By: Grant Lindsley
The Carleton Ultimate Team seeks back-to-back titles. After winning it all last year, their core remains: familiar names such as Henry Fisher and Alex Olsen anchor the offense. Eric Taylor and Sol Yanuck lead the D. But this team is far from top-heavy, with talent, height and speed running all through the roster to make one of the deepest college teams in recent history. Unsurprisingly, CUT’s solid 33-2 season record and regional dominance earned them the number one overall seed at this year’s College Championships in Milwaukee.
But it’s a mistake to assume the outcome of Nationals is a foregone conclusion. It’s worth noting the danger of CUT’s position. There will be 19 other teams in Milwaukee dying for the chance to hit the target on CUT’s back. The boys from Northfield, Minn., also face the hazard of dwelling on their past success, which can lead a team to a premature – and fatal – sense of satisfaction. In other words, one of CUT’s biggest challenges will be themselves.
UMass knows all too well what it’s like to come into Nationals as the number one overall seed and then fall short. They’ll be hungry to avenge their loss to CUT in last year’s national semifinal, a double-game-point showdown that had this writer biting his fingernails for the first time in years. UMass Zoodisc racked up convincing wins against top teams like Brown, Minnesota and Pittsburgh on their way to a finals appearance at Easterns and a 21-6 season record. Brett Gramann and Tannor Johnson are playmakers to watch. Crafty head coach Tiina Booth has a knack for getting the most out of a team. Expect a higher overall performance than their eighth seed suggests.
But not if Stanford can help it. On Bloodthirsty’s path to a 26-8 record this season, captain Gabe Hernandez led his team in Ds (38) and assists (96), an unusual combination of skill that only an all-around, dominant player can provide. Hernandez brings the valuable experience of playing in the club division’s National Championship final last October with Austin Doublewide. Despite their program’s longstanding tradition of national competitiveness, Bloodthirsty suffered a five-year Nationals drought that only ended last year. This is just their second consecutive year qualifying.
Which means that Auburn has an edge over Stanford in terms of experience, despite their relative newcomer status on the national scene. With four consecutive Nationals appearances, Auburn Aetos hopes to put a bow on top of their already stellar season with an upset in pool play to advance to the championship bracket. Aetos surged to semifinals of both Queen City Tune Up and Easterns during the regular season, and Martin Newman, Cory Hershey and Eric Sjostrom will try to carry their team beyond pool play in Milwaukee.
Rounding out the pool is Northwestern, who makes their first showing at the College Championships after earning the lone bid from the Great Lakes Region. But don’t count them out just because they’re the bottom seed in this pool. They beat Auburn 15-10 at Florida Warm-Up earlier this year, sport a top-notch defender in Raul Rosenfeld and will be playing with the unbridled joy of first-timers. Anything can happen.
North Carolina Darkside will be disappointed with anything but a championship. If the regular season is any indication of Nationals performance, they could get it. In UNC’s 36 games this season, they lost only once, and it was by one point (to Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of Easterns). They also walloped the number one overall seed, CUT, 13-8 in the finals of the Stanford Invite. Nathan Kwon and Elijah Long head a fiery defensive squad. Expect superb offense from Matt Gouchoe-Hanas and Alex Davis. Darkside has experience going deep in the tournament: four semis births in four straight years. They’re deep, athletic and hungry for a title.
But it’s a long road to the finals, and Minnesota Grey Duck will give UNC their first test. With a 31-7 season record and multiple players remaining from their 2016 championship team, including the explosive Tristan Van De Moortele, Grey Duck has a shot at an early upset and a deep run in the tournament. Unfortunately, they’ll be hindered by the likely absence of star cutter Cole Jurek, who sprained his LCL at regionals.
Texas TUFF had an unexceptional regular season, finishing no higher than seventh at their three regular-season tournaments. A down year for the South Central Region as a whole meant only one bid to the College Championships. Texas earned it, winning when it counted, and may be peaking at exactly the right time. At regionals, they bested three higher seeds – Colorado State, Colorado and Texas A&M – to earn a trip to Milwaukee. Noah Chambers will score goals. Keep an eye on Doublewide teammates Matthew Armour and Henry Furuta to shoulder late-game responsibilities.
