Puget Sound Defends Its Title As DIII Warm Up Flourishes In Its Second Season

A Puget Sound Postmen player bids for a disc at the 2013 D-III College Championships.
Photo by CBMT Creative.

Year two for DIII Warm Up; title two for the Puget Sound Postmen.

While the finals between Puget Sound and the St. Olaf Berserkers had the makings of a great game, the Postmen made clear that they came to Riverside, California, to defend their title.

UPS was eager for revenge after the Berzerkers had upset them early in pool play on Saturday. St. Olaf, on the other hand, was the surprise team of the tournament and was out to make a big statement in the DIII scene by capping off an undefeated weekend with a win.

However, Puget Sound used their big-game experience and their tremendous fitness to stifle St. Olaf’s offense and control the entire contest, winning 15-6.

For UPS, Eric Hopfenbeck used his height, speed and throws to anchor both the O-line and D-line and helped lead the team to the tournament victory. Hopfenbeck finds himself in a similar role to that of Spencer Sheridan last season: the 6’3’’ handler is always around the disc and always makes the smart decision despite his ability to make highlight throws.

Captain Daniel Mozell said that heading into the finals game, the team focused on reducing the amount of turnovers they had against St. Olaf in pool-play.

“In the finals we were super fired up for the rematch and wanted to come out hot,” Mozell said. “After getting broken immediately we talked about playing ‘our game’ and just out-worked them. [St. Olaf is] a great team but they seemed tired and we were able to get many layout D’s on tired receivers who weren’t coming to the disc. In the first game we a little bit beat ourselves playing long 50/50s that we didn’t need to take. We didn’t do that in the finals.”

St. Olaf was without senior Ben Aastuen who had left before the game to catch a flight, but the Berzerkers’ captains made no excuses and gave credit to Puget Sound for their ability to play their last game on Sunday like it was an early game on Saturday.

“The difference in [Puget Sound’s] performance between the two games didn’t seem altered at all. And that was the impressive part. In Game Eight they were able to play the same way as in Game Two. As for us, I think we learned that conditioning needs to be a central part of our spring focus so that we can emulate such endurance,” Knapp and Liska told Ultiworld.

Down a break with the score 1-2, freshman Rob Korbel floated an outside-in flick to Mozell for a goal and the Postmen never looked back. UPS would stretch the lead to 5-2 forcing turnovers against an offense that had looked impressive all weekend and converting with smart D-line offense. Puget Sound would extend the lead to 10-3 and St. Olaf would cut it to as close as 10-6 before the Postmen pulled away for good, 15-6.

The win for Puget Sound speaks to the power of a strong system and a commitment to fitness, especially at the Division III level. Despite losing their coach and nine players (including two star handlers), the Postmen didn’t miss a beat due to their ability to plug new players into set roles.

UPS doesn’t do anything novel. Their commitment to a disciplined vertical stack system, making the high-percentage throw, and staying in elite shape have reaped huge benefits despite a small roster.

As one player in attendance noted, “UPS is a team that reloads, not rebuilds.”

Contenders Begin to Emerge

From the unexpected defeats dealt by St. Olaf and Lewis and Clark to St. Johns’ inability to overcome injuries, Warm Up was filled with exciting storylines.

Though both pools featured the nation’s top DIII teams, Pool B predictably proved to be the more grueling grouping.

Pool A had featured three teams in the top 25 rankings in St. Johns, Claremont, and Brandeis. Home-team Claremont finished pool play with a 5-0 record, but the biggest surprise of the pool came from unranked Lewis and Clark Bacchus.

As our Patrick Stegemoeller predicted, Bacchus had the first upset victory of the tournament, defeating top seeded St Johns 13-10 in the first round of pool play and setting the tone for both teams’ tournaments.

Bacchus Captain Harrison Chase said the team was looking to start the tournament off with a statement win against a strong team.

“[The St. John’s game] was our game to come out and make a statement,” Chase said. “They were ranked number one in the pool and we wanted to ensure that we started off strong. Our offense was crazy good in the first half turning it over only once and never being broken. Our defense took a bit to engage but overall got a few breaks and helped the O out.”

With Rhino player Sean Parker as their new coach, Lewis and Clark utilized the breakside well throughout the weekend and played conservatively, generally taking high percentage throws.

Claremont proved they would be a team to be reckoned with come the series, using their experience to finish off close games and take the top spot in the pool.

In one of the better games of the tournament, Lewis and Clark played Claremont in the final round of pool play to decide the pool winner. A back-and-forth game throughout, Claremont was able finish off the game on double game point, pulling down a contested huck to defeat Lewis and Clark 14-13.

Perhaps the win was detrimental in the long-run for the Braineaters as they would draw and fall to GOP in quarters.

