Santa Barbara Invite 2024: Tournament Recap (Women’s Div.)

Who was the second best team after UBC?

UBC coaches at the 2023 D-I College Championships. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com

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With competition spread out across three days, including a Saturday than went from morning to night, there was plenty to discuss after Santa Barbara Invite. It offered a chance for a number of teams hoping to get to Nationals and beyond their chance to make their first impressions. The gold medal went to UBC, a welcome sight for fans.

Competition Schedule and Results

UBC is the Real Deal

Dominant on day one, the Thunderbirds looked like a team on a mission, even without the full complement of their roster. Mika Kurahashi was in street clothes for the weekend, Leo Devonshire appeared to be on a minutes restriction, and Megan Gillis was also not cleated up.

Against a solid UVic team in quarters they continued to roll, winning by 12, 15-3. Where the intrigue started was in their semifinal against Carleton Syzygy. Against the athletic Syzygy defense, UBC’s offense suddenly looked a lot less like a Nationals-ready buzzsaw and a lot more like a talented team getting their first real game reps in. Turnovers abounded for both sides, but Carleton looked poised to be the winner, taking half up 8-6. Though she played well all game, Anna Goddu really turned it on in the second half, looking dominant as both an initiating cutter with great power and vision as a thrower, and as the best deep threat on the field. Between her, Madison Ong, and Bryelle Wong, the stars were out in the second half (as well as a very impressive youth contingent) and UBC came storming back after going down 9-6, to take the lead 10-9 and hold strong through to the finish.

The final against Fugue was clearly a better matchup for the T-Birds. Where Carleton’s athletic dominance and short roster made them a bit more of a run-and-gun style offense, whose big shots to athletic receivers were hard to game plan for beyond simply trying not to get roofed or outrun. Oregon took a much more possession-oriented approach, and UBC’s quick, experienced defenders were able to generate blocks through defensive schemes and positioning. Though Oregon kept it close throughout, UBC was able to win going away, taking the tournament by a score of 15-12.

The big question this season is, of course, who can take down Pleiades. If they can get healthy, and do so in time to get their injured stars well integrated into the offense, this projects as well as anyone as a foil to the UNC machine and this weekend did nothing to dissuade that notion. Anna Goddu and Madison Ong are both elite, add in Mika Kurahashi and Megan Gillis, along with a top notch set of role players in Julie Lee, Bryelle Wong, Helena Tremblay, Leo Devonshire, et al. and you have a team that should set their sights on Memorial Day Monday.

Syz-teen Strong

Although UBC took down Oregon in the final, Syzygy may have been the second best team at the fields last weekend. With a roster of just two lines plus two subs, Carleton rode their stars hard, and they delivered, point after point.

They have a pair of speed demons in Tori Gray and Naomi Fina, an immediate center-handler type in freshman Chagall Gelfand, a unique combination of height and throwing prowess in Mia Beeman-Weber, and Aria Kischner is a top-notch cutter for them as well. These five looked nearly unstoppable, rolling through Washington, UCSC, and Stanford on their way to a third place finish at what figures to be one of the stronger women’s fields of the year.

Their offense shoots early and often with Gelfand and Beeman-Weber both showing aggressiveness in the backfield, and Gray playing fast and loose with her continuation hucks. They looked like the fastest team at the tournament until their short roster finally caught up with them, sputtering in the second half of their semifinal against the eventual winners, UBC.

At the top end, this team is as good as any in the country. Their chemistry and variety of talents could make them a real threat in the bracket. As they integrate the new players and get reinforcements to fill out their roster — Evie Leduc, Nubia Robles Santiago, and Jing Jing Munson will all figure into their rotation — their level will increase. If they weren’t considered a worthy challenger before, they made their statement effectively in California.

Stanford Semis Bound?

In a vacuum, Stanford Superfly’s results look good, not great. A good win over a talented, if inexperienced UC Santa Cruz team, likewise against a solid UVic squad, and tight losses to Oregon and BYU are all indicative of a team well in range of Nationals contention. The bar for this Superfly season is higher than mere qualification though.

After a (sort of) surprise quarters run last year, Superfly returns the vast majority of their major contributors. They did not, however, have many of them this weekend. Esther Filipek took on a herculean workload in the absence of Anika Quon, Sage McGinley-Smith, and Anna Fisher-Lopez, all of whom were tremendous at Nationals last year. While execution was not at an all time high, the notoriously well coached defensive schemes looked as effective as ever, giving Stanford plenty of chances with the disc, even against the likes of Fugue (who they lost to on universe in semis, 12-11).

Harper Baer and Dora McCotter-Hulett, coming from the vaunted Triangle and Seattle area youth scenes, respectively, both look excellent, and it will be exciting to see how their roles change as the absent stars return. Baer in particular was picking up hockey assists left and right, reeling in hucks on the goal line and making good use of her height and left-handedness to convert quick break throws for scores.

Taken in context, this is a very strong result for a team missing somewhere in the neighborhood of half of it’s likely top ten players. Given a healthy return for the injured cohort and the tremendous growth we have come to expect from what is likely the best-coached team in the division, a semis berth in Madison shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, and in the right circumstances, this team might go even further.

