The 2017 College Championships kicked off this morning at Heritage Oak Park in Mason, Ohio. The road to the championship for the 20 men’s team in the field is officially underway.
If you wanted to find a surprise in round one, your best option was probably how many points Virginia Tech put up on Wisconsin. Even though the Hodags won with a comfortable five-point margin in the end, it could have been a much bigger victory. Wisconsin jumped out to a 6-1 lead before Burn started to find their footing, understandable given that it’s their first trip to College Nationals. But they’re as good as any first-time Nationals team. Burn relies heavily on give-and-goes between their handlers, with what is often a very stagnant vertical stack lying in wait downfield. Not much goes into setting up their cuts, making it easy for the defense to do their jobs. Wisconsin won 15-10.
Overall, the first round went as expected, with Pittsburgh handling Connecticut – two first-throw Ds that turned into breaks helped them get off to the start they wanted – and Oregon picked up right where they left off after the second-place game at Northwest Regionals, defeating British Columbia 15-10. Michigan took down Texas A&M, grinding down Dozen’s comparatively short roster with a mix of zone and man defensive looks.
No game was played with particularly high levels of execution, with lots of easy passes getting dropped, pretty basic dump and swing throws missed by a wide margin and deep looks either sailing or floating far too long, but it was the first round. Things are bound to settle down.
UMass likely spent most of the first game flashing back to this time last year when they were upset by Georgia in their first game of the day in the same A1 v. A2 match up. This year, A2 is Washington, and the overall eight seed started the day on a roll. But UMass is the top seed for a reason. Down 5-8 at halftime, Zoodisc held out of half before tacking on two breaks to tie the game at 8-8. The teams traded to 12-12 before UMass managed to finally pull ahead with a big break that put them up 13-12 in a game to 14. A dropped pull from Washington on game point gave UMass the disc on the goal line, and a familiar give-and-go from Ben Sadok to Brett Gramann, back to Sadok in the end zone kept the one seed from repeating last year’s start. The teams traded deep looks for most of the second half, with nearly all of Zoodisc’s deep shots coming from Sadok. For Washington, when Khalif El-salaam decided to make a deep cut, it usually worked in their favor. When he decides to take over, there are few defenders in the division who can challenge him.
Colorado State didn’t look fazed by their first-ever appearance at the College Championships. And they even got to start their weekend off on the showcase field against Stanford Bloodthirsty in Ultiworld’s first livestream of the day. The first half had some great ultimate, looking like it could have been a different world than what we saw in the first round. Stanford went into half up a single break but looked completely comfortable throughout the game and managed to pull away in the second half to get a solid four-point win.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Carleton College also got their first win of the day, defeating Auburn Aetos with a healthy looking score line. Alex Olson plays big minutes quarterbacking CUT and takes advantage of the height he has downfield, particularly in the form of 6’5” Henry Fisher. Assuming they dial in their deep looks, CUT certainly has the talent to overwhelm opponents.
In their first game at Nationals, Oregon State got the team with the longest current streak of Nationals appearances. The Beavers put up a fight, but Colorado held seed 15-12.
The higher seeds took care of business again in the third round of the day, and the superstars started to shine through even more. Pittsburgh again hit the ground running, literally, in their game against Michigan. MagnUM has a reputation for being a gritty, grind-it-out type of team that stays close with whomever they face, often playing up or down to their opponent. But Pittsburgh was too much for them early. Pittsburgh jumped out to an 8-1 lead by halftime. Michigan found their footing after half, with the score line reading 8-7 in favor of Pitt in the second half, but it was obviously too little too late. Pittsburgh rolled to their second win of the day. Wisconsin did the same, cruising to a big win over British Columbia.
Getting a late start on day one, North Carolina-Wilmington faced Texas A&M first. Dozen was already a game into their day and took advantage of a slow start from UNCW to jump ahead 2-0. UNCW called a timeout to gather themselves, and it worked. The Seamen ran off six straight, largely behind Jack Williams and JD Hastings. I know everyone is surprised. Most surprising was that Williams didn’t actually get a tick in the goal column until he scored for 12-8. But he did have four assists and a couple of Ds by that point. Hastings ran the D-line offense, often getting the disc every other and racking up a handful of assists as well.
Despite being as good as any first-year team, Virginia Tech, isn’t all that deep, and opponents can finagle their deeper, more experienced rosters to match up against them from top to bottom. The one exception is Burn’s Joe Freund. The sophomore wunderkind is a tough mark for anyone, given his combination of handling skills, which make him a realistic under-cutter, and his height and speed which make him virtually unguardable in the deep space. Of the seven points Virginia Tech scored against the defending champions from Minnesota, Freund scored or assisted on six of them. But Minnesota controlled every aspect of the game and tallied a big win.
