College Championships 2013: Women’s Pool B Preview

by | May 21, 2013, 8:06pm 0

Of all the pools, Pool B is the strongest from top to bottom – and British Columbia is the only one of the five teams to have been at the College Championships in 2012. Fourth-seeded Santa Barbara won the College Championships in 2011, and fifth-seeded Northwestern has already beaten third-seeded Georgia and #3 seed overall Iowa State this season. Carleton earned the #2 seed overall by winning the tough North Central region, but they’ve been inconsistent this season, while second-seeded British Columbia finished the regular season ranked second overall in the Skyd Power Rankings. Don’t expect Pool B to go to seed – this should be an exciting battle for first place and to make prequarters.

Carleton Syzygy (#2)

Carleton has definitely earned the #2 seed overall this year, coming out on top of the toughest region by avenging three earlier-season losses to #3 seed overall Iowa State and finally defeating them 12-10 in the Regional Finals. Syzygy is a team capable of running with anyone else in the country – they’re full of players with great juniors experience, others with scary athleticism who throw themselves around the field with no regard for personal injury, and still more who tower over defenders at 6’+ and are unstoppable endzone targets.

Starting from behind the disc, Carleton is led by All-American Anna Reed as a quick, explosive handler with quick pivots who can break the mark with ease as well as put great hucks up for her receivers. Reed is no stranger to the give-and-go, and if she catches her defender trailing her she’s off to the races, bouncing discs off receivers on her way to the endzone while her mark struggles to catch up. She’s joined by young phenom Kirstie Barton, whose juniors experience has allowed her to slot in as a mainstay on offense for Carleton. Her smooth throws and smart decision-making were on display at Stanford Invite, when food poisoning took down Reed and Julia Snyder and forced Barton to center stage.

Julia Snyder is also a big player for Syzygy, and while she may not be as big of a name as Reed, she has a very similar skillset. Reed and Snyder can play together behind the disc and run handler motion to attack the defense, or they can alternate with one starting downfield and the other breaking the mark to her teammate. That setup allows tall, athletic cutters like Flannery McArdle and Marley Hartman-Filson to break free from the stack off of Snyder or Reed’s initiating cut and receive a huck in the endzone.

While Carleton is a strong and deep team that forces matchup problems across the board, they have also been prone to falling behind late in games. It took remarkable comebacks against Stanford and Minnesota at Centex to give Carleton the pool victory, and a lack of discipline plagued them in those games and in quarterfinals against Iowa State, a game they lost 7-10 in strong winds. Carleton was prone to missing wide open players on throws that should have been completed, forcing their best players into the dirt again and again. With Reed, Snyder, and McArdle, they have the tools to play small ball or the field position game, but at Centex Syzygy seemed reluctant to let their stars take over and either run a handler dominator or commit to putting it deep to height, while Iowa State relentlessly attacked downwind, forcing Carleton to go 70 yards each time. But Carleton got their revenge in the finals of Regionals, showing that they may have turned a corner at just the right time.

British Columbia Thunderbirds (#7)

The British Columbia Thunderbirds finished the regular season ranked #2 in Skyd’s Power Rankings, but they come into the College Championships in Madison seeded seventh. That’s no surprise, as their inconsistent Stanford Invite and Series results have seen them slip in the seeding discussion, although they are still one of the favorites to win it all, and they’re still the only team to defeat #1 Oregon this year. A large part of their inconsistent play in the latter half of the season has been due to spotty tournament attendance from some of their star players. Two of their star players, Skyd 5 Callahan Candidate and All-American Catherine Hui and her Traffic teammate and Freshman of the Year honorable mention Mira Donaldson, were named to Team Canada for the 2013 World Games and missed Northwest Regionals. Donaldson and Amira Maddison (Traffic/Canada U-23) also missed Stanford Invite.

This UBC team is incredibly strong in the cutter positions, with Hui and Rena Kawabata (Traffic) doing the most damage, either stretching deep or more likely being backed by their defenders, catching an in-cut, and putting great throws out to space for their other receivers. Donaldson can move between the handler and cutter positions with ease – at Club Nationals in Sarasota this year, her huge upwind hucks helped Traffic earn much-needed breaks, but she was also the target of many deep throws, and her height and long arms helped her come down with most of them. Crystal Koo may be the most irreplaceable player on the O line – she’s the most reliable handler and keeps the offense moving if their flow ever breaks down, and her wide array of throws scares off teams that try to throw zone.

It’s handler defense that helps UBC separate from the pack, however. Their defensive line has players like Laurel Jay, Victoria Lam, and Gera Stancheva who are quick, agile, and have great strategic minds for frustrating other team’s handlers. Stancheva in particular had a great matchup with Oregon’s Sophie Darch in the Stanford Invite semifinals, pushing her downfield and shutting down many of her dump cuts. Any team that faces UBC needs to be prepared to run more for their resets and be comfortable putting the disc out into space – you won’t be getting many wide open dump looks against the Thunderbirds.

