Day One Men’s Recap: 2015 College Championships, Presented By Ultimate Central

Catch up on the day one results from Nationals!

Oregon v. FSU
Oregon v. FSU. Photo: Jolie Lang — UltiPhotos.com

Check out the action from Day 1 at the 2015 USA Ultimate D-I College Championships in our Friday Recap.

Pool A

Georgia Falls Short, Texas Shows Potential

Georgia faced Pitt this morning in a highly anticipated matchup that many thought could decide the pool winner. Although the game finished close, UGA was unable to scare the Pitt offense aside from the first few points of the contest. The Pittsburgh offense ramped up throughout the course of the game, until reaching near perfection by the end. On offense, Georgia struggled getting their younger players to minimize mistakes. The stout Pitt D took away veteran leaders Sam Little and Elliot Erickson, forcing the offensive weight on Di Francesco and Haskell. The two freshman connected at first, but it seemed to be more lucky than good. UGA’s offense slowly fell apart until Pitt got the only break they needed, winning 15-13.

The struggles for UGA continued further, when they faced Texas. A slight wind threw the offense completely off their game, as Texas took half 8-2. The story here may be more about Texas though. The D-line efficiency was elite, with Chase Cunningham and Jordan Taylor leading the way. Cunningham had three assists and one goal in the first half, a half too good to be overcome by Georgia. Texas also handled their first game against Wisconsin. The dump defense against Wisconsin overmatched what was already a shaky offense from the Hodags. Wisconsin couldn’t hit their first look, and the throws didn’t connect on the inside breaks. However, the Hodag O improved throughout the day, which will hopefully for them carry into tomorrow.

Pitt Rolls, Auburn Struggles

Pittsburgh started shaky this morning, but they reached true form on day one of the tournament. After they fixed the initial Offensive miscues, the offense was scarcely broken by both Georgia and Auburn. Pat Earles was a rock offensively, and proved himself to be the most dynamic handler in Pool A. Their close call against UGA only made them stronger moving forward.

Auburn had Nationals growing pains with their two back to back rounds today. They struggled out the gate in both rounds, failing to score on offense early. After the efficiency issues were worked out, the Auburn D-line had trouble scoring their break chances. The reality is that Auburn is a young team that wants to turn a Nationals trip into a Nationals return. This is the first step.

Going Into Tomorrow

After their win over UGA, Pittsburgh looks fairly unbeatable. While Texas has a strong defense, it still doesn’t seem like they have what it takes to throw Pittsburgh off their game. Wisconsin plays a tight man defense, but their offensive efficiency isn’t nearly where it needs to be to have hopes of taking down the one seed.

It’s still possible for Auburn to advance, but they’d obviously have to win out tomorrow. If they see the UGA that Texas saw, they’ll have a real chance — any other UGA and they’ll have a real challenge in front of them. UGA now sits at 0-2 and will have to win out to have a chance at advancing. They’ll face off Auburn and Wisconsin.

Texas controls their destiny in seeding, and they’ll be tough to take out on Saturday. The gameplan for TUFF hasn’t changed much since 2014, just the personnel.

Pool B

Day 1 is in the books and Pool B continues to fit its original description: unknown, new, and open. There’s potential in this group, but it takes a keen eye to see it. It’s not hard to see a few of these teams in quarters, but imagining any semis, let alone finals, is becoming harder and harder. And right now, the top spot is still very much up for grabs.

Depth defeats talent today.

The two undefeated teams in Pool B brought depth to the table, with Central Florida and Minnesota spreading around the disc, yet also showing star power, and winning the close games in their pool to each go 2-0.

Texas A&M, the number two seed overall, and the pool favorite, clearly had the greatest individual talents in Matt Bennett and Dalton Smith, but their non-stop reliance on the duo no doubt contributed to a worrisome end to their day.

After outdueling Cincinnati in the early round, coming up with the 14-12 soft cap victory, Central Florida seemed a carbon copy match: lots of turns, lots of sick throws from Smith and Bennett, and the two playing every single point in a tight game. But when Dalton Smith went down with his legs cramping, the Dogs of War reeled off five straight points without him on the field, going up 13-9, and putting the game completely out of reach.

A&M’s games were troubling even without the Smith injury. Yes, there were highlight reel plays, but also just too many turnovers, leading to long battles. And when your stars are playing every single line at Nationals, you threaten your ability to win games period, let alone make a deep bracket run.

Central Florida, on the other hand, can easily spread the glory around. They were purposefully switching men on to the Dozen Ultimate stars, and their stat sheet was filled with different leaders at different situations. Michael Fairley and Stuart Little (goal leader for the Men’s field for the day) came down with great deep shots, Jeremy Langdon and Alex Bullock distributed well, and a host of other players stepped up in various spots.

The problem for Central Florida is that they continue to play to the level of their competition. Their game against Western Washington was sloppy and it took them some effort to pull away; similarly, it took Dalton Smith’s exit for the Dogs to gain a serious lead on Dozen. Can they compete at their high level throughout, or will they make every game a tight grind?

Minnesota also showed their depth, with Ben Jagt and a resurgent Josh Klane proving they are forces to be reckoned with, but other role players doing their jobs when it mattered. The question for this team becomes if they can match the talent of their competitors. Their depth may be less than that of UCF.

