I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for months. Some of the top teams in the country will be converging on Seattle for the Northwest Challenge, showcasing some of the best play and story-lines the division has to offer. Except for a bit of rain in the forecast, it’s shaping up to be an incredible weekend.
If you live in the greater Seattle area, this tournament is NOT TO BE MISSED. Seriously. It’s an incredible opportunity to watch some top talent and learn from teams with solid fundamentals and great team-based strategies. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting women’s ultimate and a ton of local players. Intrigued? Keep reading to get a little more context for when you check out the tournament. Which games should you watch? Which players should you keep your eye on? Which players got their start in the Seattle youth scene?
A few of the teams were able to come out early and start their tournament on Friday with games conveniently located at UW. Sadly, I have to work for most of the day, and I bet many of you do to. There are still some possibilities to catch the action, including a featured showcase game that night.
Lunch break: If you work near the Safeway IMA fields, I’d recommend checking out the games during your lunch break. You’ll catch the second half of Stanford v. Whitman and Oregon v. Carleton. Stanford (USAU #2) and Whitman (USAU #14) have not played yet this year and it would be a huge boost for Whitman’s rankings to get a win here against an out-of-region team. The 14th spot in the rankings is not a secure place if you’re hoping to earn a bid for your region, so this game is big. Plus you’ll be able to see U-19 Team USA teammates match-up against each other as Stanford features Monisha White (#14) and Caitlin Go (#60) from the 2014 gold-medal squad while Whitman has Claire Revere (#28), Alissa Soo, and Linnea Soo.
The Oregon (USAU #1) and Carleton (USAU #10) game is a rematch of a closely contested 15-13 quarterfinals game at the recent Stanford Invite. Oregon came out on top, as it has done all year as an undefeated team, but Carleton’s scrappiness made it a battle. Oregon’s roster is bursting with talent and is just downright fun to watch for their gutsy, freewheeling style of play. Bonuses from this game are Seattle youth players sightings: sophomore Lucia Childs-Walker (#10) with Carleton and freshman Ella Hansen with Oregon.
Leave early: I should be able to sneak away from work early to catch the 3 pm round. Join me if you can. There should be a barn-burner between Stanford (USAU #2) and British Colombia (USAU #3), playing for the first time this season. UBC’s Mira Donaldson (#91) will be known to many local club players from her performances with Vancouver’s club team Traffic. Stanford has its own share of club players as Michela Meister is on Fury and Steph “Slim” Lim (#13) also plays for Nightlock. Keep your eye on Slim – she’s one of the most well-rounded college players I’ve seen this year on UltiWorld footage and makes carrying a big load for Stanford look easy.
Showcase: If you were stuck at your desk all day, there’s still hope in the form of an Oregon (USAU #1) vs. Washington (USAU #6) showcase game. In-region rivals, these two teams have a long history although they haven’t played yet this year. Oregon is the favorite at this point, which is exactly why you need to get your butt to the stadium to cheer on UW and give them a home field advantage boost! UW’s hype this year has been mainly about their grad school imports, including Scandal’s Lauren Sadler and Bent’s Emma Kahle. Both of those players are fun to watch, Sadler racking up defensive blocks and Emma breaking the mark for goals just like she did back in the day at SAAS. Cami Canter (#21) and Nora Landri (#11) are also taking on increasingly large roles for UW to good success. Bonus from this game is that sophomore Haley Wahlroos (Oregon) might throw some huge inside-out backhands to make your jaw drop. This game is at Loyal Heights Playground starting at 7:45.
I’m going to focus on just one game each round for the weekend’s play so you don’t get overwhelmed reading all this. Saturday and Sunday’s games are in Puyallup, but trust me, it will be worth the drive.
Round 1 (8:30-10:30): I would understand if you want to sleep in and sit this round out, but I’m looking forward to checking out Virginia (USAU #7) vs. Stanford (USAU #2). Virginia hasn’t played any west coast team this season and I’m looking forward to seeing if they’re for real. The only player I know on their team is handler Alika Johnston (#13) who also anchored Scandal’s championship run in the club division. Her quickness eluded club defenders and I’m curious how Stanford’s defenders will match-up. And yes, in case you didn’t know, Stanford is my alma mater, so that’s the other reason I’m waking up to see this game. After introducing me to ultimate, the team still holds a piece of my heart even a dozen years later.
