The Stanford Invite has passed and the majors has begun. Oregon remains undefeated and was able to walk away with their second tournament victory of the season. While the top seeds of the tournament were able to all make it to the semifinals, this tournament was full of surprises, with teams like Whitman, Stanford and Texas proving that they belong in the national conversation.
Bad Luck for the Southwest
5 of the 16 teams in attendance for the Invite were from the Southwest region. Four of these teams advanced to bracket play on Sunday, with California-San Diego taking 4th in Pool D. Throughout the entire weekend, there were five in-region games played between Southwest opponents:
- Pool (D) Play: California vs. California-San Diego (15-13)
- Pre-Quarterfinals: Cal Poly-SLO vs. California-Santa Barbara (15-10)
- Pre-Quarterfinals: California vs. Stanford (15-11)
- 5th Place Bracket Semifinals: California vs. Cal Poly-SLO (15-12)
- 9th Place Bracket Quarterfinals: California-Santa Barbara vs. California-San Diego (13-12)
Most of these games were close, which previews what should be an exciting regionals tournament in May. However, the main problem is that these match-ups, especially the 2 pre-quarterfinals games, hindered the Southwest from maximizing their playing opportunities against the top out-of-region teams. However, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel for this region, as there were plenty of results to be proud of:
After a disappointing 8th place finish at the Santa Barbara Invitational, Stanford stepped up their game, playing Pittsburgh close (11-13) and taking down Minnesota in strong fashion (13-8). The athleticism and big plays of Ben Funk and Jordan Jeffrey were on display all weekend long, as Bloodthirsty took full advantage of the Invite. Adding to the firepower of Jeffrey and Funk was speedy Kellen Asercion, who was all over the stat sheets this weekend. While the rankings are sure to change as the more of the top teams face off against one another in the coming weeks, Stanford’s performance this weekend have landed them at the 20 spot, in position to provide the Southwest with a second bid to Nationals. We’ll get our final look at Bloodthirsty at College Easterns in the windy weather of Wilmington, North Carolina.
California UGMO had a 12-1 record entering the Stanford Invite, where their only loss was to Dartmouth on universe point. With a strong roster and Revolver’s Bart Watson at the helm, all things pointed to UGMO holding seed and possibly challenging Carleton to the top spot in Pool D. The Whitman Sweets had other plans, coming out quick and virtually massacring UGMO 15-6. Whitman’s deep game was clicking, as their big receivers were pulling down absolutely everything. Cal responded by trying to go toe-to-toe with the Sweets in the air, abandoning their break-heavy style of play. While there were some glimpses of greatness, the athleticism of Zane Rankin, Andrew Hagen, Brendan Bulik-Sullivan and James Pollard were not enough to make the game close.
As an aside, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the 2:00 PM round of Pool D. Due to some confusion with the Stanford recreations department, the women’s field site (where the last two rounds of the men’s Pool D were set to occur) was double booked. Lacrosse players from Stanford and Texas A&M suited up to play which forced the size of a few fields to be considerably smaller than usual. While players like Jacob Janin and Jeremy Norden have full field throws on regulation fields, this size modification certainly helped the deep game of the Sweets. The lacrosse game reached its finale in the early stages of the 2:00 PM round, and in response the field was returned to its original dimensions. Now while Whitman outscored Cal 6-2 in the second half, I believe that the field should have remained the same size for the duration of the round in the effort to have some sort of consistency.
Luckily, Cal had escaped an upset in the round before, barely edging out the Air Squids of UCSD 15-13 which secured them in bracket play on Sunday. A different UGMO team showed up for the second day of action as California went 3-1, losing to Wisconsin in close fashion (13-15) and taking down Stanford (15-11), Cal Poly-SLO (15-12) and Colorado (13-7) to take 5th place overall.
