D stands for dogfight, and that is exactly what Pool D promises to be. Pool D contains three of the nation’s biggest contenders in #4 seed Iowa, #5 seed Tufts, and #9 seed Washington. All three of these teams have produced impressive results this season, all three possess key standout players, and all three have experienced recent success at Nationals. Add in Texas Melee, the big upset story from last year who is finally healthy and playing their best ultimate of the season, and Ottawa, a team that will benefit from being relatively unfamiliar to their opponents, and you know that Pool D is going to be a fun one to follow.
Iowa Saucy Nancy (#4)
Iowa Saucy Nancy is a team that knows how to find success at Nationals. In the last two years, Saucy Nancy has made two consecutive Quarterfinals appearances, each time losing to Oregon. The memory of last year’s heartbreaker—they lost on universe in a game they should have won—must still leave a bitter taste in the mouths of their many returners, and you can bet that Iowa will come out with fire, ready to redeem themselves.
Luckily, they have all the tools to do just that. An experienced team with an experienced coach, Saucy Nancy is characterized by smart play, offensive chemistry, and an arsenal of defensive looks. With a ferocious four-man cup, an effective junk zone, and tight man-to-man coverage, Saucy’s defense is nothing but disruptive. And on O, Saucy runs their h-stack with precision and efficiency. The breaks of Chelsea Twohig and Bekah Hickernell permit Saucy to use all parts of the field, while the continue throws of their cutters keep the disc and the defense in constant motion.
As for great players, Iowa has many. Leading the charge are Chelsea Twohig and Liza Minor. Twohig is a seasoned handler who will run the offense for Saucy. This girl is fearless. Look for her to take an appropriate amount of risks, busting out hammers and breaks like it’s her business. Liza Minor will often be on the receiving end of things. A quick precision cutter, Liza Minor is most deadly when she is cutting under and then distributing the discs to her teammates. Also keep an eye on Dana Demmert, Anna Pritchard, and Jen Nowak, athletic cutters that will make their presence known on offense.
It’s interesting to note that all of Iowa’s losses except for one (against Colorado at Centex, without Twohig) have come at the hands of Regional rivals. Against out of region competition, their record is nearly unblemished. Still, Iowa will have to battle Tufts and Washington for the pool, and it will be fun to see how they fare in these high-profile matchups.
Players to Watch: Chelsea Twohig, Liza Minor
What to Watch For: Coach Mikey Lun’s strategic adjustments, Minor’s forehand hucks out of the middle, expert use of space.
Tufts Ewo (#5)
For Tufts, nothing short of a finals appearance will be able to top the surprising success they experienced at Nationals 2012, when as the sixteen seed overall they lost a tight semifinal game to eventual champs Washington Element. (The Tufts-Washington pool play matchup will be interesting precisely because of this recent history). But Tufts is no longer a surprise story. In fact, they have been able to train this season with Nationals in mind. With a strong showing at Centex and an easy stroll through Regionals, Tufts has set themselves up to repeat their performance of a year ago.
This year’s Tufts’ team is deep and returning their top guns from last year: Callahan nominee Claudia Tajima and Hailey Alm. These two players are impossible to stop individually. Put them together, and it’s pure carnage. Tajima’s throws are among the best in the women’s game with huge hucks, easy breaks, and a punishing hammer. Her size and smart movement make it difficult to deny her the disc and impossible to stop her on the mark. As for Alm, there are few players as versatile. For her height, she is incredibly quick and agile, and the combination of sure hands and smooth throws make her effective from both cutter and handler positions. Athletic cutters Emily Shields and Qxhna Titcomb will also catch many discs for Ewo, while freshman Laura Fradin has emerged as a solid secondary handler, working with the more experienced throwers to keep the disc moving down the field.
With these players and many more, Tufts has proven that they can absolutely wreck teams—and good ones at that. At Centex, for example, Tufts went up 8-0 on a tough UVA squad. The truth is that their experience playing together and intelligent play on both sides of the disc—facilitated by Coaches Sangwha Hong, Meredin D’Arcy, and Josh Mccarthy—allow them to dictate the pace of a game. Expect them to take care of the disc on offense, frequently running sets with few (if any) dumps as they hit Tajima or Alm up the line early and often. Above all, Tufts knows, perhaps better than any other team, that upsets abound at Nationals, and they will not be taking any teams for granted.
Players to watch: Claudia Tajima, Hailey Alm
What To Watch For: Strike cuts, Tajima’s throws, well-timed cuts, Titcomb’s big pulls.
Washington Element (#9)
Despite being the reigning champions, Washington Element is coming in with little pressure to defend their title. They are free to play their game, a game that is governed by quick movement of the disc, tough D, and teamwork. Element 2013 is a particularly tight-knit group, and this sense of unity is reflected in their play on both sides of the disc, as well as in their mental fortitude, which will allow them to keep calm and pick each other up when the going gets tough.
Although they recently lost Callahan nominee Sarah “CO” Davis to an ACL injury, Washington has always played a team game and had lots of weapons a their disposal. This year is no different. Few college teams, even at Nationals, have the luxury of running O and D lines, but Washington is definitely one of the few. Their D line is particularly scary. With massive pulls, shutdown defense, and precision handling, Lucy Williams is a machine. Alysia LeTourneau will be adding many sick bids and sophomore Sarah Edwards will draw the tough matchups, managing them with intensity and ease.
