This weekend, beautiful Santa Cruz hosts teams from all around the country in what will be some of the best matchups of the season. With partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70s, the conditions are ideal for the teams to duke it out in two pools of six before advancing to crossover brackets, semis and finals. Will anyone be able to take down Fury? Will the Southwest lose a bid after this weekend? Where has Phoenix been these past couple months? With Nexgen on the ground bringing the explosive ultimate straight into your living room, we’re looking forward to seeing how a few things pan out.
Phoenix’s first games since the US Open
Though we haven’t seen them play since the US Open, Phoenix is currently ranked high on both the Skyd and USAU rankings for a reason. They’ve got strong veteran leadership in Lindsey Hack and Cate Foster as well as an experienced coach in Tully Beatty. Phoenix has also put a lot of effort into attracting and growing young talent like Leila Tunnell and Claire Chastain, and the team has picked up some solid local college players that they hope will follow in those footsteps.
So what can we expect from them this weekend? Labor Day will be Phoenix’s first tournament in nearly two months so it’s quite possible they’ll come out a bit shaky on Saturday. Since there isn’t really a chance that they or Ozone could drop out of the top 16 in the USAU rankings, their game results aren’t going to matter as much as working through a few things against some of the best in the country to make sure they are ready to go in Sarasota. Captain Lindsey Hack didn’t express too much concern regarding the gap in their schedule
“The result of two months without competition could be positive, negative, or a combination of both. We could be rusty. We could be out of shape. We could be fresh. We could be hungry. Who knows. Honestly, I am not so sure what will happen. We have never had a schedule like this and we are hoping our unconventional schedule for this season pays off.”
It is important to note that beyond Labor Day, Phoenix still has one more strong tournament before the Club Championships. At Virginia Fusion in September, they’ll see Scandal, Brute Squad, Ozone, and Nemesis all of whom are top 16 teams. They’ll also see Ozone at Southeast Regionals. Phoenix is in a nice position to experiment this weekend; they’ll be able to test out what works versus what needs finer tuning at later tournaments.
Nightlock’s chance to prove themselves
Nightlock was spawned by a bunch of women looking to play competitive ultimate from all over California. They’re young, excited, and play like they have nothing to lose. It’s already impressive that in their first year they sit comfortably within the top 16 of the USAU rankings, and they have repeatedly defeated Nationals perennial contender Safari. Both Molly Brown and Showdown are seeded above Nightlock in their pool this weekend, which is interesting because they beat Showdown at ECC. Nightlock could count wins over both Showdown and Molly Brown, which would mean placement in the semis, as a victory for the weekend.
But knowing the ladies of Nightlock, only two good wins won’t be enough. This is their last chance to face top competition before the Series (where it’s unlikely that they’ll topple Fury in either Sectionals or Regionals), and their final chance to not only intimidate the out-of-region teams they might face at Nationals but also to work out some final kinks against the best in the country. And while many of the Nightlock ladies have played at the College Nationals level, they’re not used to taking down top club teams as the group they are now. Playing time at tournaments like Labor Day is crucial to building the synergy they’ll need if they want to do well at Nationals.
The key for Nightlock this weekend is to focus less on wins and losses and more on the quality of play. If they also prove they can hold the lower seeded teams at bay, don’t be surprised to see these girls get that spot in semis.
Who is going to win a bid this weekend?
We’ve got a couple teams on the cusp in the mix:
Schwa has lost to Fury, Nightlock, Riot and Heist already this season, and has a win over Underground. Labor Day is an opportunity for Schwa to rack up some wins against out-of-region teams. Additionally, they are currently ranked 15th and have solid wins against the teams below them. It’s still possible for them to drop out of the 16, and with enough shakeup and a strong showing from Further, Schwa could find themselves a little too close for comfort.
A second Northwest team, Underground, is sitting at 14. If Underground successfully holds their own against the teams below, they should be solid enough to keep a bid. They’ve already beaten both Safari and Jack Wagon this season, as well as Nightlock (though Nightlock avenged the Colorado Cup loss at ECC). A solid showing this weekend will keep them feeling safe.
Safari, currently at 17, needs to work really hard at this point. While in the past Safari got to the Championships thanks to the bid provided by Molly Brown’s strength, a new region that includes Nightlock makes things tougher. Another bid for the Southwest could possibly go to the San Diegans but they’ll need to hold off Jack Wagon and Further, and defeat some teams seeded above them, to make it happen.
Jack Wagon also comes in under the cutoff – clearly, their goal needs to be to rack up as many good games as they can. Wins over teams like Safari and Underground will go far to adding a bid to the South Central count.
Last, we have Further, who is currently unranked. Their only ranked games come from Solstice back in June, where they lost to everyone except Zephyr. And yet, looking at their 2011 series, Further performed similarly and managed to make it to Nationals. The Northwest is looking at four bids right now, and if Further makes noise at Labor Day, they could snag a fifth. The competition will make that tough, but a great performance from Further would be the story of the weekend.
Follow all the action this weekend at Tournament Central, and make sure to check out the live video coverage provided by ngnultimate.com – this is your last chance this season to watch the best before the Club Championships!
Feature photo by Andrew Davis