We arrived to a sunny but brisk Riverside, CA, where teams were just finishing warm-ups on flat, dirt-patched, but soft grass fields. As noted in our preview, a drop from a snowstorm-stranded Brandeis forced a last minute schedule shuffle into two pools rather than three, meaning that today teams matched up in head to heads that were reserved for Sunday. Reigning champions Carleton GOP faced a determined Claremont while last year’s national runner up, UPS, matched up against #1 seed St. John’s BAM. Here’s what I saw:
Carleton GOP vs. Amherst
Eager to see how the champs weathered a cold off-season in Minnesota, I headed over to the Ellen DeGeneres cheering Hawaiian-shirts of Carleton GOP. Testing lots of their rookies, GOP had allowed a close fight against Amherst. Down 9-8, you could see the air change as experienced leaders on GOP tighten their grip and infused confidence into their team. More senior lines brought determination and intensity that said they’d been in situations like this before. This re-energized GOP scored and broke after a long point of turns on both sides. Their d-line brought the most energy they had the entire game, setting aside their goofiness for a point. Despite the confident GOP, which used dump swings to run the field on offense, Amherst’s handling line held up surprisingly well against the intense defensive pressure, able to work the disc up the open side to tie the game at 10’s after being broken. GOP would march the disc right back, finding easy cross field breaks around along the endzone line until their tenacity created an easy open. GOP wins 11-10.
Claremont Braineaters vs. Connecticut College Dasein
After a first round bye, we finally had the opportunity to watch a Zack Purdy-captained Claremont as they took on Connecticut College. Purdy led a calm handler line that seemed well enough in sync, but there wasn’t much going from downfield cutters. The play of Connecticut’s Max Weigert proved to be the real show, as his speedy upline cuts and precision flicks kept Connecticut in the game. Connecticut and Claremont kept it close through to the last quarter to make it an 8-8 universe point game. A layout block saved Claremont after an abundance of turns from both sides. Nevertheless, Claremont brought an offense more able to travel the field than the Weigert-heavy Connecticut, barely winning 9-8.
One field over, Pacific Lutheran Reign had unpacked athleticism and a confident new coach in Nick Dare at their game against GOP. Carleton had just squeaked a victory over Amherst and appeared vulnerable. PLU was able to rely on that athleticism from Evan Hoover and Craig Chamberlain to move the disc up the open side. However, a frequently inability to break led to numerous questionable shots to the endzone, including an ill-advised but nearly completed chicken-wing. GOP capitalized and pulled away in the final act of the game once again. this time winning 10-7 at hard cap.
Claremont Braineaters vs. Carleton GOP
The Braineaters came out fired up to play rivals GOP. After an early break to go up 2-1, Carleton struck back with a break of their own to eventually tie at 3s. With wind picking up, GOP put on a tight three man zone that squeezed Claremont into the sideline with captain Rhys Lindmark guarding the drop. Claremont showed excellent patience as they continually popped cutters through the cup for short gains, eventually finding long breaks across the field. After a couple turns, Brain movement forced GOP to release the zone, allowing Claremont an easy score. An overthrow in the endzone gave Claremont similar circumstances as they marched the disc up field once again through the GOP zone. By the time man switch was called, the GOP starting line was looking tired. Despite turns and excellent breaks from handler Niko Duffy, Carleton gave up half 4-8. Out of half, a patient Claremont offense worked their short game as GOP started huffing and puffing. Consistent distribution from Zack Purdy and heads up defense from Abe McKay gave Claremont a 8-4 lead out of half. An excellent leading huck from Daniel Geller put Claremont up another cuing GOP to rest their starters. This gave the Braineaters their opportunity to stomp a tired GOP through 2nd half, taking the game 11-7.
Puget Sound Postmen vs. St. John’s BAM
With the Pool B number one seed, GOP, being uprooted by Claremont, the matchup between current national and tournament 1-seed, St. John’s, and last year’s national runner up, Puget Sound, was highly anticipated. Both teams had been rolling through less experienced opponents all day and were ready for a challenge. The early parts of the game were capitalized by the height domination of Nihal Bhakta, contstantly posting up for goals in the endzone, and Puget Sound’s, shaky offense, which often turned the disc over with sloppy movement before finally popping a goal in. The teams traded early until several Bhakta scores put BAM up 6-3. A couple rally grabs by Sam Berkelhammer on the defense of Daniel Mozell and Peter Geertz-Larson brought UPS back into the game, though St. John’s would take half 8-7. At this point in the game two things were apparent. 1. UPS was able to generate turns and control the game. 2. St. John’s brought more confidence and intensity bolstered by Bhakta.
