First, sorry for the Southern focus of this post. It's easier to write about what you know.
While the odds on favorites for the finals are still Fury and Riot, I think for the first time since 2005 it's not inconceivable that we'll get a different match-up this year. These two titans of the decade and the top two seeds look significantly less invincible than in past years. Riot has won the season series between the two teams 3-2 and Fury-to-Riot transfer Gwen Ambler adds some significant firepower to the Seattle squad. I'll definitely be watching Riot to see how Gwen is fitting in to the Riot line-up. I'd expect adding Gwen would allow Miranda to have greater flexibility in her role and better match-ups generally.
For Fury, I'm most interested to see how Georgia Bosscher is fitting in. I've enjoyed watching Georgia's aggressive and confident play at the Youth and College level for years and am excited to see her take her game to one of the premier club teams. Despite being the 4th consecutive year a Riot-Fury final has a whole lot of great match-ups to watch - especially if we get a non-windy final with more man-to-man defense. And if we do get that final, we'll get to see if Gwen is able to change the balance of power or if Fury can still edge Riot out with a superior mental game.
Despite their low seed, I'm really hoping to see my hometown favorites Ozone make the finals and I believe they have the firepower to do it. They've been inconsistent this season with a good Labor Day, barely losing to Fury. They faltered against Showdown in the finals of Regionals - I was playing on the next field over and was not impressed by what Ozone was showing when I did look over. There was one point that lasted around 8 minutes with several turnovers by both teams in little wind. Ozone has a lot of big name players between Deb Cussen, Angela Lin, Shanye Crawford, and Katherine Wooten. Throw in some great young talent in Rare Air pick-up Heather Waugh and home grown future stars Sophie Darch and Haley Reese and if they are able to put the pieces together at the right times Ozone could make a run. The first opportunity is the first round Thursday morning when Ozone faces top-seeded Riot. This is probably the game of the tournament to watch this round. I have a hard time imagining Ozone winning consecutive games against Riot and Fury but if they can win against Riot on Thursday and put Riot and Fury on the same side of the Saturday bracket...
Capitals brings the only undefeated season to the table. That's not saying a whole lot since, beyond Brute Squad, they haven't seen any top tier talent. Beyond the gifted Anne Mercier I have no idea who these players are. So the question is, who are their playmakers and can they match those of Fury and Riots? We probably won't get an answer to that question until a likely Capitals/Ozone game in power pools on Friday morning. That game should shed some light on what will happen in the Riot/Capitals game which will likely be for the top seed at the tourney going in to Saturday.
Perhaps I'm putting too much weight on how good I think Ozone is and their Regional final win over Ozone, but I think Showdown is also better than seeded. Their season results are overall terrible, but my understanding is most of these were without Cara Crouch who is arguably the top player in the division currently. I'd love to watch them some to see where they fall. Unfortunately, they have a tough road. If they are unable to beat Riot or repeat their success against Ozone on Thursday they'll be trying to climb up from the power pools only to play Fury in quarters if they are able to do it. If they can pull of a repeat against Ozone, I could see Showdown possibly putting some pressure on the top seeds and making a run for semis. Ozone could be coming off of a disappointing loss to Riot which may make this easier for Showdown.
As for Brute Squad, Backhoe, Zeitgeist, and Traffic, frankly I expect them to be about as good as they are seeded. I am curious to see how good a coach Brutesquad's Matt Kromer is - currently he's dominating in today's game in our fantasy football league so that bodes well.
I think the mixed division is a little more clear cut than it's been in past years.
The big question in Mixed is how seriously is Chase taking it? If he takes it seriously he will dominate and you can pencil Axis into the finals. But frankly at Chesapeake he appeared to lack focus. And somehow Axis lost to a less talented AMP team at Regionals. Axis isn't all about Chase either - Tyler Conger and Kevin Kusy are formidable players themselves, Conger being particularly hungry to show that he's a great player. He was the most impressive player on the field for Axis at Cheapeake.
Of course the Flycoons look good, but I don't plan to watch them play until at least the semis. I'm guessing they won't be involved in much drama until at least that point. They are athletic and skilled. Last year at one point while watching them play from a distance I was impressed by the middle-schooler they had out there playing big points - had to get closer to realize it was Tim Murray.
Finally, the other big questions for me in this division are: Is everybody going to request observers for Jukebox games? And are teams going to psyche themselves out when they play them because of all the talk on the interwebs about their style of play?
And can Bucket hold on to half time leads this year? They certainly have more talent than last year. I'll definitely try to catch a little of their game against AMP. At Chesapeake they were up 8-3 before giving the game away in the second half.
Masters gets more interesting every year. Maybe that's because as I get older I actually know who these guys are and saw them when they were dominating in the open division. The strange thing about Masters is that the newest players are typically the best so looking at past years' results is often misleading. And then there are so few masters tournaments that current year results aren't really helpful. So beyond the rosters, you don't have much to go on.
OK, the big one, is there really any chance that the Beyondors won't win this thing? I mean that roster looks like a quarterfinal open division roster to me. This team is stacked with talent, young, and have dominated divisions since they were in college together. Who seeded this team fourth?
That said, defending champions Surly don't look too bad either. They don't have the wealth of championships in college and open that the Beyondors bring but they've got a lot of former top tier open players including Eric "Turtle" Lonsdorf and Dave Boardman. But as noted, in Masters past results are no indication of future performance.
Like with most Canadian teams, I have no idea who GLUM is. Same goes for Mileage even though they are in my region (although I do know that big Tom Etchison is a serious deep threat and that Rex loves throwing to him). Both teams could be great or they could be average. I'll definitely be watching them early on to familiarize myself with their games and who their big players are.
Can DoG field a grandmasters roster of 20+ players with their masters team? I think so. They used to win open championships when their average age was masters eligible though. But at some point the physical decline quickens. As as side note, I think this is the first year that a college teammate of mine is playing in Masters. Yeesh... Go Josh Blouwolff!
Finally, Troubled Past is a little intriguing. With the old North Carolinian Brians (Snyder and Linkfield) and the Monohan brothers they've got some recognizable talent. I'm certainly curious to learn more about what they are bringing as well.
Games to watch in Masters:
Round 1: GLUM vs. DoG - Regional finals rematch and the loser will have a very tough row to hoe. This was a one point game in pool play at Regionals.
Round 2: Beyondors vs. O.L.D. S.A.G - Are the Beyondors that much better than the field? This will be our first indication.
Round 3: Take your pick of the 1v2 match-ups. I think Surly vs. Troubled Past will be the more interesting one.
Round 4: Definitely Surly vs. GLUM. Pool A looks to be significantly harder. And winning it (to distance yourselves from the expected pool B winner Beyondors) is critical.
Round 5: Troubled Past vs. DoG. Same comments as round 4.
Friday Quarters: I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 4th place finish for DoG because I would love to see a DoG/Beyondors quarters on Friday afternoon (or a 2nd/3rd place finish would work as well - I just think it's less likely). While most players in the other divisions and fans will be watching the typically uninteresting open pre-quarters game - this would be a classic throwback game to the late '90s/early 2000s.