South Central D-I Regionals: Tournament Recap (Women’s)

(written by Jeff Zhao for Ultiworld)

The South Central Region

The best college women’s ultimate teams in the South Central region descended on Austin, TX with aspirations of nationals. Local heroes Texas Melee (#2) were the favourites to win but to do so they’d have to outlast Colorado Kali (#12).¹

Colorado wins the region in a threepeat

The finals between Texas Melee and Colorado Kali came down to the wire as they traded back and forth for most of the game. Texas took a small 10–8 lead late, but Kali roared back with three straight scores and pulled ahead to 11 with a scoring bid in the endzone. In response, Melee’s Domenica Sutherland picked up the pull and fired back with a perfectly placed backhand huck to Julia Schmaltz to tie it up again. Universe point was a messy affair with four sloppy turns before a well-placed flick huck by Kirstin Johnson #9 to Nhi Nguyen #3 ended things with a bookends score.

Colorado looked sharp all game, playing their trademark tight man defense and capitalizing off four Texas turns near their endzone. An injury to most-improved-player Fiona Dragonfly #33 on Saturday inspired the team to step up their defensive game all bracket and their responsive upline D stuttered the usually confident Texas handler flow, putting additional pressure on handler Shiru Liu #89, Melee’s Callahan nominee. Additionally, 5th year Leilani Nelson #5 had her best game of the season, Kirstin Johnson #9 put in tons of solid work as a go-to handler, and Kelsey Bennett #99 had a terrific upline give-and-go move for a score.

After the game, coach Claire Chastain said: “We were expecting it to be really close until the end, to come down to a pretty tough last point, and I believed we would find it within ourselves.” Captain Megan Ives #65 said: “We were nervous, but we were also super psyched, we haven’t seen them yet this season, we knew they were gonna bring their best game, but we felt super ready after semis… we felt like we were on a roll.” Coach Lauren Boyle added: “We really just trusted in our captains to be able to get our team in the right mindset and they’ve been doing that all year with a lot of weird and a lot of positivity so it really was them leading the way.”

Despite being exuberant over their win, Kali admitted they weren’t sure they could beat such a tough opponent. In fact, this was their first comeback win of the season. By clutching it out, they’ve shown they have what it takes and if they can ride this momentum into nationals, they’re a serious threat.

Texas aims higher

Texas has tremendous weapons and is clearly still a contender to win it all, but has struggled against elite competition in finals, going 1–3.² Despite beating scores of name brand clubs, they’ve lost in finals games to UCLA, Dartmouth and now, Colorado.

When Texas gets going, they look unstoppable. With eight players playing elite women’s club with Texas Showdown³, they possess a unique level of chemistry, experience, and confidence. Julia Schmaltz #13 is an obvious problem on offense, but is also a unsolvable quandary for opponents on D, where she’s constantly threatening air space. Gaby Cuina #10 had a terrific finals game, playing through contact to get endzone skies, Ds, and even a Callahan to take half. Shiru Liu #89 was everywhere on the field and proved indomitable for her match ups all tournament, shrugging off a busted lip and numerous sprawls to the field. Rounding out the list are the usual suspects: Dre Esparza #5 deftly distributing the disc, Laura Gerencser #23 reliably extending flow sequences, and Domenica Sutherland #3 being the rock of the D line.

Unfortunately, this brilliance is sometimes inconsistent, and it especially showed in finals. Melee occasionally struggled to keep up their defensive pace, as their four woman cup set had some difficulty keeping up with confident Kali disc movement. Despite scoring on some amazing plays, there were a few too many turns off throwaways and drops to cutters coming under. On universe point, Esparza opted for a offhand high release backhand instead of her reliable mark-breaking backhand which got caught by the wind and flew backwards. Melee began both of their universe point offensive possessions with a swingless Sutherland huck deep — while she’s a reliable deep shooter, in a universe point situation going upwind, it belied a bit of uncertainty.

Coach Edith Teng (who also coaches the Austin Sol) didn’t mince words. “I think we’re just making mental mistakes, just people making bad decisions under pressure. We’re not a team that normally does that. This is a team that, when it’s playing well, is certainly capable of being the best team in the country. But there are a lot of things we have to do to stay mentally focused, physically in tune, emotionally constant. The expectations for this team are really high. We never like we were going to nationals, we wanted to be regional champions, so not being champions still doesn’t feel great.” She concluded by shouting out standout performances by rookies Caroline O’Connell #12 and Anna Smith #2.

Shiru Liu had words of praise for Colorado: “Everything that we are used to getting, our uplines and our backends were getting covered well by Colorado. We’re used to getting open on our unders and our deeps and Colorado was also covering those well. We need to push ourselves harder at practice and up the intensity.”

After this season, Texas Melee is certainly no stranger to the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. They’ve come off every prior defeat looking better, and they’ll no doubt tear into nationals with a vengeance.

