This article and 2014 College Tour presented by Spin Ultimate.
When arriving at the fields Saturday morning, something greater loomed over each and every team. On Friday afternoon, three Carleton CUT players were tragically killed and two others injured in an accident in Minnesota. The team did not attend the tournament as a result. Earlier today a memorial service was held, reportedly packed with grieving members of the community. At the tournament, before any play, there was a moment of silence in memory of the CUT players. Walking around the sidelines, I heard parents talking about it. I saw Carleton hats on people, Simon Higgins of Las Positas – who took the place of Carleton in Pool A – and Pitt Coach Nick Kaczmarek each wore a red CUT jersey during pool play. The players of California UGMO wore armbands with a strong red CUT logo. All to honor the memory of the fallen players, and show Carleton that in this time of need all of the ultimate community stands with them. The entirety of Skyd Magazine grieves with Carleton CUT and the entire ultimate community after this horrible tragedy.
Still, games were played today. Instead of the Stanford campus, the games on the men’s side were moved as a result of a coin toss; which was done after the drought-stricken California received a torrential amount of rain during the latter-half of the week. No rain came down on the fields in Stevinson, CA though, only wind. The gusts were strong, persistent and helped dictate play for many teams through the first four rounds of play. It made the warm California sun feel a lot colder than it really was; I know if this kind of wind had hit Buffalo right about now, schools would be closed and people would be asked to stay indoors, and I heard some UCF players comparing the strength of these winds to the tropical winds they are often hit with – that’s how strong these winds were.
That meant a whole lot of zone today. At one point or another, I think every team through some variation of a zone, as the up-wind/down-wind point distinction was an important one. For the first two rounds, the wind was horribly strong, but by the final round of pre-quarter games, the wind had decided to show up a little bit less often. I saw a few upwind hammer attempts, which were almost always followed by a few expletives either from the thrower, the sideline, or both. The combination of zone and wind brought teams to a more even playing field, and as UCF Coach Andrew Roca told me, “it’s like Easterns last year, you have to play to your advantages.”
As an aside though, I’m still trying to grasp my head around the decision Texas made in their game against UCF during round 2. After UCF won the coin toss and chose side – choosing to the up-wind endzone – Texas chose to start on offense. The Dogs of War would break the TUFF offensive line to start the game, and held onto the break for the victory. Their thought was that their defense could get a break or two, and it wouldn’t be an issue with their steady offense. Most points, the Texas defensive line wouldn’t get a legitimate chance at breaking UCF, and I think one of the closest chances they had was on the very last point; they had the disc 15 yards out, ready to tie the game, and threw it in the opposite direction of the cutter. Texas is obviously a very good team, but the decision today to start the game with an upwind offensive point is mind boggling. With the loss to California-Davis to close out pool play, Texas would have to face Wisconsin in pre-quarters. They would lose that game as well (going 1-3 on the day). A win in round 2 would’ve had them playing UCSD in pre-quarters instead, a much more favorable matchup for TUFF than Wisconsin.
While wandering around the tournament, I noticed a fair number of different zones being thrown. A lot of the typical three man cup zone, for sure. I saw Florida State running the four-man ‘Christmas Tree’ zone against Tufts; with that, they were able to take away almost all up-field looks, and really pressured the E-Men handlers to make something happen. Between Cal-UGMO, UCF and UC-Davis, I saw different variations of a 3-3-1 zone. The UGMO zone (which also gave Tufts trouble), had one of the biggest differences between the three – they switched the mark depending on which side of the field the disc was on. But the UCF and Cal-Davis zones were similar in how tight six of the guys played towards the disc. There was once, while playing Harvard, the UCF zone was set with the disc about halfway deep into the endzone – all but one UCF defender was in the endzone as well. Safe to say, UCF got the turn that point, Harvard had nowhere to go with the disc. Both got in trouble with being a bit handsy at times, but both got the results they needed. By being so tight, they took away every realistic look the opposing offense could have had; except they didn’t have them because these zones were so tight. I also saw Stanford running a very effective 2-3-2 zone for some points. At first it looked like it was the unusualness of the zone that caused issues, maybe teams just weren’t used to lining up against it. But as the day went on, it was clear that when the 2-3-2 worked for Bloodthirty, it was because of the skill players on the team.
Now hopefully this will be the last time I have to mention weather related to affecting play. The forecast for Sunday’s play calls for 65 degrees, partly cloudy skies and only 9 mph wind gusts. But then again, weather.com is also telling me that the high wind gust for Saturday was 3 mph, so there’s that.
