New England Open 2013: Tournament Recap

Harvard takes on Tufts in the finals of the New England Open.
Photo by Burt Granofsky — UltiPhotos.com

BOSTON — With the regular season coming to a close and bids on the line, the New England Open offered teams a final opportunity to compete before the Series last weekend.

For one of the very first times this year, New England saw beautiful, sunny weather, that kind of crisp early spring air that is perfect to play in.

The story of the tournament was no doubt Dartmouth’s upsets over Tufts and Harvard en route to the NEO title. But the tournament also hosted the majority of the Metro East contenders, who are jockeying for position to be the top seed heading into a wide-open Regionals.

Here’s a look at the top teams and stories as we get ready for the postseason.

DARTMOUTH CLEARLY TOP NEW ENGLAND TEAM, BUT WILL THEY GET A BID?

Our game story from the finals says it all: Dartmouth is undefeated against New England teams this season, dating back to the fall. But thanks to open lines and some bad breaks, they currently sit outside of the strength bid party, hopefully looking in as the final USA Ultimate rankings get released this afternoon.

Dartmouth’s “numbers” guy didn’t think they had done enough, not with the narrow wins over Connecticut and San Diego State. But that’s a product of their own doing.

“Our whole mission this year has been to get deeper,” said coach Brook Martin. That meant open rotations, even at the big tournaments. Martin still has a bad taste in his mouth from last year when they tried hard to get a bid, but at the expense of losing to Tufts, a team with a much deeper bench, at Regionals.

This year, said Martin, “I quit trying to play the numbers game.”

In fact, it may not be Dartmouth who is worried about getting a bid or not. While the security would be nice, it’s really Harvard and Tufts who should be concerned. Neither team has been able to beat Dartmouth this year.

Certainly both of the Boston teams will look back on their games this weekend thinking, “If only…” Both had opportunities for big breaks and scores that they let slip away with simple execution mistakes.

But Dartmouth has all the confidence heading into Regionals. Tufts and Harvard have lingering doubts.

HARVARD SET TO FOCUS ON FUNDAMENTALS

Harvard had the longest team meeting of anyone after the games concluded on Sunday. Again they were the victims of a finals loss to Dartmouth, after being trounced 13-7 in the fall. They know they have work to do.

“Drops were a big thing,” said captain William Dean. They had two brutal endzone drops, including one on the final point of the game, a score that would have tied it up and given them a downwind point to take the lead.

So what will they work on? “Execution, execution, execution,” said Dean.

Behind the endzone, former Harvard star and Callahan winner George Stubbs watched his team fail to capitalize on a turnover-heavy game, despite frequently working the disc smoothly to ten yards out of the endzone.

At Warm Up, Dartmouth’s coach said he thought his team was the best in New England. I asked coach Michael Mackenzie if he thought his squad was the best. “That’s what Regionals is for,” he said.

Mackenzie did have good things to say about Dartmouth and pointed out that “the region is deep.”

Harvard showed some grit earlier in the day Sunday, with a comeback win over Michigan in the semifinals. “It was good for us to be tested by Michigan,” said Mackenzie. “They were a different class of athlete ethan we’d seen [earlier at the tournament].”

Ultimately, Harvard is staying very internally focused. They had the strongest out-of-region performance this year among New England teams, so they know they can compete at a high level. But they might have to figure out a way to get past Dartmouth to even have a chance to prove anything in Madison.

WHY CAN’T TUFTS WIN AGAINST THEIR REGION?

Out of all of the New England teams, Tufts has the most impressive wins this season (Texas, Arizona, Colorado). But they haven’t been able to beat their top regional competitors. They are 0-1 against Harvard and 0-2 against Dartmouth. What gives?

Their semifinals loss to Dartmouth looked a great deal like the finals game: sloppy, turnover-heavy, anyone’s game.

Just like Harvard, Tufts was unable to score when they needed it most. “We got enough chances to win and we didn’t convert,” said coach emeritus Jeff Brown.

“At this level, it comes down to one or two points,” he added.

Tufts was nursing some injuries, so a handful of starters didn’t take the field on Sunday, including in their game against Dartmouth. But, true to form, they are confident and certain they’ll be ready for the Series.

“We’re doing things that we won’t do at Regionals,” said Brown.

CORNELL LOOKS LIKE THE METRO EAST TEAM TO BEAT…AGAIN

For all the confidence coming from Metro East teams about this being their year to unseat Cornell, one team has been quiet: Cornell itself.

But they let their play do the talking this weekend, notching blowout wins over two Regional rivals — SUNY-Buffalo and Rutgers — and only losing twice (Harvard and Tufts).

“We beat the teams we needed to beat,” said captain Jake Stevelman.

Despite missing starters Nick Thompson and John Brancato, Cornell used physical man defense to blow past a depleted Rutgers team in the prequarters. They are, no question, the Metro East team that looks the most finely tuned.

They enjoy all the chatter about this being the year they fall. “It’s fuel,” said captain Adam Salwen. “It’s fun.”

“We know the guys on this team are going to make us the best team in the region,” added Stevelman, who was a big part of the team’s success this weekend.

They do have some weaknesses. Tight, force middle defense from Tufts rattled their offense and helped Tufts pull away in the second half of their quarterfinals matchup. They tended to turn the disc over when forced to make more underneath throws, rather than being able to hit their speedy receivers deep.

But, for now, they can still look down on the rest of the Metro East competition as they sit as the top dog.

RUTGERS STILL A WILDCARD

Early this season, many Metro East teams expected Rutgers to be challenging for the Region’s lone bid to Nationals. But their results this year have been underwhelming, at best.

That’s largely a product of two things: serious injuries and a commitment to open lines and development.

“If we stack the O line with everyone and just leave the D line to fend for itself, we’re not gonna get that many breaks,” said captain Scott Xu. That means they have spent the season getting a lot of reps in for the younger players, as they seek to build depth heading into Regionals.

Jibran Mieser, their most explosive athlete, was playing defense until this weekend, where he made a huge impact for them on the O line.

But injuries have really been hurting them. Mieser missed Sunday’s games with a hamstring injury, and Albert Alarcon, a PoNY rookie and perhaps their best player, has been out this whole season.

“We gotta work to stay healthy,” said Xu.

So, despite getting blown out by Cornell, the team could still do damage at Regionals. But will they have the necessary chemistry built up by then, after many of their top players have been missing a lot of playing time this year? Time will tell.

TOP-RANKED DIII BENTLEY SHINES

Bentley came into the New England Open as the #1 ranked Division III team in America, according to USA Ultimate. With a 5-2 record, they played like it.

They opened the weekend with a comeback win against Regional rival #12 Middlebury and went on to get quality wins over SUNY-Buffalo, Yale, and Vermont, with their losses coming to Tufts and Penn State.

They sit as the top New England team heading towards Regionals. But has the #1 ranking shifted their mindset?

“It didn’t change my expectations,” said coach Ben Davis. “But I think it probably did change some of the players’ expectations, whether they want to admit it or not.”

Captain Max Rick admitted, “I think it’s nice to be able to say.”

But they know that the hard work is still to be done, as they look to “make a deep run” at DIII Nationals this year. They now have to worry about not only winning, but avoiding the trap of being a top seed.

“It kind of puts a target on our back,” said Davis.

They will head into the postseason with a focus on outdoor practice — something they’ve barely had yet this year — and getting touches for the bottom half of their roster. Fundamentals will be a key.

They are certainly the DIII team to beat in the Northeast.

  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).

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