Pleiades play out of this world
UNC was one of the teams I was most excited to watch this weekend. Not only did they spawn last year’s Callahan winner, Leila Tunnel, but also have a reputation for stellar AC ultimate. I specifically was hoping I’d get to see them match up against state rival UNCW – lucky me, they faced off in the finals!
The finals game was arguably the best of the weekend for both teams, if not the whole tournament. We saw our usual suspects for both Seaweed and the Pleiades. Lindsay Lang, Shellie Cohen, and Leslie Willis rocked the UNC game, with Claire Chastain, Amy Nelson, Anne Marie Wilson, and Michelle Guadagno holding down Seaweed’s lines. We saw a lot of zone defense out of both of the teams all weekend. The UNC clam zone seems near perfection. When the disc is in the middle of the field, their huge marks are flat, and effectively shut down any deep game UNCW had. On the sidelines, the cup clamped down, shutting off the middle of the field. Seaweed’s throws did eventually succeed with some OI throws down the sideline around the cup, but most of the time the wind would push the disc right out of bounds.
UNC also played with their man defense set, one of the few teams that ran some man this weekend. Wilmington definitely took advantage here, with Chastain shredding marks left and right, and they scored their points the fastest of the whole game. By the end of the game, the on and off wind proved too much for Wilmington to keep up with. The teams were trading points until a break for UNC right before half. Pleiades took half 8-6, and Wilmington was only able to trade a few more points before the end. UNC went on a run to win (scores). It didn’t help that Seaweed had just played a game to cap against UCF in the semis, while UNC got to rest their legs after crushing UVA in theirs, and spent the rest of their time watching Seaweed and relaxing. UNC definitely came out with a high level of intensity, with layouts and active marks. In fact, our MVP award went to Shellie Cohen for not only her talented play, but an amazing layout that helped pump up her team to score a break the next point.
Topping the Southeast
UCF had quite the successful weekend themselves, finishing third in a top four mix of Atlantic Coast teams. They had a close game against Pitt in the last round of pool play, and ended up winning to take the pool. Their first game against Georgia’s Dawgma was a blowout easing them into the semis where they squared off with Wilmington. UNCW took an early lead that UCF just couldn’t catch up to. Ashley Shermerhorn played amazing with the rest of her team working hard, especially in their zone defense. With Shermehorn protecting their deep, the UCF cup went to work. I saw some amazing Ds by their zone, forcing huge around throws that got pushed around in the wind. The only team that seemed solid against it was UNCW who threw a fantastic zone of their own. Amy Nelson even got a Challahan in their semifinals game by laying out for a tipped throw by her teammate in their cup.
Still in the running
UVA has a lot of learning to do after this weekend if they’re going to make it to Nationals. While the Atlantic Coast dominated this weekend it may not be enough to secure three bids come series time. UVA has incredible talent in Devon Ericksen, but they currently don’t have answers for the Langs and Chastains of the college ultimate scene. To their credit, Hydra has a relatively easy path to rebounding from the weekend. They need to clean up some unforced turnovers and simply increase consistency. While other teams seemed to suffer from miscommunication, UVA players looked to be on the same page both offensively and defensively. It’s possible they are giving more play time to rookies early on, or that the cold affected them more than others. I can say this, practicing throwing and catching only requires two people, but improving team synergy takes a lot more than just a consistent practice schedule. Long story short: it’s still too early to call who we’ll see coming out of the AC.
OSU was very fun to watch. I caught their unexpected domination against Wash U, which says more about the poor quality of WUWU that game than OSU. Still, Cassie Swafford is a beast. She played as a point in the OSU cup, and her reach was unbreakable. Downfield, Paige “Diddy” Soper filled in as a deep deep, being able to immediately pick up the disc after any turnovers and get some quick movement going before the teams had any idea the disc was in. OSU ended up losing a close one to Huydra in quarters after being up by a few, and defeated Delaware in the fifth place game.
Speaking of Delaware, these girls went from 19th to 6th. That’s right – 13 spots. I was fortunate enough to watch them play this weekend. They’ve got some consistent hands and amazing throwers, and have unjustly been ignored the past few years. I’m looking for them to play the spoiler come the series, and will definitely be keeping an eye on any regional matchups they face later this season.
I was also impressed by Pitts’ play this weekend. The girls had a very solid game plan and tenacity that could take them over the top in the series. I’d expect Ohio valley to walk away with 1 bid at this point, and Pitt will have to find some way to match up with OSU.
Overall, it was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to travel all the way to North Carolina to watch some fantastic high-level ultimate. Michelle Ng from Without Limits helped coordinate an amazing event, with frequent score updates and cool swag. There is some serious talent it on the east coast and I cannot wait to see matchups against west coast teams.
Feature photo of the winning UNC Pleiades