With Donaldson and Maddison back in the fold, UBC also adds more of a much-needed deep presence on defense beyond Hui – in the past, smart teams have avoided hucking to whoever Hui is guarding and tried to beat UBC’s other defenders, but that strategy won’t work nearly as well against a full-strength British Columbia. Teams’ best bet may be to play zone defense and try to force a short field and convert quickly, like Washington was able to do at Regionals in pool play. But Hui and Donaldson weren’t there, and Donaldson hasn’t played a big tournament with the team since Pres Day in February – British Columbia has the players, the system, and experience to upset Carleton and win this pool.

Update: Ultiworld is reporting that Mira Donaldson is injured and out for the tournament. If true, British Columbia drops down from being a favorite to merely another very dangerous team.

Georgia Dawgma (#11)

Georgia Dawgma holds the auspicious title of being the last college team not from the west coast to win gold at the College Championships – dating all the way back to 2001. This is also their first appearance at the College Championships since 2006, but they’ve come back in dominant fashion, earning a top-1o regular season ranking, winning three tournaments and finishing second at another, and winning the finals of Regionals 13-4 over Central Florida. However, the big question is not how well Georgia can do against the Southeast Region – that’s proven and well-answered. But at their only tournament this season where they faced meaningful competition, Queen City Tune-Up in February, Dawgma went 3-4 with losses to Tufts, Iowa, Northwestern, and Florida State. A 13-9 victory over Ohio State on Saturday of Music City Mash-Up was solidly countered by Fever in the finals, when Georgia was trounced 6-14. How good is Georgia really?

And Pool B is a rough pool for Georgia to play the third seed, with traditional powerhouse Santa Barbara seeded fourth and Lien Hoffmann and Northwestern, already with a win over Georgia this season, seeded fifth. But this is a team loaded with seniors and veterans, and that kind of experience can’t be emphasized enough for a team where almost nobody has played on this kind of stage before. Star Lane Siedor has been hobbled by injury all season, but she was huge for Ozone at the 2012 Club Championships, and if she’s healthy in Madison she’ll add another dimension to Dawgma’s game as either a powerful deep receiver or another solid handler. Handler Hannah Leathers also played in Sarasota, for the Atlanta mixed team Bucket.

At Southeast Regionals, playing in the mud and the rain, defense kept Dawgma out in front against their competition. Emily Lloyd and Julia Fuster make life difficult for cutters, and they’ll need to step up against some of the most difficult players to guard in the game when they face Carleton and British Columbia. On offense, Lloyd is a main target for handlers like Margie Quinn and Leathers, pulling down discs in difficult situations and never giving up on a play. Quinn and Leathers are experienced handlers with good breaks and field vision, but their range is sure to be tested by British Columbia’s handler defense.

Georgia can’t afford any nervousness on Friday – they face Santa Barbara in their first game, followed by Northwestern at the end of the day. If they win these two games, they should be assured of a place in the prequarters. But with one slip-up, they’ll find themselves fighting an uphill battle against two of the top teams in the tournament on Saturday. Georgia let teams like Emory and Georgia Tech hang with them at Regionals, and whether it was the weather, injuries, or complacency, they don’t have the luxury of any warmup games in Madison.

California-Santa Barbara Burning Skirts (#14)

A year after missing the College Championships completely, and two years after winning gold, the California-Santa Barbara Burning Skirts return to the show in 2013 with a chip on their shoulder and two superstars leading the way. If there’s any program that knows how to ride a few strong players to the finals, it’s UCSB – the Skirts made the finals of the College Championships five years in a row from 2007 to 2011 (winning in 2009 and 2011) behind the talents of players like Andrea Romano, Katie Barry, Kaela Jorgensen, Marie Madaras, and current Santa Barbara coach Carolyn Finney. This year’s two stars are All-American Lisa Pitcaithley and honorable mention Alicia Thompson.

Lisa Pitcaithley of UCSB makes a catch for Polar Bears in the 2012 Mixed Finals (Brandon Wu - Ultiphotos)

A familiar name to people who follow Bay Area mixed ultimate, Pitcaithley emerged as a star for the Bay Area Mixed YCC team in 2010, winning gold with them before moving on to bigger things and winning gold with Polar Bears at the Club Championships the same year. She followed that with a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships of Beach Ultimate and two more silver medals with Polar Bears on the club scene. But in the fall of 2012, she enrolled at California-Santa Barbara and played competitive women’s ultimate for the first time. Known as an explosive and athletic cutter in the mixed circuit, at Santa Barbara she’s taken on a handler role that enables her to play more points and use her athletic advantage to easily get open on handler cuts and make dangerous throws downfield before a mark can set on her.

Adding Pitcaithley to the mix has freed Alicia Thompson to go downfield from the handler spot she’s played well before and move the offense as an initiating cutter. Thompson is free to return back to handling near the endzone, where her break throws can be put to use finding quick cutters like Katie Hawn and Noelle Neason. Thompson’s impact on the team is huge – her play at Centex led Santa Barbara to a great comeback victory over Wisconsin during pool play, but she missed the rest of the tournament due to an ankle injury and Santa Barbara couldn’t advance past prequarters without her. When healthy, she throws her body around with near-reckless abandon on defense as well as offense, making her a difference maker on both sides of the disc. Both Pitcaithley and Thompson missed the Santa Barbara Invite due to U-23 tryouts, and the Skirts lost games to Victoria and Southern Cal that they otherwise would have won.

