Everything is bigger in Texas—even ultimate tournaments. On March 23-24, forty-four women’s teams from across the country will descend upon Austin, Texas to participate in the tenth annual Women’s College Centex. For many years now, Centex has stood as the premier spring season tournament. Not only does Centex boast a mammoth field of teams from every region, but it attracts the best of those teams. In one day, fans will be treated to exciting matchups between top twenty teams like Iowa and Virginia, Wisconsin and Tufts, and Iowa State and Ohio State. Just a taste of how exactly high-level this tournament is: North Carolina is the last seed in their pool and UCSB a #3 seed in theirs. In this way, Centex is a sort of pre-Nationals, and it certainly has National implications. Centex results can have a significant impact on National rankings, bid allocations, and perhaps most importantly, a team’s mentality going into the Series.
Thus, Centex can best be summed up in one word: opportunity. It offers players and teams the opportunity to acquire a smokin’ hot sunburn—followed by an equally smokin’ hot tan; the opportunity to showcase their carefully crafted dance moves—while on a full stomach of Texas barbeque, no less; the opportunity to play against geographically diverse and highly competitive opponents; and the opportunity to determine the trajectory of their season.
But another type of opportunity also exists, an opportunity often overlooked in light of the high-profile Division I/II field, but an opportunity no less important for our sport. In addition to the thirty-two Centex bids awarded to Division I/II teams, twelve bids are also extended to deserving Division III teams. These teams are often young, some established less than 5-10 years ago, and they are teams rapidly gaining in numbers, experience, and fundamentals. Because these teams are generally small and still developing, many of them typically attend small, local tournaments where they often see the same, local competition. Centex gives these teams the opportunity to play against a greater variety of competition at a large, well-run tournament attended by the nation’s top teams. In return, Centex benefits from the presence of some of the most fun teams out there, teams replete with passion and personality, teams that represent the growth and gains of our sport.
Pool I: Harvard, Kansas State, Texas-Arlington
Harvard Quasar could not have missed getting a Division II bid by much. Due to the cancellation of MIT Invite, Quasar has only played one sanctioned tournament so far this season, but at that tournament—Commonwealth Cup—their only loss was to MIT in the finals by one point (8-9). Considering that MIT is the second-to-last seed in Division II, you can bet that Harvard has a good chance to play up. Led by the go-to cutting, smooth throws, and general ultimate knowledge of sophomore India Stubbs, Harvard’s ultimate is as smart as their education implies. In nearly every aspect of the game, Quasar will strike the right balance between raw athleticism and polished precision. The fast pace and efficiency of their offense—an offense where the disc will rarely rest—and their calculated aggression on defense may very well disconcert many teams. The variety within their game will make them a difficult team to decode, and I expect Quasar to capture the pool in convincing fashion.
Kansas State Cheshire
Still, it would be silly to write off Kansas State Cheshire. This team, formed in 2009 (!), has a way of doing the unexpected. Fueled by a positive team morale that did justice to the smile of the Cheshire cat upon their jerseys, K-State showed their ability to make impressive comebacks at Midwest Throwdown. With the help of former coaches David and Amy Hilgendorf, Cheshire has transformed a dysfunctional horizontal stack into an effective vert stack, which presents their offense with many more options on the field. This offense is led by their strongest handle set yet. Junior Stephanie Rupp possesses huge hucks and is not afraid to take a risk when needed, and founding member Erin Hurd will rack up the assists with her big throws and overall consistency. Catching the majority of their throws will be cutter Sarah Hemmen. Although she stands at only 5’2”, Sarah uses her quickness to make ridiculous grabs, often laying out to do so. Alongside the heroics of these players, be sure to note Cheshire’s eagerness to improve as team, even when they are down against more experienced competition.
Texas-Arlington Yettis rounds out Pool I. Players to watch include Sammie Zonana, Erica Hinojosa, Monalisa Agulair, Krystina Morris, and Ashley Pena. Sammie Zonana has reliable break throws that will open up the Yettis offense; Krystina Morris will be an active force on defense; and don’t be surprised to find Monalisa Agulair laying out for discs of all angles and flight patterns. Look for Texas-Arlington’s ability to break zone defenses, one of their biggest offensive strengths.
