Easterns Qualifier 2013: Tournament Recap

The logo of the Easterns Qualifier 2013.AXTON, VA — With a bid to the East Coast’s top college tournament of the year (currently featuring only teams in Ultiworld’s top 25), the 2013 Easterns Qualifier was sure to be an exciting tournament for many Nationals hopefuls. With a slate of high-level tournaments scheduled for the next three weeks, this was an early look at who might be challenging the established teams for a spot in Madison in May.

UNC-W STAYS UNDEFEATED WITH EASY WIN OVER TIRED OHIO

The finals of the Easterns Qualifier, ironically, featured the two teams at the tournament who were already invited to Easterns: Ohio (#12) and North Carolina – Wilmington (#14). But it wasn’t much of a surprise. As the only two top 25 teams at the tournament and the top two seeds, their matchup looked inevitable.

Despite not fighting for a bid to Easterns, this was an important game. Both teams look, right now, to be the second-best teams in their respective regions — the bid implications of games like these are big.

After giving up a huck score to Ohio’s offense on the first point of the game, Wilmington’s defense made life very difficult for Ohio. Using a straight-up mark and tight downfield coverage, UNC-W forced a tired Ohio team into a lot of throws and pounced on their mistakes.

Mitch Cihon, Ohio’s standout player and 2013 NexGen player, looked gassed all game and, despite racking up a lot of scores, did not have a good game. He had six turnovers in the first half, four of which led to Wilmington breaks. He finished with six scores, one assist, and seven turnovers.

Wilmington’s offense line was broken just one time, late in the second half. They didn’t have much trouble against Ohio’s different defensive looks. The cracked the zone with over-the-top hammers and simply outran them in man defense.

Wilmington’s Tommy Lamar had an excellent game, looking focused and strong on offense throughout. He was their workhorse cutter and threw a handful of assists on offense.

But the Seamen defense was even more impressive than the offense. Captain Alan Gruntz was assigned to Cihon for the entirety of the game — and clearly slowed him down.

David Harum made the play of the game, with a layout score for the D line’s first break. Mark Evans and Xavier Maxstadt played outstanding pressure defense all game, frustrating Connor Haley with physical play (sometimes too physical).

Coach Greg Vassar said that they didn’t make major adjustments against Ohio, they just “worried about [their] matchups.”

“On offense, we told our guys, ‘Just run around,'” he added. With such a short roster and a heavy reliance on Cihon and Haley, Ohio — as they did against UNC in the finals of the Queen City Tune Up — looked exhausted during the final.

With the 15-10 win, UNC-Wilmington joins Wisconsin (#1), Arizona (#5), North Carolina (#6), Oregon (#8), and Texas A&M (#20) as an undefeated top 25 team. Each will play this weekend at the Stanford Invite.

Seamen Captain Tommy Lamar was encouraged by the weekend’s performance. “We hadn’t seen competition yet,” he said, “so we got stronger and stronger as the day went on.” They faced a big challenge from Maryland in the quarterfinals, where they led 13-7 but had to withstand a furious rally to win on universe point 15-14.

Vassar said, “We’re deeper than a lot of us thought…I think our team is good enough to compete with anybody out there.” They got big contributions from their rookies throughout the weekend, and have a lot of trust in them to step up in situations when they are asked to do so.

The Seamen will get their first big test next weekend at Stanford, where they come in fourth in their pool. They don’t have big expectations set, said Lamar. “We’re not looking ahead,” he explained. “We’re playing every game, game by game.”

As for Ohio, they have a few weeks off until they return to face top competition at Easterns. They are still plagued by what ailed them at QCTU: a lack of depth. When they are forced to run their top guys both ways, they can look amazing all weekend but come up way short late in the day on Sunday when legs are tired.

Certainly their top guys are capable of playing with the country’s best, but they’ll need to find a way to win games with less effort to make a dent against the best teams late in tournaments.

MICHIGAN COMES ROARING BACK AFTER QCTU FLOP

One of the most exciting parts of the college season is how quickly a team can change over the course of just a few weeks. As teams deal with roster turnover, lineup configurations, and team identity issues, it’s common to see big swings in performance during the season.