Cal Poly-SLO had a rough start to their tournament, losing in close fashion to Florida (13-15) and getting blown out by Oregon (7-13). With UNC taking down the Gators on universe point, SLO found themselves with an opportunity to make bracket play if they beat Darkside by a wide enough of a margin. Slocore took advantage of this, winning 13-9 and taking second in Pool B. Jake Juszak, and Peter Raines provided matchup problems for any team that SLO faced, and the addition of Mike Founds on the offensive line took a lot of pressure off of his two athletic teammates. Cal Poly walks away from the weekend with only two wins (and a win by forfeit over Whitman), but with strong results across the board, which should allow them to be in solid position for a high seed at regionals. With a month and change until the series, Slocore has the time to look inward, work out their kinks and get ready to make a run for one of the probable two bids to Nationals.
The last Southwest team that made bracket play was the UCSB Black Tide. Heading to the last round of pool play, the Tide had played Wisconsin close (11-13) and taken down Colorado (14-12). With second place in Pool C on the line, Santa Barbara faltered as their intense defense was not enough to stop Whitt Virgin-Downey, Mischa Herscu and the Harvard Red Line. While their club experience, physical play and the ability to huck was apparent, California-Santa Barbara was lacking a consistent offense that could get the job done. Though the Tide officialy rose in the USAU rankings, their results will most likely not be enough to earn the SW another bid to the dance in Boulder.
The 1 Seeds Stay on Top
The top four seeds of the tournament held seed and found one another in the semifinals on Sunday. While Oregon was able to make it to Sunday with relative ease, Carleton and Wisconsin were certainly challenged for their throne atop their respective pools. Surprisingly enough, Pittsburgh had the hardest road to the quarterfinals, dropping a game to Texas and almost losing to both Minnesota and Stanford. Both semifinals lived up to their hype, as the #1 and #2 seeds escaped to the finals, with Carleton and Wisconsin right on their heels.
In comparison to Warm-Up, the two North Central frontrunners gained new members to their rosters. Big man Dave Wiseman (Wisconsin) was found mostly on the defensive side of the disc and was making plays left and right for the Hodags with his throws as well as his size. While Wisconsin let Oregon back in the semifinals after taking a 5-1 lead, it was still pretty clear that the Hodags were developing. Not to fear if you root for the baby blue as Madison looked a lot stronger and deeper than at Warm-Up. Carleton added coach Phil Bowen as well as Jonah Herscu, who brought a consistent handler presence to what seemed like a youthful CUT squad at Warm-Up. As another team that looked like they were experimenting and developing, the addition of Herscu allowed Sam Keller to play defensive line, which helped players like Logan Weiss and Simon Montague punch in more break opportunities. Carleton got broken to lose on universe in semifinals against Pittsburgh, but showed that they can still hang at the top despite not being fully healthy.
Pittsburgh still looks like the most complete team, especially on the offensive side of the disc. Aaron Watson was back last weekend from injury and had an immediate effect on a line that already had so much talent. Watson’s presence sent freshman Trent Dillon back to the defensive line, where he was able to play looser and without as much pressure. En Sabah Nur seemed to struggle all weekend as they could not find their stride, especially on defense. Pittsburgh’s strength during the Fall and at Warm-Up was their ability to string together multiple breaks, allowing their super-powered offense to play in lower pressure scenarios and hold with ease. With all of their games decided by 1 or 2, players like Alex Thorne and Tyler DeGirolamo were on the field a ton as Pittsburgh was clearly gassed in the final against an Oregon team that was 13 points fresher. En Sabah Nur now is not attending Centex and will take a few weeks off before facing a much weaker field at College Easterns.
Oregon was definitely the best defensive team at the tournament, riding on their emotions and making the big plays. This was our first look at Freshman Aaron Honn on the college scene, who put on quite the show on his way to earning the Red Jersey as the Stanford Invite MVP. Ego typically came out in a side stack on offense, looking to strike deep after isolating Freechild or John Bloch underneath. One of the unsung heroes for Oregon was Topher Davis, whose experience and presence only amplified his abilities as an all-around player. In a tight situation and down by a break against Whitman in quarterfinals, it was Davis who finally helped push Ego over the hump on a 3 break run to win. Camden Allison-Hall also proved that he is a workhorse for the Oregon offensive line, getting open underneath for large gainers or deep for the goal. Hall also looks like he is more of a consistent thrower than in years past which makes him a more multidimensional threat. With Centex coming up in a week, the undefeated Ego will head to Austin, Texas to defend their 2010 crown (Oregon, like other big names, did not attend 2011 Centex).