Round 2 (10:30-12:30): I’m probably leaning towards watching UW and Victoria (USAU #20) play this round, for at least the first half. Partly that’s because I haven’t seen UVic play and I’m curious about their rapid rise in the college scene. I’m also interested to see UW play against a team with a very different style of play than we’ll have seen the night before out of Oregon. This game is the one in-region match-up this round, which means it may actually hold less drama than the other rounds. At half time, I plan on checking out the scores of the other matches to see which region is benefitting the most from the round: North Central (Carleton) vs Northwest (Whitman), Atlantic Coast (Virginia) vs Southwest (Santa Barbara), or Northwest (Oregon) vs Northeast (Dartmouth). Bids are potentially at stake this weekend, especially for Santa Barbara, sitting at #28 in the rankings. I predict at least one exciting second half battle out of those three games.
Round 3 (12:30-2:30): The game to watch this round is Western (USAU #18) vs. Santa Barbara (USAU #28). Right now, both teams are on the outside looking in as far as bids to Nationals go, so a win here against an out-of-region team would be crucial. Riot’s captain Alyssa Weatherford coaches Western and has grown the program to the point where they qualified for Nationals last year and are looking to repeat. Western has a number of players who grew up playing ultimate in Seattle, including Tiffany Phan (#5), Jessie Thoreson (#6), and Madeline Gilbert. Abbie Abramovich (#44) is a player to keep an eye on as she does it all for Western and will be a foil for UCSB’s star player, Lisa Pitcaithley (#26). Both tall players with big throws and club experience. Go Vikes!
Round 4 (2:30-4:30): I’ll probably follow Western into the next round to see the Western v Seattle Fryz game. Fryz is a local youth club team that has proven itself competitive on the college scene, most recently placing in the top half of women’s Centex. If you want to see the future of ultimate, you need to watch the Fryz play. These high school players have more poise, skills, and team ethic than some club players I’ve seen. Along with Riot’s Sarah “Surge” Griffith, Alyssa coaches the Fryz too, but I’m not sure which hat Alyssa will wear during this game. Bonus is watching Jacyln Verzuh play. The only 18 year old to make the U-23 team for this summer’s Worlds event, she is a 6 foot ultimate maven and you need to see her in action.
Come to think about it though, I may spend the second half of this round watching UW v Dartmouth. Dartmouth is short on games this season, so they aren’t in the official USAU rankings yet. Which makes every game they play this weekend extra important, especially as these are the only chances they’ll get to match up against west coast teams. Dartmouth also has some players for the local Seattle fans to root for: freshman Julianna Werffelli (#55) who graduated from University Prep. She’s joined by fellow U-19 National Team players Angela Zhu and Piper Curtis.
Round 5 (4:30-6:3): If you don’t watch any other game this day, make sure you come out to see the Stanford v. Oregon game in the last round. The #1 and #2 teams in the country, their last game went to double game point in the finals of the Stanford Invite. Their styles of play are a lesson in contrasts, the methodical vert stack of Stanford compared with the fast paced, fast break, pushing the deep game style of Oregon. You’ll enjoy the game for the athletic plays on the field. You’ll learn from the game by watching two master coaches at work, Robin Davis (Stanford) against Lou Buruss (Oregon). Both have coached their teams to multiple college national championships and have a thing or two up their sleeves.
Round 1 (8:30-10:30): Another early morning made worth it by some great ultimate. The hometown hero will be playing in the UW v Stanford game, hoping to knock off the higher ranked team. Both teams use a vertical stack, which means they are used to defending against it at practice, so expect the D to be putting a lot of pressure on the other team in this game. I’d like to say my loyalties are split, but really I’ll be rooting for Stanford, as always…
Round 2 (10:30-12:30): This round, the Whitman v UBC game is where it’s at. Whitman has so much potential on its roster, but it seemed like the team hadn’t quite figured out how to use all that talent at the Stanford Invite. This late in the Northwest Challenge, kinks will have been worked out and players should be in their groove. Seattle fans will love seeing so many familiar faces too. Julia Bladin (#10) and Arianne Lozano (#7) dominate the touches for the team and are joined by Margo Hefron (#33) and Nina Finley, in addition to their trio of U-19 players. That’s at least a full line of players from the Seattle youth scene.
Round 3 (12:30-2:30): The final round. I’d recommend posting up in between the Western v Carleton and UW v Fryz games to maximize your Seattle ultimate exposure. This will only be the Fryz’ third game of the weekend, while UW and the other teams (all of whom started on Friday) will be playing in their 7th game. Not that the Fryz need an advantage for their game against UW – they actually won a friendly exhibition game a few months ago against the older players. Meanwhile, if Western can save some legs for this last round game, there is a huge potential for a win and a big rankings jump over the higher seeded, out-of-region team.
And there you have it. A full weekend’s worth of high level ultimate and Seattle pride. Hope to see you there!