The big game of the round was the matchup of the overall three and six seeds, North Carolina and Carleton College. Carleton jumped on top with a first-point break, but their lead didn’t last long. UNC got the break back at 2-1 and never looked back. The offensive juggernaut that is Alex Olson, Natan Lee-Engel, Henry Fisher and co., played well, but North Carolina’s junky defensive looks often did just enough to force an errant throw. The biggest differentiator was the conversion rate for UNC on break opportunities. Despite how young the line is, their defensive offense was patient, led by freshman Kai Marcus alongside sophomore Marc Rovner and juniors Matt Gouchoe-Hanas and Nathan Kwon. Darkside pulled ahead to an 8-4 lead, and that was all she wrote. Carleton threw in a couple zone looks of their own to try and stifle UNC’s offensive flow, but Darkside remained unflustered and rolled to a 15-10 win that, barring a major upset, should seal the top spot for them in Pool C.
Cal Poly-SLO was on track to get the first upset of the weekend when they jumped out to a 7-3 lead over Stanford, but the poise Stanford showed throughout the season lifted them in the second half. That this was the fourth time they’ve seen SLOCORE this season probably didn’t hurt, either. Gabe Hernandez, Cyrus Ready-Campbell Nolan Walsh helped lead Bloodthirsty through a comeback and to a 12-10 win. Instead of SLO, Auburn ended up with the first upset of the weekend with a 14-13 win over Colorado. And with their win over Colorado State, Washington did what they needed to do to stay in contention for the top spot in Pool A.
Everyone’s favorite matchup – the four versus five game – hit the fields this afternoon with Minnesota taking on Oregon. Minnesota got an early break, putting them up 3-1, and ran with it. Sam Bumsted was unstoppable for Grey Duck throughout the game. Even when the offense didn’t set up their flood stack that isolated him in space as the initiating cutter, he was able to find open windows so often that he made it look easy. And with the incredibly solid handling corps Grey Duck fielded every point – guys like Tony Poletto, Wyatt Mekler and Tristan Van De Moortele on the occasions he switched over to the offensive line – any part of the field was fair game for cutters. While the afternoon breeze wasn’t significant enough to really change outcomes, it was noticeable for many teams. Not so much for Minnesota. Their handlers navigated the conditions and made it look like it was a perfectly calm day. Oregon played well too, with strong performances from Adam Rees, Will Lohre, Ted Sither, Braedon Petrus and several others. But Minnesota just kept playing their game. They added a couple other breaks to their total throughout the game and finally closed it out with a break score on a floaty throw into the end zone. Ben Jagt did his Ben Jagt thing and pulled the disc down in traffic for the 15-11 win.
Cal Poly-SLO is playing well. They’re sticking with their opponents, but just can’t seem to get over the hump. And on the flip side, Massachusetts is winning their games, but they’re not making things any easier on themselves. Like Minnesota on the neighboring field, UMass got an early break and then another, giving them a little breathing room. They needed it. Cal Poly-SLO hung around, in large part thanks to Nathan Pettyjohn’s three goals and two assists, Ian Sweeney leading the defense and garnering three assists and freshman Justin Ting who pulled in two goals and threw two assists. Slater Levey made what was probably the play of the game with a huge layout D to knock away a huck in the end zone. But the usual suspects from UMass kept plugging away. Ben Sadok may have decided he was bored having been behind the disc throughout their first game against Washington, so instead, he and Tannor Johnson switched roles, with Johnson hucking to the nearly foot-shorter Sadok on several occasions – because he can do that too. Sadok didn’t take many breathers during the game, and even when he did, he was the general, pumping up his team from the sideline. In the end, UMass won it with an easy offensive point – centering to Sadok, a swing to Gramann who launched a backhand down the sideline to Pat Barron. UMass ends the day 2-0 but having worked a lot harder to get those wins than many might have anticipated.
Connecticut kept things close with North Carolina-Wilmington, but again, Jack Williams and JD Hastings led the way to a W, this time 15-12. And North Carolina took care of Oregon State, running away with the game early and never looking back.
Things get extra real on Saturday, with pool standings being decided and the championship bracket getting underway in the early evening. So in addition to the ones in the preview, a couple other games to watch:
Massachusetts v Stanford v. Washington – 8:30 a.m. / 12:30 p.m.
Pool A is shaping up to be a barnburner, and these are the games that will determine who gets a bye into the quarterfinals and who crosses over with Pool D in the pre-quarters. If Stanford can upset Massachusetts in the first round, it will go a long way toward them claiming the top spot. But they’ll also still have to face Washington in a game that could potentially force a three-way tie between 3-1 teams. Stay tuned.
Pittsburgh v. North Carolina-Wilmington – 10:30 a.m.
Even though it didn’t transpire last year, it feels like En Sabah Nur and the Seamen end up meeting each other at the College Championships all the time, and it’s always an exciting game. Last time it happened, in 2015, it was in the pre-quarters, and Pittsburgh knocked out the Seamen in a 14-11 game. The year before that, they met in the quarterfinals, and North Carolina-Wilmington came back to win on double-game point in an instant classic. This one could be another.