By: Anneke Vermaak
Pool A: Stanford (1) Colorado (8) Carleton College (12) Pittsburgh (13) Ohio State (17)
Reigning national champion Stanford Superfly (28-3) seeks their ninth title since 1995. As the one seed coming into the tournament, the Superfly squad will have work cut out for them with such a large target on their backs. To defend the title, Superfly will need to showcase the same crisp offense they demonstrated at Southwest Regionals. The first matchup of the weekend will be against Colorado Kali (17-10). After upsetting top-seeded Texas at South Central Regionals, Kali is sure to have gained confidence needed coming into Nationals. Kali proved that they have the stamina to beat top teams, and after a mediocre regular season, they seem to be peaking at just the right time. After missing out on Nationals last year, the stars have aligned for Carleton College (23-9). They breezed through North Central Regionals and outscored opponents 84-16 over the course of the weekend. Carleton will be eager to return to Nationals with an experienced — and now healthy — squad. Familiar regional opponents Pittsburgh Danger (23-7) and Ohio State Fever (25-11) round out Pool A. Danger finished in the top three at the same number of tournaments during the regular season, but to upset higher-seeded teams, they will need to be able to distribute responsibility throughout their roster. Ohio State’s flashes of offensive brilliance will continue to anchor the team if they challenge themselves to be consistent, particularly when they need to adjust for different defensive looks.
Pool B: Dartmouth (2) Notre Dame (7) Oregon (11) Florida (14) Delaware (18)
Dartmouth’s Princess Layout (26-3) has performed this season as anyone would expect with such a talented combination of players. Dartmouth strategically used Northwest Challenge as a tournament to develop their 10 rookies, only one of whom has ever played ultimate before. This decision may prove to be crucial when matching up against Notre Dame Womb (25-5), which boasts an experienced squad of largely senior and fifth-year players. The signature Oregon Fugue (26-13) give-and-go offense will undoubtedly present a challenge to the other teams in Pool B, but the question remains whether they can fight through opponents to prove that the Oregon dynasty is far from over. Fresh-faced Florida FUEL (33-10) find themselves at Nationals for the first time since 2012. They remained untested at Southeast Regionals, so the obstacle for Fuel will be focusing on high-quality reps in practices leading up the tournament and preparing themselves for the jump in competition level. Delaware (17-9) will have to fight tooth and nail to break seed, but they will be looking forward to a rematch with Florida, with whom they battled at Centex in pre-quarters.
Pool C: Virginia (3) UCLA (6) Tufts (10) Michigan (15) California-San Diego (19)
While it has been said that Virginia Hydra (36-2) plays “boring” ultimate, do not mistake this for mediocre ultimate. Hydra already demonstrated that their philosophy of “no highlight players, only highlight plays,” works. They were in the semifinals last year, and this year they are even more dangerous and polished. Their system provides an interesting contrast for UCLA BLU (29-6), whose veteran roster will take advantage of breakside space, tight windows and over-the-top throws. Tufts EWO (28-4) surprised both themselves and competitors when they won Queen City Tune Up. After recording a solid performance at Centex where they took third, and having won their last-regular season tournament, the well-rounded veteran squad proved their early season tournament win was not a fluke. Michigan Flywheel (18-12) will make their first consecutive Nationals appearance since 2012. Flywheel’s loss to Whitman was their only loss to a non-Nationals qualifier; further, they have not lost to any teams outside of the top 20. To improve upon their four-way tie for ninth place from last year, they will need to continue to push aggressively downfield while containing deep threats from teams like UCLA and California-San Diego (13-9). UCSD Psycho will be looking to make smarter decisions when taking deep shots, particularly against teams that have no problem contending with 50/50 throws in the air.
