By: Grant Lindsley
While the breeze that pushed across the field complex at the College Championships helped cool the humid 90-degree temperature, it hurt the throws of all but the most talented teams. Those that arrived in Milwaukee prepared to run zone defense sets and alter cutting schemes and throwing mechanics to the conditions held a significant advantage. If any single feature unites the men’s division in 2018, it is hair dye: frosted tips, total bleach, a splash of red, a dash of purple. Nearly every team has at least one.
With only three exceptions, the top teams won, and they won convincingly. Carleton College CUT and UNC Darkside maintain the expectation that they’ll meet each other in a highly anticipated final. Oregon has a hope, and the highly competitive Pool D trio of Washington/Brown/Pittsburgh also looks for a deep tournament run.
Pitt matched up against Florida State DUF to begin the day, and DUF looked ready to hang with the big names, making up for any perceived weakness with effort. DUF contested nearly every pass early on with multiple defenders laying out onto the turf in the first minute of game play. DUF’s early intensity kept them even with Pitt to 5-5. Pitt’s Michael Ing struggled early to complete backhand hucks. But Pitt En Sabah Nur found a groove and eventually cruised to a comfortable victory: 15-9 Pitt.
Meanwhile, Victoria also hung for longer than expected against the Washington Sundodgers, bringing the game within one point at 9-10. Misthrows and dropped discs on both sides led to sloppy play in general. The Sundodgers’ Nick Roberts made a few errors early on but adjusted late with the supportive coaching of Mark Burton, who could be overheard telling him to find his “happy place.” Both teams found success during their moments of disciplined handler movement.
UNC expected to take care of UConn, and they did. While UConn scored a respectable seven points, UNC simply overpowered their first-round opponent. Finally, Minnesota Grey Duck avoided an early upset from William & Mary. Neither team looked especially solid, with a number of unforced errors on offense, but Grey Duck comfortably won in the end, 15-8.
The wind picked up to a noticeable 12 mph for Carleton CUT’s first game of the day against UMass, a rematch of last year’s semifinal. UMass coach Tiina Booth struggles more than any of her own players with the rule against swearing, and this game likely tested her resolve. UMass could hardly move the disc across the field. CUT dominated. Their O line marched into the end zone, and their d-line generated turns. Half 8-2; final score 15-6.
It was a relief to see Nick Vogt healthy and on the field in the Wisconsin Hodags’ first game versus Georgetown, who put up a good fight. Georgetown brought an intensity on defensive play and sideline energy that almost matched the sideline full of local Wisconsin fans. The local boys pulled out the win in the wind, 12-8.
Georgia v. Maryland gave the day its first double-game-point ending. Georgia’s already-shallow roster of 23 was further hampered by a number of injuries. Only a late run secured Jojah an 8-7 lead at halftime. Maryland hung for as long as they could, pushing the game to 13-13 before Jojah punched in the final goal.
Auburn Aetos hoped to upset Stanford in their effort to break seed and qualify for the pre-quarterfinals, and they did so convincingly, taking half 8-3. But Aetos sustained a major blow in the injury of #23 Marty Newman, seen on the sidelines with crutches and an ice pack on his right knee. His absence will hurt. Meanwhile, Stanford’s Callahan finalist, #23, Gabe Hernandez, played despite a torn ACL he suffered at regionals to carry Bloodthirsty to this tournament. Besides a brace bulging beneath his pants, he looked quick enough in the backfield to direct Bloodthirsty’s offense. But it wasn’t enough to overcome Aetos, who finished with a solid 14-7 victory.
UNC Darkside v. Minnesota offered an early glimpse of two teams at the top of the division. Within a few points, however, it was clear that only one team was elite. The wind did not seem to affect Darkside, whose hucks were on point. Grey Duck, on the other hand, could hardly complete three passes in a row. UNC stormed to half 8-1. Final score: a thumping 15-4.