Michigan looked like an entirely different team than the one that showed up at the Queen City Tune Up, where they went 2-3 and missed the championship bracket. With a renewed energy and positivity, MagnUM rolled through the tournament to take third and earned a bid to Easterns (which they declined due to a previous commitment).

They had two losses — 15-13 heartbreakers to Wilmington in the semifinals and to Brown in pool play. They would come out on Sunday and avenge their loss to Brown with a 13-10 win.

They got a huge boost from Matt Orr, who returned to the lineup after a hamstring injury kept him out at QCTU. He had an outstanding weekend and was the tournament’s biggest playmaker.

Even more important, though, is that they have begun channeling their intensity into defense rather than negativity on the sideline. Captain Carson Mailler said the team had a sit-down meeting after QCTU to discuss being more positive and improving their spirit, something he wrote about two weeks ago.

“It’s feeling pretty good,” he said, later adding, “When you can lose a game and still have a lot of fun, you’re doing something right.”

In their heated matchup against Brown on Saturday, Michigan sideline players told their teammates to calm down and ‘use their etiquette’ when disagreements cropped up on the field.

They have immediately reentered the conversation about top teams in the Great Lakes region.

BROWN CONTINUES STRONG PLAY

After a good showing at the President’s Day Invite, Brown has proven themselves as a contender in the Northeast, which is shaping up to be one of the hardest fought regions this year. Led by the strong play of captain Charlie Kannel, Brown won five straight (including good wins over Connecticut and Michigan) before losing 15-12 to Ohio in the semis.

Thanks to Michigan turning down their bid to Easterns, Brown is very likely to accept the bid and get some run against the country’s best teams in three weeks.

Their strong play this weekend was more impressive when you consider that they played without coach Jon Jay, who the team credited with a lot of their success this season. They said that conditioning work with Tim Morrill has also helped them improve a lot since last year.”

Brown hasn’t been talked about this year as a team with a chance in the Northeast, a conversation which mostly focuses on Harvard, Dartmouth, and Tufts. Senior Matt Barnes said, “Nobody thinks we’ve got anything. It’s kind of fun to be the underdogs.”

Captain Jake Price said the team was “feeling really good” as they head into the second half of the season.

NEW APPROACH GIVING MARYLAND SUCCESS

Last year, Maryland went to seven tournaments before the Series, establishing themselves as one of the teams with the most sanctioned games in college ultimate. But they came up short at Regionals with a semifinals universe point loss to North Carolina State.

This year, they’ve entirely overhauled their approach to the regular season. They will go to just three tournaments this season (possibly 4), all of a significantly higher quality than what they attended in 2012.

They started with a late January tune up at ACCUC before heading down to Tampa for Warm Up, the most competitive tournament their program has ever attended. They lost most of their games there, but got a lot of great experience — and confidence.

“It put things in a whole different perspective,” said captain Marchall Schroeder, explaining that seeing the elite teams showed them that the difference between top teams and mid-tier teams is largely just decision making and execution.

They lost just two games this weekend — to Ohio and UNC-Wilmington. “We definitely showed that we’re a threat in the region,” said Schroeder.

Coach David Boyea said that they’ve done a better job developing their rookies and avoiding their problem of being “top heavy” last year. He think that if the Atlantic Coast gets a second bid, they “definitely” have a shot at making Nationals.

METRO EAST SHINES WITH THREE TEAMS IN QUARTERS

The Metro Least. The country’s worst region. Why does it even get a bid?

The Metro East has been getting a bad rap for years, after continuously getting just one bid (which has consistently gone to Cornell, who proceeds to lose a lot of games).

But the region is starting to come into its own, as teams right on the cusp of finally knocking off Cornell have put in work to get to the top of the region. No, there is no team in the region that is going to make a semifinals run anytime soon. But the depth of the region is starting to become apparent.

