March 24, 2014 by Patrick Stegemoeller in News, Recap with 12 comments
MYRTLE BEACH — In a weekend defined by parity, Elon Big Fat Bomb came out on top of a very strong field of DIII teams, closing out a DIII Easterns title with a 15-12 victory over Richmond in the finals. Elon, the 2013 Atlantic Coast runner-up, was able to shake off a pool play loss to SUNY-Fredonia and make a convincing run through the bracket to take home the first ever D-III Easterns title. By playing sound offense and making the most of their opportunities on defense, Elon played consistently well and earned themselves their first tournament victory of the year.
The finals — the teams’ second meeting of the weekend — got off to a hot start, with each offense moving the disc well against the opposing defense. Considering that it was a long tournament and both teams had small rosters, neither team looked sluggish as they moved the disc both underneath and over the top of defenders.
Both O lines held for the first twelve points of the game, bringing the score to 6-6. Until this point, Richmond’s offense did not turn the disc over; Elon’s offensive unit coughed up the disc a few times. Unfortunately for the Spider Monkeys’ D line, Richmond was unable to convert any of Elon’s turnovers into breaks, as good O-line defense from Elon combined with questionable decision-making from Richmond kept them from recording a break.
Elon would finally break to make the score 7-6 and shift the momentum in Big Fat Bomb’s favor. The difference between Elon’s crisp, confident D line offense and Richmond’s labored attempts at punching in a break was apparent.
After trading points to half, the two teams came out for the second half in noticeably different weather conditions than what they had played in to start the game. While bad weather had been threatening the whole weekend, rain and wind were never a factor until a 20 minute period on Sunday during the second half of the championship game. It was suddenly an upwind-downwind affair.
Receiving downwind to start the second half, Elon’s offense held and used their one-break lead to carry them to end of the game. While both offenses were noticeably sloppier in the inclement weather, Elon’s O-line controlled the second half and never allowed Richmond’s D-line to get into the endzone.
After trading several downwind points, Elon got the first break of the half on a great upwind break throw from handler Andrew Rogers. Rogers was outstanding throughout the game for Elon, making seemingly every big throw for his team and, along with his offensive battery-mate Peter Bostancic, took double duty in the second half playing both offense and defense.
The upwind break made the score 13-10 and solidified Elon’s chances of victory. The Spider Monkeys were finally able to earn a break late in the game to make the score 14-12, but Elon came storming back on the next point on a floaty put from Rogers to Brian Syzmanski to seal the 15-12 victory for Elon.
A key piece of Elon’s success was the zone they employed in the wind to stymy Richmond’s cutters. The 2-2-2-1 look took away Richmond’s downfield offense that had been so effective all tournament. The Spider Monkeys’ offense relied on 15 to 20 yard gains from hard-working cutters; the Big Fat Bomb zone forced Richmond out of their element. By limiting James Robb and Joel Reimer, Elon’s defense forced extra throws for the Spider Monkey handers, eventually creating turnovers.
This weekend, Elon Big Fat Bomb proved they deserve to be right in the conversation for a national title. At one of the top DIII tournaments of the season, Elon fought their way through bracket play and took down a crop of top DIII teams along the way. Now tested against top DI and DIII opponents, Big Fat Bomb looks ready to show the nation what they have in the series.
Atlantic Coast Teams Defend Their Turf
On the whole, it was a great weekend for the Atlantic Coast region. With three AC-III teams making the semifinals and UNC-Asheville notching two key wins, this weekend demonstrated that perennial Nationals contender Wake Forest is not the only team in the region that deserves attention.
After getting stuck with one bid and a bloodbath at regionals in 2013, the region is all but assured multiple bids this year after the stellar performance by its teams this weekend.
In addition to Richmond and Elon, the other semifinalist from the AC-III was Davidson DUFF, who had a great weekend in their own right. Losing only to other Atlantic Coast teams, DUFF put up quality wins against Brandeis and Fredonia before smoking Oberlin in the quarterfinals 15-8.
Playing with a small roster, Davidson was composed and efficient on offense. Their handlers were able to move the disc around the field at will, generating easy scoring opportunities. They noticeably ran out of steam by the end of the tournament and ended up falling to Elon in the semifinals, but they will no doubt be ready for a rematch at Regionals.
Atlantic Coast teams this weekend looked very polished. While other teams shot themselves in the foot time and time again trying to do too much with the disc, all of the Atlantic Coast teams executed their game plans effectively. Even UNC-Asheville, who had a somewhat disappointing weekend in the loss column, still played very well and easily could have won at least two games that would have drastically altered the perception of their weekend. Going forward, the rest of the country should be wary of this region, as it now has a handful of teams that all look ready to compete with anyone on the national scene.
Mixed Results for the Metro East, New England
As the race for bids heats up, Easterns provided some ups and downs for the Metro East and New England regions. Of the four ME-III/NE-III teams that played this weekend, Brandeis, SUNY Fredonia, and Middlebury all failed to live up to expectations.
SUNY Fredonia came into the weekend as one of the favorites to take home the title, but failed to even reach the championship bracket. While there were several moments of brilliance for the Turtles, the team was unable to get into a rhythm all weekend. No team came out and crushed them, but a few mistakes here and there added up in the end for a Fredonia team that found themselves losing games they could have or should have won.
It was not all bad news for Fredonia this weekend, as they were the only team that managed to take down Elon. It was an intense contest, highlighted by a tremendous aerial play from Fredonia’s Max Kesselring to win the game on soft cap. That game, plus their victory over Asheville in the 9th place bracket, made Fredonia the only team from outside the AC-III to beat two Atlantic Coast teams this weekend. Fredonia continues to be a team that hasn’t quite put it all together, but remains a threat to beat anyone when they are playing at their ceiling.
