Stanford Invite 2013: Tournament Recap (Open)

Oregon's Camden Allison-Hall makes the catch in the finals of the 2013 Stanford Invite.
Photo by Daniel Tjioe — UltiPhotos.com

With 15 of the 16 teams competing ranked in the top 25, the Stanford Invite offered up the best college competition this year as teams battled for bids and bragging rights — and to find themselves in the process. This year’s tournament was packed with big upsets and exciting finishes, as teams from the West, Midwest, and East came together to test themselves against the best.

OREGON KEEPS STANFORD TITLE, SURPRISE THEMSELVES

Oregon didn’t come into the weekend expecting to win. Sure, they were the tournament’s number one seed, but, after some roster turnover, they didn’t expect to have the same kind of success that they had in Stanford in 2012, a tournament title. Their expectations were modest by their standards – a top five finish, a showing that proved they were in the conversation, a respectable weekend.

On Saturday, they looked like that team. They played well, no question, but they weren’t dominant, losing to Carleton and struggling to get past a tired Arizona team in the prequarters.

But the Ducks, more than many teams at this tournament, evolved throughout the weekend. They showed up on Sunday morning with a renewed focus, set to face the consensus number one team in the nation, the Wisconsin Hodags, in the quarterfinals. They played outstanding ultimate, rolling to a 15-8 blowout thanks to stifling defense and a smooth offense.

The renowned Wisconsin defense mustered just one break against the Ego offense, and mostly looked frustrated as Oregon cascaded down the field with great disc movement and pinpoint breaks.

Their offense struggled somewhat more in the semifinals against Tufts, but most of Tufts’ breaks came from Oregon mistakes, not blocks. Oregon tightened things up in the second half and did not get broken, pulling away to the 14-12 victory.

They continued that momentum in their win against Carleton, whose defense only earned two breaks in the game. Switching to zone only made things easier for Oregon, who patiently worked the disc down the field.

Oregon captain Dylan Freechild saw the difference as well. “We played better [on Sunday],” he said. “Yesterday we didn’t really have an identity.”

He couldn’t say exactly what it was that they found this weekend, but he thinks they’ve shed the focus on last year and become their own team. Last year, Freechild explained, Ego’s motto was “give it to them” – they focused on attacking the defense and not letting the game come to them. The team is now more patient, less inclined to put it up in jump ball situations to their stars. “Every single player has to work,” he said.

Freechild was exuding confidence after the game and seemed eager to get to Easterns to play again. They are mindful of what happened last year – following up a dominant regular season with a devastating loss in the semifinals that they never saw coming. Now, the team’s underclassmen are more committed than ever, often cajoling the upperclassmen into coming to track workouts instead of the reverse.

The team has the top-end talent to match up with any team in the country; if their role players continue to shine as they did this weekend, this team will be very tough to beat.

CARLETON RETURNS TO FORM

As people know, we’re not very results oriented.” – CUT Coach Phil Bowen

Carleton came into Tampa’s Warm Up in mid-February ranked as the #2 team in the country and looking poised to showcase their talent. But the team failed to even make it into the Sunday bracket after a handful of losses during pool play. What may have looked like a poor performance was really more an indication of Carleton’s approach to the regular season – keep a relentless focus on improving systems and maintaining high energy. They want to win, but they would rather lose while developing their players than win by substituting aggressively.

“I think our expectations coming in here were about the same as they were at Warm Up,” said Bowen, explaining that they were focused on improvement, not wins. This time, though, the wins came with it.

Carleton looked strong up until the finals against Oregon, where fatigue played a big role in their loss as defenders couldn’t keep up with Ego’s strong cutters. Compared to a day prior, said Bowen, “[Oregon] looked more efficient.”

Despite the loss, the CUT sideline seemed upbeat after the game; Bowen felt they exceeded their internal expectations.

Simon Montague and Nick Stuart looked as dominant as they did at Warm Up, and the return of Justin Norden helped their offensive line.

