This weekend marks the 30th edition of the Stanford Invite, one of the premiere college ultimate tournaments in the country, and the longest-running spring college tournament. The tournament annually features the best women’s teams in the west, and this year Carleton, Wisconsin, and UNC are flying out to see where they stack up and potentially earn strength bids for the Atlantic Coast and North Central. Stanford Invite is the third of the four major regular season tournaments – following Queen City Tune-Up and Presidents Day Invite, and leading up to Centex.
The women’s division of Stanford Invite will again be a 12-team affair, with the two-pool format giving each team seven high-quality games – four pool play games on Saturday, one pool play game on Sunday, and then two placement games. After a lackluster Santa Barbara Invite and Pres Day, the six Southwest teams in attendance will be out to earn their strength bids back with games against three Northwest teams, two North Central teams, and one Atlantic Coast team. While it’s unlikely that the Southwest will replicate the five bids they earned last year, with strong performances from UCSB, Stanford, Sonoma, and Cal, they should earn at least three bids this year – and possibly even four.
Pool A contains last year’s College Championships finalists Oregon and Washington, the 1st and 4th place finishers at Presidents Day, and conference and regional rivals. Carleton hopes to break up the Northwest dominance at the top after a 2nd place finish at Queen City Tune-Up, and three Southwest teams are waiting to pounce on any slipups from the favorites. Pool B is headlined by British Columbia, the Presidents Day runner-up, and Santa Barbara, the 2011 champions and Presidents Day 3rd-place finisher. But this is a wide open pool, with UNC and Stanford both capable of making noise and taking down a favorite, while Wisconsin will hope to prove that their performance at Midwest Throwdown was a fluke.
While all of pool play and consolation games will take place on Stanford’s beautiful IM South fields, semifinals and finals will be at the Sand Hill fields alongside the men’s games. NexGen will be on hand to film one of the women’s semifinals, and your Skyd crew will have live commentary and possibly video of the women’s final. The weather this weekend is supposed to be typical of Northern California – chilly in the mornings and sunny in the afternoons, starting around 40 and rising to 65 in the heat of the day. This will be a weekend where the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders.
Let’s take a closer look at each pool!
The preseason favorites have lived up to the hype with a strong win at Pres Day. Fugue is 13-1 on the season, avenging their loss to UBC in the Pres Day power pools with an authoritative 15-10 victory in the finals of the tournament. Last year Oregon ran a variety of junky defenses, including a particularly effective clam, to keep opponents off balance and create quick turnovers. On offense, Oregon has plenty of throwers – notably Bailey Zahniser (Riot) and Sophie Darch – who are capable of putting the disc 70 yards. They were beaten by Washington in the 2012 College Final by their lack of discipline on offense and difficulty playing lockdown man defense when Washington was going upwind. Knowing Oregon, they’ll be stronger in at least one, if not both, of those two areas this season.
Oregon is one of the most athletic teams in the country, with plenty of players capable of making highlight-reel plays. In addition to their strong throwers, Oregon is loaded with strong receiving talent, including many players with elite-level juniors experience. Bethany Kaylor (WJUC), Jesse Shofner (WJUC), Alex Ode, Ashley Young, and Anna Almy are going to create matchup problems for every team they play. Add the team’s raw talent, extensive experience and skill, and head coach Lou Burruss, and you have a recipe for a championship team. Expect Oregon to make the finals at Stanford Invite.
The defending College and Stanford Invite Champions had a fantastic run in 2012, but this is a team still figuring out where they stand in 2013. New head coach Kyle Weisbrod picks up where Danny Karlinsky left off, playing open lines at Presidents Day and developing the team into a contender for the first college title repeat since Stanford in 2007. This is a reloading year for Washington, not a rebuilding one, as they return several top players, including the mercurial Sarah Davis. Davis had a breakout tournament at the College Championships in 2012, establishing herself as one of women’s ultimate’s elite defenders. Davis led Element in both D’s and assists during their championship run.
In addition to Davis, Washington returns star handler Lucy Williams and big contributors Shira Stern, Alysia Letourneau, Barbara Hoover, and Sarah Edwards. Element traditionally plays lines to develop players, but that didn’t stop them from running away with last year’s Stanford Invite final over Sonoma State. A strong defensive showing has been Element’s hallmark, and last year that led to plenty of quick breaks and early leads that opponents found insurmountable. If Element stays healthy and picks up an early lead, trust them to hold on.
Syzygy was the surprise of Queen City Tune-Up after narrowly missing the College Championships last year. Despite being edged out by Wisconsin at North Central Regionals, Carleton stood tall over their rivals with a finals appearance and narrow 13-14 loss to Iowa State. Carleton trounced Iowa in the semifinals, and star Anna Reed was the talk of the tournament. She wasn’t just throwing goals, she was getting D’s and seemingly everywhere on the field. How will Reed and her partner in crime, Julia Snyder, fare against the deeper field at Stanford Invite?
