Warm Up 2013: Tournament Recap

With defending champion Pittsburgh struggling against their defense, last year's runner-up Wisconsin took advantage and went a perfect 9-0 on the weekend. They became the first team since the 2010 National Champion Florida team to run the table at Warm Up.

The logo for Warm Up: A Florida Affair 2013.Every February, a collection of the country’s top college teams fly down to sunny Tampa, Florida, for Warm Up, an early season tournament promising lots of games (and lots of upsets). This year’s pool of teams included the four best in the country, eight of the top 25, and a handful of bubble teams and programs on the rise.

With the significantly expanded line-up this year (up from 8 to 16), teams got a look at a wide collection of out-of-region teams as marquee matchups happened almost every round.

Here’s a look at the biggest storylines coming out of the first elite level tournament of the 2013 season.

THE TITLE CONTENDERS

WISCONSIN ROLLS TO UNDEFEATED WEEKEND

The Wisconsin Hodags (#3), with a perfect 9-0 record on the weekend, become the first team since the 2010 National Championship Florida team to go undefeated at Warm Up. With a dominant performance, including two wins over defending champions Pittsburgh (#1), the Hodags have jumped into front-runner status as the best team in North America.

Wisconsin’s toughest game came against En Sabah Nur on Friday night in the showcase game under the lights. After jumping out to a 5-2 lead with three early breaks, Pitt slowly closed the gap, taking advantage of Wisco turnovers to tie it at 9-9. But the Wisconsin offense tightened the screws, with Brian Hart and Colin Camp leading the way to easy scores. Up 11-10, Wisconsin’s defense got a big block near their own endzone and punched it in for the late lead. They would hold to take the game 13-11.

The rest of the weekend they rarely looked challenged. In the finals against Texas, Wisconsin only won by three, but they lead the entire game. Just as they did in the Pitt game, they got two breaks on the first two points to set the tone. Jordan O’Neil had a big game with strong cutting and helped take Wisconsin into halftime up 8-5. Texas would manage just two breaks — despite earning multiple turns with their big four man cup — to get within one at 8-7. The Texas offense, led in this game by an unguardable Mitchell Bennett, looked good in the second half, but Wisconsin was on cruise control. Brian Hart would add some cushion with a big endzone sky on a jump ball huck for a break to put the Hodags up 12-9. They traded points to the finish, 15-12.

5th year Wisconsin coach Hector Valdivia was happy with the results from the weekend, but know they still have work to do. “We didn’t know what kind of team we were gonna be,” he said, noting that they haven’t played outside in months. “It’s encouraging we’re already at this point.”

As usual, the entire Hodag roster got playing time — the only game where they didn’t have open rotations was against Pitt on Friday. “I think one of the reasons we’ve been good for so long is that we give everybody playing time,” said Valdivia.

Considering that the last three Warm Up champions (Florida, Carleton, Pittsburgh) have gone on to win the College Championships, I asked Valdivia if he felt this was Wisconsin’s year to return to the top. He said that the team was “looking pretty good right now” but that the additional pressure of playing at home in Madison this year will be more of a challenge than an advantage.

In 2010, the last time Nationals was in Madison, there were “a lot of distractions” that caused the team to have a poor showing. Valdivia singled out not staying together in a hotel as a real issue — “we’re gonna try and rent a house this year,” he said.

Overall, though, Wisconsin has to be feeling good. Brian Hart was the standout player of the tournament, and the rookie talent is very impressive. Their defensive intensity was unmatched at the tournament — in the majority of their games, the Hodags jumped out to an early two point lead with fiery, athletic man D. Their offensive line rarely gave away breaks, as Colin Camp led the way with strong cutting.

TEXAS QUIETLY GETS TO FINALS

The face of the Texas team — NexGen star Will Driscoll — is a good encapsulation of the team: tall, athletic, and mild-mannered. With a 7-2 weekend (both losses coming to eventual champions Wisconsin), Texas excelled in the windy Saturday conditions and got quality wins over Central Florida (#4) (twice) and Carleton (#2). However, they played much closer — and nearly lost — against Dartmouth (#17) and Massachusetts.

