By: Rebecca Thompson
Over the weekend, 20 teams from across the United States will be descending on Round Rock, Texas, to compete for the 2019 national title.
North Carolina (1), Pittsburgh (8), UCLA (12), Colorado (13), Oregon (17)
North Carolina is a powerhouse program. They are coming into the weekend with a 27-3 record and only one loss recorded against a team attending Nationals – in the Commonwealth Cup semifinals against Ohio State early in the season. Since then, North Carolina put their talent on both sides of the disc on display. Anne Worth has had an outstanding season and has acted as the linchpin for this fluid UNC offense. North Carolina has showed off the incredible depth of their team, with stars like Callahan Nominee Rebecca Fagan, Mary Rippe and freshman Ella Juengst to name only a few. Despite their successes throughout the year, North Carolina has fallen in a few critical moments throughout the season: most notably against British Columbia in the Northwest Challenge semifinal after leading 11-7 and then again in pool play at their conference championships against North Carolina State. Time will tell if North Carolina can withstand the pressure on the big stage.
All of the remaining four teams in this pool will have their eyes on upsetting the teams above them. Pittsburgh has had a strong season, building their systems and chemistry with every game. They have the opportunity to grow at Nationals as they will eye back-to-back top four finishes after making semifinals for the first time in program history in 2018. Pitt has faced both North Carolina and Oregon during the season and was unable to get victories against either. In both games, though, they showed tremendous promise, and the right adjustments could help them in Round Rock. UCLA has not faced Pittsburgh yet this season but could be in a position to shake things up. They have had an up-and-down season but found their stride in a packed Southwest Region in the postseason. While the team lacks high-level experience, they have proven they have the grit to work through tough games. UCLA will also likely be without star player Emily Beck who is out with a broken hand.
Colorado and Oregon are both heading into Nationals ready to show the field what they have. Colorado is coming off a finals appearance and silver medal from the 2018 College Championships, and although this year has been a rebuilding one, they have found some momentum in the postseason. Meg Henderson will anchor the offense as a goal-scoring machine. Big performances from veterans Emma Capra, Kate Macri and Katiana Hutchinson could help elevate this team to the next level. They have faced Oregon twice this year, with the series tied 1-1. Oregon have posted victories this season against Colorado, UCLA and Pittsburgh. They are coming in as the last seed in Pool A but certainly will look to change that. Oregon has a small roster which could prove challenging in the heat they will likely face in Texas, but they are no strangers to pool-play upsets, having pulled one off last year as well. Standout Ella Hansen will lead the way along with Maddy Boyle and Rachel Hess. With a small roster, they will need every member to be in tune and up to the task if they are to pull off an upset similar to 2018. When it comes down to it, UNC should be able to close out the number one spot in the pool. However, between Pittsburgh, UCLA, Colorado and Oregon, we could see a major shuffle.
Ohio State (2), California-Santa Barbara (7), Northeastern (11), Minnesota (14), Washington (18)
Ohio State is coming into Nationals as a team everyone will be watching. Fever had an outstanding season, finishing with a 32-3 record. Callahan Nominee Sadie Jezierski has been phenomenal. Jezierski, on many occasions, has single-handedly created magic for this Ohio State team. That being said, Fever’s true resilience lies in their depth. With threats like Emily Barret, Cara Sieber and Annelise Peters on their side, Ohio State has proven why they are one of the favorites to take the title this year as they look for their first championship win since 2014. After 2018 ended in a tie-break in pool play that saw them miss out on pre-quarters, Ohio State is looking to rewrite the script. A small bump came early in the season at the Queen City Tune Up with losses to Tufts and North Carolina – other than that event, they made the finals at every tournament they attended in 2019.
California-Santa Barbara poses the biggest threat to Ohio State’s campaign in pool play as they are coming out of a stacked region and off a strong season. UCSB returned to Nationals after a short drought last year with a brand-new roster. The experience gained by those players last year will certainly prove to be an advantage for this year’s tournament. Their overall record of 27-6 brought them to the finals at the Santa Barbara and President’s Day Invites, as well as the semifinals at the Stanford Invite. USCB has lost six games this season to teams who will be attendance at Nationals, however, three of those losses came to the same team—California-San Diego. UCSB has a young but fiery team, including Julia Kwasnick who will be a massive threat throughout the championships.
Rounding out Pool B are Northeastern, Minnesota and Washington. Each of these teams is returning to the College Championships after missing out for consecutive years. Northeastern had one of their strongest seasons in years. With standout players like Ari Nelson and freshman Clara Stewart guiding them, they took home the tournament win at Centex and have lost only in closely contested games, and half of those losses came way back near the start of the season in February. Minnesota is competing at their first Nationals since 2013 and are ready to take on the competition. They have faced Northeastern twice, with one win under their belt and one loss in the finals at Centex. Minnesota could challenge to break their seed in pool play, but with all their players attending Nationals for the first time, the experience will be challenging. Washington has had a much harder season than the other teams in their pool. With a 16-14 record, Washington peaked at the right time to steal a bid at regionals. They are still a team that is rebuilding, and 2019 could be the start of a special run for this group.
