2012 saw the Ohio Valley Region represented by the University of Pittsburgh and Ohio University at Nationals. Pittsburgh would go on to win their first National Championship, while Ohio finished T-17th after their first trip to the big show.
Here’s what to expect from the region in 2013:
University of Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur
Key Fall Wins: Colorado, Luther, Ohio, Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State
Fresh off their first National Championship, En Sabah Nur is still the top dog in the region and looking to continue their run of eight straight nationals appearances. After losing just three starters from last year’s squad, Pittsburgh is more than capable of repeating as champs. That being said, Julian Hausman, Colin Conner, and Jason Kunsa aren’t exactly three players you replace overnight. “Anytime you lose your three best defenders it is going to be hard,” said co-captain Aaron Watson. “Luckily, we pride ourselves on our depth and have a stable of young guys hungry for their opportunity to step up.”
Pittsburgh has also been helped tremendously by the addition of coach Nick Kaczmarek, the Ohio Valley’s Coach of the Year in 2012. His many years as a leader in the Pittsburgh ultimate community and stint as Pitt’s captain have given him a breadth of knowledge about their culture and playing style. “[Nick] brings an unparalleled dedication and focus [to the team]. His preparation and determination to be the best is second to none,” says Watson.
Pittsburgh went a combined 8-2 this fall at Missouri Loves Company and the Steel City Showdown, with their only losses to Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon. As is well known by now, Pitt was without 2012 Callahan Runner-Up Alex Thorne through the fall. The NexGen star is back from London this spring to pair with Tyler DeGirolamo, giving Pitt one of the best tandems in the game today. Watson told me the main goals of their fall season were “developing depth, evaluating rookies, and implementing basic strategies to build on in the spring.”
Everyone knows the big names on Pitt’s roster (Thorne, Degirolamo, Saul, Dillon, etc.), but one you may not have heard before is Ethan Beardsley. “He never played before he got to Pitt, but Birdman shuts down the other team’s biggest deep threat and is ready for a breakout year,” believes Watson.
Looking forward to the season, Pittsburgh has one goal: to defend their national championship. According to Watson, “anything less is a letdown.”
Pittsburgh plans to attend Florida Warm-Up, Stanford Invite, and Easterns this spring.
Key Fall Wins: Texas, Illinois, Luther, Carnegie Mellon, Ohio State
At College Nationals last May, Ohio missed advancing to Pre-Quarters by a single point. This year, they’re looking to push their game further and prove that last year was not a fluke.
Ohio had a very strong fall, going 6-3 with their only losses to Pittsburgh, Carleton, and Minnesota. “Our main goals were to develop chemistry with the lines, while also playing in a competitive fall season.” Looking at their results, it seems Ohio was absolutely able to accomplish both.
All-Region players Connor Haley and Mitch Cihon are back and Ohio will look to run their offense through the two. Haley’s height and arsenal of throws is a match-up nightmare for teams and Cihon has shown the ability to get open almost at will.
Along with their two all-stars, Ohio is led by Luke Eastman, Mikey Juratovic, Logan Kruger, and the underrated Mark Hritz. “I know a lot of people know [Mark’s] name in Ohio, but he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He has been the core of our defense for the past two years. His throws are quick and can be thrown from any release. His quickness is extremely hard to keep up with. He definitely is someone to watch out for this coming year.”
However, the losses of co-captain Andy Ball, Nick Wetzel, and Eric Converse, as well as Mike Bruce to a torn ACL, is a big burden for any team. “It has definitely been tough playing without any of these players, especially since all of them were handlers. The good thing though, is that some people have been stepping up into those positions that we would have never thought would be handling. This will hopefully help us in the long run, making our lines and players more versatile.”
Ohio will be attending Queen City Tune Up, Easterns Qualifier, and Easterns this spring
Carnegie Mellon Mr Yuk
Key Fall Wins: Michigan, Iowa, Pittsburgh, Ohio State
This year, Carnegie Mellon looks to build upon their 4th place finish at Ohio Valley Regionals. A good fall performance (their only losses were to Nationals qualifiers Wisconsin, Texas, and Ohio) went a long way toward showing they’re a team on the rise. “Our goal in the fall was to get big wins against national caliber teams and we believe we were able to accomplish that,” according to captain Nipunn Koorapati.
Second year coach Aaron Kane has been a big reason for the team’s successes the past two years. “At tournaments, he does a great job with mid-game adjustments… sensing what’s working for us. Definitely a coach of the year candidate,” said Koorapati.
Mr Yuk lost five starters from last year’s squad, but has adjusted well, with an increased focus on conditioning and strategic planning this season. “We designed our O and D around the players that we have,” Koorapati told me. “Obviously, no one likes to lose impact players, but we feel that Yuk is returning a lot of experience and younger players are stepping up. We feel good about our team this year.”
Indeed, the team is laden with veterans this year, with many stepping in on both offense and defense as needed. Fifth years Koorapati, Ben Clark, and Akshay Krishnamurthy along with Seniors Benjamin McGrath, Scott Shepard, and Dave Matlack have been instrumental in the program’s recent rise. Two younger players who have stepped into starting roles this year are Sophomore Reid Almand and Freshman Ross Ellison, the team’s upcoming FOTY nominee.
If Mr Yuk is able to keep the wins coming this spring, they could do enough to earn the Ohio Valley a second or third bid to Madison. “Our explicit spring goal is to qualify for Nationals,” according to Koorapati. “It will be a big step for our program and we’re ready to make it.”
Yuk will be attending Tally Classic, and is undecided on one or two other tournaments.