Texas, in contrast to some of the other big name teams at Warm Up, didn’t have any particular players who stood out as dominant. Driscoll, for as big a name as he is, does not dominate the offense. Bennett stood out as a strong O line cutter in some games, but was less visible in others.

The depth of Texas is something coach Calvin Lin sees as a strength. “We definitely have some good throwers,” he said. “And we’ve got some height…We’re a really deep team.” Their height — half of their players are over 6′ tall — was a big component of their success. Their zone gave teams real trouble, using a huge 4 man cup to challenge teams to beat them with hammers. The only team that really did — Wisconsin — beat them. The others struggled.

But not everyone saw their zone as intimidating. Andrew Roca, the coach of Central Florida, said, “Texas was the easiest zone we played against the whole weekend,” adding that endzone mistakes were what cost them their two games.

Apparently something was working, though, as Texas rolled through them twice, 13-7 and 12-7.

Texas, though, is still figuring out who will step up as playmakers later in the season. They were working on rotations, even on the offensive line. Right now, this team still has a lot to prove, as they only beat teams (UCF and Carleton) who were missing key starters to injury.

PITT SUFFERING SOME POST-TITLE MALAISE

Pittsburgh (#1) came into this tournament looking like the clear favorite to repeat as Warm Up champion. With a strong batch of returners, including standout duo Alex Thorne and Tyler Degirolamo, coupled with a strong program, Pitt looked poised to dominate this weekend.

But it got off to an inauspicious start with a big loss to Florida. They rebounded nicely against Carleton, but fell against Wisconsin on Friday night. They would have to grind out three straight close wins over UCF, Dartmouth, and Florida (quarters) before falling to Wisconsin again.

Coach Nick Kaczmarek thought the team did not play well against Wisconsin in either game. “They outmatched us defensively and in offensive fundamentals in both games,” he said. “We struggled to make adjustments, particularly in semifinals.”

He was also impressed with Florida and Dartmouth’s defense, which gave them trouble in each of their games.

This team has a lot of work to do, and Kaczmarek recognizes that.

“We like to always ask the question: ‘What went right and what went wrong?'” he said. “When things go right, we replicate. When things go wrong, we revise. We got a pretty clear answer to that question, so we know the direction we have to go.

“We take a lot of pride in preparation. It is the backbone of what we do. We need to be stronger. We need to be faster. We need to be more skilled. We need to be smarter. And so we need to work.”

CARLETON LOSES QUITE A FEW, BUT SHOWS SIGNS OF BRILLIANCE

Carleton CUT (#2), dressed in spray-painted sleeveless white t-shirts, didn’t look like the kind of team that came to win. And, largely, they didn’t — they went 5-4 with losses to Wisconsin, Texas, Pitt, and Florida State. Almost all of their games, even against teams well below their level, were close.

It’s important to remember that this is a team that is focused, even at this point in the season, on developing its rookies. They played without Justin Norden (hamstring), perhaps their best player — although Nick Stuart might have something to say about that after the way he played this weekend.

It’s too bad Carleton missed the Sunday bracket, as it would have been good to see them in a more “must-win” scenario. It would be a mistake to weigh these results too much. At times, Carleton looked like the most explosive team at the tournament behind Wisconsin. Simon Montague and Stuart were dominating on both sides of the disc.

THE SOUTHEAST IS STRONGER THAN EVER

CENTRAL FLORIDA GETS WINS WITHOUT THEIR STARS

The Dogs of War didn’t win their big games against Pittsburgh and Texas, but they did finish 6-4 with wins over Dartmouth (#17) and Florida State (#11). They did that without their star cutter, 6’7″ Mischa Freystaetter, who was away for the weekend at a wedding. They were also without four other starters — Michael Hickson (hamstring), Terry Murphy (hip), Tommy Hankin (knee), and Jeremy Langdon (shoulder) — for most of the weekend. Between Freystaetter and the 6’5″ Hickson, said coach Andrew Roca, “that was 13 feet of height we were missing.”

So the injury-ridden team had to rely on their rookies and younger players to step up for the weekend. But they did. “It was fueled young guys,” said Roca. “Our playmakers didn’t get as much notice as our young guys…Our freshman presence is so much bigger this year.”