But this Burning Skirts team is more than two players deep – Kaila Pollart may be mistaken for Pitcaithley by the casual observer, but this second redheaded handler is nearly as dangerous with her throws. Katie Hawn and Noelle Neason are speedy cutters who are confident enough with their throws to continue the disc downfield. The format plays to Santa Barbara’s advantage perhaps more than any other team’s – with only two pool play games per day, they’re able to play their stars more. And with their game against first-seeded Carleton coming at the end of pool play, UCSB and Carleton probably won’t both be facing a must-win game, and UCSB will either be able to take advantage of Carleton resting players or rest players themselves in preparation for prequarters.

In order for UCSB to upset one of the teams above them, they’ll need to eliminate the short-field turnovers and unforced errors like drops and dump set miscommunications that have plagued them at times this season. On offense they like to take shots, and if they can complete more than 70% of their away throws while cutting out short turnovers, they’re a very hard team to beat. At Regionals, Stanford stymied them with a tough zone defense, slowing down their free-flowing offense and coming back from a 3-8 deficit upset Santa Barbara – by the time the College Championships roll around, they’ll also need to have a better answer for zone defenses.

Lien Hoffman sky

Lien Hoffman gets huge for a sky at Great Lakes Regionals (Nick Lindeke - Ultiphotos)

Northwestern Gung-Ho (#18)

Everyone’s immediate mental word association with Northwestern Gung-Ho should produce two words: Lien Hoffmann. The two-time All-American has led Northwestern back to the College Championships, this time defeating defending Great Lakes champion Michigan to take the sole bid. Hoffmann is the classic do-everything superstar for Gung-Ho, cutting from the center of a horizontal stack on offense or moving back to handle against a zone, while taking the other team’s toughest matchups on defense. She’s quick, can get up for a floaty disc, and can throw with the best of them. But these days it’s not all about Hoffmann – her two best handlers, disc-slinging captain Carol Li and solid possession handler Angel Li, will keep attacking defenses up the line if they’re given the room, and Carol Li will bomb the disc to Hoffmann and Brooke Stanislawski when she gets free of her mark.

On defense, Northwestern will try valiantly to play contain defense against the great athletes and throwers in Pool B. But despite Hoffmann and Katie Raynolds’ best efforts, they just don’t have the defensive depth and athleticism to consistently force turnovers against the top teams in the pool. However, given adverse conditions, Northwestern can pull off an upset – they beat Iowa State at Midwest Throwdown in howling winds, and they beat a turnover-happy Georgia team at Queen City. Georgia and Santa Barbara have demonstrated carelessness with the disc at several points this season, and if they don’t clean up their offenses, they’re susceptible to an upset. On offense, look for Carol Li to initiate to Hoffmann from the center of a horizontal stack, and Hoffmann to either catch it deep or throw it herself to Stanislawski – simple, but definitely effective.


1. British Columbia, at full strength, is able to take the pool from Carleton. Donaldson and Hui are two of only six women on Team Canada – they’ll be huge for UBC in Madison.

2. Santa Barbara makes prequarters by beating Carleton or Georgia – the Burning Skirts are a dangerous fourth seed, and Pitcaithley and Thompson have both won gold before. Don’t sleep on experience.

3. Northwestern will win a game in pool play over Santa Barbara or Georgia. Northwestern opens with an 8:30 game against Carleton, then plays at 4:30 against Georgia. If they’re smart, they’ll hit the hotel and the air conditioning before coming back to the fields and laying it all on the line against Dawgma.

Games to Watch

Friday, 12:30 – Carleton vs British Columbia – Field 3. The 1v2 matchup comes early in Pool B, and this one will be a doozy. The winner will most likely take the bye into quarters, while the loser will battle for a spot in prequarters.

Friday, 12:30 – Georgia vs Santa Barbara – Field 1. At the same time as the 1v2 matchup comes this vitally important 3v4 game. Santa Barbara will have had a warmup against British Columbia, while Georgia comes in fresh. If Emily Lloyd and Julia Fuster can make life difficult for Lisa Pitcaithley and Alicia Thompson, Georgia is likely to hold their 3 seed.

Friday, 4:30 – Georgia vs Northwestern – Field 8. This is Northwestern’s best chance to pull off an upset. After a long rest, Gung-Ho will face Georgia in a rematch of their Queen City Tune-Up game, which Northwestern won. Can they do it again? Or will Dawgma live up to their seed and put away the upstart fifth seed?

Feature photo of British Columbia by Kevin Leclaire (Ultiphotos).

Comments Policy: At Skyd, we value all legitimate contributions to the discussion of ultimate. However, please ensure your input is respectful. Hateful, slanderous, or disrespectful comments will be deleted. For grammatical, factual, and typographic errors, instead of leaving a comment, please e-mail our editors directly at editors [at]