UPS answered out of half with more intensity. Coach Adam Lerman attributed a lackluster 1st half offensive effort to being challenged for the first time in the weekend. Led by Jonas Cole’s high release breaks, UPS found a bit more rhythm on offense. A full team effort to play tighter and more varied defense generated more consistent defensive blocks. Shortly after half, UPS found an early break after a questioned foul call went to an observer, and kept the disc in UPS’ hands. This result seemed to take the wind out of St. John’s sail, as UPS would go on to break 3 more times with the aid of a poach zone and force middle defensive set. The Postmen closed out the game on a huck from Cole to Geertz-Larson. This win gives UPS the pool and the quarters bye into semifinals.
Pacific Lutheran Reign vs. Claremont Braineaters
The last round caught us by surprise as PLU, who had been handled with ease by Carleton, was tied with Claremont late in the game. Gone were PLU’s ill-advised hammers, replaced with more dump-swing movement. The athletic advantage of PLU was apparent as the blue-clad Northwesteners pulled floaty hucks out of the air amidst traffic. Relying on man defense rather than a faulty transition zone, PLU forced several turns in each position from Claremont, who was simply unable to keep up. Though there was some confusion on the score, tied 10s, PLU prevailed with a long huck deep to Matt Ostendorf.
With one more round left to play, and a plausible Pool B three-way tie in the balance, setting the Sunday bracket may require a good noggin-scratch. Nevertheless, assuming no further upsets and a PLU hold (though Amherst may prove a challenge for Reign), Sunday pool play would put UPS and Claremont into the semis with PLU and Rice facing off in one quarter and an earlier than expected matchup of St. John’s vs. Carleton in the other.
Rice has shown that they’re a step above teams like Occidental and RPI, holding both teams to merger scores, but a heavy 5-13 loss to St. John’s weighs against them. PLU has shown they’re capable of running with teams at their best in beating Claremont. Rice will put up a good fight early on, but PLU will press on.
Prediction: PLU wins 15-10.
On the other side of the bracket, St. John’s vs. GOP will come down to whether or not Carleton can shut down Bhakta and if BAM can stop captain Rhys Lindmark from moving the disc from the infield. GOP’s offense showed the most potential for consistency in the entire tournament, but St. John’s displayed chemistry unmatched perhaps even by UPS. If GOP plays their starters, the game could go either way, but if someone tells BAM to just play Bhakta every point, and GOP can’t figure out how to play him with more physicality, this game is going to go to St. John’s 15-14 on universe.
The Puget Sound Postmen and Pacific Lutheran Reign practice approximately 10 miles away from each other. It’s a tradition for PLU to visit UPS for a annual scrimmage at the start of the year, with further scrimmages continue throughout the year. For the last few years, the Postmen have come out consistently on top. But even without this foreknowledge, just looking at the experiential difference of play, it’s easy to call this one for UPS. This game will surely fire Reign up to play their best, but it won’t get them enough points for the victory.
Prediction: UPS over PLU 15-8.
Though Claremont managed a strong victory over a talented Carleton GOP, their athletic depth and incomplete offense was exposed in their game against PLU. St. John’s is clearly one of the more developed teams at this tournament regardless of Bhakta’s strength in the air. In their tight game against UPS, they displayed confidence, stunning layout awareness and strong marks. Claremont displayed a lot of gumption in their game against GOP, but if St. John’s can get up big early enough, Claremont will run out of steam.
Prediction: St. John’s over Claremont 15-8.
St. John’s proved in their first game against UPS that they weren’t really doing all that much on defense besides putting on a good mark. UPS showed another level of defensive complexity in running a couple key schemes that generated a lot of confusion for BAM and considerable turns. The UPS of the first half was slow and disinterested, but once the team got rolling and found confidence they sucked the life out of BAM. Sure, it’s hard to beat a team twice in a tournament, but that’s just something bad teams say. I’m sticking to my guns and saying that UPS is the most complete team at DIII Warmup.
Prediction: UPS over St. John’s 15-11.