Part of that was intentional, however. Roca explained that he is working to get the team to be less reliant on their biggest threats, particularly Freystaetter. He wants his handlers to get comfortable playing without the bailout option of a really tall guy cutting deep.

After a quarterfinals finish at the College Championships last year, this is still the best team in the Southeast. When they get healthy, they will be very tough to beat.

FLORIDA STATE TWO POINTS AWAY FROM GOING UNDEFEATED

In our preview of Warm Up, we mentioned the bizarre seeding that #11 ranked Florida State got in the tournament: 14th out of 16. DUF proved that they clearly deserved a higher seed, going 7-2 with universe point losses to Carleton (#2) and Central Florida (#4).

Their low seed, explained tournament director and Florida coach Cyle van Auken, was not indicative of their relative ranking. “Matchups were just made to get diversity,” he said. It does seem that Florida State should have had the two seed in place of Georgia in their pool, but FSU was a late add to the tournament and were placed as the four seed.

In some ways, it helped FSU, who had a much easier schedule than top seed Carleton. Due to an unusual tournament format that advanced the team with the top overall record in each pool, FSU advanced into the championship bracket, despite losing head-to-head to Carleton (they later beat them in a placement game 13-8 on Sunday).

Coach Peter Van De Burgt said the low seed “kind of worked both ways for us.” With the lighter schedule they advanced easily, but they also would have liked more games against the top teams.

Against those top teams, FSU finished 1-2, but had the disc with a chance to win it on universe both times. They lost to Arizona (#10) in the finals of the Santa Barbara Invite in the same fashion.

“We have a lot of talent and we’re all on the same page,” said Van De Burgt, noting that they still need to get better against the zone and in the wind (something they rarely see in Tallahassee).

FSU now has just three losses on the season, all to top 10 teams, all on universe point. With convincing wins over Dartmouth and Georgia, overlooking this team would be a mistake. Junior Chris LaRocque was one of the biggest playmakers of the weekend, dominating his matchups and flying high in the endzone to pull down big scores.

Van De Burgt summed it up: “I think we’re one of the best teams in the nation.”

FLORIDA IS BACK

Very little chatter has focused on Florida so far this season, after they had a poor Fall performance. But the Gators showed that they are very much a Southeast contender this season early on in Warm Up. In the second round, they blew out top-ranked Pittsburgh 13-7 with impressive performances on both sides of the disc.

Pitt, who was playing in their first game of the year, was experimenting with lines and didn’t have a great game. But Florida nonetheless beat them squarely, setting up an exciting rematch in the quarterfinals on Sunday.

That game, which Pitt won on universe point, was chippy and heated throughout. At one point, a Pitt player went up for a disc and came down with his foot clearly on the line. He called himself in. Florida, outraged, tried to get him to change the call. But it wasn’t going to happen. Pitt’s Alex Thorne said on the sideline, “There’s no such thing as a bad call in this game,” capturing the tone of the game.

Pitt would come away with the victory, but one thing was certain: Friday’s game was no fluke.

Florida only lost badly once — to Wisconsin — and clearly showed they are a top 25 team with good games against the best and a win over Georgia Tech (#21). Last year’s Southeast Region Freshman of the Year Bobby Ley was outstanding for Florida, making big plays in the biggest games.

He highlights one of the stories about Florida: they’re young. Coach Cyle van Auken explained that they have two sophomores and one freshman on the offensive line. However, in contrast to years of Florida teams, they also have a strong bench. “We’re legitimately 15 or 16 deep,” said van Auken.

Last year and this fall, this team wasn’t great. So what’s changed? “The big difference this year is that we had Cyle move to Gainesville,” said captain Jason Silverman. The entire mindset of the team has changed, he explained, calling them “much more disciplined.”

This is the first team in the Florida program history that they have a dedicated coach who comes to practice and leads the team. Everyone we spoke to on the Florida roster confirmed that it was the biggest reason for their improvement — and why they think they’ll challenge for Southeast supremacy.

“Win it all. That’s our only goal,” said van Auken. He said they’re mostly focused on getting through Central Florida at Regionals first. What about Florida State? No, said van Auken, “they’ve never been a team that we’ve been afraid of.”