One of the regions that made a name for itself this weekend was the South Central. With Colorado and Texas in attendance, the SC proved that it needed to be taken seriously.
Colorado virtually was the Jimmy Mickle show, but as the weekend progressed, other players began to emerge and play well in big game scenarios. Chris Bubernak
and Zander Padget helped Mickle handle on the offensive line and provided consistency when the NexGen star moved up-field. Though the offense seemed somewhat underdeveloped for the young Mamabird team, the athleticism and defense were as present as ever, especially in the forms of Hidde Snieder and Stanley Peterson. Out of all of the teams in attendance, it seemed that Colorado used the timeout substitution rule the most, bringing Mickle on the field after the defense generated a turn. This allowed for Jimmy to stay fresh and keep Mamabird within reach in games against top tiered opponents like Pittsburgh.
Texas was one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, bringing their game all weekend long. TUFF made its mark early on Saturday, almost upsetting Minnesota and then taking down Pittsburgh. Though their loss to Bloodthirsty knocked them out of contention for bracket play, Texas did not let up, winning out on Sunday against Florida (15-10), UCSB (15-10) and Stanford (11-8). Texas ran a consistent vertical stack based around Danny Broberg and Trey LeMastres in the backfield as well as Will Driscoll in the cutting lanes. With a high level of experience and chemistry, TUFF employed the use of trust throws to space to keep possession and a consistent dump swing to move it up the field. With Driscoll’s speed and strength, the deep option was constantly available, which also opened up the underneath for the deep Texas roster. Officially holding the #17 spot in the rankings, Texas looks like they are in good position to earn a second bid for the South Central, should they do well at their home tournament in next weekend.
These Onions Don’t Make You Cry
The Whitman Sweets did the Northwest proud and lived up to the expectations of many in the Skyd crew. After playing Carleton tight in a game that only had a handful of breaks, Whitman proved that they were the real deal by beating both UCSD and the Southwest powerhouse California 13-6. Coming out on Sunday, the Sweets came back in exciting fashion, taking down Greg Arenson and Minnesota on universe point. Though they would lose out for the remainder of the tournament, Whitman’s defeats came in small margins and to strong teams. While their offensive line is powerful, with guys like Stephen Stradley, Nick Cross, Nathan Sany and Peter Osseward, Whitman’s true strength lies in their Big Three: Jacob Janin, Ben McGinn and Jeremy Norden. This trio played a majority of the points during the weekend, with Janin and Norden being the main weapons that sent the disc deep. Though Whitman was able to stay tight with the big names, their reliance on Janin, McGinn and Norden is definitely worrisome, bringing into question their ability to make it deep into tournaments. Like many other teams in attendance, we’ll get our second look at the Sweets at Centex, where they will have to prove themselves in adverse weather conditions. If Oregon, Washington and Whitman can keep it up, it seems likely that the Northwest will have three tickets to punch to College Nationals.
What the Duck?
At the beginning of the year, Bryan Jones and I were considering the possibility of 5 bids for the North Central region, given the past performance of teams over the last few years along with high hopes for Eric Johnson and a veteran Luther squad. After not qualifying for Nationals in 2011, I figured Grey Duck would be back with a vengeance and roll through competition this season. That may not be the way things shake out for both the North Central and Grey Duck this year after a very disappointing 13th place finish a weekend ago. Minnesota started the weekend with a win over Texas, but that would be their only pool play victory as losses to Stanford and Pittsburgh followed. Sunday proved to be no better for Minnesota, as they lost big to an unimpressive UNC team. Yes, they finished strong with wins over Harvard and Florida (by forfeit), but their overall performance for the weekend does not bode well for another North Central strength bid. Centex will certainly play a large role in the hunt for an extra ticket to Boulder as Minnesota will be playing for their lives next weekend.