In an effort to get to the really good stuff first, we’ll start with the day’s last round.
The biggest surprise was Minnesota v. Massachusetts – not necessarily the result, but that the overall one and four seeds in the tournament met in the pre-quarterfinal round. In what was a rematch of the 2016 College Easterns final, Minnesota turned the table on Massachusetts. UMass broke first, but Minnesota got it back early on. They tacked on another to take half and held their ensuing O point. That pretty much sealed it at 9-6. Like we saw earlier in pool play, when UMass is on top, they can steamroll teams. But when they’re down to solid opponents, they struggled to come back. Minnesota’s size presents an unusual problem – their O line probably averages 6’3", and one of their best huckers, with his six-and-a-half foot (give or take a little) wing span is hard to mark. Jeff Babbitt was still a monster for UMass, skying people with several inches on him and running down throws that looked way out of reach, but he also looked a little tired at times. In the end, the four seed eliminated the one seed 14-10 in front of a packed sideline.
The bottom half of the bracket is packed. Minnesota will face Colorado tomorrow morning, while Wisconsin will take on Pittsburgh. Despite their defensive line still having some trouble converting the break chances they earn, and there are plenty, Pitt easily defeated Texas A&M, 15-9. Pitt got some help from Dozen miscues, but they also forced turns with their aggressive defense and ability to win battles in the air. They’ll have a much harder time against the Hodags tomorrow morning, who rolled teams through pool play. I’d expect seeing a lot of line crossovers from Pitt, with people like Trent Dillon and Max Thorne playing both offense and defense to try and generate some additional conversions. Wisconsin is 2-0 against Pitt this season, and the last time the teams met was in the finals at Stanford Invite. Wisconsin won that game 15-13 after Pitt called a timeout they didn’t have when they were nearing a break they needed to tie and gave the disc back to Wisconsin. Tomorrow’s match up won’t be short on intensity.
On the top half of the bracket, Harvard defeated Ego and will take on the top finisher from Pool A, Georgia, tomorrow morning. Basically, John Stubbs and Mark Vandenberg ran amok – combining for a majority of Red Line’s goals and assists and earning Ds around the field. After riding the StubbsBerg wave to a 9-6 lead, things got tight for Red Line. Ego scored three straight to tie the game. But Harvard didn’t panic. They held with a standard Vandenberg to Stubbs goal, and two consecutive miscommunications between the Oregon handlers and cutters turned into breaks for Red Line, now up 12-9. The teams traded the next few goals until Harvard sealed the game 15-12 to advance.
After a crazy 16-15 come-from-behind win against Case Western and a drawn-out game with Colorado, North Carolina looked winded this afternoon. And then they had to go straight into the pre-quarters against Michigan. It likely wasn’t the scenario Darkside had envisioned, but their multiple close-game wins this weekend have already proven the team’s mental toughness. As has become their norm it seems, Darkside gave up the game’s first break – at 1-1. But they weren’t down long. The UNC defense is 1. short, and 2. not afraid to take chances. Their short guys have a knack for sneaking into throwing lanes and launching themselves around the field. And when they get turns, guys like Walker Matthews don’t have any qualms with taking shots downfield. When it works, it’s great for Darkside. When it doesn’t they grind to get it back. The same routine played out against Michigan. They got that early break back at 6-5 and got another to take half and yet another right out of halftime to go up 9-7. That lead carried them through the rest of the game. They ended up winning 15-12 and will face Pool D champions, Auburn, in tomorrow morning’s quarterfinals.
And now for some stuff about pool play.
Georgia clinched the pool with a first-round win over Cal Poly-SLO this morning. Slocore got two early breaks, taking advantage of turnovers but not necessarily generating them with their defense. Georgia came out looking a little flat, lacking some of the intensity they played with yesterday. A few just-missed throws here and there and a couple cuts not run all the way through gave Slocore chances, and their defensive offense was stingy with the disc, until 6-4. Jojah turned up the defensive intensity and forced a couple errant throws from Slocore. They got their breaks back and traded until SLO took half at 8-7. Sam Little and George Summers were playing both ways for Georgia – Little playing every point, and leading the offense, keeping the disc moving, and running countless up-line reset cuts from the dump handler spot to reset the stall count. As the game wore on, SLO had more and more trouble stopping those up-line throws that keep the Georgia offense rolling. Field vision also set Georgia apart from SLO. SLO’s high-stall punts were often into a crowd where they hoped their tall guys could win. Georgia’s were often quick flips of the disc out into a space where a cutter had a chance to run onto it. Having big-time receivers like Nathan Haskell downfield doesn’t hurt either. Georgia took their first lead at 10-9 and kept rolling to win 15-13. The win locked them into the pool’s top spot, so they rested their starters in their last pool play game against Texas A&M.
