By: Preston Goulson
Pittsburgh v. Massachusetts
Since Pittsburgh dropped to second in their pool yesterday afternoon before progressing through the pre-quarterfinals, fans were treated to an unexpected early morning matchup of the top two overall seeds. There was a preponderance of uncharacteristic execution errors from both teams, mistakes that led to some early breaks for Massachusetts, as well as a three-break run for Pittsburgh that allowed them to take half. Zoodisc put the game back on serve shortly after half, and the frenetic pace continued. Defenders and cutters from both teams were flying all over the field, getting horizontal and creating some nasty blocks. After UMass broke to get the game to 12-11 (and with the game to 13), Pitt marched down the field, looking to hold. After a strange call negated a reception in the end zone for En Sabah Nur, the observers ruled the follow-up throw had brushed at least one blade of grass, and Massachusetts took over possession with an opportunity to break for the win. Zoodisc ambled down the field and converted with a cheeky high-release backhand flipped over the top of the marker into the break space. Massachusetts moves on to the semifinals against the best remaining North Central team.
Washington v. North Carolina-Wilmington
The most straightforward game of the quarterfinals round was UNC-Wilmington versus Washington. The Seamen created a couple breaks late in the first half to take control. Washington just couldn’t get a consistent defensive foothold after halftime; Wilmington had too many deep cuts and willing throwers for the Sundodgers to cope with. To make matters worse, whenever Washington was able to exert some pressure and create turns, they were utterly unable to string any relevant offense together. And if you give a team like the Seamen too many opportunities, they’ll boost it over, around or past you. UNC-Wilmington moves onto the semifinals, feeling good about life.
Minnesota v. Carleton College
Minnesota got the chance to reinforce their regional victory over Carleton in the quarterfinal round, and Gray Duck got going in the first half. Ben Jagt was a big component of the reigning champions racking up a couple breaks to nudge Minnesota into halftime with an 8-5 lead.
There’s a lot to like about this Carleton team, especially their ability to string together game-defining runs. Against Michigan (4-0 run) and notably against Colorado (11-2 finish), CUT put their collective feet down and absolutely crushed their opponents with veritable floods of breaks. Minnesota got to add their name to that illustrious victim list after Carleton jumped all over them out of the intermission, chalking up a hat trick of breaks out of halftime.
CUT broke for the lead at 10-9 just after the soft cap horn sounded. Minutes later, after a Gray Duck turn, Henry Fisher rode an elevator all the way to the penthouse floor and snared a huck in the end zone over the not-insignificant wingspan of Ben Jagt. It was an incredible display of athleticism put on by two of the most dominant sky patrollers in the division, and Fisher’s ability to complete the play placed Carleton in a relatively unassailable position. CUT avenged their double-game-point loss in the North Central regional final with an intimidating performance and victory.
Wisconsin v. North Carolina
We’ve been saving the best for last. Right off the bat, this game seemed to be a damp squib. Wisconsin absolutely blanketed North Carolina in the opening stages of the game. Darkside could get nothing going on offense, and before you knew it, the Hodags were up 5-0, and took half at 8-3.
Normal people might consider that goose cooked, since Wisconsin had spent the entirety of the tournament doing nothing if not flexing their defensive muscles. But there’s a reason North Carolina came into this tournament as the third overall seed, and you and I are watching from the sidelines. Darkside brought it in tight, cleared their heads and reset the scoreboard. One block at a time, one throw at a time, one catch at a time, one point at a time.
As the second half kicked off, so too did the defensive reflexes of the 2015 national champions. North Carolina started to get blocks, Wisconsin started to drop the disc, and seemingly in the blink of an eye, the Hodags’ lead had been whittled to 10-9. And then, a Kwon break leveled the game! Madness! But wait, here’s another break! Darkside had stormed all the way back from a 0-5 opening to take the lead! Pandemonium ensued.
Wisconsin called a timeout to figure out what the heck had just happened and how in the world they were going to fix it. First step: get your act together on offense and hold. Finally, Wisconsin stopped the bleeding with a restorative hold; now the onus was on their defense to get them back in with a chance to win. The Hodag D-line bolstered their chances by getting some help from the observing crew, who played a surprising role in one of the goofier and more significant plays this weekend. With Wisconsin knocking on the door after forcing a Darkside turnover, the thrower was forced to rifle a trap-side backhand into a nonexistent window. The throw was blocked by a North Carolina player and popped up in the air; the original thrower jumped forward into the end zone and toed the sideline, catching the disc as it dropped from the sky over the outstretched arms of the helpless defender. North Carolina players made desperate entreaties to the observer stationed just feet away from the play, claiming that the goal scorer had been out of bounds when he caught the disc, but the observer ruled in favor of Wisconsin, signaling for a good goal. Just the way they drew it up, right?
The Darkside plight worsened when Wisconsin broke again for 13-11; it really was now or never for this team. Carolina held, and then Nathan Kwon showed off his supreme bounciness, rising high to grab a long-range forehand laser before flipping into the end zone for the break to tie the score at 13.
