CUC 2011 Women’s Preview

Continuing in our theme of previews we now reach the Women’s division and as it’s a World’s year it is quite competitive.  While CUC will start on Thursday many of the teams competed in fiercely contested Regionals last month.  Women’s Ultimate has seen quite a bit of growth in recent years it still has 12 spots at CUC.  There have been a few calls amongst players to open up spots but the true test of demand will be next year.

Divided into two pools of six the Women’s teams play five games before playing pre-quarters on Friday afternoon.

Pool A

(1)Capitals – Ontario/Toronto+Ottawa, (4)Fusion – Prairies/Winnipeg, (5)Storm – Québec/Montreal, (8)Dame – Ontario/Ottawa, (9)Stella – Ontario/Ottawa, (12)Salty – Atlantic/Halifax.

Capitals headline Pool A as one of the strongest Women’s teams ever.  A relatively similar Capitals team finished second at USA Championships last year and this year they look to be in great shape to win CUC.  While they did finish lower than Traffic in Colorado they defeated Traffic earlier in the tournament (14-12) and had a very close match against Fury (15-11) that enforces their top seed.  Regionals was also a breeze for Capitals and they took first handily.  Capitals are the current favourite to win CUC and then select the selection committee.

Fusion continues to build a strong program in their fourth year of a five year program to medal at CUC.  Bringing a good mix of veterans and younger players from the Juniors program they bring a strong team to CUC.  Running practices twice a week they’ve been fit and ready to go since May.  Unfortunately the lack of tournaments has resulted in limited playing time and Nationals will be a good way to expend some energy.  They’ll be targeting PPF and concentrating upon their longer term goals at the same time.

Last year’s champions, Storm, come in seeded fifth after many in their ranks moved to Mixed (seven of their top players moved to Odyssèe).  Their new pickups have kept them in contention and maintained their seeding in Québec teams.  Like most teams in Québec they train as a group prior to the start of the season and working on their fitness with a concentration on cardio and weight training.  As it is a year with many new members there have been a few issues and most of them center around closing games.  Strong teams can sometimes struggle with maintaining composure and Storm realized it at Boston Invite.  Since Boston they’ve worked on closing out games and have had top place finishes at Jazzfest and Regionals.  Storm will have a tough time compared to performances in the past but their lower seeding allows plenty of room for improvement.

Dame is an interesting (mostly) Masters level team without a division to compete in, not that it really matters as they seem to be doing quite well where they are.  Around since 1998 Dame offers a relaxed alternative to Stella and this year finished higher at Regionals than their feeder team.  Typical of their attitude they have had a few practices in order to ensure they’re insync but nothing regular.  Fitness has been left to individuals and most players have kept fit and in condition to play a National level tournament; it also helps that they have 25 players on their roster with no dropouts.  Their experience and hometown advantage make them likely to move up a few notches.

Last year’s runner ups, Stella, come in at a low ninth as well.  As Capitals did not play last year some of the ladies from the old team have moved on up and the ranks have thinned.  The tough games throughout the season are likely to have offered significant experience to the newer players and CUC will be another chance to develop.  Their key matchup will be against Dame.

Rounding out the pool are Salty from the Atlantic region.  This team has done well to work with Juniors in their region and are on a long term path to improve and develop their own systems.  As last seed in the tournament it will be tough for Salty to move up.

Pool B

(2)Traffic – BC/Vancouver, (3)PPF – Ontario/Kitchener-Waterloo, (6)Wild Rose – Alberta/Calgary, (7)QUB – Québec/Québec, (10)Vintage – Québec/Montreal, (11)EXO – Québec/Sherbrooke.

Second seed, first in Pool B, and 2007 Canadian Champions Traffic return after a long absence.  In the minds of many they are a the only team with the potential to beat Capitals while others aren’t certain they even have the potential.  I believe they do.  Last year at Sarasota they were a bit less experienced, they had some trouble at practice as they worked on development.  This year though they’ve fixed many of the issues and have already challenged Capitals once.  At Colorado Cup a few weeks ago Traffic lost to Capitals 14-12; a great improvement over their defeat in Sarasota last year 15-7.  Traffic have also shown consistency with strong performances against Seattle’s Riot with a 14-13 loss followed by a 15-13 win in Colorado.  Consistent play and great experience means they will finish at the top of their pool.

Third seed, second in the pool, and one of the best all around teams is PPF.  Since founding a few years ago they have been much maligned and looked down upon by many of the classic competitive touring teams.  Their reputation as a party team doesn’t help matters but it should remind players that you can have fun and play Ultimate too.  In my mind PPF is the classic and proper Ultimate team that embodies the spirit of winning everything.  With plenty of skilled handlers and strikers, PPF always surprises players and will continue to do so.  Their greatest weakness, thus far, had been their inconsistency but Regionals should allay any concerns.  PPF dispatched Dame, Lotus, Stella, and Lily to claim second spot out of Ontario and played Capitals three times (pool play, Regionals finals, and No Borders finals) losing each time and scoring at most six in each match.  CUC should be an opportunity for them to prove that not only are they a top Ontario team but also a top Canadian team.  They’re medal contenders but only if they have a very good night on the town.

Wild Rose comes in seeded sixth overall and in a position to be challenged.  The team has been practicing regularly and scrimmaging against the local Masters team EPIC.  Fitness sessions are also being established and the team continues to develop well.  Unfortunately a limited tournament selection hasn’t provided as much Ultimate as teams out east and they’re in a vulnerable position.

QUB is the top Women’s team out of Québec City and draw from a strong core.  While they started the season strong with a win over Storm they were defeated 15-2 at Regionals.  Part of the adjustment by Storm was to the strong handler movement that is likely to catch teams by surprise.  Their strong handlers should give them a chance at challenging Wild Rose in their pool.

Tenth seed is Vintage from Montreal and it features most of the Women responsible for building Ultimate for AUM.  With players that have played in a dozen Nationals they’ve added a few rookies as wells friends from other teams and systems.  Also exemplifying the Ultimate attitude they hold no practices and have even put their motto on their jerseys:  “All Talk, No Practice”.  Regardless of their talk they’re a dangerous team with lots of talent.  They’ve played to Universe point against Storm (Jazzfest) and did poorly at Regionals due to a short roster.  This team has quite a bit of potential to move up.

Last year EXO was one of the Sherbrooke teams that gave Lotus quite a bit of trouble.  I’m not quite sure what it is about Sherbrooke teams (like Bloody Gary) that makes them hard to play against.  While the team is not highly seeded they do play defense well and can force errors through grinding out points.  Coming in 11th seed is tough but that leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Post Pool Play

The inevitable truth is that unless something extraordinary happens Capitals and Traffic are the most likely to meet each other in the finals.  Teams that think otherwise should realize the enormity of the task ahead of them and that in order to win CUC they must beat both of the aforementioned teams.  The gaps between the elite tier, top tear, and everybody else are wide and it will be tough for any single team to be able to grind long enough to make it past them.

On finals day as to who will win?  It’s too close to call.  In 2007 the win by Traffic was surprising and Sunday finals are wholly different from games on other days.  It’s more exciting for the players than us spectators.

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