Pittsburgh looked the most complete out of anyone in this pool, including UNC. As UNC Coach Mike Denardis told me at the end of the day, “Pitt just executed their game plan better than we did.” And that’s exactly what happened today for the two-time defending National Champions. They outplayed all three opponents, and did so with an offense that – while not perfect (see: UNC game) – got points on the board. And their defense was always there to help grow a lead; generating turnovers, and playing suffocating man defense especially while opposing offensives were trying to get either up or down-wind. Aside from Pitt’s usual suspects, Carl Morgenstern – a cutter, and sometimes handler for En Sabah Nur – was fantastic; the depth of the organization truly showed today. Outside of the game against Pitt, UNC at first seemed to be off a bit with their decision making during the first two games of pool play. Chances on offense and defense were wasted because of it, and dragged specific points within each game a lot longer than they needed to be. Overall though, they played like one of the top teams in the country – strong play from Christian Johnson, Jon Nethercutt and Jimmy Zuraw was especially noticeable. Las Positas, for being a team called upon to come to the tournament just the day before, played surprisingly well. If they weren’t so short-staffed here, they could’ve done a whole lot more damage to some of these teams; their roster is talented, starting with Simon Higgins.
While Pittsburgh looked the most complete in Pool A, Colorado Mamabird looked the most complete out of anyone at the tournament today. Their offense had some hiccups, and defense wasn’t always up to the test, but they were always on top of the game. The biggest difference between Mamabird and some of the other teams at the tournament was how chill these guys were on the sideline. Yes, it’s fairly easy to be so chill when you’re winning and caught up in #Micklemania. The mood on the sideline was light. Air Tim was doing cartwheels. They had a football to toss around, and there was even a dog roaming around next to the field. Mamabird is dialed in, and everyone else at the tournament should be afraid of running into them tomorrow. Not to say, however, that Wisconsin didn’t look good today. They did, just not as silky smooth as Mamabird. The same style of strong defensive play is still there for the Hodags, but what probably holds them back is their offense. It would get very stagnant at times, and while having the disc a lot is nice, and should lead to victory… it’s not going to when a team isn’t able to efficiently put it into the endzone. To start the day, UC-San Diego didn’t look put together. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what was going wrong for the team. On the one hand, they obviously knew what they were doing with the disc. Precise cuts and handlers that didn’t seem too phased by the heavy wind. Their defense was troubling at times, it got very poachy in the wind. But with no set definitions on what was going on in coverage downfield, opposing offenses found it very easy to tear that look to shreds. By the second half of their game against Wisconsin, and their next game against Georgia, they looked much more put together as a team than they did against Colorado to start the day. Speaking of Georgia, it seemed they were both a victim of opponents, and some disabilities caused by the wind. Up-wind break opportunities were quickly squandered by an inability to throw for some. Still, they were able to give the likes of Colorado and Wisconsin close games.
California-Davis would end up winning this pool, something that seemed very unlikely after the first two rounds of play. Entering that final round, every team in the pool had one win, and with the final round for all of the marbles, upsetting Texas TUFF seemed like one of the least likely possibilities. They did it though, going 2-1 in the pool to win it on head-to-head with Central Florida. Eli Kerns was very good for the Davis-Dogs, as was the defense. While taking a lot of risks after getting a turn, they often paid off. I didn’t keep track of how many up-wind breaks I saw today, but I’d wager that UC-Davis had some of the most out of anyone here.
Central Florida took second in the pool, and were a tough team to play all day long. The zone I mentioned above gave every offense they faced fits; teams just weren’t sure how to handle that kind of consistent pressure. Offensively, the risks they took didn’t always work out. And while that kept games close and interesting, it did prove to be costly in pool play (and later pre-quarters). Texas’ play this weekend can probably be summed up in a ‘why did you do that?’, as I did earlier with their decision during the UCF game. Will Driscoll played very well and made it obvious that he should be in the Callahan conversation. But a lot of the decisions made for TUFF were detrimental. Nothing says it more though than that UCF decision. A win there, and they at the least have a more favorable pre-quarters matchup. Harvard played very well today, I was especially impressed by John Stubbs and Jeremy Nixon; both were some of the best throwers in the wind today. Part of me thinks they just fell into an unfortunate pool; that if they were in pools A or D, they could’ve found themselves in at least pre-quarters. Instead, their two close losses were the difference and they wouldn’t move onto the next round.
