Saturday pool play at College Nationals followed the popular pre-tournament predictions. Colorado, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Oregon rightly cemented themselves as the top tier teams by making it into the quarterfinals on Sunday with convincing wins in pool play. The prequarters appeared typical as well, with perennial contenders Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Carleton all making appearances. Although not as storied as the previous teams, the pre-quarters were rounded out by the typical big names in recent memory: UNC-Wilmington, Harvard, Central Florida and Tufts. Despite the ever-increasing parity at the national level, the teams appearing in the late-day championship bracket were, in a word, predictable. No underdog cinderella stories to be found here.
And then the prequarters round began…and seemingly nothing changed. The predictability in the early stages of the games was boringly palpable.
In a rematch of the NC Regional final, Wisconsin took on little brothers CUT, and like the previous matchup, Wisconsin came out swinging to a 7-1 lead. After taking half 8-2, Wisconsin cruised to a 15-7 win. Needless-to-say, a predictable result. Similarly, Michigan led wire-to-wire against the Tufts Emen en route to a 15-12 win. Magnum will take on 1-seed Colorado first thing on Sunday morning while Tufts’ season has come to an end.
In the C pool/B pool prequarter, Texas took on 2013 runner-up UCF. Both teams utilized their big men, Driscoll and Ogren respectively, as both deep cutters and precision handlers, and traded points into halftime. The second half played to a similar tune, both teams with efficient offense and athletic, layout-heavy defense. Still, neither team could stop the other’s offense.
At the same time one field over, UNC-Wilmington appeared in their second straight prequarter matchup against consistent contender Harvard. Like the TUFF-Dogs of War game next door, both teams were extremely successful on offense and couldn’t find the turnovers on D. UNC-W used raw emotion (some of which came from their electric parental fanbase) and athleticism to push the game pace, while Harvard were controlled and clinical, finding only the “right” cuts to throw to. Yesterday I spoke to the importance of knowing who you are as a team at the national level. These two teams certainly did this, sticking to their own gameplans and what got them to Nationals in the first place.
As both games approached cap, unlike the surprisingly perfect weather on the weekend, the winds of change suddenly picked up. Even still, the teams continued to trade points, but the pressure was visibly mounting and the excitement exponentially grew with it. The soft cap horn sounded, capping the Texas-UCF game at 15, and the UNC-W-Harvard game at 14. Still, the teams traded, setting up double game point for both tilts.
The first DGP pull was received by UCF and they once again marched down the field with only a few throws. After a half-field huck put UCF on the doorstep, a call was made and play stopped. This allowed Texas to reset their endzone defense and TUFF ultimately forced a sideline throw away from the Dogs of War. Then, on the most important game of the season, Texas illustrated their reasoning for selecting Mitchell Bennett as their Callahan nominee. After working up the field on a series of in cuts, a slightly bladey backhand was put up to Bennett in the end zone. UCF saw the huck coming, and tallest player on UCF, Stuart Little, was in position to get the skying block. Finally, predictability took a backseat to fate, and Bennett hauled the disc in over Little and his original defender for the double game point win. An ending not even benefactors Texas could have predicted.
After a sprint over the cart path, I picked up the UNC-Wilmington v. Harvard game with the final point already well in progress. Fans flooded the only remaining game still in action to see #11 Jack Williams for UNC-W get an unpredictably massive layout block on the end zone line. The Wilmington sideline erupted again like they had all weekend in support for their team, and the players seemed to feed off of it even more than before. Two throws later, Williams once again came through with a skying catch just in front of the end zone. A simple, uncontested 5 yard pass finished off Redline in exciting fashion. The explosion of pride from the UNC-W parents admittedly brought a tear to my eye. What can I say? I’m a sucker for seeing parents so proud of their offspring. But I know for certain, I was not the only moist eye on the sideline. It was a spine-tingling moment, to say the least.
When looking back on these prequarter matches, the immediate feeling will not be one of boring predictability, but of incredible, unbelievable excitement. While games and teams still alive in the 2014 national tournament are somewhat expected, the results, and more specifically how the results are earned, are far from it. So if you’re looking for amazing ultimate in the open division, just be patient!