2014 D-I Regional Recap: Ohio Valley (Men’s)

Pittsburgh's Marcus Ranii-Dropcho and Max Thorne on the sideline at 2014 Ohio Valley Regionals.
Photo by William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

PITTSBURGH — Pitt is still top dog. Bold. Underline. All caps.

Penn State was 5-0 and had just finished drubbing Ohio State in semis. They were playing well, they were confident, and they were very familiar with their finals opponent.

None of it mattered. Pitt had something to prove Sunday. This was a statement game – and that statement came through loud and clear as Pittsburgh rolled to its 10th straight Nationals appearance in a 15-4 win.

A Decade of Pitt at Nationals

I watched Pitt play George Washington in the backdoor finals of Metro East regionals in Princeton, New Jersey, the first time they qualified for Nationals in 2005.

They had about a dozen guys wearing old school GAIA jerseys and had never won a game at the regional tournament until that year. The program looks a little different 10 years later.

Those first few years Pitt qualified, if there was one key injury, if the right guy couldn’t play – they probably wouldn’t have been able to make it to Nationals. It would have been too much to recover from. Pitt was too dependent on individuals.

After Regionals this past weekend, it seems like if there were two bids, they could go X/Y and take both of them. This Pitt team is that deep. They don’t have the success of the entire season riding on one guy or even one whole class of players. Great players leave, great players come in. Only Colorado and Wisconsin have longer consecutive nationals streaks.

2005 was head coach Nick Kaczmarek’s first year at Pitt. He acknowledged 10 straight years is quite an accomplishment. “It feels really special to do it 10 years in a row,” he said. “The alumni that were here before us worked so hard to get us here for the first time. Watching those guys work that first year was really impressive. We’re trying to honor, in small way, the guys that came before us that have made it possible for us to be there every year.”

Now Kaczmarek and company have a different streak to try and keep alive. Two-time defending national champions. Like every year, there are other good teams in the field. But Pitt has moved past the “just happy to be here” years and into perennial contender territory. Safe to say their alumni are already feeling pretty honored.

The Tournament

Quarters

Pitt vs. Shippensburg
Ship snuck into the bracket and got to play a meaningful game on Sunday of regionals. Pitt wins 15-7.

Penn State vs. Dayton
Dayton is a tall team with two guys who can really air it out. I gave them a puncher’s chance for the upset. Spank wouldn’t get the first upwind break until late but it was enough. Penn State wins 14-10.

Case Western Reserve vs. Cincinnati
At this point I’m realizing Cincinnati is just a fun team to watch; the Queen City has become Bid City. Case leads 8-6 at half, pulling down wind. Cincy rips off three in a row to take the lead. Case Western knocks on the door a couple times but wouldn’t see the upwind end zone again. Cincy advances 13-9.

U Penn vs. Ohio State
So I’ve been watching this Cincinnati/Case Western game like a sucker – meanwhile the possible upset of the tournament is brewing. I turn around just in time to see U Penn pull down wind to Ohio State on double game point. Void runs zone and gets the turn about 20 yards out. Leadbelly gets the D on an inside out throw bound for the end zone. Void sets the zone again. Ohio State beats it in a half dozen throws. Ohio State wins 11-10.

Semifinals

Pitt vs. Cincinnati
You kind of got the feeling that if there was any chance of Pitt being upset it would be in this game. Cincinnati had earned wins against Pitt in the fall and had some momentum after avenging a Conferences loss to a solid Case Western team in quarters. Pitt was unfazed and put the muscle in to start the game pulling up wind, with the bedrock of the line being Marcus Ranii-Dropcho, Max Thorne, Trent Dillon, Sam VanDusen, and Pat Earles. Also in the mix were co-captain Aaron Watson, freshman Jonah Wisch, handler defender specialist Carl Morgenstern, and Joe Bender. With personnel like that, it’s not surprising Pitt got the first up wind break and never looked back.

As they had done the whole tournament, Cincy punted on their half of the field going down wind. Pitt’s scouting was ready for this and countered it with zone defense. Early in the game Pitt was scoring with strike cuts almost at will. At 5-1, Cincinnati dropped a Pat Earles pull five yards out of the end zone. Cincy plays 7 seconds of great goal line defense then Max Thorne breaks the mark with a near zero degree inside out flick for the goal. Play of the game. Pitt wins in convincing fashion, 15-6.

Penn State vs. Ohio State
Spank pulled up wind and broke to start. The next thing you know, Penn State is up 11-1. Lots of multiple turnover points by both teams but Ohio State was unable to capitalize. Penn State generated turnovers with hard man. On offense, Marcus Thaw was the engine that made the car go; upwind break throws, backhand popouts to space, and getting the disc back at will. Ohio State starts scoring late but the game is out of hand. Penn State wins 15-6.

Finals

Pittsburgh v. Penn State
Pitt started the game pulling upwind and ran that monster line out there, just like in semis. Got the first upwind break, just like in semis. And never looked back, just like in semis.

If you want to beat Pitt, you need to play flawless Ultimate. If you make mental mistakes, you can’t win. Penn State would run a great switch on Pitt’s handler then put the wrong force on. Penn State would knock on the door for the upwinder then have that one cut that hangs out at the front cone just a second too long. That stuff can’t happen. Pat Earles’ up wind pulls were another big advantage for Pitt who won the field position battle in finals.

Unlike Cincinnati, who actually did break upwind, Penn State was a legitimate threat to score upwind. Marcus Thaw had some upwind flick hucks that got Spank close a few times though they were unable to convert.

Pitt cruises 15-4.