Meanwhile, the collected version of UMass was prevailing against Texas A&M. They rolled to a 15-9 win over the Texans before being stymied again, this time by Washington. The Sundodgers led 10-8 before Zoodisc put together a six-point run to win 14-13 in the cap. The win rounded out UMass’ 3-1 record and gave them the second spot in Pool A.
Because Georgia decided to rest their starters in their game, Texas A&M ended up with a 2-2 record, instead of what easily could have been 1-3. The win made their road to the pre-quarters much simpler. When Washington defeated Cal Poly-SLO in the last round of pool play, their spot in the championship bracket was solidified. Had SLO won, their head-to-head win over A&M would have slotted them into the third spot instead.
In their last six College Championships appearances the only other time Colorado won their pool was in 2014 – the last time they won a national title. Coincidence? I guess we’ll find out in the next couple days. Mamabird looks strong this weekend. They finished tied for fifth last year, but had they had Mark Rauls, they probably would have been a semifinals lock. Anyone who saw him play at the 2014 College Championships knows how quick he is, and how fast he is in a straight line, but he can also jump, which often more than makes up for his smaller stature. Between him and leaders like Pawel Janas, Oak Nelson and Jesse Fisher, Colorado earned their way to a 4-0 pool play record, including a 15-9 win over Oregon. Ego did enough to win their other three games, making up for their turnovers with impressive defensive play from guys like Jake Lambert and Adam Rees. They definitely didn’t look unbeatable, but they still finished Saturday play at 3-1, good enough for second in Pool B. Case Western is almost certainly the best fifth seed in any pool. After nearly defeating Oregon in the first round yesterday, they just missed out on an upset over North Carolina this morning. Tied at 10 all, the teams traded to 13-13, with the offensive advantage in UNC’s favor. A set play that was a tweak on UNC’s already ever-shifting vertical stack had Aaron Warshauer isolated downfield, but Case Western’s trusty big man, Tarik Akyuz got the inside position and the D. On the other end. Jake Rovner, older brother of UNC’s Marc Rovner, made a great grab over his defender for a break. UNC tied the game at 14-14 just after the soft cap blew – game to 16. Easy holds each way made it double-game point at 15 all. UNC’s standard D line took the field, with Aaron Warshauer subbed in to guard Akyuz. It paid off. After solid marks up-field, a high-stall bailout was put into the end zone, and Warshauer beat two receivers to the disc for the D. A turn each way, and JD Hastings put up a shot down the line to Matt Gouchoe-Hanas. UNC won 16-15.
Pool C was pretty much settled before the last round of pool play even got underway on Saturday. Harvard handed North Carolina-Wilmington their third loss of the weekend in the day’s second round, and Michigan outlast Connecticut. So even if Michigan had defeated UNCW and Harvard had upset Wisconsin, both teams would have ended up at 3-2, and Michigan still would have been the pool’s second seed because of their head-to-head win over Harvard. So basically, that’s to say that the last round didn’t mean much. There were a bunch of rookies racking up Nationals playing time this afternoon. Obviously, the big surprise in Pool C was the demise of UNCW. They have some talented players, but not enough that the big-name defenders on other teams are spread thin enough for them to really carry their team. The Seamen will finish out their season against Florida State tomorrow morning. They will lose some important senior talent this summer, but the good news for UNCW fans is that Jack Williams will be back in 2017. He’s a solid start for building a roster. Despite their loss in the pre-quarters, it was good to see Michigan make the championship bracket. After their rough start against Wisconsin yesterday morning, MagnUM was able to show everyone in Raleigh why they deserved to be here. 2015 U-23 National Team member Sam Greenwood initiated a lot of what Michigan put together on offense. MagnUM has a big roster with plenty of underclassmen, so we’ll likely seem them at Nationals again next year.
It truly was the pool of death. After going 2-0 on Friday, Carleton College lost both their games today and was eliminated from the championship bracket while Auburn ended up winning the pool by outlasting Minnesota in the day’s third round. But the future is bright for Carleton. They only have four seniors on their roster, and many of their biggest contributors are underclassmen. Keep an eye out for CUT in 2017. Meanwhile, my relationship with Auburn was better today. After making it to their game with Minnesota at halftime, with Grey Duck up 8-6, Aetos showed me who they really are by holding out of halftime and following it up with a break after a Grey Duck huck sailed way too close over the top of the stack and got knocked down. They traded breaks throughout the second half, but the steady hands of Ryan Landry, Garris Bugg and Michael Volz helped them hold on to secure a 14-13 win and the top spot in the pool. Despite the loss, Minnesota’s 2-2 record, because of their win over Carleton, was enough to get them through to the championship bracket.