THE BEST OF THE REST

DARTMOUTH INCONSISTENT

Dartmouth is looking to break through from the New England region for the first time this year and came down to Warm Up to get some early tests against the best in the country. Against the best, they lost, but played at a very high level. They were ahead on Pittsburgh on Saturday until the very end (they lost 14-12), they lost to Texas on universe (and had they known the cap was on they would have won), and they played close against Central Florida.

But they lost to Georgia Tech, and got blown out by Florida State, leaving them with an 0-5 record against top 25 teams on the weekend. They also barely beat Cornell, who lost all their games this weekend.

The team absolutely has the potential to be very good, but they have a lot of work to put in. They got “a lot of learning” this weekend, said coach Brook Martin (formerly of Oregon and Sockeye). “It’s a lot of relearning what we did in the fall,” he added.

Martin explained that the team is looking to build depth, which is what cost them a bid to Nationals last year. He thinks they focused too much on “milking the rankings” to try to earn another New England bid, which ultimately led them to be unprepared for the deeper Tufts team.

“I think the story in our region is that there are no powerhouse teams…,” he said. “I think Regionals is gonna be a real battle.” He does believe that they are the best in New England right now, pointing to a fall win over Harvard. “I think they have a hard time covering our offense,” he said.

He’s more worried about the other, less talked about teams in the region, like Williams (#23) and UVM. With less knowledge about the teams strengths and weaknesses, they will be “wild cards” at Regionals.

DAYTON GETS SOME IMPRESSIVE WINS

A program undoubtedly on the rise, Dayton — the second to last seed at Warm Up — should be turning some heads after their weekend’s results. After going 0-4 on Friday, Dayton excelled on the windier Saturday, notching three straight wins over Cornell, South Florida, and Georgia Tech. They finished on Sunday with a universe point loss to Carleton.

“This is the biggest tournament we’ve ever been to…,” said captain Mark Fedorenko, one of the bigger stars of the weekend. “These are just huge wins for us.”

With a small roster traveling to Florida (just 15 of their 27 made the trip), Dayton showed some grit that should help them achieve their goal this year: to be in the hunt at Regionals.

“We made it our goal to play a competitive second day at Regionals,” said team President Adam Tardio. They are working to rebuild after graduating six handlers, but, with a renewed focus and good leadership, look like they are in a good position to become a more talked-about team. With 12 freshman on the A team roster, keep an eye on these guys in the coming years.

QUICK HITS

Georgia Tech (#21), aside from their loss to Dayton, had a decent weekend with wins over Dartmouth and Georgia. But they have an uphill battle in the strong Southeast after a loss to Florida this weekend. They seem to still be adjusting to the post-Nick Lance era.

Massachusetts didn’t get any notable wins, but they did play to universe against Texas and were within two against Florida. It’s understandable that Dartmouth’s coach is concerned about teams like UMass at Regionals this year.

Cornell, missing a handful of offensive starters, went 0-8 on the weekend. Not a great start for the perennial qualifier out of the Metro East. They seem particularly susceptible to missing Nationals this year.

Georgia remains a bubble team. Good, but not in the top 25. All of their losses this season have come against ranked teams. They’ll have a lot of work to do to get past the Florida teams in the Southeast.

Coaches matter. It’s becoming increasingly clear that teams can really benefit from a strong coach. Florida credits much of their success to Cyle van Auken (who, by the way, is fresh off of coaching Doublewide to a National Club Championship). Other programs have seen rapid improvement (i.e. Dartmouth) after adding a legitimate coach. Look no further than Andrew Roca, UCF’s coach and back-to-back Southeast Region Coach of the Year: he led UCF to a lot of wins this weekend despite the team missing a big chunk of its starting lineup.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

  2. Wes Cronk
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    Wesley Cronk is the Vice President of Business Development of Ultiworld. Originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, he started playing ultimate in high school and split his college ultimate between the University of Florida and New York University. He has played open club with Vicious Cycle (Gainesville) and Fox Trot Swag Team Unity (New York). He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can reach him by email (wes@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@wescronk).

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