Double-game point, with a berth in the semifinals up for grabs. North Carolina pulling to Wisconsin. The sidelines were now packed, since as soon as the Pittsburgh v. UMass game ended, those spectators streamed en masse the 50 yards or so across the lawn dividing the two fields. Wisconsin worked it most of the way downfield, but turned under some pressure from Darkside. Freshman Kai Marcus got the disc and unleashed a speculative huck that was more of a punt than anything. The Hodags resumed possession with their backs against their own end zone but were only able to work the disc up a handful of yards before they got too cute in the vicinity of Nathan Kwon. The sneaky defender bid into the cutting space and blocked the backhand flip pass, setting up Nate MacLeod with the space to float an insouciant forehand to Matt Gouchoe-Hanas in the back of the end zone for the game-winning goal. Despair was rampant for Wisconsin, their season ending in the most heartbreaking fashion imaginable. For North Carolina, it’s on to the next one: a matchup with their in-state rivals in the semifinal.
Semifinal #1: Massachusetts v. Carleton College
This game had all the makings of a classic from the word “go.” Hucks were flying early and often: Ben Sadok and Tannor Johnson connected on some big boosts in the early goings, and Henry Fisher showed off the posterizing skills he had flexed in the Minnesota quarterfinal game. If either team decided they weren’t interested in hucking, they opted to exclusively utilize the break side for advancing the disc downfield. Offensive movement was crisp for the first few points, until Carleton pulled out the first break of the game. After Massachusetts was ruled to have not caught the disc in the end zone, they turned the disc on the porch; CUT immediately boosted the disc to Joe White, and the game was well and truly on.
After the break, Zoodisc faced the prospect of having to hold while attacking into a moderate breeze. Seventy yards and a lot of force-side cramming later, Massachusetts sent their defense out to pull. On the ensuing point, Chris Bartoli got horizontal in a big way, laying out for two huge blocks and giving Zoodisc a platform to break and go back on serve.
Carleton broke once more before halftime, and the points immediately after the half were strong holds from both teams. But Massachusetts was running out of time, and they knew it. With Carleton leading 11-10, Coach Tiina Booth put out a kill line featuring Ben Sadok, and it worked a treat. Sadok, who had been playing magnificently all game long, took his game to the next level as we came down the home stretch. Zoodisc broke to put the game back on serve, but it didn’t take long for CUT to break for the 14-12 lead, with the game to 15.
UMass held on the ensuing possession after a nifty Sadok scoober, so, needing a pair of breaks to keep Carleton out of the final, Zoodisc ran out a similar kill line. And, since it’s Ben Sadok’s world and we’re all just living in it, he ran a one-man dominator after CUT turned the disc, punching UMass into the end zone and setting up a double-game-point finale.
On the last point, all-around studly freshman Joe White received the disc at around midfield and did something we’ve rarely seen him do this weekend: act like a freshman. His upwind backhand huck was…ambitious, and easily defended by Massachusetts. CUT got bailed out by an out-of-bounds huck from Zoodisc, and they retook possession, moving into the red zone. At this point, the Joe White we’ve come to know and love this weekend reemerged, catching the disc in the end zone to seal Carleton’s progression to the final for the first time since 2011. It was heartbreak for Massachusetts, but this was one of the best ultimate games of the year, much less the weekend.
Semifinal #2: North Carolina – North Carolina-Wilmington
Phew. Has everybody caught their breath after the first men’s semifinal of the day? Good, because you’ll need to be at 100 percent for this one. The in-state and regional rivals met for the second time this season in a rematch of the 2015 semifinal that Darkside won handily. This game was in danger of following a similar path, with North Carolina jumping all over Wilmington early and often. Jack Williams, the Seamen’s star player and Callahan Award finalist, was off his game, throwing hucks out of bounds and turning the disc uncharacteristically easily. Wilmington was able to get back on track shortly before half, bringing themselves within one break at the interval.
At the beginning of the second half, the UNC break train started to gain some momentum, aided in no small part by Wilmington drops and giveaways. This indignity awakened a slumbering Jack Williams. Bad idea. With Darkside sitting pretty at 12-8 and soft cap just minutes away, Williams did his best Greg Jennings impersonation and put the team on his back. He dunked on two North Carolina defenders on a 50-yard huck. He snagged a 30-yard hammer that was tailing away from him while laying out. And he had a hand in all four goals scored by UNC-Wilmington during the stretch to tie the game. Oh, right, I forgot to mention: three of these goals were breaks, and all of a sudden, the game was on serve. And after a couple Darkside turns near the end zone, that man Williams dropped a dime flick into Matt Ellis for the 13-12 lead. Seriously, if you blinked, you missed the most almighty of comebacks. Even after a hold from UNC, the Seamen were in a great position. Remember, soft cap had gone off with North Carolina on 12 points, so the first team to 14 would win. Wilmington had come back from the brink to within one hold of pipping their rivals to the final.
Darkside sent out their defensive studs to try to repeat the feat from earlier in the day. As the pull went up, North Carolina went about setting one of their junk zone looks, with Nathan Kwon playing a roving handler ballhawk role. Wilmington was forced into a high-pressure, high-stall around backhand to Jack Williams. The throw floated, and the predatory Kwon was there to contest the throw. Both jumped early, and the disc floated down into Williams’s hands. Kwon, mystifyingly, dropped off the mark, presumably expecting a teammate to fill the role of defending the Wilmington baller. No help came, though, and Jack Williams was able to pull a Babe Ruth and call his shot before uncorking a picture-perfect backhand to Frederick Hennighausen, just beyond the grasp of two despairing UNC defenders. The comeback was complete, and Jack Williams had just written his name into USA Ultimate lore with a performance that was truly one for the ages. This is going to be some final, isn’t it?