to secure one last break when a Stewart pull pinned Mona deep in their own end zone, and Yale just didn’t have the legs, giving Northeastern the Commonwealth Cup title 12-10.
Looking ahead, both teams’ prospects are promising for the postseason. Northeastern has to feel confident about their New England chances heading into Centex undefeated, and while there’s been no explicit discussion of the bid implications of the weekend by leadership, Adams knows better than to think it’s not on his players’ minds.
“They’re students of the game and they’re crunching the numbers,” he said.
Yale surprised everyone, even themselves, with the quality of their play, which is encouraging regarding their chances in the Metro East. Spectators can only hope that in the future, Yale considers traveling out of the region a little bit more, which Mona might well do if they can top the Metro East for the first time in modern program history.1
Shorthanded Virginia Learns and Grows
Virginia, the tournament no.1, came into the weekend on the back of a strong 5-1 QCTU performance, and so the news that they were broken twice to start their games against both Penn State and Binghamton was a real surprise.
Yale did win the old Northeast region in 1995, but have never claimed a regional title since the creation of the Metro East. ↩
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