Texas looked solid against William & Mary, who, despite scoring nine goals, didn’t appear to have much of a chance. Both teams struggled with the light wind, which does not bode well for later match ups. Elsewhere, Pittsburgh quietly finished an undefeated 2-0 day by beating Victoria 14-8. Finally, Brown started their College Championships off as they’d hoped with a smooth 15-6 victory over Florida State. Brown’s offense was notably patient, especially given their youthful leadership in freshman John Randolph and sophomore Ken Noh.
Oregon Ego v. Georgia was tight early on, but only early on. Ego cruised to an 8-3 lead at half, who didn’t look back on their way to a decisive 15-7 victory. Georgia struggled to keep throws from sailing in the wind. Despite a knee brace and rumors of an injury, Ego’s Will Lohre looked fast and dominant.
Auburn Aetos sought their second upset of the day over UMass, and they kept the game close during the first half. But Aetos’ many errant hucks showed they simply didn’t have the discipline on offense to beat UMass, who was more content to work the disc methodically up the field. UMass recovered from their earlier loss, winning 15-8. To Auburn’s credit, they have the best sideline cheers at the College Championships. Crab people.
Maryland wanted to surprise Wisconsin, especially after their earlier double-game-point loss to Georgia. They might have even wanted it too much, making numerous questionable calls late in the game. The chippiness was mutual, however, with fans bemoaning the stop-and-go nature of a game with both teams making consistent dubious calls. Wisconsin’s O line was anchored by Chris Wilen, who, nearing age 30, somehow maintains his college eligibility. A fantastic grab from Stephen Lafleur in the upwind end zone brought Maryland back to 9-9, but the two teams traded points until Wisconsin eked out a win, 11-10, with Nock Vogt bringing down a contested scoober in traffic.
Despite Stanford’s third seed in the pool, one could see some despair settling over the team after their loss to Auburn and the notable limp in the step of their physical-emotional-spiritual leader Gabe Hernandez. Bloodthirsty’s troubles continued against the pool’s fifth seed Northwestern NUT. The Northwestern boys work hard and celebrate hard, and they took half 8-7. NUT continued to throw a zone, and Stanford continued to struggle against it. NUT emerged victorious 15-10, gaining confidence that they’d need in their final game of the day against top-seeded Carleton.
The rhyming matchup of Carleton CUT v. Northwestern NUT was not expected to be close. Top seed CUT held their own, and head coach Phil Bowen expressed excitement for CUT’s chance to play against NUT’s solid zone defense. NUT, the pool’s bottom seed, to their credit, generated a considerable number of turnovers with their aggressive defense but weren’t able to convert them into goals. CUT 15 – NUT 8.
Oregon Ego v. Georgetown, another top- v. bottom-seed match up, played out in similar fashion. Ego cruised to their second dominant win of day one, 15-6. Elsewhere, Texas v. UConn was a fiery, close game, with UConn taking a surprisingly commanding halftime lead, 8-5. But Texas stormed back to tie the game late under the huge playmaking ability of Reese Bowman. They were able to tie the game at 10s before finally pulling away for the comeback win, 15-11.
The most anticipated game of the day, overall four seed Brown v. five seed Washington, did not disappoint. Washington crushed Brown earlier this season, but Brown’s young cast had noticeably grown together since the regular season. The Washington Sundodgers sport a suite of inflatable objects along the sideline, including a six-foot Sharpie marker that goal scorers like Jake Steen could use to “sign” autographs for celebrating goals. Washington’s Derek Mourad handblocked an early huck attempt from Brown star Mac Hecht, who generally struggled to throw upfield around Mourad’s active mark. Washington’s Nick Roberts found his happy place following struggles earlier in the day, dropping a beautiful flick huck for a goal from an off-balance position on the sideline for a 10-9 lead. Brown’s freshman standout John Randolph shouldered the offense early but took a substitution with what looked like a calf muscle cramp and sat on the sideline for the rest of the game. Randolph’s absence certainly hurt, as Washington completed great deep shots to an early and important upset: Sundodgers 14 – Brown 12.