Reed and Snyder aren’t alone on this Carleton squad. Tall cutters Flannery McArdle and Marlena Hartman-Filson pose problems for any team in the country, and Syzygy is loaded with juniors experience and young handlers. Stanford Invite is a great test for this squad to see if they are strong enough at the top and deep enough at the bottom to compete with teams like Oregon and Washington. If they can reach the semis this weekend, don’t be surprised to see the west coast’s stranglehold on championships come to an end in 2013.
Last year’s Sonoma State team was young, athletic, and raw, but led by incredibly athletic and experienced Maggie Ruden (Fury). But with Maggie gone, will the experience the rest of the team gained at the College Championships be enough to send them back this year? Sonoma was a finalist and top seed at last year’s Stanford Invite, and while they return Hannah Steuckle (Nightlock) and Skyd All-American Coach James Yeager, this is a different team without Maggie. Still tall and athletic, they need a playmaker to step up and help lead them to some upset victories. Upstaged at Santa Barbara by Victoria, Sonoma beat the teams they were supposed to beat at Pres Day but couldn’t pull off a win against Washington, Oregon, or UCSB, losing big to all three, along with a narrow 9-10 loss to Texas Melee. They’ll be hard-pressed to earn a semifinals berth facing Washington and Oregon in pool play, but a victory over Carleton could help the Southwest immensely in the national conversation.
The Pie Queens came out of last year’s loaded Southwest Regionals on top, finishing tops among Southwest teams at the College Championships as well. But this year’s team is feeling the loss of superstar playmakers like Claire Desmond (Fury) and Abby Van Muijen (Nightlock). Lily “Thud” Lin (Nightlock) is a solid handler for Cal, and Maya Gillis-Chapman provides playmaking athleticism when healthy, but this is a shallow and young Pie Queens squad. However, after a poor Santa Barbara, Cal turned it around with a decent Pres Day, losing close to Sonoma but upsetting Texas. The level of competition is higher at Stanford Invite, but Cal has shown a propensity to rise to the situation. A 3-4 record on the weekend would be a success and a solid building block.
Southwest Coach of the Year Caitlin Rugg on UCLA thus far this season: “We have a strong core of 13 BLU returners and 9 new players to BLU, three of whom have played before. Our rookies have been working their butts off and are already contributing hugely in big games. We were pumped about our performance at SB Invite with some exciting in-region wins, but left the weekend hungry for more. At Pres Day BLU was coachless and had a rough Saturday [0-4], but bounced back to go 4-1 over the next two days for a 10th place finish. Going into SI, we look forward to some intense competition against teams that we hope to see again at Nationals!”
This will be a breakout year for the Thunderbirds. They’ve already shown that they can run with anyone in the country at Pres Day, taking down Oregon 12-8 in power pools and Washington 14-9 in the semifinals before losing to Oregon 10-15 in the finals. UBC’s strengths are their speed across the board, incredibly tight and effective dump defense, and lots and lots of club experience from Traffic. The standout is Catherine Hui, who appeared unstoppable on offense and electric on defense for the Thunderbirds in 2012 and replicated that performance for Traffic at the Club Championships. Hui was the only player at the College Championships with 15+ goals, assists, and D’s.
British Columbia is also returning strong cutter Rena Kawabata (Traffic) and squirrelly handler Crystal Koo, and athlete Amira Maddison also gained club experience with Traffic. One of the biggest pickups of the college season for any team is freshman Mira Donaldson (Traffic), who displayed poise and composure beyond her years at the 2012 Club Championships. She’s a tall and athletic cutter who can also throw upwind hucks. She’s a lock for Northwest Freshman of the Year if she stays healthy. UBC should come out on top of this pool with their depth and experience, although the three teams below them all have star playmakers capable of game-winning performances. Nothing can be taken for granted in pool B.
The stiffest competition for the Thunderbirds will come from the Santa Barbara Burning Skirts, still smarting from their Regionals exit last year. Captain and star cutter Alicia Thompson spent the offseason recovering from a knee injury, and she missed Santa Barbara Invite due to U-23 tryouts. Thompson was joined at tryouts by Lisa Pitcaithley (Polar Bears), a proven winner wherever she’s played, making her college women’s ultimate debut this season. Pitcaithley has won gold at the Youth Club Championships, Club Championships, and World Beach Championships, all co-ed, and played open college ultimate with Las Positas. She transfers to Santa Barbara as a junior and has effortlessly slotted into a handling role, using her athleticism and big-game savvy to get open at ease and drive the offense.
The targets for Pitcaithley and captain Kaila Pollart include fellow captain Katie Hawn, a speedy deep cutter, and Thompson, who transitioned from being a side handler on the 2011 championship team to the team’s biggest downfield threat at Pres Day. On their way to their 3rd place finish at Pres Day, UCSB handled Washington in pool play 15-8 and losing to Oregon in the semifinals. They did not meet British Columbia, and their 2:40 matchup against the Thunderbirds on Saturday is a must-see. But they need to be careful, because their late last-round game against Stanford could be dangerous if they burn out against UBC.
