Lots to Learn at the Hellfish Bonanza

by | February 23, 2013, 7:55pm 0

Early in his team’s Round 1 game against Carnegie-Mellon, Chris Kocher pump faked a semi-open deep cutter, turned and hit his dump, and cleared upfield. The play was routine, but if you saw the points leading up to it you’d recognize the composure in Kocher’s eyes as he caught the disc and looked upfield: he had missed on his last two flick hucks and it was time to fall back on a more reliable throw.

Kocher, whose George Washington team relies on him heavily, displayed with his decision an understanding of ultimate that is among the best at the Hellfish Bonanza. While G-Dub has grown into a team that knows the importance of dump defense and hucks the disc with an impressive completion rate, they run through Kocher because he throws the disc to teammates when they are in a threatening spot, he cuts his hardest when they are running out of options, and he recognizes when it’s time to push the pace and when it’s time to take the easiest throw available. He gets the nuances of the college game and uses his knowledge to make his teammates better.

I changed up my tournament routine at the Bonanza today and watched a single pool in each of the first four rounds. While I typically meander around and take notes on whatever odds and ends strike my fancy before settling into a game at mid-round, posting up and focusing early on allowed me to catch moments like the one above. Watching more closely led to all kinds of reminders about what breeds success in college ultimate, and I was grateful for that because mid-level tournaments like the Bonanza are packed with teams whose room for improvement–and drive to make it happen– is downright exciting.

Pool D: Carnegie-Mellon, Delaware, Wake Forest, George Washington

Carnegie-Mellon actually pulled out that G-Dub game, 13-11. The game was closer than Mr. Yuk would have liked because of a lot of unforced errors, but after the game captain Nipunn Koorapati said that his team’s defense was the problem. “We know what we’re doing on offense,” Koorapati explained. “And that will work itself out. We need to stop getting beat everywhere on D.” Carnegie-Mellon went on to win Pool D on the strength of a coordinated and sharp handler unit.

On the field next to Carnegie-Mellon v. G-Dub, Wake Forest nearly upset Delaware. After taking half 9-7, Wake ran their lead up to 12-10 by closing in quickly on discs that cutters slowed down for and winning a number of long, multi-turn points. But Delaware broke to go to 12-11, again to tie at 12-12, and finally for the win, 13-12. Delaware maintained their energy and resolve throughout the game’s final four points and Wake didn’t have the gas to match.

Pool C: James Madison, NYU, Millersville, Richmond

In Round 2, Pool C’s James Madison proved my sole Bonanza prediction wrong by walloping Millersville, 13-8. The Hellfish flashed depth when they trotted out numerous players who knew what they were doing with the disc in their hand, they adjusted well to Millersville’s Kyle Wolf’s high-release backhands by changing the force to flick, and they  stepped up went blow for blow with Millersville’s early (and acrobatic) deep strikes. To have 15+ skilled and confident individuals, to game plan and adjust appropriately, and to make it happen once the disc is in the air is to be a threat in the college game. JMU went 3-0 and will face Pennsylvania in the quarterfinals tomorrow. The Hellfish are excited about a strong Saturday performance and are confident that it will carry over to their first-ever home tournament finals appearance.

NYU took second in the pool after beating Richmond 13-10 and Millersville 13-12. They also beat Georgetown 13-5 in the pre-quarters. Purple Haze’s standout players are Billy Katz and, despite a hamstring injury that slowed him down, former North Carolina undergrad Sean Childers. They are also coached by PoNY’s Kevin Riley, a two-time college champion with Wisconsin. Having a coach who knows what teams at the highest levels expect of themselves is great for teams like NYU who are looking to make strides.

During their game against JMU, former Millersville player Dave Kelly lamented his team’s lackluster defense. “We know we’ve got a high risk offense,” he said, “but we’ve got to defend well if it’s going to work.” He was unconcerned with Moose’s short rotation, saying that everyone on the team understood that they needed to be making JMU’s life more difficult. Millersville is part of two Sunday morning pre-quarters match ups. They play George Mason at 8:30 and will need a stronger start to advance.

Much like Wake Forest, Richmond featured a small handful of strong players (Alex Lichtenstein, James Robb, Joel Reimer) but struggled when those options were defended well. Competing at the Bonanza should prepare them well for a DIII Regionals run in April, and a match up with Wake or Mary Washington tomorrow would be a good test.