A Sun Rising in the West

Headlined by the addition of rookie Rachel Chang, UC Santa Cruz Sol came into the weekend as an unknown quantity. Having the unenviable task of starting their SBI off with a game against Superfly, a closer-than-the-score-suggests 13-9 loss in which Chang looked like the best player on the field was an early sign that this team may have a bracket run in them. But after another loss in a sloppy game against UVic, Sol could easily have slumped against BYU, with the knowledge that they would make prequarters regardless of the outcome. Instead, they doubled down on the effort shown in their first two games, hanging a 13-11 win on a BYU team riding the high of their own victory over Stanford.

Now staring down a nationally competitive Burning Skirts squad, Sol again rose to the occasion, with Monica O’Brien-Saez in particular owning the marquee matchup with 2023 second team All-American Devin Quinn. Despite running a fairly rigid three line rotation with top players distributed evenly throughout, Sol was able to take an early lead and maintain it wire-to-wire, taking a 12-10 win over a Skirts team which was a point away from a quarter’s berth at Nationals just seven months ago.

A 3-4 record on the weekend belies what was a very impressive showing against the strongest schedule of any team that didn’t make semis. Chang proved themself to be one of the best power-throwers at the fields, and O’Brien-Saez is an excellent athlete and plus thrower to boot. These two are flanked by a handful of strong role players in Ruby Sutherlin-Sovern, Viola Deszily, and Juliette Delany, to name just three. Given their success with growth-oriented line calling and playing-time distribution, Sol will be a team to watch in the coming months.

All-Tournament Lines

First Team

Tori Gray (Carleton)

If you throw to a player guarded by Gray, you’re going to have a bad time. No one is safe from getting run through D’ed up by her.

Madison Ong (UBC)

The field general is one of the division’s most skilled backfield movers and break throwers. She’s an absolute rock for the Thunderbirds.

Anna Goddu (UBC)

Amongst an otherwise balanced cutter core, Goddu stood out for her abilities in the air and excellent continuation deep shots.

Ezra Weybright (Oregon)

The newest in the lineage of ball-dominant Oregon stars (read: Shofner, Hansen), Weybright was opening up the field all weekend with their throws and their legs. As an added bonus, they were one of the best pullers at the tournament.

Esther Filipek (Stanford)

Pretty much everything you could ask for in your star handler on offense. Handles a heavy workload so comfortably.

Rachel Chang (UC Santa Crzuz)

Chang often seemed like the best player on the field, and usually that can take a team pretty far. Has really snappy break throws and strong and unflinching fundamentals.

Naomi Fina (Carleton)

Fina often looked like the fastest player on a team already boasting the aforementioned Gray and showed great touchy break throws as well.

Second Team

Zoe Luke (Oregon)

The California transfer looked sharp in her Fugue debut, playing a hybrid role, except against zone, when she would find her way into the handler set and steady an antsy backfield. She also looked fast on the turn, defending well at all levels of the field.

Bryelle Wong (UBC)

A first year on the D-line, she was running the pace on the counterattack and getting blocks all over the field. She has a classic case of playing with a lot of poise early on.

Carley Atwell (Utah)

One of the tournament’s top threats to go every other and absolutely dominant a possession, Atwell plays decisvely and uses her length around the disc really well.

Macy Vollbrecht (Stanford)

One of the division’s most defensively sound players, Vollbrecht has developed into a versatile offensive threat capable of initiating play at the spot for the O-line, too.

Laura Blume (UC Santa Barbara)

Blume stood out at SBI as a big time playmaker on both offense and defense. She looked like one of the most dynamic players at the tournament, clearly showing a new level unlocked after contributing big time minutes to Flipside last club season.

Mia Beeman-Weber (Carleton)

Beeman-Weber continues to be a top-level thrower with creative shape and release points. They also showed out as a stingy defender.

Monica O’Brien-Saez (UC Santa Cruz)

O’brien-Saez was one of the premier deep threats at the fields this weekend. Playing on a line separate from Chang, she also took-and-made a lot of deep shots of her own.

The Kids are Alright

In a season-opening tournament headlined by established stars, these rookies playing their first possessions of sanctioned college ultimate were entrusted with big roles and more than rose to the occasion.

All-Rookie Team

  • Lauren Goddu (Washington)
  • Harper Baer (Stanford)
  • Chagall Gelfand (Carleton)
  • Mara Hindery-Gasinovic (Oregon)
  • Lily Terpstra (Utah)
  • Bryelle Wong (UBC)
  • Dora McCotter-Hulett (Stanford)

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  1. Jake Thorne
    Jake Thorne

    Jake Thorne is a staff writer for Ultiworld with a focus on the college division. He is a graduate of Cal Poly SLO, where he played for four years. He now lives and works full-time in sales for a fintech company in San Francisco.

  2. Emmet Holton
    Emmet Holton

    Emmet grew up playing ultimate in the Bay Area and played 5 years on Cal Poly SLOCORE from 2019 to 2023. He currently lives in Berkeley, CA and works as an architectural designer in San Francisco.

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