Is Wisconsin the team to beat this year?
Right now, the answer is yes. This will obviously take some reconsideration after we see Stanford and Easterns, but they were easily the best team out of an impressive field this weekend. Their defense suffocated other teams into throwing bailout hucks or risky dumps, and their offense was quick and efficient. They looked like a team in April, not one in February. If they can stay hungry (which I’m sure they can) and continue to improve as other teams start to peak, they may finally become the bride.
Best of the rest
After losses to Florida and Wisconsin on Friday, people were questioning where exactly the old Pittsburgh had gone. I, too, was in a bit of disbelief when I saw them off their usually impressive game. Then I realized that they were trying new things, opening up lines to give all those unfamiliar faces experience, and messing with the usual methodical lineup. There is certainly no replacing the notable talent they lost, but don’t count Pittsburgh out of a repeat just yet. Two notes about that: 1. Alex Thorne was playing D, freeing up his brother, Max, to dominate the O-line and to give the D a quick strike on a turn, and 2. Pitt only had one loss outside of their games with Wisconsin as well as strong wins over CUT and UCF.
Before I got down to Tampa, I had predicted University of Central Florida to do extremely well at this tournament, like they had done last year. I spoke with Coach Roca early Saturday morning, when he informed me that they were missing multiple starters, including both Hickson and Freystatter. I was a bit frustrated that my predictions wouldn’t work out as I had hoped, but then I saw how well structured they were even without their big men. Coupled with the fact that they were replaced by already talented freshmen, who will only add depth to a deep team, I think no one should look past UCF come the series. When they work within their system, their offense is disciplined and efficient and their defensive intensity will be tough for all but the best teams to overcome.
I will openly admit it: I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw of Florida and Florida State. Where there were once tall athletic guys making big plays, Florida now shows the most patience of any college team I’ve seen and every guy knows how to work within the system. Instead of just one or two superstars, there are many key players, and they can put themselves in any game. Florida State shocked me even more; I ignored most of the hype, assuming it was typical talk. However, what I saw of them was impressive. They had a bit of a cupcake schedule on Friday and Saturday, but they are athletic and they know each other well. Their universe game against UCF was no fluke. I don’t know if they will make a deep run into Nationals without becoming more efficient, but don’t be surprised to see them there.
Winners and losers
Winner: The Southeast region – The SE did excellently at this tournament, with 3 teams in championship bracket play and five in the top ten. Partially credit a convenient tournament format, but this was no fluke; there is some serious talent there this year.
Loser: The Northeast region – Dartmouth had high hopes for the weekend, only to lose a heart breaker to Pitt after being up all game and lose to Texas in a close 12-11 hard cap game that may have even been questionably won beforehand. Massachusetts came to the tournament with 18 players but ended it with 8, notching only 2 wins over the bottom two seeds going in. For a region looking to get as many strength bids as possible, this was not a good weekend in Florida.
Winner: University of Dayton – Though they went 0-4 on Friday, the team who many expected to win zero games (themselves included according to an anonymous player) won out on Saturday, giving themselves a game against Carleton in the 5th place bracket Sunday morning. After a universe loss, people are starting to take Dayton a bit more seriously.
Loser: Carleton – The team itself did not do too poorly, but unfortunately it did lose to the three top finishers during pool play, and it couldn’t move on to championship bracket play because of the format. Add this to a loss to Florida State and it was a down, though not unexpected, weekend for the CUT.
Winner: Texas – They only lost to one team all weekend (Wisconsin); also, with a number of impressive victories, they certainly made themselves a team to look out for in the Spring season. While some may think it’s the Will Driscoll show, he does not dominate the presence of this team, instead only making plays when called upon and letting the other big role-players show off their own impressive skills.
Loser: Me – It was really cold in Florida, of all places. I thought it was supposed to be warm here? My hands were literally too cold to tweet the CUT-Wisconsin game.
Tops of the tournament
- Top player – Brian Hart (Wisconsin) won the Spin Ultimate MVP red jersey, with a dominating performance on the most dominant team. His offensive presence, defensive intensity, and overall tenacity felt like it was the anchor of the talented Hodag team.
- Top offensive play – Down a break late in the game, the disc was centered to Simon Montague (CUT), who immediately put up a downwind backhand huck that seemed way too far when it went up. Nick Stuart (CUT), however, thought otherwise and sprinted down field past three Wisconsin defenders, laying out in the endzone to make the full extension layout grab and keep CUT in the game.
- Top defensive play – Mike Ogren (UCF) saw an FSU huck go up, late in the game, for an upwind break and started running. Sandwiched between two FSU players, all three players laid out at the same time, and somehow, Ogren made a catch block reminiscent of Fortunat Mueller’s 2007 Regional Final grab.
- Best game to watch – Though CUT-Wisconsin would be an easy pick for this, since the rivalry and level of play make it so exciting, I loved watching the UCF-Pitt game more than any other this weekend. The teams traded all game, with 1 break each in the first half. The second half was all trading, in an upwind downwind game with lots of good D and exciting O. On serve, 12-11, Pitt pulled to UCF, going downwind, and UCF worked it up to midfield. A Zach Kauffman foot block gave Pitt the disc, and though they turned it, Kauffman got a second foot block by the goal line, and Pitt punched in the upwind break for the 13-11 win.
Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com