Another story coming out of Pool A was the disappointing finish of St. John’s. With Pat Kunkel unable to play all weekend due to injury and Nihal Bhakta getting injured as well, St. John’s went 2-3 in pool play, losing to Lewis and Clark, Claremont and Brandeis. St. John’s would ultimately finish eighth in the tournament, posting a disappointing 2-5 record.

Brandeis faced mixed results in pool play, defeating St. John’s, Westmont and RPI, but losing to Lewis and Clark 13-7 and Claremont 13-10. A team that is new to the national spotlight, TRON would go 4-4 on the weekend, placing seventh to break seed.

Pool B had four teams in the top 25 in Amherst, Puget Sound, Carleton College-GOP and St. Olaf, with Amherst, Puget Sound, and Carleton College-GOP widely considered national championship contenders.

Like Lewis and Clark, St. Olaf had an early statement win, defeating Puget Sound in the second round 15-13. St. Olaf would go on to upset the pool and finish with a 5-0 record.

Captains John Knapp and Ben Liska explained that their success this past weekend came from switching up the defenses they used to conserve energy and keep opponents guessing.

“I think when we were playing our best it was because of defensive intensity and intelligence,” Knapp and Liska said. “We were utilizing a zone look against less experienced teams to save legs and then playing hard man D when that wasn’t working. We relied heavily on the intensity of our 12 person senior class. On offense we tried to keep defenses on their toes by switching up looks from point to point.”

A fundamental strong team, the Bezerkers limited turnovers by rarely suffering unforced errors. With Knapp behind the disc and Liska downfield St. Olaf’s offense worked for most of the weekend as a well-oiled machine.

Demonstrating just how tough Pool B was was Carleton College-GOP who placed fourth in pool play, but still managed to take third place in the tournament. GOP got down a few breaks early to a number of teams, but showed off the depth of their team and their athletic ability throughout the weekend, coming back from a 7-5 first half deficit to defeat Occidental 13-8 and finishing off a close Air Force game 13-11.

Though Pool B had three of the top four finishers from the tournament, GOP captain Daniel Barter said the toughness of the pool did not factor in to the team’s mentality. “[The toughness] wasn’t really any different than what we expected,” Barter said. “In the past few years, because of tournaments like this one, and now others of the DIII variety, DIII Frisbee has stepped up its game as a whole, and we weren’t expecting any of our games in the pool rounds to be easy. We had hoped to come higher than fourth in our pool, but because we think we can play better; the pool, and the tournament was pretty much the level we expected of good DIII teams at this point in the season.”

Amherst went 3-2 in pool play, but struggled against Puget Sound and St. Olaf. Army of Darkness played a lot of close games throughout the weekend, going 4-4 overall with a total point differential of -4.

They seem to still be adjusting to playing without graduated players Lock Whitney and Stefan Breitling, but their success at Warm Up can be somewhat attributed to a lot of the players having bought into the ultimate program and system.

AoD played one of the toughest schedules of any team at the tournament, but were still likely looking for some better weekend results.

It is a real possibility that the eight teams that made it to bracket play at DIII Warm Up will also make it to DIII Nationals this spring. On one side of the bracket, GOP closed out a close game against Claremont 15-13 while Puget Sound beat Brandeis 15-7. On the other side, St. Olaf continued their run with a 15-8 victory over St. John’s and Lewis and Clark defeated Amherst 13-11 in a physical game full of athletic plays by both teams.

In the semifinals, Puget Sound would take down GOP for the second time of the day while the matchup between St. Olaf and Lewis and Clark featured the two surprises of the tournament.

Bacchus was rushed into the game after their quarterfinals victory against Amherst ended in hard cap, and with observers officiating the game, the team had only minutes to transition fields and warm up. Lewis and Clark lost O-line handler Matt Cheng and deep threat Ben Whiteneck to injuries prior to the game as well.

Nevertheless, the game was a tense back-and-forth contest with St. Olaf winning 13-11 on hard cap.

In its second season, DIII Warmup again proved to be a fantastic vehicle for improving and legitimizing Division III ultimate around the country. With other DIII-specific tournaments spawning this spring in various regions, the conference continues to shape itself into a reputable and desirable endeavor.

Only time will tell if and when the Puget Sound Postmen will be unseated from the Warm Up throne.

Additional reporting by Jacob Surpin and Charlie Enders

  1. Elan Kane
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    Elan Kane is the DIII NE Region reporter for Ultiworld. He grew up learning and playing ultimate at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Wingdale, NY, and played in high school ultimate at Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY. He currently attends Brandeis University, where, in addition to playing on the ultimate team, he is pursuing a degree in American Studies and Journalism. You can reach him by email (elankane15@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@elankane15).

  2. Jesse Moskowitz
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    Jesse Moskowitz is the DIII editor for Ultiworld. Born and raised in Queens, New York, he started playing Ultimate at the Bronx High School of Science in 2008. He captained Connecticut College Dasein and currently plays Mixed Club with 7 Express (NYC). You can reach him by email at jesse@movoli.com.

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