The 2014 College Championships kicked off at 8:30 AM this morning at scenic Heritage Oak Park in Mason, Ohio. With half of pool play in the books, some teams have put themselves in a great position to advance to prequarters, while others have played their way out of the tournament already.
One Seeds in Control
All four top seeds are poised to make a trip to the quarterfinals. Ohio State, Oregon, Central Florida, and Washington all went 2-0 today, but only Central Florida came away from the day untested. Oregon played the closest game, never pulling away from Stanford and narrowly eking out a two point win at 15-13. Adrienne Bovee earned herself a Skyd Magazine MVP jersey for her play in the game, coming up with four huge contested goals for Fugue, admirably filling in for the injured Bethany Kaylor. Ohio State and Washington struggled somewhat with Michigan and Santa Barbara, respectively, but each team’s depth was on display in the second half as huge runs put the games out of reach. Central Florida was never tested in the “Pool of Death,” as they handled Carleton and Colorado without ever really being tested.
Central Florida’s zone defense stifled Carleton and Colorado as the winds picked up in the afternoon, preventing handlers from getting quality downfield looks with an aggressive cup, while Sunny Harris and Mariel Hammond lurked downfield, ready to pounce on any misthrown throws over the top. Ohio State and Oregon used their depth and aggressive deep games to keep their opponents on the defensive, and Paige Soper really put an authoritative stamp on Fever’s win over Michigan with a huge layout D in the zone to quell any thoughts of a Flywheel comeback. Washington struggled initially against Santa Barbara’s top players, but wore them down over the course of the game with slightly greater depth and composure.
Northwest Teams Stumble
There were only five games today where the lower seed defeated the higher seed, but in every case it was a third-seeded Northwest team that fell to lower-seeded opposition. Victoria was crushed by Virginia, Whitman succumbed to UCLA, British Columbia lost to Northeastern, and Western Washington fell to both Tufts and Colorado College. All four Northwest teams were outmatched in energy and intensity by their opponents, failing to replicate their regular season success. None of the five teams traveled outside of the west coast, and it’s possible that the three hour time difference had some effect. But they looked sluggish all day, and first-time Nationals participants Western Washington and Victoria looked out of their depth. Whitman made it last year as well, and they have a deep roster full of skilled players at all positions, but UCLA’s relentless deep game frustrated the young Sweets squad. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day was Western Washington, who despite some remarkable play from Abbie Abramovich, lost to the fourth- and fifth-seeded teams in Pool B.
With an unprecedented six bids to the College Championships this year, the Northwest Region at one point had dreams of putting all six teams into the prequarters, if not the quarterfinals. After today, Western Washington is almost certainly on the outside looking in, with Whitman and Victoria likely joining them in consolation play. British Columbia has the best chance to recover tomorrow and make it to prequarters, with a winnable game against a streaky Carleton team at 2:30 PM. If only Oregon and Washington were to make it into quarterfinals, this Nationals will be a disappointment for the region, similar to 2012’s poor showing by the five Southwest Region teams who traveled to Boulder.
Outside Shot at Semis
Beyond the top four seeds, a few teams showed flashes of dominant play that could help them break into semifinals. Stanford showed that they can run with Oregon, both in this game at Nationals and in their 9-10 loss at Stanford Invite. In a quarterfinal matchup against Central Florida or Washington, both teams they’ve beaten already this year, Superfly has to like their chances to return to the semis for the first time since 2011. But first they need to make it to the quarterfinals – a stage they also haven’t reached since 2011. Monisha White and Steph Lim power the team from the handler spot, and their confident dump sets and give and gos gave Oregon fits.
Santa Barbara, Tufts, and Michigan are also capable of pulling off an upset with the right matchup. All three teams have strong top lines, but they aren’t as deep as an Ohio State or an Oregon. But given the right mix of conservation and aggression on offense with smart, physical defense, any of these three teams could pull off an upset on Sunday morning. Michigan’s Meeri Chang is among the best handlers in the tournament, UCSB’s Lisa Pitcaithley can be the most dominant player in the country, and Tufts has a lot of depth at the top with Qxhna Titcomb, Michaela Fallon, and Emily Shields.
Those three teams, plus Stanford will all try to break into the semifinals despite playing in prequarters – no small feat. But they feel that Washington isn’t any better than they are, Oregon is vulnerable (as shown against Stanford), and Central Florida’s top-heavy nature and reliance on zone defense make them a potential target as well.