2015 Metro East D-III Regionals: Tournament Preview (Men’s)

The Metro East title runs through SUNY Geneseo.

SUNY Geneseo at the 2014 D-III College Championships
Photo: Nick Lindeke — UltiPhotos.com

For all the Metro East teams that complained about the weather last season, this year was a harsh reminder to be careful about what you wish for. The seemingly unending winter that punished the whole east coast buried much of the region and its teams for the majority of the season. Even the teams that were able to escape south in search of more hospitable weather were forced off of practice fields all spring, with several teams getting their first taste of real outdoor ultimate at sectionals. But with spring finally in the air and regionals on the horizon this weekend in Saratoga Springs, the winter of discontent will be the last thing on team’s mind once the first pull goes up and a chance to reach Nationals is on the line.

With a lone bid allocated to the region this year, only the winner of the tournament will continue their season, while the other eleven teams will hang up their cleats at the end of the weekend. This weekend is the pinnacle of the season for most teams, a celebration of all that they have accomplished and the tantalizing potential of what is to come if they play their best and book their ticket to Nationals. 

Unlike last season when the region could make a credible claim that it deserved multiple bids, this year the Metro East’s decent performance in the regular season simply was not enough to snare a second bid. Some subpar performances and several cancelled tournaments leaves those who hope to play for a national title in May on the brink of elimination virtually from the first point on Saturday. That pressure, and the high quality of competition present this weekend, will create a cauldron from which only a truly deserving team will emerge and continue their fight towards a title.

The Favorite

#2 SUNY Geneseo Snail

One bid regions are almost always tense affairs, and this year will be no different. Despite #2 SUNY Geneseo coming in as the clear favorite, there are several teams nipping at their heels ready to pounce the instant the reigning champs slip up. Last year Geneseo came in as the top seed at regionals, but were still somewhat of an underdog considering they had never made Nationals before. This season they will arrive as the undisputed favorites.

While being the favorite is still a new role for this Snail team, the players that take the field this weekend will be no stranger to high pressure games, as most of the core that carried Geneseo to Nationals in 2014 has returned. A large senior and 5th year class is headlined by 1st team All-Region co-captains David Abbott and Matt “Micky” Rybak who have become as fearsome a duo as any in the region and perhaps in the country. Playing together for four years, the two veteran leaders have been able to carry Geneseo’s O-line throughout the season, and have been nearly unstoppable on give and goes when isolated into space.

Geneseo’s entire attack is predicated on speed, as Rybak’s initiating cuts provide space and flow for the rest of Geneseo’s athletic offensive line to kick into gear. Senior cutter Colin Peartree has picked up the slack from departed All-Region player Justin Ilowite and acted as a key contributor to the offense this year. Teams that have overzealously poached Rybak in an attempt to stop the Abbott/Rybak breakaways are often left with the unsavory proposition of guarding the supremely athletic Peartree in open space, which has been a go to source of offense.

It will likely be the defense that determines Geneseo’s fate this weekend, as the team’s Achilles heel this year has been their D-line’s conversion rate. At D-III Easterns in March, the Snail D-line was unable to take advantage of its opportunities to punch in breaks and allowed teams to capitalize on the offense’s rare but crucial mistakes. There are plenty of teams in attendance this weekend capable of making Geneseo pay for profligacy.

The resume coming into the weekend for Geneseo is impressive, having notched two wins over Easterns champ Elon in the regular season, to go along with quality wins over Richmond, Oberlin, and rival SUNY-Fredonia in the championship game at Conferences this past weekend. On paper, they look like a team that could be competing for a title in May, but this weekend will put their status as legit title contenders to the test.

Bona Fide Contenders

#17 SUNY Fredonia Terrifying Turtles

It has been a year of “what could have beens” so far for the Terrifying Turtles of Fredonia. At D-III Easterns they weren’t able to do quite enough to sew up a second bid for the region despite some golden opportunities (most notably leads on Amherst and Middlebury that slipped away in the final possessions). A good but not good enough performance left them floating just outside the strength bid window, meaning they will need to beat their rival, top seeded SUNY Geneseo, this weekend if they hope to make Nationals for the first time in their program’s history.

They came oh-so-close to doing just that this past weekend at Conferences, as a three point run on the back of some incredible throws from Kevin Quinlan gave them a 12-10 lead over Geneseo. This would be their high water mark however, as Geneseo’s starters crossed over to the D-line and turned up the intensity, igniting a 5-1 run that would close out the game for Snail and put another heartbreaking loss on the shoulders of the Turtles.