On offense, Washington has a weapon that will blow away the field, and her name is Amanda Kostic. Aptly nicknamed AK47, Kostic’s throws can put a bullet through the heart of any defense. Especially against junk and zone defenses, Kostic is deadly, willing to throw hammers and even blades. Unfortunately, even if you contain Kostic, Barbara Hoover and Shira Stern are equally capable of running the show. With such skills behind the disc, Washington’s offense is very, very difficult to shut down. And, the return of Jeena Huneidi adds an additional quick, active cutter/handler to the mix. Finally, keep an eye on the many strong rookies (like Soriya Ton and Nora “Lance” Landri), who will be making key contributions to Element’s lines.
Even though they are coming in seeded number nine, and even though they are now without superstar Sarah Davis, Washington is still a huge threat. They have played Oregon close multiple times this season (even without Davis), and their experience and team unity are sure to help them in tight game situations.
Players to Watch: Amanda Kostic, Shira Stern, Lucy Williams
What To Watch For: Team play, the D line, the impact of their rookies.
Texas Melee (#16)
Texas Melee has been plagued by injury all season, and as a result they got off to an unexpectedly slow start, racking up losses at Pres Day and Music City Mash-Up. Perhaps a better indicator of their strength was South Central Regionals, where they were healthy and back in form, handily defeating their opponents and cruising to a 15-9 victory over favored Colorado Kali in the finals.
Now that they are back to full strength, Texas has the ability to do some damage. After all, they are in a familiar position. At last year’s College Championships, they also came in ranked fourth in their pool, only to surprise everyone by winning the pool over Oregon and breaking into Quarterfinals before losing to Washington.
Their style of play remains unchanged from a year ago. They will look to utilize their athleticism, speed, and aggressive man defense to apply pressure and wear down their opponents. They may have their fair share of turns, but they will cause just as many or more, and there is no better team at gutting out points. Look for Melee to win many more than half of the long points that go back and forth with turnovers. In fact, their success at Nationals will depend largely on their ability to keep the points long and trap teams into playing at their fast pace.
This fast pace will be dictated by key players like Diana Charrior, an athletic cutter that will cause matchup problems for her opponents. Tall and good in the air, she’s a weapon on O and a monster on D. Kayla Ramirez is also a shutdown defender, and with her incredible speed and quickness, she will be annoyingly active on offense. Look for the big throws to come from handlers Brady Stoll, Trisha Talamantez, and Shereen Rabie, who also possesses a ridiculous backhand break. Finally, captain Sharon Tsao will be everywhere on the field for Melee. Reliable hands, sweet layouts, and refined disc skills, Sharon is solid in all aspects of the game, and she offers the intangibles needed to lead her team to success.
Melee’s team theme for this year is “It’s all about Melee,” and if they are able to focus their energies on their own game, grinding out one point at a time, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them pull an upset.
Players to Watch: Sharon Tsao, Diana Charrior, Kayla Ramirez
What To Watch For: Athleticism, ability to win long points, transitions, aggressive defense.
Ottawa Lady Gee-Gees (#20)
Coming in ranked last, Ottawa will be looking to pull some big upsets in the pool. They too are no stranger to this position. They have made Nationals in five of six attempts, and last year they came in with the same seed. Although they were unable to win any games, they played some of top teams very close, losing to Cal (the #1 seed in the pool) and Iowa State (#3) by four points combined. With the graduation of Kathryn Pohran (K-Po) and Tessa Van Leeuwen, they have lost their two most dominant players from last year’s squad, but there’s no doubt that the Lady Gee-Gees will be back with the same intensity and enthusiasm this year. This year, Ottawa is led by two solid players in Kaylee Sparks and Vivianne “Ninja” Fortin—both of whom made the U23 Canadian National Team. To their experience is added some fresh young talent in 1st and 2nd team FOTY winners Hannah Dawson and Romy Proulx.
Pool play will be the first time this season that Ottawa has seen competition of this caliber. Although they have only lost one game during the spring season, their opponents have been relegated to the Northeast corner of the country, where teams are relatively weak. With some close games against Cornell and NYU at Regionals, Ottawa is not expected to make much noise at Nationals. Still, this team has a healthy dose of competitive fire, and with Kathryn Pohran leading from the sidelines, Ottawa cannot be overlooked.
Players to Watch: Kaylee Sparks, Vivianne Fortin, Romy Proulx
What To Watch For: Heart and determination, ability to battle in early points, Proulx’s defense.
1. Things will get messy. With at least three teams of such high caliber, I doubt one will emerge as the clear victor of the pool. I’m anticipating some sort of tie at the top.
2. The top three teams finish in the top three spots, but they don’t finish in the current order. As good as Iowa is, it’s going to be tough to stay atop the pool. If I have to pick a winner, my gut says go with Tufts.
3. Weather permitting, we see 10+ hammers in pool play.
4. I predict that any prediction I make will be wrong. Pool D is so appealing precisely because of its unpredictability.
Regardless of results, this pool is sure to be filled with exciting plays, incredible chemistry and teamwork, and fierce competition. I’m especially looking forward to some exciting handler shootouts and intense defensive battles.
Games To Watch
Pool D will be jam packed with games to watch, but make sure to catch any of the games between the top three seeds (listed below). And don’t underestimate Texas Melee or even Ottawa. They could make things interesting for any of the teams seeded above them.
Iowa vs. Tufts (Twohig vs. Tajima, hammer vs. hammer): Friday, 4:30 pm, Field #3
Iowa vs. Washington: (Rematch of 2012 pool play in which Iowa won 16-15) Saturday, 8:30 am, Field #1
Tufts vs. Washington (Rematch of Semis 2012 in which Element won 14-13): Saturday, 12:30 pm, Field #4
Trust me. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss the action in pool D.
Feature photo of Qxhna Titcomb (Tufts) and Sarah Davis (Washington) by Christina Schmidt – Ultiphotos.com