It’s one of the most exciting weekends of the year! The College Championships kicked off in Round Rock, Texas this morning in the midst of balmy temperatures. Oh, and wind. There was also that. Lots and lots of that.
The wind threw a wrench in the plan for everyone. All the game plans and preparations teams made over the past month for their Nationals run and specific competition were pretty much thrown out the window the minute they stepped out of their cars at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex. When all was said and done today, there weren’t too many crazy surprises, but teams with a specific skill set definitely emerged a little ahead of the curve.
A sign of the day, when I walked over to check on North Carolina and Pittsburgh about 45 minutes into the second round of the day – the first game for each team – the score was 3-0. Yep, 3-0 in a game between one of last year’s semifinalists and this year’s overall top seed. After confirming that the score was, in fact, correct, I learned that the first point lasted a whopping 22 minutes. Pittsburgh struggled mightily in the wind all day. Despite having confident handlers like Miranda Kosowsky and Jessie Sun, they weren’t enough to keep the disc moving upfield. They had minor success with short passes, but often quickly resorted to trying to do just a little too much with the disc in hand. North Carolina took a handful of [long] points to adjust, but once they had dialed in, the Pleiades cruised through the rest of their game against Pittsburgh and their afternoon match up against Oregon. North Carolina’s recent influx of young talent has done wonders for fortifying both their offensive and defensive lines. With their depth, Elisabeth Parker, Rebecca Fagan, Sydney Rehder and freshman phenom Dawn Culton all get to work together on the same line. That’s a tough line to break. And that’s just one example.
Oregon nearly got an upset win in their first game of the day against UCLA, after a beautiful upwind huck from Ella Hansen landed right in Takisha Tarvin’s lap for an offensive hold, followed by a break that tied things up at 11 right after the hard-cap horn blew. They got an opportunity on double-game point, but couldn’t convert. Erin Doyle then dropped a huck of her own right into the front corner of the end zone for Stephanie Yen. BLU hung on for the win and brought their record on the day to 1-1. They dropped their first game to Colorado, an upset in seed only. Kali took full advantage of their experience playing in Colorado’s traditionally windy spring conditions. They couldn’t break away from UCLA initially, despite being able to score upwind, but after pulling ahead 5-4, the proverbial floodgates cracked open. On the next point, Elizabeth Rothrock earned herself bookends after a first-throw D, and a second straight break set them firmly on the right course. They kept on that path in their second game against Pittsburgh and are currently sitting in the pool’s second spot behind North Carolina. The goal is to not end up in third place in the pool, as to avoid the potentially sticky pre-quarterfinal game against the second team out of Pool D – which right now is Carleton College.
With their 0-2 record, Oregon is currently sitting at the bottom of the pool. They have some up and coming talent, but right now, there is a lot of pressure sitting on the shoulders of fifth-year senior Ella Hansen. Hansen is definitely the top offensive power on the roster, and without Rachel Hess (who is out after suffering a concussion earlier this season), the pressure is just magnified. It’s a lot for any one person to have to own.
Ohio State came to Texas feeling pretty good about their chances to make a run in the bracket, with good reason. But they faced two pretty tough tests on day one. Despite arriving as the 18 seed, Washington initially handled the wind a bit better than second-seeded Ohio State. Peixian Rong and Rachel Jecker were doing a good job of moving Element through Fever’s zone and had their team within striking distance – until halftime. Fever went into the break up 8-6. After Annelise Peters found Sadie Jezierski with an easy OI backhand for a quick hold to go up 10-8, Fever opted to keep Jezierski on the field to help get an upwind break. It worked beautifully. A first-throw turn from Washington gave Ohio State the disc inside midfield. They swung it to Jezierski who let loose a perfect low-release backhand straight into the wind that hit her receiver in stride. Ohio State went up 12-8 and closed out the game with another break downwind. Their even more exciting game came against California-Santa Barbara.
UCSB was riding high after a convincing win over Minnesota in the first round. They overwhelmed Minnesota with their athleticism and ability to complete deep looks en route to a 15-8 win. Against Ohio State, they couldn’t find the same early lead, but they opened up the second half with a three-point run that tied things up at 8. Ohio State made tweaks to their defense throughout, trying to take away the unders, then taking away the deep looks, but UCSB will take whatever the defense allows – and do it well. The teams traded late breaks to end up at double-game point. Ohio State managed to hang on and end up atop the pool at the end of day one, with UCSB in the pool’s second spot.
After struggling against Western Washington, Minnesota rebounded against Northeastern. The Ninjas broke upwind early and set the tone for the rest of the game. They also seemed to feel more comfortable playing against zone defenses that gave them room to operate mostly amongst their handlers with short, dishy passes. They’re currently sitting right behind UCSB in Pool B. Like their first-game opponent, Northeastern rebounded in their second game – theirs coming against Washington, who was on the verge of upsetting Ohio State earlier in the day.
