2013 Steel City Showdown: Tournament Recap (Open)

2013 Steel City Showdown.PITTSBURGH — It may still be the college preseason, but this weekend’s games at the Steel City Showdown often had the urgency of a mid-season Spring tournament more than a relaxed fall feel.

Make of it what you will, but upsets were the story in Pittsburgh this weekend as just a single team from the tournament’s power pools made it into the semifinals. With Pitt, the defending National Champion, and Tufts, the tournament’s #2 seed, falling in quarterfinals, the field was wide open. Cincinnati took advantage to head to their second straight tournament victory.

Cincy Clearly A Contender, But Are They Disciplined Enough?

Read the Ohio v. Cincinnati finals recap.

Make no mistake, Cincinnati is a real contender this year in the Ohio Valley region. Playing with only half of their roster this weekend, they took down Pittsburgh, Ohio, and Connecticut and proved they have the talent to play very high level defense and good, patient offense.

Dan Latz and Kieran Kelly were standouts on an all-around solid squad that is right to have some big ambitions this season.

Switching up between hard man defense and a discplined zone, Cincinnati was able to put good pressure on every team they faced this weekend. Pitt coach Nick Kaczmarek praised the team’s D and gave them credit for a good performance against them in the quarterfinals.

The Cincinnati offense clearly runs through Latz, and when he is making the right choices with the disc, they were very comfortable working against zones, something they struggled mightily with last year.

Cincinnati has some troubles that didn’t hurt them this weekend, but will in the Spring. They gave up early leads to Connecticut in the semifinals and Ohio in the finals before settling in offensively. They were sometimes too cavalier with the disc, particularly near the endzone, and had some very poor throwaways in big pressure moments.

Thanks to good defense and a bit of luck, they avoided paying a heavy price for those mistakes, but they have work to do to become a real contender in the big games at Regionals.

To its credit, the team’s leadership is aware of the problem — saying it was the team’s modus operandi last year to fall into an early hole — and has already placed their focus squarely on limiting the bad turnovers.

Aside from their 20 turnover loss against Penn, they did manage to keep the numbers down. Latz said, overall, their drops and throwaways are down 50% this year.

As defenses improve and teams get better at converting turns in the Spring, Cincinnati will need to continue to improve on that front. If they do, they have a very realistic shot at a run towards Nationals.

Ohio Still Figuring Out Their New Identity

With the graduation of Mitch Cihon, one of the college division’s most versatile playmakers, Ohio is having to learn an entirely new way to win games. No more can Cihon and Connor Haley — two of the most statistically dominant players at the 2013 College Championships — will the team to wins.

Relying on a larger group of players means finding new roles for many, and the team admits to still having some work to do on that front.

“We’re still working out some of the fundamentals with personnel and who we want where,” said coach Kent Butler. “It’s the fall. In years past, we knew which players were ‘best fits’ in their roles.”

Ohio had a small team last year and very little depth; they came into the season “on a mission,” in the words of Butler, and with a clear plan to return to Nationals. This year, they are approaching the fall in a new way, trying to retain more players. That has meant more fun practices and a welcoming environment, but that has meant that a lot of the team’s younger players are still rough around the edges.

With three losses this weekend, Ohio is very aware of the work they have to do this winter. Many players need improved disc skills. The stakes are much higher now that the team lost to Cincy, a team they easily defeated three times last season.

Northwestern Is The Real Deal

Northwestern was just one point away from a finals berth in Pittsburgh, falling to Ohio on double game point after mounting an impressive late comeback. Although that loss came as a big disappointment, they proved to be the surprise of the tournament, coming from a 17th seed to finish 4th.

“We’ve been working hard for the past couple years, but we finally believe we can win these games,” said captain Ian Preston.

They played an outstanding quarterfinal against Tufts, notching the unlikely 15-14 victory thanks to some great defense and big performances from some new personnel.

The team adds former UNC Captain Max Shepherd and former Notre Dame captain Zach Woodruff to their roster; both players are using their fifth year of eligibility as Northwestern graduate students.

Shepherd was already a clear veteran presence on the offense and provided poise and leadership to the developing team.

The team also adds a strong freshman class with a lot of YCC experience. New York’s Henry Richey and the Bay Area’s Remy Smith are standouts.

The team rode its defense to its impressive performance and simply outplayed a very good Tufts team to notch one of the program’s biggest wins in recent memory.

They are still a raw team that needs more big games like what they got in Pittsburgh to develop into a Great Lakes contender. But they have the talent. If their fifth year graduate student pickups can help instill the calm confidence they showed this weekend across the whole roster, Northwestern will be in the conversation for qualifying out of the Great Lakes.

Pitt Struggles, Shows Promise In Up-And-Down Weekend

It wasn’t the weekend many expected the defending National Champions to have at home in Pittsburgh. After taking care of business on Saturday and finishing 3-0, Pitt was set for a quarterfinal matchup with Cincinnati.