Saturday’s Game of Note: Cincy vs. Ohio State

There was only one game I had circled on my schedule; darkhorse Cincinnati playing Ohio State for the pool, a first round bye, and a spot on the side of the bracket opposite Pitt.

This game lived up to the billing. It was a layout D fest. Big throws. Big plays in the air. Tons of bids. Everything you want in a rivalry game. Cincinnati came out red hot to go up 6-3 after an insane layout D by standout Dan Latz. Cincy is fired up and looking fierce. In the face of a possible blowout, Ohio State kept the faith, taking half 8-7 on serve. There was no yelling, ra-ra speeches, or meltdowns. Ohio State just played hard defense and waited patiently for their chances, eventually winning 13-11.

Leadbelly plays a pretty relaxed offensive game that seems to come from Ben Krumpelman. The score didn’t change his game at all. Krumpelman would cut up line, get the disc, and if the huck was there, he was putting it up.

Key to the game: Cincinnati outright refused to play with the disc on their half of the field going downwind. Ohio State knew this and adjusted accordingly. Punt and play D is a good idea. But make the punt line your own brick mark instead of half field. At some point you’ve got to trust your guys to play good offense even in windy conditions.

All-Region

Guess what, folks? I’m probably going to miss some guys that deserve recognition. These are the guys that stuck out to me.

Locks…

Marcus Ranii Dropcho, Pittsburgh, #42
It’s hard to imagine a big dude that’s this quick and has this many throws. Marcus is the best player on the best team in the Ohio Valley.

Max Thorne, Pittsburgh, #10
First team All-Region selection last year. Nothing has changed. Max is uncoverable, with great patience and great deep throws. Unfortunately for the rest of the region he also has two years of eligibility left.

Dan Latz, Cincinnati, #21
If you watch one point of a Cincinnati game you can tell Dan Latz is the heart and soul of this tough defensive team. He’s a small, explosive dude with exceptional breaks who would start on any defensive line in the country.

In the conversation…

Pat Earles, Pittsburgh, #3
Lots of goals, lots of upwind assists, and great pulls through bracket play. Earles has a big hand in Pitt’s success. He’s been a great thrower for a long time and now is defense is rounding into form too.

Ben Krumpelman, Ohio State, #17
This guy really impressed me. Krumpelman was a huge part of Ohio State’s pool play comeback against Cincinnati, both with his great play and calm demeanor. It’s sort of strange… he’s out there making big plays but totally relaxed while doing so. Imagine Dazed and Confused era Matthew McConaughey playing college Ultimate.

Marcus Thaw, Penn State, #25
Penn State is kind of a faceless army. Their man defense style and quick offensive movement make it hard to pick a standout. That said, without Thaw Penn State may not have been in the game to go. He had a big game in the semifinal blowout of Ohio State. He was also the only real threat to punch in an upwinder on Pitt in finals.

Paul Arters. Ohio State, #19
Ohio State assistant coach Phil Cherosky told me “Paul is our go-to.” No doubt about that. Leadbelly is always trying to get Arters the disc and he’s usually drawing the best defender, though he and Krumpelman mutually protect each other in that sense. Arters is well rounded; defense, hucks, and big play potential.

Kieran Kelly, Cincinnati, #2
He had lots of great defensive plays throughout the weekend but Kelly had two huge layout Ds when Cincy was down 8-6 in quarters to prevent Case Western from breaking. Efforts like that make you look for this guy’s number on the field.

Trent Dillon, Pittsburgh, #16
As the youngest captain of Pitt, Dillon was relied on to be around the disc a lot more this year – not just pinning his ears back and finding the disc on defense. Dillon answered the bell.

Mark Fedorenko, Dayton, #7
Big, accurate throws to both sides. Really nice around backhand break. One of those guys that does it all on a competitive regionals team.

Aaron Watson, Pittsburgh #59
Had a really strong semis and finals. Got a huge block on a high release backhand to give Pitt a short field against Cincy. Relived the good old days of catching hucks from Pat Earles (like back at North Hills high school) in finals. Watson deserves recognition.

Mason Strawser, Penn State, #99
Great defender. Tall. Quick. Threw some big left-handed hucks in semifinals to get Spank upwind breaks.

Danny Young, Case Western, #3
Case has some other guys that can play, including some big guys like Eli Stoever, but this guy’s poise and ability to break the disc in some tight, high stall situations kept them in it against a better Cincinnati team in quarters.

Alan Huels, Dayton, #50
Tall. Super athletic. The only guy at the tournament I saw consistently out pull Pittsburgh in the wind. If Huels is around next year and can Dayton deep into the tournament, he’ll be more heavily in the conversation.

All-Freshman

Jonah Wisch, Pittsburgh, #38
Part of Pitt’s “Kill Line” that rolled through bracket play. Wisch is the best freshman on a team with a ton of great freshmen.

Max Sheppard, Edinboro, #1
Jumps then floats for a couple seconds. Great upwind throws. Always open.

Codi Wood, Penn State, #21
It’s hard to be a rookie handler. Wood is pretty good now and only going to get better. He’ll be a fixture on Penn State’s O line over the next three years.

Other Sweet Stuff That Happened at Regionals

– An IUP defender playing middle of the wall vomited during a marathon point against West Chester. He took an injury but came back in next point.

– I asked an Ultimate mom what the score of a game was. She answered. I hesitated then asked her if there were any breaks. She knew what breaks were.

– Trent Dillon’s dad had an amazing freestyle volley on an Ultimate disc that included a successful kick. I was probably the only person that witnessed this.

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