In a similar storyline, Northeastern broke upwind early and rode that to a big win, 11-4. Washington is currently in the pool’s bottom spot. They’ll start off their day tomorrow with a tough match up against UCSB and finish up pool play against Minnesota.
Even if you didn’t know their seed, California-San Diego would stick out as the frontrunner in Pool C. They’re athletic and experienced and have impressive on-field chemistry, particularly in the handler set. The hucking style they played today is similar to what you saw from Western Washington, which made the result a little closer than it probably would have been in less intense weather conditions. Dena Elimelech is one of the most exciting players in the division, even when she is spending a fair amount of her time in the handler set. Avery Jones is a great complement for Elimelech, with quick direction changes and tireless effort downfield, particularly in the small spaces in and around the disc. They beat Western Washington 14-9 and then moved on to defeat Northwestern with a bigger buffer, 15-4.
In their first game of the day, Western Washington went up big early against Tufts. It wasn’t until Chaos was up 6-1 that Tufts found their feet. From that point on, the teams traded points and breaks, all the way to a 13-8 victory for Chaos. Samiya Ismail and/or Riley Tauer to Maddie Gilbert was the recipe for success for Chaos. After day one, Gilbert leads the division in goals with 11, evenly split between Chaos’s two games: five against Tufts and six against California-San Diego. Tauer is also amongst the stat leaders on day one with an impressive nine assists.
Right now, Georgia matches California-San Diego’s 2-0 record after they pulled out wins against Northwestern and Tufts. In both their games, Georgia ran ahead early, with Katharine Suarez and Amy Strozinsky sharing most of the load downfield and Alexandra Fairley doing a little bit of everything. Northwestern made things interesting, climbing back within one just before halftime. But Georgia hung on, winning 14-12. Against Tufts, they held onto a two-point lead basically from start to finish, claiming their second win of the day. They’ll have a tougher day on Saturday, taking on the pool’s two top-seeded teams.
Tufts and Northwestern were both winless today, but they’ll break that tie first thing tomorrow morning.
The always-exciting Pool D! A huge beneficiary of the youth movement that’s playing out across college ultimate this year, Carleton College has to be one of the most skilled teams, depth-wise, in the division, even despite losing Nariah-Belle Sims to an injury. Carleton easily topped the tournament’s 20th seed, Cornell, in their first game. And then they ran into the wall that is Dartmouth. In the always-anticipated 4 v. 5 match up, Carleton was out of contention pretty early. The wind was still swirling and playing the eighth defender in the Dartmouth zone, but Carleton also had a lot of unforced errors. And Dartmouth capitalizes on opportunities. Dartmouth ran away to a 15-5 win. That victory brought them to 2-0, after defeating Wisconsin in the day’s first round, and the top spot in Pool D.
They may have lost to Dartmouth, but Wisconsin also gave us one of the most exciting games of the day when they took on the home team. Texas (9) and Wisconsin (16) traded breaks throughout the game, particularly on either side of halftime – and when push came to shove, Bella Donna proved they belong back in the Nationals field.
With the game capped at 12 and Texas in front 10-8, Wisconsin’s elite made names for themselves, that is after [freshman]Lauren Gregorczyk made a ridiculous trailing edge layout grab, while toeing the sideline, to bring in a huck from Domenica Sutherland and put Texas up 11-8, one goal away from the win. But Wisconsin had Margaret Walker, Emily Cohen, Maya Banks and friends. If you haven’t seen Walker play, acquaint yourself. She’s just a sophomore, but her comfort and poise with the disc are really impressive, as well as her ability to push up-field. She racked up seven assists in the game against Texas. After a picture-perfect layout D on an in-cut from Caitlin Murphy, she reeled in a huck and got the assist to keep Wisconsin alive, down 11-10. They got another chance on the next point and lofted a deep look right over the defense into the hands of Emily Cohen to force double-game point. Opposite Walker and co., Sierra Jensen was doing everything she could to close out the game for Texas, tallying multiple D’s (=conversion chances) in the final point alone. But Walker wasn’t done yet. After several chances on both sides – and several incredible defensive plays – Walker went nearly every other on the final possession and dished the assist for another Wisconsin break and double-game point. They upset the home team and the ninth-overall seed to move to 1-1 on the day. Likewise, Texas ended up with a 1-1 record, having surpassed Cornell in the first round.
We’re one day into the College Championships, and as usual, things are still heating up. The weather looks like it might be slightly less impactful tomorrow, with wind gusts up to 20 m.p.h. possible, but hopefully much less consistently than what we saw today.
All four pools are still up for grabs, with teams looking ahead to the championship bracket, which will get underway tomorrow afternoon.
Stay tuned and follow along at collegechampionships.usaultimate.org and with the free USA Ultimate mobile app.