Pool K: North Texas, Texas State, Colorado-B
North Texas Envy
As a former player in the South Central Region, I have had the privilege of seeing UNT gradually grow their program. Last year, Envy had, by far, their best season to date, and this year, they are returning many of the players that made that happen, including All-Region players Blake McGlaun and Cara Massey. North Texas has also retained coach Paul Utesch, who has been instrumental in UNT’s rise, and they’ve now added former Texas A&M standout Meredith Hicks. The combined knowledge and passion of these two coaches will be evident in UNT’s play, as they present their opponents with a variety of innovative offensive and defensive looks. Building off of last year’s strides, Envy will be especially focused on assembling a more reliable, possession-oriented offense. And, if any team chooses to throw a zone on UNT, look for Kaylin Durmick to take over and control the offensive attack. Other players to watch include Elise Calhoun, Christina Sevier, and transfers Traci Popejoy and Morgan Epperson. Above all, at the heart of Envy’s recent success has been their ability to focus on their own play, regardless of the score or opponent. Their determination to fight for every point may very well launch North Texas into the DII bracket to face teams with a similar competitive makeup.
Texas State Trainwreck
Texas State Trainwreck is only in its fourth year together, and as a result, is comprised primarily of rookies and second-year players. According to captain Rhea Easton, Trainwreck is aptly named to reflect their scrappy style of play. While Texas State may still be refining their fundamentals, they are far from lacking in speed, aggression, and athleticism. Look for Texas State to score points behind a hard man defense and a persevering horizontal stack. Their offense will be led by Rhea Easton, Stacey Nava, and freshman Kate Martin, strong handles who will easily distribute the disc up the line, break side, or deep. They will be throwing to receivers Katie Norman, a 5’11” junior who can sky on both O and D; Haley Morin, a reliable deep receiver; and Jerry Benavidez, who “lays out successfully for just about anything.” This season, behind new coach Caleb Denecour and more subs than ever, Texas State has been winning against teams they have never beaten before. In their last tournament, Big D in little d, Texas State had a close game with North Texas, losing only 8-11. It might be worth keeping an eye on this familiar rematch.
Colorado B is another very young team that is rapidly growing in numbers, with many girls joining the team as late as February. But despite their youth and inexperience, Kali B does have their fair share of athleticism, which you can expect to see them use to their advantage this weekend. That athleticism will only increase at Centex, as Kali B will benefit from the skill and knowledge of a few A team level players, who are just coming off injuries/surgeries sustained earlier in the season. Expect the addition of these players to bolster the confidence of many of the newer players, enabling them to experiment with more elements on the field. Also expect Colorado B to get better and better with each game, both individually and as a team.
Pool J: Rice, Arizona State, Texas-B
Rice is a team that always seems to hit their stride at Centex. This year, Rice is a young team who has had to replace key players like dominant handlers Edith Teng and Catherine Chen and relentless cutters like Evi Van Itallie. Still, despite these key losses, Rice is also returning some experienced, standout players in their captains: Monica Matsumoto, Kathleen Weist, and Emily Wheeler. Monica Matsumoto is an absolute terror on both sides of the disc. Look for her to shut down her girl on D and touch the disc a lot on O from both cutter and handler positions. Kathleen Weist is a consistent source of in-cuts, while Emily Wheeler is a solid deep cutter who moves extremely well for her height. Wheeler will be joined in the deep game by Erika Danckers, last year’s South Central FOTY. To cater to their unique athleticism, Rice has transitioned this year to a quick offensive set. Spectators should watch for Rice’s quick transitions, stifling man D, patient zone O, and their nerdy sideline cheers, all of which will ensure pool play victory and give them a great chance to break into the DII bracket.
Arizona State Caliente
Making their Centex debut is Arizona State Caliente, a team that was formed only six years ago. But don’t be fooled by their relative newness, their small numbers, or their lack of height; Caliente is in their most competitive season yet, and with some serious athletes, they are surprising some people. Having graduated the bulk of last year’s handlers, many new players have had to pick up the role in a short period of time—but that hasn’t hindered Caliente. Rosa Franklin, a D-line handler, has grown into a formidable player. With speed and intelligence, she is a force to be reckoned with on both offense and defense. Ximenna Hofsetz and Katlyn Kaiser are two other top handlers who will put up beautiful hucks whenever they have the opportunity. Arizona State’s focus this year has been on quickness, conditioning, and high percentage offense, so look for these elements to shine at Centex. Also look for the fast pace of ASU’s defensive line. With much speed, the D line can generate turns and then drive the disc down the field for the score. Caliente’s quick play and high pace make them a tough team to beat and a fun team to watch.