William & Mary is just happy to be here (see team bio). But seriously, it’s no coincidence that their team name is Darkhorse. They accumulated an excellent 35-7 record this season and qualified for the College Championships in what was by far the most competitive and surprising regionals tournament this year (Atlantic Coast, more on that later). Granted, many of their regular-season opponents weren’t top teams, and a deep tournament run is unlikely. But it plays to their advantage to face Texas early in pool play to try pulling off an upset while their own stars are fresh. Darkhorse’s Jonny Malks has a superb pedigree, playing for 2017 men’s club semifinalist Truck Stop and 2018 likely mixed club champion Space Heater. He and Gus Norrbom will tally plenty of assists to cutters Moussa Dia and Gabe Westergren.
Last and probably least is Connecticut, who continues to build a solid program with their third consecutive win in the Metro East Region. They’ll look to beat their 13th-place finish in 2017 with Chris Bohr throwing to an offensive downfield trio of Brian Abedon, Walter Esker and Lee Martel.
Oregon has a history of excellent regular seasons followed by disappointing performances at the College Championships. While recent Ego teams made steady progress with a string of semifinal appearances from 2012-2015 in the era of Dylan Freechild, they haven’t made it back since the departure of Spikezilla. The last time Ego won a title was all the way back in 1992 (beating Cornell 21-15). But this year is a new hope. Ego has some of the best players in the college game: Cutter Will Lohre scored over 100 goals this season, Colton Clark throws receivers open at will, and Adam Rees is a baller on both sides of the disc. Another semifinal appearance wouldn’t be surprising, but then again neither would an early exit. Does Ego have what it takes to reach – or win – the finals?
Jojah went unchallenged through Southeast Regionals to qualify with a high six seed overall at the College Championships. However, the boys in red struggled against teams early in the season, losing close games at Queen City to non-Nationals teams North Carolina State and Tufts. John Langstaff and Jason Jones intend to put any doubts to rest, hoping to throw their way out of Pool C and into a quarterfinals appearance. Skilled receivers Mason Cary and Sam Batson will look to pull down the long shots.
The storied Wisconsin Hodags qualified for the College Championships for their 19th straight year. They come in at a respectable 10 seed after getting demolished twice at the North Central Regionals by CUT, 13-5 in pool play and 15-6 in finals. But before counting the Hodags out as a potential quarterfinalist, notice that Wisco’s only losses since the early season Florida Warm-Up tournament have been to Carleton College, UNC and Oregon, the top three seeds overall at the College Championships. With Nationals in their home state, expect the Hodags to have plenty of fans, too. Nick Vogt is a dynamic threat back and downfield; John Tan will also make big plays as a cutter; lefty David Yu will give fits to opposing teams’ defenses. Could they sneak into semis? Maybe “Hodag love” is all you need.
But not if Maryland has anything to do with it. Their slogan, “Ruining it for others since 1989,” will prove true if they can pull of an upset against their higher-seeded poolmates. And it’s possible, especially with a team style like Maryland’s, which can be summed up in a word: hucking. If there’s no wind in Milwaukee, and if receivers Jeremy Hess, Sam Besse and Alex Liu’s calves are feeling springy, Maryland could ride the momentum of big plays into unexpected victories. Of course, if there is wind or if Adam Weiss and Jeremy Knopf’s throws are off, then it’s equally possible that Maryland only ruins it for themselves.
Finally, there’s North Carolina-Wilmington, runner-up in last year’s College Championships, looking to go deep into this year’s – wait, UNC-W isn’t at Nationals this year? It’s true. If you haven’t already seen the final moments of Georgetown’s double-game-point win over UNC-W to advance to the bracket of Atlantic Coast Regionals, pause to do so. (Technically, William & Mary, not Georgetown, eliminated UNC-W in a later backdoor game en route to the second/third-place qualifier, but Georgetown deserves credit for pulling the spectacular string that eventually unraveled last year’s finalist). Georgetown’s Max Cohen-Casado will continue to huck and hope in Milwaukee, and receivers Christian Boxley and Matt Cullom will try to pull them out of the air. Clearly not a risk-averse team, Georgetown will live and die by their gun-slinging approach. Ok, probably die. But maybe live!
Pool D stands for Death. Top seed Brown has their work cut out for them if they want to advance undefeated into quarterfinals. It has been 10 years since Brownian Motion qualified for the College Championships, but mere qualification offers no satisfaction for this young, hungry team. They get down on the pull fast. They run effective zone and man defenses. They have the chops for a deep tournament run: BMo is the only team in the country besides UNC to beat CUT this year (12-11 in pool play of Florida Warm-Up). They also have the confidence: The team believes they possess the best deep threat (Charlie Holtz), best backhand (Eli Motycka) and best forehand (Mac Hecht) in the entire college division.