This is yet again a semifinals caliber team, but are they poised to win another national championship? Given their style, we may not know until May.

PITTSBURGH STILL ON CRUISE CONTROL

Pittsburgh's Tyler Degirolamo gets up against Carleton's Jesse Bolton at the Stanford Invite.
Photo by Scott Roeder — UltiPhotos.com

With a team as talented as Pittsburgh, just running through the motions can earn you a lot of wins. But it won’t get you to the top of the pack.

That seems to be the situation for Pitt so far this year. They have two back-to-back semifinals losses, something of a disappointment for a team accustomed to winning.

Perhaps it is as simple as the fact that they have had just two outdoor practices thanks to a long, harsh winter. Maybe it’s that they are still coming off of a bit of a post-championship lag. But the team lacks energy and that “killer instinct” they had last year.

Coach Nick Kaczmarek said that aren’t worried about wins and losses. “We measure our success by our internal measures,” he explained, adding that they are looking to make improvements on the “little things.” He acknowledged that they need some “mental work” in the coming weeks before Easterns.

There are some strategic things to work on as well – Kaczmarek called their transition defense “atrocious” – but he appears to believe that, more than anything, they need to find an identity.

“This team is Pitt 2013,” he said. “We are not defending champions. The defending champion is Pitt 2012. This is Pitt 2013.”

TUFTS IMPRESSES WITH SEMIFINALS RUN

Going into the weekend, Pool D looked like a great test for the two coasts: the top two Western teams (#3 Texas and #5 Arizona) going up against two of the best in the East (#12 UNC-Wilmington and #22 Tufts). The east got the best of it.

Tufts used their conservative, possession-oriented offense to shred Arizona’s diamond zone, beat Texas at their own game, and blow past UNC-Wilmington.

The EMen continued their success on Sunday morning with a quarterfinals win against Colorado before falling to Oregon, who simply outplayed them.

“After this weekend, we definitely know we can compete for a national title this year,” said captain Robby Perkins-High.

“We’re not satisfied with that loss [to Oregon],” he added later. They would also lose to Pittsburgh in the third place game.

Their 4-2 performance at Stanford came after a lackluster at showing at Queen City Tune Up, where they lost to the only ranked team they faced: Harvard, a huge rival.

They are now 4-3 against teams ranked in the top 25.

They will need to bolster their defense and be willing to take a few more risks offensively to compete with the very best teams. Oregon often stifled their offensive flow with good dump pressure and Tufts was less willing to take a chance deep than they should have been.

But this was still an impressive performance from a team that wasn’t expected to even make the Sunday bracket. The Northeast Region continues to show signs of strength and may well find itself with three bids come April.

AFTER HOT START, WISCONSIN SLIPS

The consensus #1 team in North America, Wisconsin came into Stanford Invite looking to continue the outstanding play they showed at Warm Up in February. But the Hodags had a bad omen early in the weekend, when they fell to Whitman – the only unranked team at the tournament – in the second round of pool play. Whitman played well, no question, but Wisconsin really gave away the game with uncharacteristic errors and poor decision-making.

But they still came out on top of the pool with wins against Central Florida and Colorado.

That set them up for an exciting quarterfinals matchup against one seed Oregon. But the game didn’t really live up to expectations as Oregon whipped them 15-8.

“Everyone was doing their own thing,” said coach Hector Valdivia, noting that they had at least seven turnovers due to miscommunications on the field. Valdivia tried to mix things up by having the defensive line play the offensive points and vice versa, a strategy he carried into their next game against Stanford.

“The O line was being too conservative on defense,” he explained, frustrated that he had to watch Oregon’s cutters getting open easily underneath, making it easy for the patient offense to score.

Wisconsin’s defense was still able to generate turnovers all weekend; Whitman captain Jacob Janin called them “the best defensive team we’ve seen so far this season.” But they struggled to convert their opportunities into breaks in their losses, a problem that they didn’t have at Warm Up.

