Pitt 15, Wisconsin 10
The establishment knows it. “First non cut, Wisco, or Florida win since 2005,” read the @cutrules Twitter on Monday. “Darkhorse [that means cool. Or something.],” replied Brodie.
Pitt knows it too. “There have been five teams since the first year that Pitt made Nationals that have been to the final,” said Pittsburgh coach Nick Kaczmarek. “Brown, Colorado, Wisconsin, Carleton, and Florida. Since the second year, only three of them have won it.” Add in 2002 champion Stanford, a regular semifinalist, and you have to go back to 1999 to find a winner outside of the usual suspects.
Pittsburgh’s national championship is more than the crowning of a program that has worked tirelessly to reach the top. It’s the signaling of a new era, one in which on-field talent is present upon move-in day and coaching and organizational skills are not monopolized by a few. The best teams are certainly going to stay good (my money is on Pitt to repeat in 2013), but today’s explosion of youth, athleticism, and hunger to succeed makes me think that the throne is going to become a bit more accessible.
Thorne’s throws took down Wisconsin. When the Hodags went man, he hucked it upwind (the full-field upwind backhand), downwind (he placed it perfectly into the downwind endzone, something that Wisconsin missed on multiple times), and break side (that backhand break that Tyler DeGirolamo got up huge for). When they threw zone, he found the open guy (usually with a blade to his brother Max, who was standing 35 yards downfield in between a wing and the deep deep). And when they needed to work it, he did that too.
Before the game started, one of the announcers said that the wind (I didn’t really know how windy it was until the first Wisconsin pull went up and barely reached half field) would favor the Hodays. Hmm. Thorne’s throws are really good. Really, really good. I first noticed how good they were when he was shredding zones with cross-field dimes at the super windy Easterns 2011. Wind or no wind, he puts the disc where it needs to be when it needs to be there. When that kind of thrower is the centerpiece of your offense, I think the wind favors you.
The Hodags have always built an identity in playing tight and relentless man defense, and given their dismantling of Oregon, I don’t think anyone was surprised to see them rely on it early in the final. When Pitt’s offense came out hot though, I liked Wisconsin’s decision to slow them down by going zone. The problem was that aside from the turn they got when Isaac Saul threw one dish too many and a cup member swatted it down from behind, Alex threw over the four-man cup and downfield pretty easily. I think they should have switched to a three-man and bumped the extra defender downfield to cover the gap. He was going to throw over them even if they had six guys in that cup so they may as well have conceded some swings and looked to make Pitt throw it more.
A friend that knows Wisconsin pretty well noted that the Hodags have always had trouble maintaining a cohesive cup or wall. With a team built on making plays man-to-man, this makes sense given that the cup is more about moving as a unit whereas playing wing or deep can still boil down to making a play as an individual. Perhaps Wisconsin should have stayed man for a few more points, tinkering with match ups until somebody stepped up and made a block; the same friend thought that Tom Coolidge could have stayed with Thorne and, at some point, would have given him trouble. Before the game, announcer Tyler Kinley said that Wisconsin coach Hector Valdivia’s plan was to focus on shutting down the players around Alex Thorne in order to force discomfort and, subsequently, turnovers. In other words, he was acknowledging that Thorne was gonna get his and choosing to put resources into stopping the supporting cast. I’ve always liked this logic, but maybe Wisconsin should have gone more all-in on bodying Thorne and backing DeGirolamo.
Really though, Wisconsin’s fatal mistakes were on offense. Taking a look at the score progression at Leaguevine, Pitt broke to go up 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 7-4, 9-5, and 11-6 while the Hodags’ only breaks were to make it 5-3 and 7-5. Update: Of Wisconsin’s 17 total turnovers, the O line was responsible for 11. Pitt’s dump defense made resets very difficult and their physical fronting made downfield cutting discouraging, and both led to offensive miscues. When a team’s offense is as versatile and stingy as Pitt’s, you’re going to lose if you’re not just as good. The 4-0 hole pretty much meant game over.
Pitt’s glaring losses for 2013 are Colin Conner, and Julian Hausman. Conner, a senior captain, was a key defender with good pulls and a big team leader. Hausman, a fifth year, was this year’s best mark and played a huge role in the semis comeback against Carleton. Senior Jason Kunsa, a steady O-line handler and strong dump defender, is also a significant loss.
I think Pitt will be fine, though. First and foremost, Alex and Tyler are coming back. That college ultimate’s most potent duo is giving it another go should scare everyone else in the division. Beyond that, this year’s freshman class was nasty. On top of Max Thorne and Trent Dillon, talent that everyone knows about, Pat Earles is a great thrower and Joe Bender is a workhorse that will find his role just fine. Also, Marcus Dropcho and Michael Brenner are names that I heard here and there but I think are still waiting to burst out of their shells. Add in some role players stepping up their games and a freshman class that I’m sure will be good (they’re getting at least one Junior Worlds player in Jay Boyle) and Pitt looks like its in good shape to defend the throne.
Feature photo by Adam Lerman