20 Days of Nationals and the 2012 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate
2012 saw six teams earn bids for their region during the regular season who are not among the field of teams competing at Nationals in Boulder from May 25-28. UC Davis is a team that snatched one of those bids. After making their way through the bloodbath that was Southwest Regionals, Davis has put their talented young squad into the National spotlight.
After a wild Saturday of pool play, the UC Davis Dogs were able to hold seed and found themselves right where they wanted to be. However, the team they faced in the semifinals was not the 8th ranked team in the country (Stanford), but #99 Arizona, a team the Dogs had crushed earlier in the season at President’s Day Classic. A 15-11 win over Sunburn put the Dogs just one more win from a Nationals berth. After falling to California in the finals 9-15, Davis was able to knock off an exhausted Santa Barbara squad (who were playing their fourth game of the day, including two decided on universe) and claim the region’s second bid to Nationals.
The Dogs are captained this year by Elijah Kerns, Jake Ellis, and Robby Merk. Ellis was able to speak to me about their approach to the season. “This season was focused on player development. We wanted to give equal playing time to our entire team to avoid reliance on a few players. We were allowed to focus on constant improvement instead of our record.” This certainly paid off for Davis because while they did not amass excellent numbers during the regular season (finishing ranked 63rd), their Series play has been exceptional.
This steadfast dedication to player development has given rise to a large number of young players who can hurt opponents on the field. Sophomore Orion Edwards is one of the team’s top cutters and can be seen throwing his body around all over the field on defense. Sophomore handlers Eli Kerns and Nathan White both have a wide arsenal of throws and haven’t seen a mark yet that they have been unable to make look foolish for even trying. Davis’ approach has allowed them to create a very deep roster, with any one player more than capable of coming off the bench and making a huge play.
UC Davis punched the first ticket to Nationals in their 31 year history following a four year phase of improvement under their coach, Davis alum Kevin Cissna. Cissna, formerly of 2008 Club National Champion San Francisco Jam, has coached Davis sporadically since graduating, but 2009 was the year he took on a full-time role with the team. Starting that year, the Dogs have shown steady improvement, including T-5th place finishes at Regionals in 2010 and 2011. This year, Cissna was joined by Taylor Lahey, 2011 graduate and former captain of the Dogs. Together, they were invaluable in making the most of team strengths and exploiting opponent’s weaknesses.
Late in the season, Coach Cissna started repeating the same quote over and over again to his players, “Flat easy passes to open cutters and no more than two steps from your man.” While not inspiring at first glance, the quote was more than meaningful for the Dogs. All season, it was obvious to team members that they had a lot of raw talent, but couldn’t quite put all the pieces together. As a team, their decision making was not at the caliber they needed it to be if they wanted to make any noise at Regionals. Together, this squad took those words to heart, tightening up their offense and playing suffocating defense that forced a lot of throws. Their hard work paid off at Conferences and Regionals as they handily defeated almost everyone they played going 10-4 with losses to only Stanford (on universe) and California (x3).
Anthony Rice, a current member of Santa Barbara Black Tide, spoke to me about his experience playing the Dogs this year. “Honestly, their early season results were pretty poor. When we played them in the Fall, they were a hucking team, but they didn’t have very many power throwers, which resulted in a lot of jump balls early in the season,” Anthony said. After his experience at Regionals a few weeks ago, Anthony noticed some changes in their game. “They still liked to jack it, but they got throws off of power position cuts. They had a more patient and consistent offense that relied on power position hucks.”
On what to watch out for, Anthony said, “Eli Kerns is a great player who also plays for Polar Bears [as does co-captain Robby Merk]. During our game they had a lot of energy on the field. We were not able to break their offense in the game to go because they played solid defense after any offensive turn. Also, their defense forced a lot of throws with a three man cup zone that made it tough to get anything going.”
UC Davis enters Nationals as the 18th seed, behind Pittsburgh, Luther, Texas, and Michigan in Pool B. Featuring two of the leading Callahan candidates, that’s one heck of a pool. I’m not one for making predictions, but Davis is fully capable of finishing Memorial Day weekend much higher than their initial seeding. Few people expected Davis to make it this far and going into the weekend Davis will still be seen as the underdog in just about every game they play. As coach Taylor Lahey has said all year, “Everybody in this circle is everything we need, the answer is in here.” This is a team that is absolutely playing their best ultimate right now, so don’t be surprised if they make a lot of noise in Boulder.
One of the more interesting facts about the Dogs is that on their roster of 20 players there are 12 freshman or sophomores. With only four seniors, this team is poised for a long run of success in the Southwest. For the time being though, Davis will make the most of their time in Boulder, boldly going where no Dog has gone before…NATIONALS! Credit to Davis freshman Keean Joye for that line.
Fun Facts about the Dogs:
- UC Davis was chosen to make Nationals by just 1.1% of participants in USA Ultimate’s CORT College Championship Choose ’em Challenge, despite being the 4seed in a Region with 2 bids.
- The Dogs have two legacy players on their squad: Keean Joye (father and brother) and Patrick Lahey (brother)
- Paul Riemenschneider threw a greatest to win a game this season, something I’ve never done
- Sophomore Nathan White is the team’s tallest player (congratulations Nathan, that’s a high honor)
Special thanks to Anthony Rice of UCSB and Dogs Captain Jake Ellis for their insight into Davis’ season
Feature Photo by Kyle McBard of UltiPhotos