The 2014 College Tour is presented by:
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No team has improved enough in the offseason to unseat Oregon Fugue from their perch at the top of the rankings. They showed a little vulnerability towards the end of the regular season in 2013, but they showed at the College Championships that they are not to be trifled with. A smothering defense full of athletic playmakers is complemented by a freeflowing offense led by the throws of Sophie Darch. Aggressive play on both sides of the disc makes Oregon a fan favorite as well as the smart pick to take the gold in 2014 as well.
A cadre of returning stars, many with U23 Worlds and elite club experience, places Washington near the top of the rankings. We’re not worried about their poor performance at the Bellingham Invite, a nonsanctioned preseason tournament that Element treated as an opportunity to give all of their players necessary reps before the season begins. Make no mistake, this is a well-coached veteran team that isn’t afraid of anyone. They lost important games to Iowa and Carleton at Nationals last year due to their lack of depth and defensive pressure – two areas where we expect UW to be much improved in 2014.
#4 Central Florida
The Lady Sirens might have surprised some people at Florida Winter Classic, but the return of Mariel Hammond and Sunny Harris means that this team is still a force to be reckoned with. They notched two wins over Ohio State (sans Nina Finley) to win the tournament, and their Nationals experience from 2013 should add some much-needed big game experience to this small squad. Their weakness will still be teams with depth, but their stars can match up with any team in the country – and win their battles.
Hydra surprised many people at Nationals in 2013 behind then-sophomore Alika Johnston’s dynamic play from the handler position. A frustrating defense, athletic cutters, and always-open Johnston proved a formidable foe for many people’s early season favorites. Come May, don’t be surprised to see Virginia battling for a semifinal berth and Johnston on the Callahan shortlist.
Despite a poor Missouri Loves Company, Iowa figures to be back among the quarterfinalists in Cincinnati in 2014. They return too much talent and good coaching to fall far down the rankings. Liza Minor, Anna Pritchard, JoJo Petersen, and Bekah Hickernell all return from last year’s semifinal team. With Chelsea Twohig gone they lose their major star presence, but Minor can break out as both a handler and a receiver, as Tufts found out at Nationals last year.
Lisa Pitcaithley is the type of player opponents can’t hope to stop, only contain. If Santa Barbara can build up the pieces around her and score with her on the sidelines, they should be able to get back to playing meaningful games on Sunday and Monday of Nationals.
With Traffic’s Mira Donaldson and Amira Maddison leading the way, UBC is poised for another solid season. Losing Crystal Koo and Catherine Hui robs the team of their best handler and best cutter, but young players have been playing big roles for the Thunderbirds the past few seasons, and coach Tasia Balding knows how to play to her team’s strengths. UBC went 3-1 at the preseason Bellingham Invite, losing only to Oregon.
Wisconsin is one of the scrappiest teams in our top 20, playing tough defense and bidding all over the field on offense and defense. Lorraine Guerin is poised for a breakout season – she led Belladonna in both goals and D’s at the 2013 Championships. Last year Wisconsin peaked at Stanford Invite and struggled in poor weather, but in a down year for the North Central region they should still make it back to Nationals.
#16 Western Washington
No team on this list has as much unrealized potential as Western Washington. Chaos has flirted with Nationals in the past when Alyssa Weatherford led the team, but this squad is building for a long run as an elite team. Attracting major juniors talent, Western will learn as they go this year and has the advantage of playing elite competition at home at the NW Challenge, where they’ll be able to test themselves against the country’s best teams and potentially earn a fifth or sixth bid for the NW region.
The last team in our top 20 surprised us last year by earning a second bid for the Northeast, then showing that they belonged with a tough zone-led win over Stanford to take 4th in their pool. After a decent showing at Florida Winter Classic they’re going to be in the fight for a strength bid against this year, and they may repeat at Nationals.
Feature photo of Oregon Fugue by Alex Fraser – Ultiphotos.com