“@Hodaglove returns to a slowly thawing Madison ready to do work,” tweeted Valdivia after the weekend. They have work to do.

THE BEST OF THE WEST TRIP UP

Texas (#3) and Arizona (#5) had big ambitions coming into the weekend, eager to test their strength against Midwest and East coast teams they don’t often see. But it didn’t work out so well, as both teams ended up with losing records on the weekend.

Texas lost all their games on Saturday, but had a point differential of just -6. Whether that shows a lack of mental toughness or just execution problems isn’t entirely clear. The team seems to see it as a bit of both.

At Warm Up, Texas had much more energy, said captain Mitchell Bennett. “We were pumped up to show who we were,” he explained.

But this weekend, a lack of fire (indeed, their sideline was often subdued) brought their game down. “We were throwing the hard throws instead of taking the easy ones,” said senior Kolby Janzen. It also led to some execution errors that hurt them late in games.

“Those little mistakes can be the difference between winning and losing games,” said Bennett.

They did have a better showing on Sunday, beating Central Florida (#5) and Whitman before falling to North Carolina in the 9th place game, 13-8.

Arizona was on their way to a great start to the weekend, up 7-3 at halftime against UNC-Wilmington. But they gave up a six break swing, eventually losing 13-11 and dampening the day. After a tough loss to Tufts, who was not rattled at all by their zone, they played a gritty game against Texas to sneak into prequarters with the win.

There, they played a pretty good game against Oregon, finishing with the 13-10 loss. But they got embarrassed Sunday morning against UNC – a game in which they managed just 4 points. As they tweeted after the game, they have work to do.

“Mentally, we were a little bit lower than we were the last two weekends,” said captain Brice Dixon, who noted that the also had trouble slowing teams down with their zone in the less windy conditions.

With Centex just a week away, they will “focus on [their] systems” and regroup.

This was Arizona’s first time dealing with adversity – they hadn’t lost a game in 2013 heading into the weekend. Maybe some losses will be beneficial for them. As Dixon said, “We can’t really learn too much from a win. But we can learn a lot from a loss.”

THE CAROLINAS BLINK UNDER PRESSURE

North Carolina and UNC-Wilmington looked similar coming into the weekend: they were both undefeated and they both didn’t have very many quality wins. Stanford, then, was going to be a big test.

Both teams got off to a great start and early Saturday afternoon, with each team 2-0, it looked like the Atlantic Coast was in a position to dominate on the weekend. But both teams came up short in their third game of pool play — UNC lost a heartbreaker to Pitt 14-13 (a game they should have won) and UNC-W got blown out by Tufts.

But both teams still finished second in their pool and looked poised to advance to quarterfinals. It didn’t happen. They both lost — badly — in prequarters, a common ailment of teams that lose a big game in the previous round. “We call it a zap,” said Wilmington coach Greg Vassar, referencing the difficult format where teams had a game followed by a bye in each round on Saturday.

UNC coach Mike DeNardis said he’s “seen it so many times” — the big letdown after losing momentum in pool play.

Darkside would recover well to dominate on Sunday and take 9th place with big wins over Washington (#18), Arizona, and Texas. Despite missing the bracket, they finished the weekend 5-2.

UNC-W struggled more on Sunday, losing to Whitman and Central Florida, and getting a win over UC Davis.

The takeaway? “Don’t go on spring break for a week before Stanford Invite,” said Vassar. Wilmington was clearly not clicking on all cylinders, getting plagued by drops and execution errors that cost them games. With two weeks until Easterns, they will have some hard practices in their future.

CENTRAL FLORIDA HITS BOTTOM

Coming in as the number four ranked team in the country, Central Florida had big expectations this weekend. Back in the fold were Michael Hickson and Mischa Freystaetter, two of their biggest (and tallest) playmakers, after missing Warm Up for an injury and a wedding, respectively.

