New England D-I Regionals 2015: Tournament Preview (Men’s)

UMass at 2014 New England Regionals
Photo by Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

New England went from being one of the top Regionals at the end of the 2014 regular season to one of the least impactful this year. With only #13 Massachusetts finishing in the top 18 of USA Ultimate’s final rankings, New England was only awarded one bid to Nationals, a far cry from last year’s four spots. The real disappointment comes from #22 Tufts and #23 Harvard finishing just outside the final slot to earn New England a strength bid. But with the loss of bids comes the infusion of a potentially dramatic Sunday.

Huge snowstorms meant no New England Open this year, so regional teams didn’t get the exposure and practice playing each other before the Series, only increasing the odds of an upset or two.

Earlier in the season, it looked like UMass was all but certain to make it to Nationals, but with the recent success of Tufts and Harvard in the late season, as well as some skidding from UMass, the finals should be thrilling.

#13 Massachusetts

Coming out of an undefeated fall season, Massachusetts continued their success at Queen City Tune Up and rocketed themselves to the #1 spot on USA Ultimate’s rankings. Ever since then, they have progressively slowed down. Though much of that slide was due to injuries, they do appear beatable. Still, thanks to some big early season wins, and an easy win at their Conference Championship, Massachusetts will be the #1 seed at Regionals, giving them a huge advantage as to likely play neither Tufts nor Harvard until the final.

With Tiina Booth and Evan Johnson at the helm, Massachusetts has been one of the most scrutinized and talked about teams in the country this year, mainly focusing on their star player Jeff Babbitt. The former-FOTY is their biggest playmaker and strongest weapon on offense and defense, but UMass is not a one-trick-pony. Handlers Ben Sadok and Freshman of the Year candidate Brett Gramann have excellent field awareness and can move the disc around enough until the perfect deep shot opens up. With cutters like Ben Tseytlin, Conor Kline, and the Barron brothers, their height and speed can be a real challenge for other teams. With club experience from Ironside, Dark or Light, and Garuda, the young but experienced team has strong fundamentals and chemistry playing together.

Massachusetts have been cycling through a few different zones, but usually focus around a 1-3-3, using their height as an advantage in the first wall, especially against teams at the windy South New England Conference Championships.

The early front-runners shouldn’t have much trouble getting to the finals at Regionals. But with no experience playing Tufts or Harvard this spring, they’ll need to bring their A game in the final if they hope to return to Nationals. UMass has not had historic success against the two Boston powerhouse programs. Last year they finished behind both at Regionals. Their mental game has been a major stumbling block in the past — they hope to exorcise those demons this weekend.

Notable wins: Georgia, UNC, Central Florida
Notable losses: UNCW, Texas A&M, Florida, Texas, Carleton, Pittsburgh
Likely ceiling: Champion
Likely floor: Loss in final

#23 Tufts

With a win over Harvard at Metro Boston Conferences, Tufts managed a small upset to guarantee themselves a #2 spot at Regionals. While struggling against out of region Nationals caliber teams, they seem to have no trouble winning in-region games, which will be put to the test on May 3rd. Tufts has less name recognition than teams like Massachusetts, but rely on their entire roster for depth.

However, in the absence of players like Alex Cooper, Adrian Banerji, and Jack Hatchet, Tyler Chan is the new big name for Tufts. A fast and explosive player with skills on both sides of the disc will prove a tough matchup for every team at the tournament. Another big name player, Carter Thallon, will also be pushing hard for the E-Men to make it back to Nationals this year.

Notable wins: 13-10 over Harvard at Conferences
Notable losses: Carleton, Washington, Wisconsin, Texas, Pittsburgh
Likely Ceiling: Champion
Likely Floor: Loss in Semis

#22 Harvard

The loss of 2014 New England Player of the Year Jeremy Nixon is a big one for Harvard this year, but John Stubbs seems to be doing everything he can to make up for it. Stubbs and Vandenberg return with a younger team this year: there are nine freshmen on the roster.

That inexperience has led Harvard to have a rough time this season against out of region teams and other National contenders and lost to Tufts by three at Metro Boston Conferences two weeks ago, but their losses of late have been close ones as they have improved dramatically since early this spring. They lost to Florida 11-10, Colorado 13-10 and Tufts 13-10. Harvard has been a continued presence at Nationals and if they can finish up their games strong, by generating breaks and applying pressure, the close games could easily fall their way at Regionals.

With such a young team, some could argue that this is a rebuilding year for Red Line, but finishing #22 in the country with a heavy chance of making Nationals, Harvard seems to be taking this as just another year.

Likely Ceiling: Nationals
Likely Floor: Loss in semifinals
Notable wins: Central Florida
Notable losses: UNCW, Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, UNC, Tufts

The Contenders

#41 Brown

Brown has been the dark horse in the region for a while now. Ever since missing Regionals a couple years ago, they have turned it around and even earned a strength bid last year, which was taken away by Dartmouth.

This year they aren’t so far from the top of the pack, despite their end of the year ranking. At South New England Conferences they managed to break twice in a row against Massachusetts to bring the game to 8-7 after half. Unfortunately for them, that was the last time they scored and lost 13-7. They forced more turns than Massachusetts earned in the second half, so if they can clean up their play, they will be a tricky team to beat.

With a lot of height and speed, players like Ezra Lichtman, Sawyer Thompson, and Ryan Brown will be looked at to generate some big plays. And Nick Goelz and Eli Motycka, who looked very confident in the wind at Conferences, can anchor the defensive line on a turn.

Brown could easily find their way into the finals at Regionals, but they’ll have to fight through a few powerhouses and play tighter offense to do so.

New Hampshire & Dartmouth

Calling these teams contenders for a Nationals bid may be a bit of a reach, but they are still both teams that shouldn’t be overlooked.

New Hampshire took the North New England crown from Dartmouth this year, and took them down at Queen City Tune Up as well. UNH’s Thomas Edmonds, who recently joined the ranks of the Boston Whitecaps, and Dartmouth’s Andrew Pillsbury will both be looking to take their teams as deep as they can on Sunday.

Both teams have a chance of making semifinals at Regionals, but beyond that the top teams in the region are just too strong.

The Rest

  • Boston College, Vermont and Rhode Island all took third place in their respective Conference Championships and will have a chance to play in the 5th place game, but their chances of reaching semis is unlikely.
  • Northeastern started the season with a strong showing, but followed up with a lackluster Conferences. We’ll see which team comes out at Regionals.
  • UMass Dartmouth was the surprise of the Metro Boston Conferences, moving up a few spots with upsets, but their lack of tournament play will probably hurt them.
  • Boston University was forced to forfeit after an incident at Conferences, and their bid will be given to Maine, who had failed to earn a bid out of North New England.

  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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