Florida State, while not as put together as Pitt or Colorado on the field today, still played extremely well and because of that, they were able to win this pool and get a more favorable matchup in the quarterfinals. Their zone, which looked like the Florida four-man cup, was particularly effective against California but was deployed against every opponent. California UGMO was the surprise team of the day, taking second in the pool with wins over Tufts and Oregon. Against Tufts, they were able to set that three-man zone I previously mentioned, and it just gave Tufts fits. With Ego, Cal rattled off a few breaks early so even when Oregon could get back into the game later, it was too little, too late. Watching Oregon today, it felt like something was different. Of course, Dylan Freechild was still the best player on the field at all times; you know how I said Harvard’s Stubbs and Nixon were some of the best throwers on the field? He was the best thrower. There’s this particular up-wind, through the cup inside-flick throw that just sticks out in my memory that I saw him throw, that was just a pure ‘wow’ moment. But even with Freechild playing well, something was missing for Oregon. It was suggested to me though, that maybe Oregon was truly feeling the loss of this last graduating class. While not every player that graduated would appear in an article or highlight reel, the little things they were able to do while only touching the disc every now and then I think might truly be missed for Ego. Lastly, we come to Tufts, who the wind wreaked the most havoc on this weekend. After a strong opening game against Oregon, zone defense from Cal-UGMO would give them fits. They recovered enough though to put FSU back on their heels. The zone look from DUFF didn’t seem to give them much trouble, as they easily went through, around and past it on offense. DUFF should hope that Tufts doesn’t talk to UCSD or anyone else in the country about how they beat that zone specifically, because if it’s part of the FSU long term plan, the E-Men have the secret.
This was the best round of the day by far, starting with the North Carolina vs. Oregon game. Oregon roared out to a lead, and it looked like all was not right for Darkside. UNC was plagued by poor decisions, and they certainly didn’t look like the same team that Skyd has ranked #1 in the power rankings. But after three straight breaks put Ego down going into half, they never looked back on that notion. Oregon was able to make it close, largely on the play of Dylan Freechild, but UNC’s depth showed right on through. They often forced other players on Ego to make the plays, and played suffocating defense. In the Central Florida and UCSD matchup, it was the offense of one that won the game and the offense of the other that lost it. For the Air Squids, their offense started slowly and it looked as if they had reverted to the same kind of play they had to start the day against Colorado. But by the end of the game, they got the job done. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was the result they needed. As for UCF, the risk-factor of their offense cost them in the end. Jeremy Langdon was very noticeable this game, and earlier games, as one of the best players on the field. But it wasn’t enough, and UCF would fall. The Stanford vs. California-UGMO game was a very chippy game. For the entire game, it seemed like no matter the lead, either one of the teams could come up and start making the plays to bring the game close again. At the end of the game, it was Stanford who was on one of those swings, scoring the final two points of the game against UGMO. It was Stanford’s most complete game of the day, and not the worst from California. But it’s Stanford who moves on, as UGMO goes to consolation. Lastly was the Wisconsin vs. Texas game. The story of the game was more mind-boggling decisions from TUFF, but more than that, Wisconsin played their most complete ultimae of the day. The offensive indecision was still there, and cost them chances with the disc, especially up-wind. But defensively they were very strong, and when their offense did click, there was little Texas could respond with. Part of that though, was the decision making from Texas shooting themselves in the foot. On the field, the frustrating-factor of their turnovers was very high. A lot of miscommunications with their resets probably tops that list. Also up there though, were the defensive miscues; like for example, not staying with the disc on the play. With that, Texas was also eliminated.
Every game on Sunday should be worth watching as the 2014 Stanford Invite comes to a close. Starting with Pitt vs. Wisconsin, Stanford vs. UC-Davis, Florida State vs. Cal-SD and UNC vs. Colorado, each game has a lot on the line. Wisconsin against Pitt meets two of the best performing teams from Saturday right off the bat. Stanford against Cal-Davis is a huge regional matchup, and a preview of what could come at Regionals later in the season. FSU meets UCSD, as FSU looks to prove yet again that they’re the real deal this season and can contend for more than just a Nationals spot while UCSD looks to stay within the Nationals conversation. And rounding out the round: what many (including Skyd) say are the two best teams of this young season meeting not in the finals of the tournament for the first time, but in quarterfinals, as UNC takes on Colorado.