This article and 2014 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate.
The last major tournament of the 2014 regular season is in the books, and the results were shocking for some. No, North Carolina did not win another tournament this spring. And favorites like Pittsburgh, Harvard and Minnesota did not come out on top either. Instead, it was MagnUM Ultimate, from mighty Michigan, with the win at Easterns 2014. After a 1-2 pool play finish, and narrowly escaping pre-quarters on Saturday of the tournament, the cards were stacked against them. But resilient play lead them there.
UNC-Wilmington, when they can put together a complete game, can pose a threat to North Carolina, and possibly work themselves in as a surprise team at Nationals. I think they can definitely reach just as far they did last year. When they aren’t playing a complete game, i.e. poor offensive decisions, and the strong defense not making plays – pre-quarters at Nationals seems like a long shot.
Florida had a few chances to win their quarterfinal game against Pitt, but couldn’t. The strategy of running very tight lines yet again prevented them from taking advantage and beating Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. Towards the end of the game, Florida players weren’t able to stay with the fresh Pittsburgh cutters while on defense, and as a result gave up a lot of force-side plays that lead to Pitt’s comeback and victory. It might be too late to add more depth to this team, but if they could roll out a few more players every couple of points with some success, Florida would be having a much better season than they are currently.
Florida State had one of the games I had been thinking they would have. They went down to Minnesota very early, with Grey Duck in complete control of the game on both sides of the disc. They made plays defensively with the strong pressure they’ve become known for late in the game, but their offense wasn’t able to put them back into it. With consistent showings on both sides of the disc, DUF could make a challenge for the semifinals at Nationals. Without it, quarterfinals might be their ceiling.
The quarterfinals game against Michigan was, by all accounts, an off game for Harvard. They found themselves down to Michigan often, unable to put together a game like they had in their domination in their semifinal matchup at QCTU. The Michigan defense did a fantastic job at changing how Harvard moved into their dump schemes, which disrupted their entire offensive flow. With no flow on offense, Harvard found it difficult to gain a steady lead and pull away from Michigan. I think Harvard is much better than this loss.
In the first semifinal, North Carolina and Pittsburgh met for the fourth time this season. The difference in this game was that Max Thorne was playing on the Pittsburgh offensive line (he would not play the finals due to rehab orders from his doctor to play a limited amount); his addition made the entire offense flow much smoother from point to point. No longer was the weight of the main handler spot on Trent Dillon, it was on Max, allowing Trent much more freedom on the field – he looked the smoothest I’ve seen this season. With a solid offensive line, and the same defensive intensity we’re used to seeing from Pittsburgh they were able to win another close game against Darkside.
On the other hand, Darkside did not play one of their best games. They were plagued by a large amount of poor decision making; either decisions forced by Pittsburgh, or ones of their own. Poor decisions in throw choices or where to go for the disc were the most common errors. Had North Carolina been able to play a more complete game, and stay away from their errors, I don’t think the game would’ve leaned as heavily in Pittsburgh’s favor. The scoreboard only reflects a small part of the domination from Pitt, due to the depth in athleticism that North Carolina boasts. It was a showing from Carolina that can only be compared to the last time they lost to Pittsburgh in Saturday of pool play at Stanford Invite, and one we may not see again with the practice time between now and Nationals.
Pittsburgh found themselves in the finals of yet another major spring tournament, and Michigan came in as the surprise team. As soon as the game started, something seemed off for Pittsburgh. After some offensive points, they were yelling the common ‘too easy!’ chant (Michigan would return the favor some points) – but it didn’t look as smooth as it had during pool play yesterday, or even earlier today. Some of that can be attributed to the wind; it would catch throws and push them down or allow defenders to catch up. But some of Pitt’s offensive miscues can be blamed on poor decision making from almost everyone that touched the disc.
Michigan would trade points initially with Pitt, and even take half. There still wasn’t a feeling though that they were in complete control of the game, or that it was out of reach for Pittsburgh. The second half would change that, as Michigan rattled off a few breaks off of the aforementioned mistakes on the En Sabh Nur offensive points. The breaks came off some luck in their hucking game, but it was mostly tight defensive play and an offense that, even with the wind and little rain, took the easy throws to work their way across and down the field.
Meanwhile, Pitt was able to get back into the game with their zone and standard play from Christian Pitts who had 2 defensive plays and a score when his team needed breaks the most. The zone would get very tight on the handler positions, especially when anyone from Michigan would crash, and that helped Pittsburgh get the breaks they needed down the stretch to put themselves within reach of victory.
But the play of Noah Backer for MagnUM came through on what would be the final point. Noah was a player who had made some mistakes earlier in the game that helped Pittsburgh stay alive, but he came through both defensively and offensively for the team. With Trent Dillon covering him, he made a great throw from one end of the field to the other to setup their offense. After he threw a turn, he immediately got a the layout D to get the disc back. Shortly after, Michigan would punch it in for the score and win.
MagnUM certainly wasn’t the team expected to come out on top this weekend, perhaps even more so after their 1-2 pool play record on Saturday and the close wins through the entirety of bracket play. But they held a calm consistency with their offensive lines, even when things weren’t going well, and when needed, their defense would come through with the stops. The win here does a lot for the Great Lakes region, and pushes Michigan into the conversation for teams that can challenge at pre-quarters and maybe beyond at Nationals.
The Skyd Magazine and Spin Ultimate MVP for the weekend was from Easterns champion Michigan, #8 Eli Leonard. All weekend long, Eli could be seen as one of the main pivot handlers in the MagnUM offense. He was a valuable asset for the team not only there, but also when coming up to fill as a cutter. It was in the finals where he really shined, though, as the wind picked up and the pressure was on in the backfield. In the second half, his consistency came through; facing the Pittsburgh zone in the late points as they mounted a comeback against Michigan, Leonard calmly moved the disc through the defense and was able to keep their offense moving up the field. That’s exactly what the Michigan offense needed in order to hold off their opponent’s rally.