UMass Scares at the College Championships in Pool Play, But Comes Up Short

Posted: May 24, 2014 08:09 PM

A look at University of Massachusetts Zoodisc and their first trip to the College Championships in over a quarter-centruy.

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Mason, Ohio (May 24, 2014) - The University of Massachusetts is making their first appearance at the College Championships since 1988. Despite their 0-4 record in pool play, Zoodisc has played well beyond their 19th seeding, scaring all of the teams in Pool C except North Carolina with a team of young, athletic players that have created difficult matchups for their opponents, resulting in unexpectedly close and intense games. Coach Evan Johnson, however, was far from surprised at his team’s impressive showing.

"We can play with anybody," Zoodisc coach Evan Johnson said, "It’s kind of unpredictable how we’re going to do."

The only problem, however, has been finishing with a win, largely due to their players’ inexperience showing itself at inopportune times with poor decisions that hurt them.

Massachusetts opened the tournament playing Florida State, the third seed in the pool and 10th overall. UMass stayed close throughout the game, before eventually falling on double-game point, 14-13. After a four-hour break, Massachusetts returned to action to face Texas, the top team in Pool C and third overall seed. Texas scored the first point. UMass took the next five. Texas recovered, though, and when it came time for half, UMass still led, but only by a single point, 8-7, with Texas to receive. The teams traded before Texas got a break point to make it 10-9. Trading points ensued again; the teams’ offenses held for possession after possession. UMass tied it at 14-14 to force Texas to win by two. The Texas offense held to put the pressure back on Zoodisc, and UMass looked like they would tie it again, but the disc fell to the ground for the turn in Texas’ end zone. Texas worked it back up the field for the score and the hard-fought victory to drop UMass to 0-2, with a score differential of -3. The real loss, however, came when a core member of the UMass team, Jeffrey Babbitt, landed awkwardly on a dive, injuring the ligaments in his shoulder. He would watch the rest of pool play from the sidelines, his arm in a sling.

The loss of Babbit, however, didn’t affect the team as they prepared to enter the second day of pool play, against rival Tufts and, finally, North Carolina.

"It was a ‘next man up’ kind of situation," Johnson said. "We play team defense and treat every game the same."

Unfortunately, the results were the same on day two as they were on day one. UMass’ opening game on Saturday against Tufts went to double-game point. Again, UMass was unable to come away with a win. After coming so close so many times, the lack of a win on their record was frustrating, especially going into their final game of pool play against North Carolina, who, despite the absence of star player Ben Snell, had been looking strong all weekend.

"It was tough facing North Carolina last," Johnson admitted. "We came off that tough loss to Tufts on universe point, and it was tough getting back up and ready to play after that."

After so many surprises so far in the tournament, no one would have been shocked if North Carolina Darkside suddenly found themselves in a tight game. Massachusetts, however, just didn’t have it in them anymore, falling into a 0-6 hole early and taking the loss without incident, 15-6.

The appearance of a team like UMass at the College Championships, however, is about much more than pool play and their final rank. Of their 24 rostered players, UMass lists eight freshmen and only four seniors. Their contribution to the All-Region First Team, Jeffrey Babbitt, is a sophomore. The experience they gain at Nationals by playing against the top teams in the country is profound and will likely manifest itself in the UMass ultimate program for years.

"This is just great experience," Johnson said. "The more playing time these players can get at this level is good."

2014 was the first time in a quarter century the UMass men’s team made an appearance at the College Championships. They weren’t able to pull out a win in pool play, but this time, it wasn’t really about the wins. It will not be another 25 years before they’ll be back. And the next time they make Nationals, Zoodisc will not end pool play without a victory.

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