The President's Day Invite field has been whittled to four: Oregon, UCSB, Washington, and Colorado.
February 16, 2015 by Alec Surmani in News, Recap with 0 comments
SAN DIEGO — Though there were few big surprises and all of Sunday’s matches went to seed, President’s Day nevertheless yielded a great deal of exciting action.
Here’s a look at how the first two days have gone down in San Diego.
If there’s one team that’s looked great all weekend, it’s Oregon.
They’ve jumped out to at least a three-break lead by halftime in all seven of their games. With the exception of minor runs, they didn’t let any opponents mount a legitimate comeback. They’ve won all but one game by a margin of at least four, save for a meaningless final pool play game against Brown that ended 13-10.
What’s more, Ego put together these stellar performances without overly leaning on Callahan winner Dylan Freechild, often opting to save his legs for Monday while also developing their younger players. Oregon jumped out to a 5-0 lead on Minnesota in quarters with Freechild only playing the first of those points, which was an offensive hold.
Any notion of a subpar Ego this year, even without Aaron Honn and Simon Higgins, can pretty much be put to rest. Oregon is most definitely the real deal.
They play a kind of freeform offense but rarely clutter or run into picks. They create space exceptionally well, thanks in large part to their ability to punish the poach (even adjusting pull plays on the fly in reaction to defensive adjustments). And they have the skills and confidence to play a kind of chemistry ultimate that’s rarely seen at the college level.
Though they’ve yet to play Colorado or Washington, the other top two teams at this tournament, Oregon looks to be in great shape for their semis match against UC Santa Barbara tomorrow.
And if UCSB’s streaky play so far this weekend is any indication, Oregon look like they’ll have a smooth ride to the finals with fresher legs than any other team in San Diego, thanks to the efficient protection of their leads.
Washington Proving They’re No Fluke
Continuing off the success of their Santa Barbara Invite title, Washington has been the other dominant team at Pres Day.
Despite sections in a few games where they couldn’t find their flow or connect on deep shots, the Sundodgers began and ended all of their matches strong, beating all their opponents by five or more points.
Leading hammers to the break side, hucks put up only a moment after the deep cuts are made, and huge layouts on both sides of the disc in each of their games left no doubt that Washington never fails to ball out with confidence — they know they have the skills to back it up.
Khalif El-Salaam, Jonny Stacey, and Kyle Steen wrecked defenders point after point, barely blinking an eye when a play didn’t go their way. Instead, they simply dug in and made the next one.
Which is exactly what might be the most impressive element of the Sundodgers this season: their superior mental game. They might be temporarily bummed after a miscue here and there, but they never stop fighting and have yet to get too lost in their own heads this season.
Considering the sizable momentum they’ve amassed, and the ever-growing faith they have in each other, Washington just might be the favorite to knock off Colorado in semis tomorrow.
Defending Champs Looking Vulnerable
For those wondering how much of a difference losing Jimmy Mickle, Tim Morrissy, Dennison Bechis, and Hidde Snieder in one season can affect a team as dominant as Colorado was last year, the answer is slowly coming in: a lot.
To be fair, though, there are other key factors that will shape Mamabird in 2015.
Rising star Mark Rauls is not enrolled at Colorado this semester, and thus won’t be playing with the team. And veteran coach Jim Schoettler retired after last season.
Schoettler’s absence can already be felt. Last year, in a central theme of their 2014 season, Mamabird players could be seen throwing around a football in between almost every point and throughout halftime, embodying their athletic mentality and boundless energy.
This weekend, the football made its return, but it didn’t get tossed around as much, as players seemed more content with just chilling out and talking with their teammates during the breaks.
It’s tough to say how much of a provable difference any one of the changes — roster turnover, a leader lost, and a more lax mentality — makes on the team this year. But their results so far this weekend indicate a big shift in team identity.
Mamabird remain undefeated on the weekend, but a few of their games looked too close for comfort.