While Fredonia’s struggles may have cost them a bid, SUNY-Geneseo may have picked one up for the Metro East. Snail, playing in their first tournament of the year, scored some important wins en route to a finish atop Pool B and a run to the semifinals. Despite falling to Richmond in the semis, Geneseo showed they have the capability to play very well when their legs hold up, beating Oberlin and North Park early on Saturday and taking down Richmond 15-11 on Friday night in the showcase game.
Playing the tournament with a short-handed roster, many of Snail’s studs stepped up and played both offense and defense for most of the weekend. This led to heavy legs, but also kept the team’s best players on the field and allowed elite playmakers like David Abbott to make big plays on both sides of the disc.
While Snail’s Saturday schedule was tough, and saw them fight through two double game point finishes, the schedule played out in their favor on Sunday. Their last pool play game on Sunday morning was against the emergency replacement team that finished last in the tournament, UNC-Wilmington B.
This easy game allowed Geneseo to keep their legs fresh before their quarterfinals matchup with Brandeis, who had to fight off a scrappy Xavier team in a 14-12 slugfest before bracket play began. The extra bit of rest was essential in giving Geneseo’s small roster the energy it needed to take down their New England opponent in a hard fought 12-10 game.
For Brandeis, Easterns will be a weekend of wondering what could have been. TRON finished a disappointing 2-3 in pool play, but lost their three games by a combined five points. The fourth place finish in Pool A landed them a quarterfinal matchup against Pool B winner Geneseo. Another close game that Brandeis would lose, the contest would knock them out of contention for first place.
While Tron’s fifth place showing is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s hard to imagine they weren’t disappointed by their result after entering the tournament with hopes of winning it all.
An encouraging sign for Brandeis is how well they responded to their early struggles. After getting eliminated by Geneseo, they renewed their focus in the 5th place bracket and pulled out two close wins against North Park and Oberlin that brought their overall record for the weekend to 4-4. Closing out those games was huge for TRON, as it proved that they could handle themselves in a tight game after letting several close ones get away from them earlier in the tournament. Their Sunday wins will also surely help their ranking.
Nadav Pearl was huge for Brandeis all weekend. His full field lefty hucks caught several teams off guard, and his handler defense forced teams to turn to their second and third options in their dump sets, which generated several turnovers. Brandeis’ offense had a tendency to stagnate at times when their handlers couldn’t swing the disc to their spots on the field, but Pearl was usually able to supply the throws that got TRON moving downfield and into the endzone.
Middlebury came into Easterns with questions about whether or not they were an elite team this season, and based on their performance this weekend, it looks like we have an answer.
Saturday saw Middlebury win their first game against Wilmington-B, followed by three defeats with only one of the games being close. While a 12-11 victory over UNC-Asheville on Sunday morning was enough for the Pranksters to sneak into the quarterfinals, they were promptly dismantled by a red-hot Elon team and knocked out of contention. It was an inglorious result for the defending national champions, who, right now, look like a shadow of their 2013 selves.
The personnel losses Middlebury suffered from last season were apparent this weekend. The offense appeared to lack cohesion and discipline. On several occasions, Middlebury was forced by the confusion and stagnation of their cutters into putting up 50-50 deep shots that more often than not didn’t convert.
While there were some bright spots for the Pranksters, particularly the play of Patrick Adelstein, nobody was able to fill the big roles vacated by Davis Whitehead, Nathan Arnosti, and Will Lones. At the moment, it appears as though Middlebury lacks both the elite talent and roster depth necessary to be considered among the elite teams in the nation. Of course, we may be singing a different tune in May if Middlebury turns it up for the series, but based on their play this weekend, it appears as though the Pranksters have a lot of work to do.
Ohio Valley Falters
When the USAU rankings came out last Wednesday, the Ohio Valley region had five bids to nationals. After this weekend, that number is almost certainly going to fall.
Xavier entered Easterns 15th in the USA Ultimate rankings, but their 11th place finish should drop them out of contention for a strength bid. While Xavier’s play itself this weekend wasn’t as bad as their results show (their deep game in particular was very effective), the results show that they were a clear step below virtually every team they played. Xavier’s season is by no means over, and they could certainly still make a run at nationals, but the dream of a five bid region for the Ohio Valley is over.
Oberlin had a much better weekend than Xavier and may hang on to their strength bid, but they will be disappointed with their results this weekend after such a hot start to the season at Cat Fight and Huck Finn. A double game point loss to Geneseo in the first game of the day on Saturday cost the Flying Horsecows the top spot in Pool B and led to a letdown in their quarterfinal game against Davidson, who thumped Oberlin 15-8.
A victory over Brandeis in the 5th place game could have done a lot to redeem their performance against Davidson, but the loss set Oberlin back and as a result they ended the weekend on a sour note. Easterns was an opportunity for Oberlin to prove that they are national title contender, but a 6th place finish and a sizeable loss to Davidson in the quarterfinals seems to indicate that Oberlin is not yet on that rarified level.
With two more weekends of action still to come in the regular season, nothing is set in stone and the chance to lock up bids is still alive for most of the teams that took the field at D-III Easterns. What this weekend did concretely provide was evidence that the level of parity at the top of the D-III game means that most teams are beatable in the right circumstances.
DIII Easterns reified the depth of Division III this season. There are far more than 16 teams capable of making a run to the College Championships this year, and Regionals will be a tense battle for every team that played at Easterns.
Additional reporting by Elan Kane and Dennis MacLaine