The game was close all the way to the final point, with both teams earning multiple upwind breaks in the blustery morning. But Pitt failed to make good adjustments during the course of the game and a tough Cincy defense did just enough to pull out an 11-9 victory with a pair of late breaks.

Pitt then snuck past Georgetown in another poor showing before facing Tufts in one of the highlight matches of the weekend.

Tufts came out hot and looked on the way to embarrassing the National Champions, taking half 8-3 and clicking on all cylinders. Pitt, after a long, unfocused day, finally turned on the jets. They went on a 9-3 run to come away with a 14-13 win.

“We have a pretty resilient group of guys in terms of mentality, but we definitely struggled to maintain pressure and urgency in the Cincinnati game, as well as the other two on Sunday,” said Pitt coach Nick Kaczmarek. “I think we saw how important our winter training will be in putting us in the physical shape to maintain elite pressure for an entire weekend. I think we also saw how important raising disc skills will be.”

Pitt played without Trent Dillon and had limited minutes for Max Thorne and some of the other veterans. By the end of the weekend, there were only 14 players suited up. Many of those were some of the team’s new freshman class, a strong crop that are already contributing.

Jonah Wisch (Spinners) has good disc skills and was hucking comfortably all weekend. Jimmy Towle was the standout in the showcase game against Penn State, pulling down some big skies and making a big splash in his Pitt debut.

Kaczmarek thinks the rookies learned a lot this weekend.

“It is easy to come into a prominent Program that expects to win and think that the wins will come,” he said. “Anyone who has ever played here will tell you though, it isn’t magic. It is hours spent and sweat given. It’s going to be a battle, no doubt. And now we all have felt it. You can’t tell someone about the battle, they have to feel it.”

There is no question that Pitt is missing its veteran handler presence from last year. With big names like Alex Thorne and Isaac Saul no longer running the offense, things looked rough at times for Pitt. Kaczmarek is aware of the need for improved handling.

“Tyler Kunsa, Conner Kazmierczak and Carl Morgenstern have seen great acceleration recently and I believe we can foster an environment that excellent throwers can develop in,” he said. “We have a good grasp on how to develop throwers, but, in the end, it will come down to individuals stepping up to the plate.”

Captain Aaron Watson (also out this weekend with a hip injury) told Ultiworld during the pregame show of the Penn State game that the team’s goal is to win another National Championship.

Right now, they are a long way from that point.

But, as always, Pitt takes pride in their preparation and effort.

“We’re right where we want to be,” said Kaczmarek.

Tufts’ Lack Of Focus Late In Games Cost Them

Heading into the weekend, I had Tufts as my early favorite to win the Steel City Showdown. They have a deep, talented roster, and, as always, a smart offensive approach.

Like Pitt, Tufts went 3-0 on Saturday, not facing a challenge, before coming up short in a stunning quarterfinal loss.

There is no question that Northwestern played a great game, but Tufts had a lead and failed to close out the game. That tendency was amplified in their meltdown against Pitt.

It was something of a typical fall performance that shouldn’t worry Tufts fans. The fundamentals are sound for the team: the deep game was clicking, the defense showed it could be intense and focused, and their disc skills up and down the roster are very good.

Mentality is clearly the challenge for this Tufts squad, and they got quite a wake up call on Sunday.

The biggest question for Tufts is whether or not one or two players will really rise up and take over the game when they need it. It’s a challenge they had last season, and will again this year facing off against a Harvard squad with the explosive Jeremy Nixon ready to be that player.

QUICK HITS

– The Metro East looks like it will again be competitive. Cornell was less impressive than expected and Connecticut, while still streaky, looks balanced and dangerous despite losing star handler Kamil Skwarek. Their defense still needs a lot of work. Rutgers’ crop of veteran, club-experienced players like Albert Alarcon, Mike Sender, and Jibran Mieser have the talent to play with the top in the Region, but they desperately need a firm coaching presence who can reel in the mistakes.

– Georgetown had a strong weekend, going 4-0 on Saturday to make the quarters and nearly taking down Connecticut on Sunday morning. They struggled to put together complete games.

– Penn State rebounded from a tough Saturday to go 3-0 in the consolation bracket on Sunday, finishing with a win over a very solid Case Western Reserve team. James Greeno is playing very well for Spank.

– The quality of incoming rookies continues to rise around the division. More and more, players entering college — even at less established programs — have years of experience at the high school and youth level. Freshmen are making a real impact on their new teams more than ever before.

NOTES

…Saturday’s weather was chilly, but sunny and mostly still. Sunday was windy and colder. Most bracket games were upwind/downwind…One of the semifinals and the finals were observed…Most teams brought sizable rosters and played their starters…Special thanks to David Vatz…

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