By: Emilia Garcia
The 2017 National Championships kick off tomorrow morning, Oct. 19, in the event’s return to Sarasota, Fla, after a four-year hiatus from the state. Follow along with all the action via ESPN/TCN, USA Ultimate’s Facebook Live feed, Ultiworld, the USA Ultimate app (iOS, Android), and #USAUNats.
Here’s a look at how the women’s division is set up for pool play on day one.
POOL A: RIOT – 6IXERS – SHOWDOWN – UNDERGROUND
This is the second year in a row Riot has claimed the overall number one seed going into the National Championships, and they are poised to reign absolute. It is easy to see why they stand at the top with an amassed 25 wins under their belt, which includes capturing the Triple Crown Tour Pro Championships title. They will look to use their momentum and the dominance they have cultivated throughout the regular season to win Pool A outright. Be on the lookout for big plays from Shira Stern, Sarah Griffith, Jaclyn Verzuh and Kelly Johnson.
It will be intriguing to see how the newly minted Canadian Women’s National Champions, Toronto 6ixers, will fare as the pool’s second spot. This will be the first time the 6ixers enter the Nationals stage in just their second year of existence. It is also interesting to note that they have not played any of the other teams in their pool. The match ups against Nationals veterans Underground and Showdown will prove testing and gritty for such a young team. Coach Carla DiFilippo and veterans Sarah Meron, Sarah Bobak and Jeanette Quach will have to lead with tenacity.
The three and four seeds in the pool, Showdown and Underground, will be put to the test come Thursday. They have only played one another once – Underground has the upper hand there – and as mentioned before, neither has seen the likes of the 6ixers. Showdown proved they are capable of taking down a top-four team, and they will need that fire to keep themselves out of the pool’s bottom spot.
POOL B: BRUTE SQUAD – OZONE – POP – RIVAL
Two-time defending National Champion Brute Squad sits at the top of Pool B as the second seed overall. It does not seem they have anything to worry about in order to maintain the one spot in their pool and easily move on to the quarterfinals. They will also look to put to rest anyone’s lingering doubt that they have the capability of being a powerhouse, despite losing key people from their 2016 roster. Brute has consistently shown they are in very capable hands with Claudia Tajima, Amber Sinicrope, Becky Malinowski and Liên Hoffmann at the helm (just to name a few superstars).
The second seed in Pool B is Ozone, and they have only played Brute during the regular season. However, while they lost to Brute twice, Ozone can solidify second place with wins against Pop and Rival. They have the talent and leadership from Haley Reese, Emily Lloyd, Katelyn Travaglini, former Brute Squad member Paula Seville and Mira Walker to do so. They have proven it with wins over fellow Nationals qualifiers Nightlock and Underground during the regular season. Ozone is also ready to improve upon their dominating performance at Southeast Regionals, where they outscored their opponents 89-18.
The battle between Pop and Rival is going to be a great game to watch. Pop took an early season win against Rival at the Triple Crown Tour Pro-Elite Challenge in July, but it was only by one point. Since then, both teams have tinkered, practiced and melded. Rival followed up their loss by winning the Triple Crown Tour Select Flight Invite and Great Lakes Regionals. It is important to mention that Pop is returning to Nationals for the first time since 2010 after securing a second bid for the North Central Region, and they did their homework during the offseason to recruit a team that is ready to be on the big stage, thanks to captains Rebecca Enders, Bekah Swanson and Biz Cook. Be on the lookout as they have the last game slot of the day at 3:45 p.m. ET, and it could prove to be the linchpin for securing a pre-quarterfinals spot.
POOL C: MOLLY BROWN – TRAFFIC – HEIST – SCHWA
Molly Brown again comes in at the top of Pool C and as the third seed overall. They have what it takes to claim the number one spot in the pool and secure their place in the quarterfinals. They have skillfully proven their ability to take down any of the other top three teams in the tournament, and they have faced and won games against Heist and Traffic. This is simply strengthened with the return of playmakers Becca Miller and Megan Ives from the disabled list, as well as their outstanding pick-up in Manuela Cardenas. Cardenas is sure to be on everyone’s radar for one to watch. Powerhouses Claire Chastain, Jesse Shofner, Liza Minor and Lisa Pitcaithley are intent on adding to the fireworks with big throws, nasty Ds and chilly offense.
Traffic is seeded second in the pool and can very well move forward in the tournament. They do have a win over Schwa from Northwest Regionals, and they will see Schwa again in their first game of the tournament. Traffic can definitely hang tough in pool play as they have season wins against fellow Nationals contenders Nightlock, Ozone, Showdown and Underground. They will need to bring their A-game and look to their standouts Catherine Hui, Laura Mason and Rachel Moens to get the job done.
Heist is third in the pool, and they will be looking to make a mark. The team will have a full roster, and that – paired with the leadership from their high-caliber players like Robyn Wiseman, Georgia Bosscher and Melissa Gibbs – might just give them the edge they need to overtake Traffic. While Traffic has not seen Heist this year, Thursday’s third round game between them looks to be 50/50, especially after both teams will have a second-round bye. It very well could come down to who can keep focus and stay cool under the Florida sun.
Schwa rounds out Pool C, and they will need to play with the same dynamic performance they had during Northwest Regionals to break seed, especially against Traffic. Schwa saw Heist at the Triple Crown Tour Elite-Select Challenge and were only narrowly defeated by them, 8-9. In the same tournament, they were able to take down San Francisco Nightlock, 13-11. The momentum coming into Sarasota is riding high for Schwa, and they have the skills and formidableness to make a statement.
POOL D: FURY – SCANDAL – NIGHTLOCK – NEMESIS
Fury is again at the top of Pool D, while taking the overall fourth seed in the tournament. This will be a test of their fortitude as they look to solidify their spot in the quarterfinals. Fury has proven they are still contenders with wins against Scandal and Nightlock every time they matched up in the regular season, and they have even been capable of taking down Seattle Riot. Fury has the (deep) talent to take Pool D with ferociousness. Veteran players like Anna Nazarov, Meeri Chang, Kaela Jorgenson, Ness Farjado and Opi Payne can execute perfectly when pressed.
Scandal sits second in Pool D as the fifth seed overall. They have not resembled what they were in recent years, but they know how to play smart and generate Ds. They can definitely beat Nemesis and Nightlock advance out of pool play. Sandy Jorgensen, Jenny Fey, Lisa Kowalski, Casey Gorman and Sarah Itoh will need to push their own limits as well as those of their fellow teammates.
Nightlock and Nemesis round out Pool D. They have not played each other this year, but Nemesis may have a slight edge, even though they are seeded last in the tournament. They made it a goal to do what was necessary to secure a second bid for the Great Lakes Region, and after achieving that goal, they are back at Nationals after narrowly missing out on the region’s single bid in 2016. Nemesis has beaten 2017 Nationals qualifiers Showdown, Rival, Pop and Underground and also won the Triple Crown Tour Elite-Select Invite. Their repertoire, along with the veteran poise of Sara Miller, Emily Hadel, Carol Li and Jessica Sipperly, paired with the powerhouse abilities of Julia Butterfield, Jennifer Corcoran and Dori Franklin, should set them up to claim a pre-quarterfinals spot.