Top Coaching, Roster Depth Leading UMass To National Prominence

UMass made its first Nationals in 26 years last season; will they rise to even greater heights in 2015?

UMass' Ben Sadok makes the catch as Georgia's Elliott Erickson dives for the block.
UMass’ Ben Sadok makes the catch as Georgia’s Elliott Erickson dives for the block. Photo: Christina Schmidt — UltiPhotos.com

Usually overshadowed by other New England teams like Harvard, Tufts and Dartmouth, Massachusetts is emerging as the top team in the region this season. Last year was the first time they had reached Nationals in 26 years, longer than any player on the team had been alive.

Massachusetts barely managed to squeak into the College Championships last year with the fourth New England bid, beating out Brown, the team that earned the very same bid. And despite going 1-4, Massachusetts T-13th place finish at Nationals was “successful,” according to coach Tiina Booth.

Finally with some Nationals experience under their belt, Zoodisc will be looking to their potent freshman and sophomore classes to bring depth to the team. When you bring in the coaching duo of Tiina Booth and Dark or Light’s Evan Johnson; Player of the Year candidate (and former Freshman of the Year) Jeff Babbitt; club experience from Garuda, Dark or Light, Night’s Watch, and Ironside; and players like Ben Sadok, Ben Tseytlin and Brett Gramann; it’s not hard to see that this is a team that can go deep on Sunday at any tournament they attend this year.

“We’re on the starting line of the marathon,” Booth said. “We have a good team…with some great moments, and some sobering moments.”

Overall Indictators

  • 6t– Ultiworld Power Rankings
  • 1st — USA Ultimate College Rankings
  • Undefeated in Fall 2014
  • T-13th – 2014 College National Championships
  • 4th – 2014 New England Regionals

Notable Spring Results

  • 13-4 over Georgia at QCTU
  • 12-7 over #3 North Carolina in semis at QCTU
  • 12-15 loss to #4 UNC Wilmington in finals of QCTU

Playing Style

The best thing Massachusetts has going for them is that just about everyone is talking only about Jeff Babbitt. And for good reason: he is a monster on the field, able to make some unbelievable catches and blocks and use his size and skill in equal measure. Yet no one is commenting on the depth of this team. Some of the team’s strongest and most athletic players are sophomores or freshman.

Brett Gramann, Ben Sadok, Ben Tseytlin, and Conor Kline were all over the field at Queen City Tune Up in February. “We have a strong freshman and sophomore class who have a lot of experience and who want to get much, much better,” Booth said. Their success at QCTU was attributed to a “total team success,” she added.

UMass has had a lot of success with different variations of a 1-3-3 zone and all know it very well. Their hopes are to disrupt their opponents’ rhythm by changing the zone once a team has grown accustomed to it, or figured out where the holes will be. With their height and athleticism, their zone will be a problem for any team in the country, especially in high winds like teams saw at QCTU.

While their zone is tough for teams to figure out and get comfortable with, their physical, athletic man defense is where the big plays will come from. Babbitt isn’t just a tall target on offense, he is a freakishly athletic defender who routinely comes up with surprising blocks from unlikely positions.

On offense, they switch between vertical and horizontal stack, making the most of the cutting lanes for their young, quick cutters and accurate handlers and huckers. Ben Tseytlin is a big playermaker who will help set up the goals, with help from Gramann and Sadok.

They may have lost players like Ironside practice player Ben Katz, David DiBiase, and Kevin Norton, who helped solidify the program at Massachusetts, but they gained players like 2015 Rookie of the Year candidate Brett Gramann, a Doublewide practice player and former Junior Worlds player, and Jeff Dreyfus, who was matched up against Jon Nethercutt in their game against UNC. The team also returns some steady talent. Look for 5th year Manit Munshi, Max Perham, and Wes Johnson to make contributions on both offense and defense.

The team, at times, seems to need Babbitt to be in the game, making plays, for the rest of the roster to thrive. When Babbitt took points off during the QCTU finals, there was some stagnancy — Babbitt was their biggest pressure release valve underneath. But the coaching staff has worked to reduce the reliance on Babbitt and, to UMass’ credit, they did not fall apart without him. Gramann and Kline, particularly, continued to stay locked in on offense.

The team takes the field again this weekend at Centex, and it will be worth watching to see how their #1 USA Ultimate ranking affects them: will they be complacent? Will teams target them with their highest energy games?

UMass still has plenty of questions to answer about where they will end up this season, but don’t be surprised if they continue to win.

Likely Ceiling

Finalist. If Massachusetts ever had a year to go all the way, this is it.With Booth and Johnson at the coaching helm, POTY candidate Jeff Babbitt leading as captain, and a deep roster full of hungry, athletic playmakers, Massachusetts could bring glory back to New England.

Likely Floor

Prequarters exit. At this point in the season, they are the obvious frontrunner in New England, and should secure a bid to Nationals, even if the region only brings just a single bid to Nationals. Not that it will be a cake walk in an always challenging Regionals. Still, assuming they avoid any major injuries, they have both the high end talent and the depth to compete beyond pool play in Milwaukee.

  1. Jared Dimascio
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    Jared DiMascio has written for Skyd, USA Ultimate, the MLU, the AUDL and now Ultiworld. He used to run New England Ultimate blog to report on ultimate happenings in New England. He spent 4 years playing DIII at Keene State, where he created the team and spends his summers playing at the mixed level with Darkwing.

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