Winning your pool means everything in this tournament. Since the switch to the new 20 team format in 2009, every team who has won their pool has made semifinals. There have been some close calls, Pittsburgh up 14-13 on Carleton in 2009, and Dartmouth almost taking down Central Florida last year. What does this mean? Unless North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, and Pittsburgh lose another game, Texas, Harvard, North Carolina-Wilmington are out of contention for winning the whole thing.
Of course this is a historical trend that has no guaranteed outcome on future events, but it’s worth identifying why the bye means so much. These teams are playing only two games a day, so it would seem that an extra one would not make that much of a difference. However, these games are simply on a higher level of energy expenditure. You might not see Will Driscoll play nearly every point in the regular season to gut out victories, but he will at Nationals for a chance to win the pool. Despite the two game a day schedule, depth is truly king at these tournaments. Having three games on Saturday with an 8:30 AM start on Sunday is not a recipe for success.
The other view is simple. Teams that typically win their pools are likely to be better than teams that don’t. If the seeding is balanced, it’s unlikely that the number two finisher in one pool is markedly better than a pool winner to over come the advantage that an extra bye brings. This format with 20 teams is in it’s 6th year, so eventually we will see a non pool winner break into the semi-finals, but I’m not convinced that this is the year.
Depth Depth Depth
Depth was the difference maker in North Carolina over Texas, Oregon (W) over Stanford (W), Washington (W) over UCSB (W). All three victors were down in the first half when the bottom part of their roster started to make plays. North Carolina’s Drew Chandler grabbed a few D’s with Aaron Warshauer contributing on the offensive side and Tim McAllister nabbing a few deep throws. Christian Johnson still had himself a great game, but having a great supporting cast makes it much easier.
Stanford controlled the game early against Oregon, utilizing Monisha White’s throws and converting unforced errors into breaks. Oregon continued to chip away with Jesse Shofner and Sophie Darch, but the real story was the presence of Adrienne Bovee who had three impressive grabs to make the difference in a 15-13 victory. White and Stephanie Lim were the anchors for the Stanford offense, but with a short roster and several injuries, it wasn’t sustainable over the course of a game against a team like Fugue.
Santa Barbara Burning Skirts led 7-4 on the backs of Noelle Neason and Callahan nominee Lisa Pitcaithley. 11 points later, it was 14-8, except it was Washington who had stormed back. Washington’s Barbara Hoover seemed to be behind every block in during the 10-1 run, while converted DI soccer player Molly Boyd slowed down Pitcaithley just enough. Originally, Element wanted to push the pace with fast breaks, aggressive hucks, which led to a larger number of turnovers from main handler Amanda Kostic. The strategy wasn’t effective early, but Santa Barbara’s energy waned late in the first half. Washington settled down, worked the short game to success and finally to victory.
Boring Finals Predictions
After day 1 in Men’s Division I’m looking forward to Colorado and Pittsburgh battling it out in the finals. Colorado seems to have the overall talent and experience, while Pittsburgh has the discipline and strategy. I don’t trust Colorado to take care of the disc, fighting through points for scores. This may be an unfair judgement looking at their stacked 2011 squad. Talent wise, North Carolina can compete, and Oregon may just surprise everyone since they aren’t considered a favorite.
Ohio State Fever looked a level above most of their competition in their game against Michigan Flywheel, and Oregon Fugue is the defending national champions. Fever is conventionally good, while Oregon will push their frenetic pace. This is the finals we deserve, and hopefully the one we get.
Your best defenders won’t be getting blocks
Against the top teams, the best defenders are used to slow down players, not to directly get turnovers. Charlie Shaffner of North Carolina drew the match up of Will Driscoll. While Shaffner held his own in the air, it was the contributions from the other players that would directly cause the turns. This reminded me of a post (that I can’t find at the moment) of Wisconsin Head Coach Hector Valdivia’s blog of talking to his Hodags of his experiences in winning his first national championship.It’s up to your 3-7 to produce those blocks, not necessarily for your top guys.
Excited for Day 2!