Ohio State Leadbelly
Key Fall Wins: James Madison, NC State, Buffalo (went split squad to 2 Fall tournaments)
Ohio State is facing what would be a major problem for teams, as they returned just 10 players from a 2012 squad that lost in the game-to-go to nationals this past May. Ohio State seems to have dealt relatively well though, with a good fall season that allowed them to get their younger players as much playing time as possible. Co-captain Benjamin Krumpelman told me, “Our goals for the fall season were really centered on the idea of a “rebuilding” season. We had to regroup our existing core and bring in more than 20 new athletes, most of whom had never played any kind of competitive ultimate in the past. ”
Before the season, the captains and coaches re-defined the team’s style of play around their new personnel. Instrumental in this was their head coach, Paul Greff and assistants Andy Theiss and Phil Cherosky. “Paul’s coaching is based around a simple series of core elements to the sport and progression of ability – something that this team has taken to heart and seen promising results from.”
With such a large influx of new players still learning the game, Ohio State has also relied heavily on players such as Krumpelman, co-captain David Bentrovato (the only returning offensive starter), Mike “Tang” Meilstrup, Kyle Ratajzack and Paul Arters to lead by example on and off the field. While they lack the veteran presence they’ve had in recent years, Ohio State is energized by the potential of the current group.
“All of our new players have made incredible contributions to this team.” according to Krumpelman. If anything, it has been beneficial in helping the captains and coaches evaluate how we play and teach the game of ultimate. We’ve simplified things, worked from basic progressions and strategies with the goal of building to a more versatile and effective style of play by the series.”
Ohio State has taken these changes in stride. And Krumpelman doesn’t believe the season is a failure if they don’t happen to end up in Madison. “This year is all about building a team of close friends,” he said, “building faith in each other in a bigger sense than in just playing ultimate. By fostering good individual characteristics, we hope to see a much more cohesive, hard-working and high-spirited team on the field.”
This year, Ohio State is planning on going to Queen City Tune Up, Easterns Qualifier, and Tally Classic.
University of Cincinnati Cinister
Key Fall Wins: Kenyon, Northern Iowa (went split squad to 3 Fall tournaments)
Cincinnati has been a program on the rise for the past few years now. After failing to qualify for Regionals in 2010, they’ve broken seed in 2011 and 2012, placing 5th overall both years. Somewhat amazingly, their squad has only lost one and four players, respectively, the past two seasons.
This fall, Cincinnati primarily went split squad to tournaments to get their guys as much playing time as possible. They did attend MLC as a full squad, but lost to Luther in their Saturday crossover. “[We wanted to] get our old and new guys on the same page. Improve chemisty; improve chances at making Nationals,” said Cincinnati captain Luke Tarnowski.
Their quick rise has led to the beginnings of a great rivalry within the Buckeye state. “It has always been one of our goals to be the best team in Ohio. Obviously, the ones that currently claim that title are Ohio and Ohio State. Games against both of these teams are always close, exciting, and incredibly intense.”
Tarnowski and co-captain Daniel Latz hope to lead Cincinnati further this year and have a veteran squad more than capable of taking the next step. Nate Botti, Scott Schriner, and Kieran Kelly, teammates from Columbus Madcow, bring several years of high level club and college experience to the team. Xander Mark, a handler from Columbia High School in New Jersey, has impressed so far as a freshman and helps offset the loss of former Youth Nationals handler Tommy Koch, who transferred schools before the year.
“This year we plan to make Nationals rather than finish 5th in the region for a third year straight,” said Tarnowski. “We are taking practice much more seriously, working on team chemistry, and improving our fitness constantly.”
Cincinnati will be attending Queen City Tune Up, President’s Day, Easterns Qualifier, and Chicago Invite this spring.
Penn State Spank
Key Fall Wins: Ohio State, Maryland, Buffalo
Last season, Penn State busted out of the gate, finding themselves ranked 6th in the country after two tournaments. However, a 6-8 record the rest of the way prevented them from earning the Ohio Valley a third bid to Nationals. After an up and down journey through the series, including an upset win over Pittsburgh at Conferences, Penn State saw their 2012 season end with a 5th place finish at Regionals.
This year, they’re prepared to show the country they are still a team to be feared. “We’ve got a lot of players who are hungry to prove that Penn State is going to stick around as a highly competitive program,” said Joe Tylutki.
Tylutki and co-captain Rick Schaffer return to a team that lost a lot of players last year, including impact players Matt Jaffe (All-Region) and Tom Allen. “You can never replace players like those. What we have done is changed the structure of our team in order to play on the strengths of others who have been developing.”
“We’re not sure who our all-region candidates may be, but keep your eyes open.” Captain Tylutki did give a shout out to freshman Keil Toso, #34, a young player who has stepped up considerably so far.
Still, Penn State is a team looking for an identity. They spent the fall getting the new guys as involved as possible to speed up their development. They did put on an impressive showing at Fall Easterns, their only full squad tournament of the fall, where they went 5-1, including a victory over Ohio State in the third place game.
Penn State plans to be at Queen City Tune Up, Hellfish Bonanza and the New England Open this spring.
Other teams to look out for
Edinboro – Finished T-7th at Regionals in 2012. Have qualified for Regionals for six straight seasons.
Shippensburg – Finished T-7th at Regionals in 2012. Have qualified for Regionals for three straight years.
Pennsylvania – Nearly upset Penn State on Saturday of Regionals in 2012, ultimately finishing 9th.
Millersville – Finished 12th at Regionals in 2012. Made it to Regional semi-finals in 2011.
It’s impossible to include everyone and everything in this space. If you have something to add about the region or just know a team/player/coach you want to give a shout out to, feel free to tell us in the comments section.