Cornell Is King: How Does The Metro East Stalwart Win It Year After Year?

Cornell at the 2012 USA Ultimate College Championships.
Photo by Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

With their fifth straight Regional title, Cornell has solidified their position as a dynasty in the Metro East. While outsiders might scoff at their ability to consistently win one of the weakest regions in the country, what they have been able to do is actually very impressive.

The overall quality of the Metro East has, in fact, risen dramatically in the past few years. Programs like Connecticut and NYU — teams that did not even qualify for Regionals four to five years ago — are now consistently in the hunt on Sunday. Look at UConn’s progression. 2010: 11th in old Northeast Region, lost in first round of bracket play. 2011: Semifinalist in Metro East. 2012: Semifinalist. 2013: Finalist after getting past NYU in the semis.

UConn added a coach. They had two of the top players in the region in Kamil Skwarek and Matt Baum. They have been focused on developing their younger players. And they got blown out 15-6 by Cornell in the finals yesterday. Why can’t anybody beat Cornell?

“You could tell that they brought four years of experience and four years of being in that situation,” said UConn coach Dan Saipher after the game. “It’s a fact that Cornell is on a different level from [player] one all the way through 24. A lot of it’s been talked about in the Metro East, and they’re just a different animal. There are a lot of guys on that team who have been playing for a lot longer than other kids, guys who played at the high school level, and they’re guys who know before they buy in to whatever college team they play on, they know what it’s going to take.”

The fact is that Cornell’s proven system — and better recruits — have put them in the dominant position they sit in today. With established success come the fringe benefits that make continuing that success even easier: a B-team, stronger leadership, continuity, alumni networking, and much greater interest from talented high school players.

Cornell sees their success as coming directly from their program design. “It’s really development,” said captain Jake Stevelman in an upbeat post-game interview. “We start at a point, and we know that we have a point we need to get to by the end of a season, and we come in with some fresh players who have never really played before and we know that by the end we have a line up of 20 plus guys who all know how to run our system. Who all know how to throw and catch. Who all know how to work hard. If we all run that system, we’re gonna be fine.”

It was easy to see Cornell’s depth simply grinding UConn down in the game. Cornell had no star player, no key to victory. They shared the wealth, used their superior fitness to outrun UConn, and showed their experience by staying poised from start to finish. You could count their number of turnovers on one hand.

UConn, in their first final, was rattled early by a couple of Cornell breaks. Even after scores, heads were down and frustration, or, perhaps worse, resignation, was the obvious emotion. Unlike in the NYU semifinal where UConn got big performances from their role players, Grind reverted to relying on only their stars, as Skwarek put up contested hucks to Baum that more often than not didn’t connect.

You can chalk that up to mental weakness, something we discussed in the Metro East preview, but Cornell was simply deeper, stronger, and more polished.

For all the blustering language of the Metro East bubble teams, not a single one has proven they can stop Cornell at Regionals when it counts. There are huge barriers for the Region: the lack of nearby high school talent, field space challenges, and relatively new programs. Is it really that the Metro East can’t develop good teams? Or is it that they just aren’t getting the same kind of talent that powerhouse regions like the North Central draw in year after year?

If you look around the country at the biggest stars, the difference makers in the college ultimate scene, there is a common thread. Most came up through high quality high school programs, or, at a minimum, started playing competitively during high school. Of course, there are exceptions. But it’s no surprise that the Northwest has incredibly rich talent at both the college and club levels — they have outstanding high school systems that feed into the local scene.

Even as Cornell dominates the Metro East, they wind up more often than not at the bottom of the pack at the College Championships, because they face the same challenges as the rest of their Region. They develop new players in a system, but rarely have a next-level, game-changing athlete.

“I say this for all the other teams in the region,” said Saipher. “The level of commitment has to be absolute from the first day…Somebody in this region has to be ready to go 100%. They’ve got to make up for the fact that we don’t get as many guys who have their experience coming in.”

So far, that team has been Cornell. They have worked hard and been more committed, and year after year they are rewarded with a Regional title and a berth at the College Championships.

Some team will eventually emerge to take down Cornell. But without a Freechild or a Montague or a Mickle, it will take something even harder to find: relentless hard work and dedication.

  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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