While not known for being a powerhouse region, the Ohio Valley will look to make some noise this year with clear front runner Ohio State leading the pack. Include a Penn State team that is returning all-region players and a Pitt team on the rise, and 2012 could be a breakout year for the Ohio Valley.
Ohio State Fever
Cassie Swafford; learn the name and know it well. She’s a former Junior Worlds player, has club experience with Baha and with her natural defensive ability, she serves as a standout leader for Ohio State Fever. She is the female Ultimate version of the “Honey Badger” (sorry LSU). Combine her talent with a core group of players that all played a club season together and Ohio State is on the path to cement themselves as the Ohio Valley elite. While they did not have the best of finishes at Northcoast (4th place), this team will be looking to peak in the spring and make a name for themselves at College Nationals.
(A side bit of intrigue for this Ohio State team is the rumor that alumns will be back for the 2013 season looking to bring a rising team even higher.)
Penn State is surely not to be left out of the regional conversation. Though they have graduated a large chunk of their core, this team is still hungry from last years second place finish in the region, where they missed the bid to nationals by just 5 points. Steph Stewart will be leading the charge for Isis after a summer spent playing for Pittsburgh Hot Metal. While they might have lost a lot of their senior skill, they still retain all-region caliber players and look to be strong.
Case Western Reserve
Libby Lehman and Case Western Reserve are the dark horse for the region. While they may not make it to Boulder, these ladies intend to play spoiler to multiple teams. A team that is always just shy of taking the next step, this could be their year. They might not have the deepest of rosters but the core group for this team has experience and talent. If they can take care of the early pool play games at tournaments this team will be placing high all spring and might just help the region earn an extra bid. Their surprise win over Ohio State this fall certainly helped prove to themselves what they are capable of.
In keeping with the new tradition of having multiple dark horse picks, Swarthmore is another team that could upset a few teams during the series. The growing trend of having a core group of players commit to a club and play all summer will surely benefit these ladies. Club experience has a great way of influencing younger players on a team to step their game up and will help the leaders teach the youth how to win in big moments.
The biggest mystery in the region is which teams will enter into D-III Nationals and who will take the challenge of D-I. A team like Swarthmore could gain from staying in the D-III tier, but what do they choose if it seems like they are peaking at the right time? Expect teams to trade wins and losses all season long in what should turn out to be an exciting and growingly competitive region.