Mayhem may be UT’s less competitive team, but they have never been lacking in passion or intensity. As one of the most well-established, consistently strong B-teams in the country, Mayhem can put up points against far more experienced teams. Unfortunately, Mayhem will be without captain and primary handle Aubrey Fite, who will be out at Centex due to a sprained ankle. Still, you can expect Mayhem to pull together and for other players to pick up the slack. In particular, Mayhem’s other captain Jessanna Ramirez will lead the handling core, distributing the disc to cutters Marina Martin—an athletic, assertive player who will be everywhere on the field—and Autumn Tran, an experienced player characterized by confidence and quick movement. Also watch for rookie Lucy Calhoun. Especially impressive on defense, Lucy displays an instinctual field vision, excellent communication, and a self-possession that is rare in such a new player. Speaking of defense, expect Mayhem to throw a zone when given the chance, as it is their most effective defensive set.
Pool L: South Florida, Oklahoma, UNC-B
South Florida Scalleywenches
The South Florida Scalleywenches is one of the most fun teams around. In just about every game, you can expect to see “a pant-less point,” in which the first seven players to take off their shorts and get on the line will be the ones to play. (We can only hope that everyone remembers to pack spandex). You might also want to be careful around the Scalleywenches’ sideline, for every tournament finds them coming up with a new way to ice their coach. Yet despite their free spirits, South Florida is also a team that gets more and more competitive with each passing year. They have finally retained a coach in Jordan Knoten, (who remains undaunted by the Smirnoff sightings), and he has brought a renewed focus and energy to this athletic and entertaining squad. As for players, USF has all the right pieces. Captains Morgan Brazel (Bernie) and Therese Doebler are both noticeable on-field leaders. Brazel boasts an impressive vertical and is not afraid to sacrifice her body through frequent layouts, while Doebler is one of those players that can run laps around defenders without breaking a sweat. Also check out the precise break throws of main handle Tessa Walter, MK Stephan’s deep-deep play in the zone, and the remarkable hucks and layouts of six-foot ginger Teal Dabney. Behind these players, the Scalleywenches usually have little trouble marching the disc down the field, and their defense—called G-WOC for the Great Wall of China—makes effective use of the team’s height. The Scalleywenches typically rely on a group of ten starters who have a great deal of chemistry. If they can manage to keep those players fresh throughout the weekend, they could easily find themselves playing up into DII.
Oklahoma Never Mrs.
Oklahoma Never Mrs. is composed of both seasoned veterans and talented, enthusiastic rookies. As a result, they are a special blend of team chemistry and fresh speed. Dana Borham and Abigail Ginac are veteran players that will anchor the handle line for Never Mrs., while Emily Day and Lindsey Motl are some of Oklahoma’s quickest cutters. Also keep your eye on Nina Horne, a dynamic player who serves as both an effective cutter and a dexterous handler. Together, these girls should craft a measured offensive attack that looks to utilize both short and deep threats. Defensively, Never Mrs. will be looking to throw a tight, team-driven zone backed by Linsey Odom’s skills as the deep-deep. Because this resonates strongly with the skill set of the Scalleywenches, I’m interested to see the matchup between these two teams, which will take place at 12:30pm on Saturday. With their positivity and close-knit community, Never Mrs. is a team that’s sure to keep games close and competitive.
UNC-B is mostly composed of rookies who are brand new to ultimate but eager to learn the fundamental skills of the game. On offense, look for UNC-B to focus on the movement of their cutters in the ho-stack, led by Kathleeen Collins, and the movement of the disc between their handlers, led by Emma Boyd. On defense, look for the Pleiades to refine their zone.
Centex is a tournament of opportunity, and perhaps no opportunity is greater than the opportunity for these Division III teams not only to watch well-established teams, but to play them and defeat them. The opportunity to play up into the Division II bracket of Centex is what many of these teams will be shooting for, and I would not be surprised to see any of the number one seeds (Harvard, North Texas, Rice, or South Florida) take advantage of this special opportunity. I remember when my own college team was just making the transition from being a developing team to being a competitive team. It’s at tournaments like Centex where this transformation often becomes reality. Centex is a tournament in which teams change, teams grow, and teams find themselves. So look for the Division III pools to primarily go to seed this weekend, with perhaps a couple close games between the one and two seeds, but above all, look for Division III teams to outperform expectations, to enrich the tournament with their lively play and endless spirit, to threaten multiple Division II teams, and to blossom at Centex this weekend.
Special thanks to… Michelle Ng (Without Limits), Jeni Arbuckle, Erin Hurd (Kansas State), Ashley Pena (Texas-Arlington), Paul Utesch (North Texas), Rhea Easton and Caleb Denecour (Texas State), Shannon Waugh (Kali B), Edith Teng and Kathleen Wiest (Rice), Shelby Leach (Arizona State), Aubrey Fite (Texas-B), The USF captains, Simone Saldhana (Oklahoma), and Megan Pera (UNC B).