But then there’s Washington, a dangerous number five overall seed who handed Brown the worst loss of its season at the Stanford Invite (7-13). Brown must be disappointed to have drawn this matchup so early in the tournament. The Washington Sundodgers put together an impressive 35-7 season record and boast serious speed in downfield cutters Jake Steen, Lucas Chen and Michael Buyco. Brown v. Washington should be the best game of day one. A must-watch.
As if these two top teams weren’t enough talent in one pool, Pittsburgh rounds out the top-heavy Pool D. Pitt achieved something that not a single other team did this year: a win over UNC. While past victories guarantee nothing in the future, it’s clear that Pitt can hang with the best. Pitt lost games to both Brown and Washington at the Stanford Invite, but each game was close. Michael Ing and Matt Hanna will play lots of points on both O and D, and Jonah Wisch will be the primary distributor on offense.
Winning Pool D means a bye into quarterfinals, while finishing 2nd or 3rd means an additional game in a pre-quarterfinals round against another strong opponent late on Saturday. That third game fatigues a team significantly, so much so that it’s, at best, very rare for a team forced to play in pre-quarters to advance to the finals, let along win. But – after going 2-2 in pool play, Minnesota Grey Duck accomplished that exact feat in 2016, defeating UMass in the pre-quarters before advancing to and winning the championship game. But they may be the only team to do it. Historical stats aside, the point is that the stakes are high to win this pool. All three teams entertain legitimate semifinal hopes, but a pre-quarter game will be a major setback.
With such a strong top three, it’s likely that the only close game Victoria and Florida State have will be against each other. For Victoria, Devon Thomson will look to build on his excellent performance at regionals; David Whitney-Brown will look to dismantle other teams’ defenses with an array of throws; Patrick Church will have his hands full guarding some of the best players in the college division during pool play. Florida State tacked together an incredible string of victories at Southeast Regionals to eventually eliminate the University of Florida from College Championships contention. Look for combinations between handler Scott Moore and cutter Stephen Muir. On defense, Bobby Larsen and Tim Lootens will try to contain opposing teams’ toughest matchups.
GAMES TO WATCH
Fans, you’ll be delighted to learn that none of the projected best matchups in pool play conflict with one another (barring any Georgetown-esque upsets – have you watched that video yet?). Here are the games to watch, presented in chronological order for ease of planning a day of spectatorship.
Carleton College v. Massachusetts 10:30 a.m., Field 6
- Rematch of last year’s semifinal. Expect both teams to have finished their homework and gotten highly caffeinated. If it’s a blowout by halftime in either direction, head over to Field 3 to watch Stanford v. Auburn; if these two hold seed against their other opponents, this 12 v. 13 matchup will determine who advances to the championship bracket.
UNC v. Minnesota 12:30 p.m., Field 1
- UNC’s first legitimate test at the College Championships. If one team gets way out ahead early on, head over to Field 4 to watch Texas v. William & Mary for the game that may determine which of those two advance to the bracket.
Oregon v. Georgia 2:30 p.m., Field 6
- Is Ego for real this year? Is Jojah?
Brown v. Washington 4:30 p.m., Field 1
- This classic Pool D 4 v. 5 seed matchup shouldn’t disappoint.
Brown v. Pittsburgh 8:30 a.m., Field 6
- Pittsburgh’s likely first test of the tournament.
UNC v. Texas 10:30 a.m., Field 4
- Another test for UNC. Also Oregon v. Wisconsin on Field 1.
Washington v. Pittsburgh 12:30 p.m., Field 8
- If either of these two have beaten Brown (as well as their lower-seed opponents), then this final round in the pool of death will determine who advances straight to quarterfinals.
Georgia v. Wisconsin 2:30 p.m., Field 6
- If either of these teams have beaten Oregon plus their lower-seed opponents, the stakes are a bye into quarters.
DARK HORSE: PITTSBURGH
UNC is arguably the team to beat at this tournament, and Pittsburgh is the only team to have beaten them. A semifinalist in 2016 and back-to-back champ in 2012-13, the program has recent history of going deep at the College Championships. If Pitt can finagle their way to the top of Pool D and earn a bye into quarters, they could ride momentum much deeper than their nine seed implies.