Pool A: UNC-Wilmington, UPenn, Towson, Mary Washington

In Round 3 I watched Pool A and focused mostly on UNC-Wilmington. I’m a big fan of the Seamen because they possess qualities of a strong program: a well-articulated strategy, a commitment to individual improvement, and universal buy-in from everyone on the team and an ownership of their role in the system. Before the tournament I essentially said that Wilmington’s biggest obstacle was a potential lack of focus, but today they quelled those concerns big time. The Seamen were dialed in and didn’t allow an opponent more than eight points all day. They should win the Bonanza tomorrow.

UPenn was that team that scored eight against UNC-W, and at moments during the game it looked as though they might put up more. At times, Void’s defenders maintained position on the force side while shadowing cutters’ fakes, and Henry Engelstein and Xinran Wang stood out as strong players. Had they not dropped two pulls, one that led to UNC-W taking half and one that gave way to a UNC-W break coming out, UPenn may have hit double digits.

Since I caught some flak for not saying much about Towson in my preview, I caught up with Pandamonium captains Joe DiPaula and Robby McClughan to get the lowdown: Towson is a senior-heavy team that was very pleased with its showing Regionals last year–DiPaula and McClughan mentioned their universe pre-quarters win over JMU and noted scoring 10 against UNC in the quarters, which DiPaula pointed out was the most anyone put up on Darkside all tournament– and wants to usher in a new generation with another strong finish. They took down Mary Washington by running mostly zone and, at times, using a single man to guard top Grundlebug Ross Kinsman.

Mary Washington is in the same boat as Wake and Richmond: a solid DIII challenger that will benefit from playing a level up. It was also fun to catch up with Sean Fredericks, a freshman that I coached last year, about the difference between his high school and college teams. As more and more freshmen with high school experience show up on campuses, I hope that college captains and coaches develop a better understanding of just how big the transition from one team to another can be.

Pool B: Penn State, George Mason, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth

Round 4 was Pool B, and I’ll be honest: it was hard to focus. After three rounds it was hard not to let my thoughts wander to bracket match ups or attention meander toward celebrations on distant fields. Interestingly, teams often face the same challenge after a round or two, and fighting through is an indication of discipline.

Atop the pool, Penn State faced Georgetown, who was disappointed in their loss to George Mason and saw the game at hand as a must-win. While they went down early, Georgetown rallied to take half, 7-6. Penn State fought back and took a 9-8 lead, and as the cap went on Georgetown’s Matt Kerrigan made a big grab in the air– not his first nor his last today– to send the game to universe. 9-9 got long and was a tale of two teams: Georgetown, who had struggled with “the little things” like running through discs or securing the disc before looking upfield, couldn’t advance the disc under Penn State’s pressure. Penn State, on the other hand, threw one hasty turn after another. Finally, they settled down and won the game, 10-9.

Afterward, Penn State seniors explained to me that save for one win over Pittsburgh at Conferences last year, they hadn’t won a universe point game since 2011. “There was the Michigan loss at Queen City this year,” said Ricky Schaffer, “and the ones to Michigan State and UNC-W last year, and the ones to Michigan and Ohio State the year before that.” With such acute memories of tough, close losses, the Georgetown win felt good for Penn State.

On the other field, George Mason dug in while trailing 11-10 and pulled out a 12-11 victory. The difference, captains Dave Berg and Nathan Slade said, was mentality. “We just found it,” said Dave. “For some stupid reason we play better with our backs up against the wall.” Mason, whose win over Georgetown was the first in program history, will face Millersville in the morning.

Virginia Commonwealth, though winless today, can delight in the continuation of an overall trend that has the team giving teams tougher games. While losses like the 13-4 one to Penn State used to be commonplace for VCU, they’re now the exception.

Bracket play

In 16-team bracket play, it was UNC-W over VCU 12-6, NYU over Georgetown 10-6, Carnegie-Mellon over Richmond 13-5, Penn State over Mary Washington 13-6, UPenn over Wake Forest 12-6, and JMU over George Washington 13-9. That means NYU will play Carnegie-Mellon and UPenn will play JMU. In the morning, George Mason plays Millersville and Delaware plays Towson and the winners will face UNC-W and Penn State, respectively.

Thanks to JMU parent Kevin Sweeney for the photo. 

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