Pool D: Texas (4) British Columbia (5) California (9) North Carolina (16) Connecticut (20)
Texas Melee (28-4) had a solid season where they took second at President’s Day Invite and Stanford Invite. Then they handily won Centex, beating Ohio State 15-3 in the finals. Indeed, their most recent and memorable loss was to Colorado Kali in the South Central Regional finals on double-game point — surely fuel for vengeance as they wrap up practices. Melee’s Achilles’ heel is their mental game, and they will need to improve that aspect, particularly when facing the British Columbia Thunderbirds (19-5) in the Pool of Death. The Thunderbirds have fantastic fundamentals, showcasing their ability to out-throw other teams in the elements at Northwest Regionals. Since losing 11-13 to Texas at Stanford Invite early in March, they have a vendetta of their own. This time around, the stakes are higher, and they have more experience under their belts. The California Pie Queens (25-12) are another team to earn consecutive trips to Nationals. The Pie Queens gave Stanford a run for their money in the Southwest Regionals final, but fell 9-13. Unlike British Columbia, California was less disciplined with their throws which proved to be fatal when playing against teams that can convert efficiently. North Carolina Pleiades (22-8) recorded wins against top-tier teams like Dartmouth and Virginia (albeit by only one point) this year. With a slew of talented players, UNC constitutes a threat, and other teams would do well to not overlook them. The Connecticut Huskies (17-4) qualify for Nationals for the first time in team history. The 19-woman roster is athletic, energetic and hardworking, and it will be telling to see whether they rise to the challenge or simply accept the “happy to be here” mindset.
Lesser-Known Players to Watch
Callahan nominees have become household names lately; here are players that make an impact for their respective teams that typically work under the radar.
Anna Wysen #1 – California
Wysen is a sophomore handler whose 5’9” presence is easily felt. When California faced off against Stanford, Superfly had to put various defenders on her “in order to disrupt her rhythm.” She’s a workhorse in the backfield and plays heavy minutes for the Pie Queens.
Madeline Preiss #17 – Carleton College
The Carleton College junior anchors the D-line as a handler. While she doesn’t make flashy plays, she makes good decisions with the disc in her hands and plays good defense. Preiss started playing ultimate in high school, and this past year, she made Second Team All-Region in the North Central.
MK Anderson #15 – Notre Dame
With all the hype around Womb’s breakout player and Callahan nominee Julia Butterfield, it’s easy to overlook their other U-24 tryout invitee. Anderson is a D-line cutter who will match up on the other team’s best handler.
Ellie Wood #13 – Virginia
Wood is a sophomore who was on the 2016 Rookie of the Year watch list because she constitutes a major deep threat and is developing her all-around game. If she were on any other team, you would have to watch out for her Callahan nomination in 2019.
Colorado Kali may not boast the big household names, but they beat overall four seed Texas at South Central Regionals. While Texas may have brushed off that loss by now (along with the rest of the nation), Kali proved that they can run with — and defeat — top teams in the country. Now that they have a taste of what that sort of victory is like, they will be coming out with guns blazing in Pool A.
Games to Watch
Stanford v. Colorado (Friday, 10:30 a.m., Field 2)
Superfly has already beat Kali twice this season, but not without Kali putting up a fight. Colorado can be expected to put up just as good of a fight in pool play as they did earlier in the season. This very well may be their last opportunity to upset the one seed.
Dartmouth v. Notre Dame (Friday, 12:30 p.m., Field 1)
This game will boast multiple hot matchups. With MK Anderson marking Angela Zhu or Julianna Werffeli in the backfield and everyone hoping to see Julia Butterfield and Jaclyn Verzuh face off downfield, this will be an epic first meeting of Princess Layout and Womb.
Texas v. UBC (Friday 4:30 p.m., Field 1)
In classic Pool of Death fashion, Texas and British Columbia will be battling it out to win the pool. Texas already beat British Columbia 13-11 at Stanford Invite, so this rematch will be just as nail biting.
Virginia v. Tufts (Saturday, 10:30 a.m., Field 1)
An east coast face-off, this will be the first time Virginia and Tufts meet. Both teams have shown they deserve to be in the top 10, so it’s sure to be a tough game. It will also be a good test to see who can come out hot in the first game of the day.
 Virginia hasn’t nominated a player for Callahan since Alika Johnston won in 2015.
 Although Kirsten Johnson’s Callahan video may change that.