California-San Diego (3), Western Washington (6), Georgia (10), Tufts (15), Northwestern (19)
California San-Diego has had another stellar year, winning all three major Southwest Region tournaments: the Santa Barbara Invite, President’s Day Invite and the Stanford Invite. They did so with such ease that it made them appear almost untouchable. They finally faltered at the Northwest Challenge, although they were without the exceptional play of Dena Elimelech. Even without Elimelech, and with some losses, UCSD still showed sparks of brilliance during the tournament. Sparks that, with consistency, could catapult them towards the title. Kelli Iwamoto and Rebecca Ellis play with such an easy chemistry in the handling set that it causes problems for defenders everywhere. USCD is undefeated against Western Washington and Northwestern this season. Even with Western Washington keeping the game close at the Northwest Challenge, UCSD should have no problems closing out Pool C.
Western Washington has a 16-7 record and has managed to challenge top teams with close games throughout the season. This hardworking team has been slowly gaining power as the season progresses and are not afraid of using their speed and long throws to their advantage. They have been building through players like Maddie Gilbert, Samiya Ismail and Ruby Cassidy, who have created a smooth-looking offense and intense defense. Western Washington will likely push teams to close games again this weekend and should see themselves in a pre-quarter game.
Georgia is another team ending a Nationals drought, returning to the Championships for the first time since 2013. They have been impressive this season, but hold an 0-5 record against teams attending Nationals. Georgia’s veterans have been joined this year by freshman star Marie Perivier, who came to the team after a gold-medal victory with the U-20 National Team in 2018. Perivier is the type of player who can change the storyline of a game and will help this Georgia team embrace the competition.
Capping off the pool are Tufts and Northwestern. Tufts have proven themselves time and time again as a team that will not go down without a fight. Even with a 2-8 record against the Nationals field, they have challenged top teams such as Dartmouth – losing only 15-14 in the regional final. They will know results like that can make them a threat to change the ranking in pool play and will look to bring the fire as they have in past years. Tufts hold their biggest strengths on the defensive end, and if they can use quick transitions to offense to their advantage, they will be a real threat to those above them. Northwestern is yet another team returning to the ship after a six-year hiatus. They possess talent in the likes of Sarah Kim and Grace Young whose sharp cutting will be challenging to guard. Northwestern has a tough road ahead of them at Nationals, but they are a team determined to get some wins and make the bracket.
Carleton College (4), Dartmouth (5), Texas (9), Wisconsin (16), Cornell (20)
While every pool at Nationals is exciting in its own right, Pool D is electric. Carleton College has prepared for this moment all season long and have a 26-5 record to show for their efforts, including a 15-11 win against Dartmouth at the Northwest Challenge. Carleton is brimming with young talent and has delivered textbook offense and vivid defense all season. They earned the top seed in their pool for the first time since 2013, and this is clearly just the start for this young team. Carly Campana, Nariah-Belle Sims and Maya Powell have all been consistent and exciting to watch and will undoubtedly be ready to deliver big performances. Their biggest obstacle in retaining the top spot out of pool play is none other than the two-time reigning champions, Dartmouth. With Callahan nominee Jack “Chip” Verzuh leading the way and Claire Trop and Caitlyn Lee on the roster, Dartmouth is always threatening. If you take away the Northwest Challenge from their season, Dartmouth move from a 27-5 record to 27-1. One can make the argument that one bad tournament does not define a season, as long as that bad tournament isn’t Nationals. The team is looking for the evasive three-peat and has the talent and depth to do it. Despite their seed coming into the weekend, it would not be a huge surprise to see them make a deep run into bracket play.
On the heels of Carleton College and Dartmouth is Texas. Several players on this Texas team were a part of the squad that made the championship game only two years ago and are eager for more. Texas also gets the home-field advantage, giving them an edge on the competition with fans and, more importantly, being adjusted to the hot temperatures that will plague the tournament. Texas likes to go long, sometimes to their detriment, but if all goes right, they could be a real threat to change things up. They will have to put up big games against Carleton College and Dartmouth, while also fending off Wisconsin and Cornell who will be biting at the chance to make a pre-quarter game.
Wisconsin may be the number 16 seed overall and coming into the weekend with an 18-6 record, but their roster is full of veterans who are used to grinding out long tournaments. They played fewer games this year than other teams but earned themselves a bid to Nationals nonetheless. The team brings a fire and grit that will be intimidating, and with so many players graduating after this year, there is no doubt they will leave it all on the field. Cornell is returning to Nationals for a second year in a row after breaking a drought last year. Cornell has had an up-and-down season but peaked at the right time at regionals, beating Ottawa in the finals on double-game point to qualify. Cornell is another team that may struggle in the heat with a smaller roster, but they are looking forward to the challenge. They have a strong handling core in Raina Kamrat and Sami Smalling, as well as a deep bench ready to fill in. Cornell is largely unknown to their opponents which could be an advantage.
The women’s division is packed with talent, and upsets are coming, but who will win? It could be anyone’s game still. The 2019 edition of the USA Ultimate D-I College Championships is sure to be filled with heat and intensity both on and off the field.
Games start Friday, May 24, at 8 a.m. CT, in Round Rock, Texas. Follow along with the College Championships at collegechampionships.usaultimate.org, and get updates and scores with the USA Ultimate mobile app.