Fredonia responded well to the defeat, and beat a feisty Hamilton team in the 2/3 game to likely lock up the second overall seed at Regionals. While coming so close to vanquishing their rivals must sting, Fredonia will likely be emboldened by their performance on Sunday and the knowledge that they have another shot at taking Geneseo down, this time when it really matters. Fredonia lost two painfully close games to Geneseo in the series last year, including in the semifinals of regionals, and nothing would be sweeter for this Fredonia team than to avenge their defeat last season and book a trip to Nationals in the process.

Running the show for Fred is their triumvirate of captains: Kevin Quinlan, Craig McGowan, and Dylan Leitner. Quinlan and McGowan are both returning All-Region players, and Leitner will surely join their ranks this year after a sterling campaign in which he really stepped up and took on a bigger role for his team. Fredonia doesn’t have quite the same flame-emoji-level playmaking ability it did over the past few years, but they have made up for that by taking on a more disciplined, tactical approach that keeps opposing defenses on their toes.

Quick handler movement between Leitner, Quinlan, and McGowan opens up the break space and the downfield cutters for Fredonia are good at reacting to the disc movement in a way that maximizes attacking space all over the field. Teams playing Fred have to stick tight to their man all over the field, even on the break side, because the throws and movement of Fredonia’s top players make the entire field a target.

After losing perennial player of the year candidate Greg Wakeman last season, Fredonia has maintained their competitiveness and are once again within striking distance of Nationals. A big part of that comes from the evolution and maturity of Kevin Quinlan, Fredonia’s best player and face of their program. After exploding onto the scene his freshman year in a flurry of hucks and hammers, Quinlan has learned to temper his throwing ability with his athletics gifts to become a complete, and often times freighting, player. He is the most dangerous player with the disc in the region, and his defense and off disc movement have only improved with every passing season. He has developed a bit of a reputation for throwing Fredonia out of some games, but if he can lead his team to a regional title this weekend, he has the chance to put that stereotype to rest once and for all.

If seeding holds, the Fredonia-Geneseo rivalry that has been one of the most exciting storylines in the region the last few years will get another thrilling chapter in the regional final. Over the past two seasons, one of the two teams has eliminated the other, and this year presents the chance for a classic rubber-match.

Heightening the drama is the fact that this is the last go round for the two leaders and stalwarts of each squad, as both David Abbott of Geneseo and Quinlan of Fredonia will graduate after this season. The two rivals are friends and teammates dating back to high school, and have found themselves staring across the line at each other on their respective sides of the Fredonia-Geneseo rivalry. They are competing for POTY honors in the region, not to mention the trip to Nationals on the line this weekend. Fans of drama and personal intrigue have to hope that the two teams will cross paths this weekend and give us one last chance to see these two incredible players trade haymakers one last time.

Stevens Tech Ducks

There is a joke to be made about ducks’ preferences for certain types of weather, but after two season of suffering through regular seasons with weather that wasn’t fit for man nor beast, I’m sure that the players on Stevens Tech are in no mood. A semifinalist at Nationals in 2013, Steven’s bid for a third straight Metro East title was thwarted when they fell to Geneseo in the championship game last season. After getting so close to a historic three-peat, Stevens is refocused and ready to be hunters again at Regionals instead of the favorites.

As noted in the season preview, Stevens’ priorities are on development and getting their team ready for Regionals, not on working the system to procure another strength bid. Out of context, their mediocre regular season results may convey that the team has slipped completely out of the picture, but those regular season results should be taken with an appropriate amount of salt. While their performance this season has left them outside of the rankings, don’t be surprised if the Ducks appear as their old selves come Sunday. They played with open lines and without All-Region cutter Jon Lee for most of the season, and are just now starting to reach their potential as a team. Close defeats to NYU and Yale show that there was some spark to the team during the regular season, and the team took care of business at sectionals, using their depth to breeze through games on their way to another Metro New York title.

The pieces are there for Stevens, and when the team clicks and their ho-stack attack is firing on all cylinders, they are a sight to behold. The key figure is Marques Brownlee, the returning player of the year in the ME-III. Stevens’ somewhat anonymous regular season will likely cost him a shot at holding onto the POTY crown, but if he unleashes hell at regionals, which he is definitely capable of doing, walking away with a regional title will be a pretty good consolation prize.

Brownlee is the star that creates the gravitational pull, but it is his wingmen than make Stevens so dangerous. Zach Smith and Jon Lee will both be very hard to handle in single coverage, and if teams adjust too much to limit Brownlee then the two cutters will eat teams alive.

Defensive intensity was the focus for Stevens going into the year, and it is still a big question mark. Because of the disjointed nature of the regular season for the Ducks, we really haven’t seen them play their best game yet, and it is too early to tell if they will be able to bring the intensity on the defensive side of the disc that they lacked last season. One way or another we will find out this weekend, and if Stevens is able to flip the switch at Saratoga, their regular season will seem like nothing more than a bad memory.