Making the trip out west for the second straight year and sixth out of seven is North Carolina, a quarterfinalist at the 2012 College Championships and 4th place finisher at their home tournament, the Queen City Tune-Up. UNC crashed out of the College Championships last year with a rough loss to Tufts in a swirling wind, making strategic adjustments too late in the game and generally getting blindsided by Tufts’ athleticism and ability to convert at a high percentage. But at Queen City the Pleiades got their revenge, gleefully taking down Tufts 15-9 in the quarterfinals before narrowly falling to Iowa, 9-11, in the 3rd place game. But they have shown flashes of inconsistency, losing to Michigan at the same tournament.
North Carolina is led by junior Shellie Cohen (Phoenix), a tall and athletic cutter/handler hybrid who alternated between catching scores from Lindsay Lang, since graduated, and throwing them to Lisa Couper (Phoenix). The Pleiades haven’t missed a beat this year with Cohen taking on an expanded role, and she is one of a few playmakers in this pool capable of evading UBC’s tight defense – UNC trounced UBC 15-9 in 2012 – or guarding Pitcaithley or Thompson from Santa Barbara. The Pleiades are in the capable hands of married coaching duo Lindsey Hack and Raj Prasad, and this athletic and solid team is capable of hanging with the west coast elite. While it’s unlikely they go undefeated in pool play, it’s definitely possible that they emerge from a three-way tie to take a semifinals berth.
Stanford’s season to date has been quiet, with losses to the two finalists at Santa Barbara and comfortable wins over the other three teams they faced. But at Santa Barbara Superfly was missing 2012 Skyd All-American Michela Meister, who was attending U-23 tryouts, leaving the team in the capable hands of her co-captains, 5th year Allison Fink (Classy) and junior Hilary Vance (Mischief), both strong cutters. While it may seem like they’ve been taking time off since then, Stanford played against club players at the Kaimana Klassik instead of attending Pres Day. This is a team of juniors with expanded roles and graduate students from other programs, and a lot of the team’s focus has been on integrating their one-and-done players into the team and the system. This is Robin Davis’ 12th year coaching Superfly, and she is joined by Jamie Nuwer (3rd year) and assistant coach Jenny Wang (1st year).
Speaking of juniors and grad students, there are no sophomores or seniors on Superfly, but freshman Monisha White has the composure and impact of a much older player. She’s already one of the main handlers on the team and a layout D machine, and it will be interesting to see how she stacks up against the higher-level college competition this weekend. Meister will be nursing a shoulder injury sustained at Kaimana, but she will be back leading the team at Invite. Stanford didn’t graduate many players from last year’s team, when they were two points away from upsetting semifinalist Michigan in pool play. This will be a good test for Superfly, who can do their region a lot of favors with strong play this weekend. Like North Carolina, Stanford will not go undefeated, but there’s high potential for a three-way tie.
Bella Donna’s biggest weapon this year may be Fury’s Alex Snyder; unfortunately only as a coach and not a player. Wisconsin stumbled at the College Championships last year, falling victim to a 15-6 upset courtesy of Cinderella Ohio State and missing prequarters, despite beating Texas and Sonoma State. Inconsistency has plagued the team again this year, just falling to Kansas in a crossover game at Midwest Throwdown and Minnesota and Iowa in pool play. At Queen City Tune-Up, Wisconsin balanced a strong 12-7 win over Virginia with a 6-9 loss to the Central Florida Sirens. Stanford Invite is a chance for Bella Donna to right the ship and earn another bid for the North Central. Going in to the tournament, Wisconsin seems like the 5th best team in the North Central behind Carleton, Iowa, Iowa State, and Minnesota (in some order). With the Southwest also trying to earn up bids and the Northwest seeming so strong this year, some teams are going to be left on the outside looking in. For Wisconsin, this is their chance to help extend their season. A 3-2 record and spot in the 5th-8th place bracket would go a long way towards solidifying a top-20 spot.
UC San Diego
Over the past few years, the Southwest has become less of a top-heavy region, with teams like San Diego State, UC-Davis, and UCSD making noise at regular season tournaments and even at Regionals. UCSD comes into Stanford Invite as the bottom seed after finishing second at Stanford Open to Western Washington, but Psycho already has two wins over UCLA this season. Woe to the teams who look past UCSD, as they are a veteran-heavy team with skilled break throws that has already played Washington closer than Sonoma did. This is a very tough pool for UCSD, and while any wins here would be huge, don’t be surprised to see UCSD finish with a couple wins on Day 2. They’re 2-1 against UCLA and had narrow losses to Sonoma and Cal at Pres Day. If they can gain experience from their pool play games and leverage that into wins against their regional competitors, they could play spoiler in May.
Look for Pool A to go to seed, except for Carleton upsetting Washington. Pool B will go to Santa Barbara, with UBC, UNC, and Stanford all finishing 3-2 and UBC making semis. Oregon beats UBC and Santa Barbara beats Carleton, leading to an Oregon-Santa Barbara final, with Oregon taking the Stanford Invite and their third straight tournament victory.
Feature photo of Stanford pulling (Photo by Kyle McBard – Ultiphotos.com)