Like the Carolina teams, UCF got off to a good start with two wins, one over Whitman and one over Colorado. But a 13-8 third round loss to Wisconsin give them a “zap.” They struggled a lot against Texas A&M and lost 14-12, banishing them to the 9th place bracket.

Coach Andrew Roca said it was the worst he’s ever seen his team play, by far. “We never could bounce back after getting broken,” he said.

He had a long talk with his team after the rounds on Saturday as they tried to regroup. “I’m so happy it happened,” he said. “We needed to get knocked on our ass…I think every team goes through a mental breakdown — that was ours.”

On Sunday, the team was focusing on playing together and having fun. Roca wore a bright pink helmet on the sideline during the games, an homage to a time during his years playing at UCF when the team all wore short silver shorts after a poor performance on Saturday to lighten the mood.

“I’m not really worried about [the losses],” said Roca. “We just have to refind the love. We have to refind the effort.”

STANFORD SHINES AS TOP SOUTHWEST TEAM

Stanford's Xavier Mignot makes the catch over Texas A&M Mat Bennett at the Stanford Invite.
Photo by Scott Roeder — UltiPhotos.com

In the third round of pool play down 7-0 at halftime against Carleton, Stanford could have given up. They had been thoroughly dominated in the first half and weren’t playing with any kind of fire. But they roared back in the second half, scoring four straight, and ended up losing by just three, 13-10.

With that momentum in hand, they rolled into their prequarters matchup and handed a big loss to UNC-Wilmington. Yes, they would lose to Pittsburgh in the quarters (15-13) and then to Wisconsin in the 5th place bracket (15-11).

Despite a 3-4 record on the weekend, they played very well against the country’s best teams.

“We played all of the top teams close,” said captain Ben Funk, who had an outstanding weekend. “Things are looking good and on the up.”

When asked if the team was concerned about the Southwest losing bids after poor performances from Arizona and Davis, Funk was clear. “We don’t care how many bids there are,” he said. “Arizona and Davis are good teams, but they don’t have the experience we do.”

Even with just a lone bid to Nationals, Funk is confident that Stanford will get to Madison.

SHORT-HANDED TEXAS A&M SHOWS THEY CAN HANG

By the end of the day on Sunday, Texas A&M was playing with just nine or ten guys after leaving a big chunk of their team back in College Station, due to the high cost of traveling to Stanford. With that in mind, the rising South Central team had a decent weekend, going 2-5 but playing close against almost every team they faced.

Dalton Smith said the weekend was “pretty good,” but is looking forward to playing with a full squad. Unfortunately for A&M, he will be absent at Centex next weekend because he is flying to Japan to play on the USA All-Star team in the Dream Cup.

The rest of the team, though, is focusing on getting wins at Centex. They would like the security of a third bid to Nationals. “We want three bids, 100%,” said captain Mat Bennett. “But we think we have a real shot [to make Nationals] with just two.”

Mat’s brother Mitchell, who captains Texas, is hoping that TUFF will get a shot at A&M at Centex. “They play a whole different kind of frisbee,” he said. “You just don’t know what to do.”

TAKEAWAYS

With every undefeated team at the tournament leaving with at least one loss, the story so far this year is parity. Some of the tournament’s best teams ended up miring in the loser’s bracket, and only UC-Davis left with no wins. With huge upsets like Whitman over Wisconsin and Texas A&M over Central Florida, no team looks unbeatable.

After Warm Up, Wisconsin clearly looked a step ahead of the pack. But that is no longer the case. Many of the teams at this tournament will have a shot at a deep run at Nationals this year — some are just discovering that, others know it but have some tweaks to make.

With Easterns two weeks out, we’ll see who can make the adjustments to rise to the top of the pack. Right now, it’s anyone’s game.

See full photo galleries from the Stanford Invite at UltiPhotos.com.

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