Darkhorses and Spoilers

Hamilton Hot Saucer

While the Metro East only earned one bid, during much of the regular season the region was in line for two, as Hamilton’s early season win at the West Point Classic vaulted them to the top tier of the USAU rankings. Due to weather and some late season injury concerns Hamilton was unable to get in another tournament, which resulted in them failing to meet the ten game minimum necessary for their spot in the rankings to be rewarded with a strength bid. Not locking up a second bid makes their road to Nationals much harder, as they will likely have to beat both Geneseo and Fredonia if they hope to keep their season alive past this weekend.

Sophomore handler Sam Carletta has had a breakout year for Hot Saucer. After struggling at times last season with consistency and decision making, his time playing club and with the Rochester Dragons this spring has clearly paid off, as he is developing into a well-rounded player on both sides of the disc. At this point in his career it is asking a lot of a sophomore to carry a team to Nationals, and despite his big year, Carletta will definitely need some help from fellow playmakers Nicholas Lucchesi and Benjamin Moody if Hamilton hopes to make waves on Sunday.

It is a shame that Hamilton’s other sophomore stud Jonah Boucher, Carletta’s high school and club teammate, tore his ACL this winter, or else the picture could have looked different for Hamilton this year. Boucher was a revelation as a freshman, and the key piece in Hamilton’s offense. 

Hamilton enters the weekend on the outside of contention looking in, but they will be confident that they can make some noise after taking Fredonia to double game point at sectionals. Hot Saucer had the disc on the goal line for the win, but great defense from Fredonia caused a turn and denied Hamilton an upset. Coming so close to knocking off the team that eliminated them at regionals last season had to sting, but the good news for Hot Saucer is that they will likely get another chance at upsetting one of the top teams in the region.

Connecticut College Dasein

A team that is lurking just outside of the spotlight is Connecticut College. Dasein didn’t generate much buzz coming into the season on the tail end of a 2014 in which they failed to even make regionals. After making Nationals in 2011, Connecticut College had been on a steady decline for a few seasons before bottoming out at sectionals last year. It seems as though the fortunes of the team are changing, however, as a young ambitious squad has them back on top of the Hudson Valley section and back in the hunt at Regionals.

2014 was definitely a rebuilding year for the Conn Coll squad that lost 11 seniors after their 2013 run. They expected 2015 to be more of the same, but their young players from last year and deep rookie class have really stepped up and pushed Dasein back into contention. Conn Coll was expected to do better this year than last, but even Captain Jason Hamburger was pleasantly surprised with how the young crop of players has performed. “Our goal coming off of last year’s season was to recruit heavily, try to slowly grow back our depth, and hopefully do well enough at sectionals to advance,” he said. “The depth and talent that we have picked up this year has defied all expectations.”

They will need that depth this weekend, as Conn Coll lacks some of the top tier firepower that their opponents will be able to deploy. Hamburger is their go-to offensive weapon, and he runs the O-line along with his fellow captains Phil Winchester and Colin Munson. It was Dasein’s offensive cohesion more than dynamic playmaking ability that led to their success at sectionals, but their system will be put to the test by higher caliber defenses this weekend. Following Hartford’s “what the hell happened” collapse this season, Conn Coll did not face any tremendously talented teams at sectionals, but that will certainly change this weekend.

While Dasein likely doesn’t have the top end talent or the experience to win three straight elimination games on Sunday, their performance at Conferences was no fluke. They should be expected to make bracket play on Sunday, and could definitely unseat one of the top teams if they catch them on an off day. This year is gravy for Dasein, as they never expected to be in this position, and they will gain valuable experience this weekend for what looks to be a scary squad next year.

The Rest

Beyond the five teams at the top it is very hard to see anyone seriously challenging for a spot in the semifinals, let alone a ticket to Nationals. Of course, the games are played on the field and not on paper, so it wouldn’t be unheard of for one of the lower seeded teams to break through into the later rounds on Sunday.

What is now a perennial regionals squad, SUNY-Oneonta has had some decent performances this season, and has already beaten Marist whose splendid Saturday at Conferences put them in line to finish second at sectionals. Both squads should be in contention to make it to bracket play on Sunday, but after seeing Oneonta get obliterated by Geneseo at Conferences and without a trademark win on the books yet for Marist, it is hard to see either one of them unseating one of the semifinals contenders.

From the bottom five teams, RPI likely has the best shot at pulling off an upset solely based on their experience at D-III Easterns playing against some top level competition. For the rest of the teams, this weekend will be a good chance to gain some experience and some hunger for a more potent 2016 campaign.

  1. Patrick Stegemoeller
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    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.

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