This weekend, Princeton (a Regionals finalist last year), SUNY-Buffalo, and Connecticut all finished in the top of their pool to advance to quarterfinals. The teams are beating out-of-region competition that they would have had no chance against just three or four years ago. And they all feel like the region is theirs for the taking.

Princeton captain Adlai Felser said, “We’re gonna win it,” adding, “We feel like we’re the best team in the Metro East right now.”

SUNY-Buffalo captain Rob Smith said that last year, their mentality at Regionals was that, on a good day, they could beat all the teams. This year, he said, their mentality will be: “We’re gonna roll all these teams.”

Connecticut coach Dan Saipher said that his offensive line can hang with any team in the country, but that they “need to learn how to win.” He thinks that, if the whole team commits to conditioning and improving their admittedly poor defense, they will take the region.

“I think all the teams in the Metro East are just scrappy,” he added.

UConn looks like the team with the highest ceiling, but they really do struggle to get breaks and still mentally focused. They lost to SUNY-Buffalo after falling behind 8-1. Their second half rally was too little, too late. They also lost to Princeton 15-12.

Buffalo coach Bryan Jones downplayed the team’s poor showing at QCTU and said, “We came more mentally focused and prepared this weekend.”

Regardless of who comes out of the region this year, all the teams feel like this is the year that the region will earn some respect. Buffalo’s Mike Kanaby summed up the sentiment. “This might be the year for the Metro East to make a name for itself,” he said.

MICHIGAN STATE STUMBLES

2012 Nationals qualifier Michigan State had a very poor weekend, notching just one win — against Towson 15-12.

Captain Zach Barnhart said, “We’ve been very streaky. We’ve been up and down” That’s true. They put up one of the better games against UNC-W this weekend, staying within two until late, eventually losing 14-10. But they appear to have some mentality issues, playing inconsistently depending upon their opponent.

“We seem to play down to teams that aren’t elite,” said Barnhart, noting that they need to learn to finish games.

They were missing some key players this weekend, including Chad Homuth and Jimmy Guest, because they are on Spring Break this week. Barnhart was also out on Sunday after a nagging shoulder injury.

They didn’t play great early in the season last year either, before showing up at Centex and getting big wins over Oregon, Carleton, and Illinois. We’ll see if they can repeat results like that this year.

KENYON UNSURE ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT THEY’LL RETURN TO DIII

Earlier this year, we had assumed that Kenyon (#6 – DIII) would be returning to DIII Nationals this year to challenge deep into Sunday as one of the country’s best DIII teams. But, because for the fourth year in a row DIII College Championships falls on their graduation weekend, the SERF seniors are strongly considering going back to DI Regionals and challenging for a bid there. If they do decide to go the DIII route, most of their seniors will have to miss at least one day of the tournament to walk at graduation.

“It’s about 50/50 right now,” said captain Jordan Rhyne. He feels that the competition level is about the same at either DI Regionals or DIII Nationals.

Kenyon won out in the bottom bracket on Sunday at the Easterns Qualifier, but was disappointed after some close losses on Saturday.

They hope to have a decision made after their Spring Break, which falls this week.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

– Is UNC-W for real? They are undefeated so far this season, but only have one win against a top 25 team: a very tired Ohio. They will be looking to turn some heads at Stanford Invite next weekend, but have to get through a very tough pool (#3 Texas, #5 Arizona, and #19 Tufts).

– Can Michigan build on their success this weekend? A team that plays with as much passion and intensity like Michigan can often be mentally fragile, feeding on the energy (whether positive or negative) at any given moment. They showed strength to rebound against Brown on Sunday, but they will need a consistent focus to get past the rising teams in the Great Lakes region.

– How will Brown stack up at Easterns? They will be joined by regional rivals Tufts and Dartmouth at the late March tournament and will have something to prove. So far this season, they are 0-5 against ranked teams. Currently, every team attending Easterns is in the top 25.

Many thanks to the gracious staff of UNC-W and the Smith River Sports Complex for their help and hospitality. Additional reporting by Elizabeth Fritz and Ariel Altschuler.

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