Colorado College stays together

Colorado College Strata came in with serious intent to knock off a favorite and snag a national bid.

Despite losing to Texas twice in bracket (in semis and the game-to-go) Colorado College stayed positive all tournament and demonstrated great team unity and spirit. After semis, Corey Baron #81 said: “Last night we talked about how we have to believe we can win, even teams we’re not supposed to beat like Texas. Before the game [Callahan nominee] Robin Fassett-Carman #5 delivered the speech from Miracle — ‘I’m sick of tired of hearing how good a team Texas has.’” Abby Lew, #16 added: “We have a history of being an underdog coming into these big tournaments and playing these really elite teams but we just play our own game with nothing to lose and I think it really paid off. We have a lot of fun.”

Coming off their semis loss, Colorado College pushed all the way through the backdoor bracket to see Texas again. In their first game, they initially struggled to find a rhythm upwind, but with the direction of Abbey Lew #16 they gained some traction and outlasted Colorado State on a tight universe point game. In their second, they played a resilient Washington University team and pulled away in the second half. In the game-to-go, Texas came out hot after their loss to Colorado and ultimately outscrapped Strata. Though the score wasn’t as close as their semis game, to their credit it never felt like Strata gave up the game and they fought until the end.

After their loss in the game-to-go, I caught up with the captains again. Corey Baron #81 said: “We’re incredibly proud. We’re so happy about the day. This team is everything to the people on it. There’s so much love.” Alexie Millikin #32: “We’re not disappointed at all. It felt so good to have an amazing day. This whole day has been a great culmination.” Abby Lew #16: “Our goal going into this weekend was to play our very hardest and to leave feeling proud and I think we did that.”

The team recognized exceptional efforts all season by Robin Fassett-Carman #5 (“no one wants it more than her”), Monica Weindling #28 (“our best thrower”), and Annie Brewster #64 (“not here due to a concussion, but the heart and soul of the team”).

Colorado State executes

Colorado State’s run to nationals ended on with a loss to Colorado College on a big play on universe point in a windy game. Throughout the game, Colorado State’s strong handler core had no hesitation flowing down field or shooting deep once they broke the first line of Strata’s zone. Handler Kiera Lindgren spending the weekend cutting instead of handling, and Danielle Reimani #27 and Kaci Cessna #49 picked up the load without issue. In addition, Kat Killingsworth was a consistently reliable cutter option and Erin Berg laid out on everything against Strata.

Colorado State finishes the season not with a bang, but not a whimper, either — instead, a long, drawn out blaring trombone noise.

Washington makes some noise

Despite coming into the tournament with only 12 players due to finals, Washington upset Kansas in the backdoor bracket to exceed expectations and finish fourth. As a team, they pride themselves on being coachable, working hard, and fighting for each other. They’re a meat-and-potatoes team: horizontal stack, shots deep whenever possible, and a zone look or two, but back to man if the opponents’ handlers get cute. They finished riding high, excited about their peaking performance, which they hope to establish as a new baseline.

Performances of note came from captain Nora Shevick #24, who put the team on her back as every-other handler and played every point in bracket but three, Sylvia Snyderman #17 who was a consistent playmaker, and Jackie Weiss, who got a lot of endzone Ds, especially against Kansas.

If they keep winning over well-known programs like Kansas, perhaps a return to former glory is in the future for Wuwu.

Kansas exits early

Kansas was clearly disappointed in finishing fifth and missing nationals this year, with some players collapsing on the field after their loss to Washington. They came in with high expectations and took it easy in a 2–15 semis loss to Kali in order to aim for a bid through the backdoor bracket. Unfortunately, they stumbled against Wuwu and were unable to replicate their 13–3 pools win, losing 9–12 in bracket.

Kansas demonstrated a supremely confident handler set with Callahan nominee Clare Frantz and captain Jordan Alonzo, moving the disc and themselves quickly, overwhelming lesser defenses, although it wasn’t enough to get them to nationals this year.

Competitors show their grit

In the 7th bracket TCU lost to Denver University in a physical but cordial game to universe point. Denver showed their program’s improvement while TCU dug in to finish despite only having six fully healthy players.

Results

  1. Colorado (seeded 2)
  2. Texas (seeded 1)
  3. Colorado College (seeded 4)
  4. Washington University (seeded 6)
  5. Kansas (seeded 3)
  6. Colorado State (seeded 8)
  7. Denver (seeded 7)
  8. Texas Christian (seeded 10)
  9. Missouri State (seeded 5)
  10. Arkansas (seeded 9)

(1) Colorado moved up four spots from 12 to 8 based on their strong performance and Texas dropped from 2 to 4.

(2) Texas has only dropped 4 games all season — three of those were finals games and one of them was in pool play against their eventual finals opponent, UCLA.

(3) Gabby Cuina, Dre Esparza, Laura Gerencser, Marissa Land, Shiru Liu, Sydney Overman, Julia Schmaltz, Domenica Sutherland