Colorado squeaked out a 13-11 win over UC San Diego in pool play. They let San Diego State nab a 7-6 lead in power pools, before surging back to take it 15-9. Minnesota were routing them 8-4, before Grey Duck suffered a complete breakdown and gave up an 8-1 run en route to a 14-11 Mamabird victory. Even UCLA was hanging with Colorado at 9-10, until again Mamabird pulled away and won 15-10.
If anything, to say a 7-0 showing so far is in any way disappointing just reflects the quality of the Mamabird program and the respect it commands.
With their first big test this season coming up in semis against Washington on Monday, we’ll see how much of that respect Colorado will take with them to Stanford Invite next month.
Black Tide Excels Down the Stretch
UCSB started their weekend down three breaks in the first half to Minnesota. As they’ve proved all weekend though, they knew how to finish.
By halftime, Black Tide would earn two of those three breaks back. They’d go on to pull out the 10-9 victory with a cheeky lefty backhand in a tight window, despite turning it twice on universe, one of which came on an illegal timeout in hard cap by captain Hunter Corbett.
UCSB would also come up clutch in their grudge match against UCLA in power pools, which remained on serve all the way through 11-10. After Smaug miffed a wide open five-yard score for the tie, Black Tide worked it upwind patiently and found Corbett for the crucial first break of the game. Hard cap would go on during the ensuing point, handing UCLA an 11-12 loss despite their offensive hold.
With their bottomless energy and tenacious fight, UCSB never seem to be truly out of any game. They apply a lot of pressure in man defense, and their zone demands a strong level of patience and repeated execution from opponents.
They got broken only once on Sunday. In three games.
They’ll face by far their toughest opponent of the season Monday, however, when they collide with Oregon in the semis. Ego have yet to be tested at this tournament, and Black Tide have yet to battle a squad as dynamic and efficient as Oregon.
Minnesota Flash Brilliance, But Fall Apart in Crucial Moments
The mystery of the Grey Duck continues.
Minnesota had three-break leads in the opening halves of their matches against UCSB and Colorado but blew both of them — the former almost before the half was over and the latter in a stunning 8-1 run by Mamabird.
And the thing is, it’s difficult to say what even happened.
For the most part, the slumps weren’t attributable to bad looks or a massive abandonment of their system. They just couldn’t hit the throws or develop much flow.
Missing standout handler Josh Klane for all but the Colorado game didn’t help. Grey Duck could’ve used his unstoppable arsenal of throws and veteran leadership. Even with Ben Jagt repeatedly pulling down huge skies, often over multiple defenders, it just wasn’t enough for Minnesota.
The heartbreaking 14-10 loss to Mamabird in their final power pool match left them completely demoralized for their quarters game against Ego, and Oregon would take half 8-2 on their way to a 15-11 win.
Grey Duck will face off against Cal Monday morning, fighting for fifth and trying to salvage some positives from the weekend.
– Much like at last year’s Pres Day, Cal showed why they’re one of the region’s best programs, coming in with a low stock but putting up good fights against some good teams. Ugmo held with Black Tide in quarters for most of the game, until UCSB pulled away at the end. Watch for Cal to grow even more as the season progresses and arrive at Regionals as a legit contender.
– The swath of graduations from last year’s regional champion squad has left UCSD struggling to put together a complete game against good opponents. Cody Kirkland will keep putting up dimes and Trevor Purdy will keep coming down with them, but the Air Squids will need to keep developing their youth in order to give their stars more support. With their excellent system and coaching, however, they should be fine by Regionals.
– UCLA came close to having a huge tournament, but just couldn’t execute when it mattered most. Their power pool play match against UCSB could’ve gone either way if it weren’t for the devastating miscue on what proved to be the penultimate point. Likewise, they held tight with Colorado until late throwaways sunk them. If they can tighten up the mental nerves, Smaug could make a deep run at Regionals.