Cincinnati started to wear down, despite their top seven’s skills, with Grey Duck purposefully grinding them tight on resets and forcing inopportune passes. Their struggle is only harder, an uphill battle against UCF before their final match against Western Washington.

WWU can fight, but they can’t find the wins. They are the middle team, without true elite stars and truly powerful depth. Strong, very solid, but not good enough. Their best shot for a win will be against a tired Cinci at the end of pool play.

The pool is in UCF’s hands, but Minnesota will give them a good fight. That is the match to watch for the pool’s determination. Central Florida has the talent, it’s just hard to imagine the storyline for them to dominate. Far more likely is another tight one.

A&M, formerly #1 in the pool, simply may not have the legs to continue to compete. They’ll get their critical game against Minnesota early, but if Grey Duck can do what they did against Cinci — hang tough, grind and tire their opponents, and force others to make plays — they can take the game and still be ready for Central Florida.

Central Florida and Minnesota show that both talent and depth are critical for National Championship success.

Pool C

With two games in the books for Pool C, the story of note isn’t that North Carolina finished the day in command of the pool at 2-0. It isn’t that Maryland took down Oregon in stunning fashion in the day’s fourth round, even after Maryland dropped their first game against a surprisingly solid Illinois team.

Oregon Ego, who finished the regular season ranked third in the country via USA Ultimate, went 0-2 in the pool, making their path to the bracket (after already starting 4th in the pool) that much harder. While in some scenarios Oregon may not need to win both their morning game against Illinois and the much anticipated matchup against UNC to find the prequarters, saving energy against one team and letting other teams have even more say in their fate would be an ill-advised strategy. If Ego wants redemption, their best bet will be firing on all cylinders all day long.

Florida State took down Oregon first with some excellent backfield pressure on throwers and then capitalized when emotions (and the subsequent serving of technicals) got the better of Ego to put the game away late. While FSU did manage a few big blocks, there were no shortage of turns created from Oregon errors, exacerbated by their lapse in mental control. Chris LaRocque added a brilliant 10 assist, 2 goal game and was largely unstoppable, drawing a favorable matchup with the speedy, but small Chris Strub for much of the second half.

Maryland, frustrated with their loss to Illinois, came out firing against Oregon next and never let up. “Our strategy, really throughout the game, is that we had to either limit the amount of space they had to work with to get a full head of steam, or we had to recognize which spaces they wanted to be using and have our guys already there,” said coach Ben Slade reflecting on the day.

That win put Maryland in control of their bracket-related destiny, with two tough games against North Carolina and Florida State left tomorrow. Luckily, the Space Bastards successfully rode their bench today, getting excellent contributions from rookie players and taking the load somewhat off the shoulders of Mark Lin.

Florida State can also continue to improve tomorrow, after taking a tough loss to North Carolina in their second game of the day. FSU had the lead at half of both their games today, but the two second halves were vastly different. Instead of staying ahead of Darkside, DUF coughed up 5 points (all of them breaks) out of the half and found themselves in a 12-8 hole. “Mainly we forgot how to play offense and, even more so, we forgot how to catch the disc,” said coach Pete van de Burgt as the first day of Nationals came to a close. “I think we had an entire tournament’s worth of drops in that one half.”

Florida State needs to channel their successes today to stay alive tomorrow. Their reset system was at the heart of today’s greater moments –FSU ran their reset cuts flashing from the open side up the line into break space, allowing them to attack the weak side ruthlessly with their vert stack, but also setting up Larocque and Roney to take big shots. Both games tomorrow are crucial. “Our mindset going into tomorrow is one game at a time and let the chips fall how they may,” said van de Burgt.

The Pool as it Stands

1. UNC is 2-0 and a win against Maryland tomorrow morning would lock Darkside into a quarterfinals berth.

2. Florida State and Maryland need wins tomorrow. They play each other tomorrow at 10:30, and whoever loses will absolutely need to win their next game to stay alive. FSU get the presumably easier second matchup against Illinois, while Maryland’s last game in the pool will pit them against UNC, who owned the matchup at Atlantic Coast Regionals 15-11.

3. Illinois had some quiet success today and also look dangerous tomorrow. Their win over Maryland was bolstered by the latter turning around and beating Oregon, and they stayed ahead of UNC for most of the first half. Illinois have looked great in the air and have some good cutting cohesion –they face Oregon first at 8:30 and then Florida State at Illinois.

Pool D

Top Three, Bottom Two

Although each Pool D team only played two games today, the final positions in the pool are already starting to solidify. The top three team after day one, Colorado, Massachusetts, and UNC Wilmington have all but wrapped up their spots in the championship bracket, while UCSB and Cornell seem doomed to the rungs of consolation.

Compared to some of the more wild pools this year, there is not a lot of mystery left in reagrds to which teams will advance. What is at stake tomorrow is the placement of the surviving teams, which will have very important implications on the elimination rounds.

The highest profile game, and the one that may have the biggest effect on the bracket, has already been played. The top two seeds Colorado and UNC Wilmington met this afternoon in what was an instant classic that reshaped the top of the pool.

The clash between the 4 and 5 overall seeds left us with several takeaways, and provided blueprints for how both teams need to play in order to be legitimate title contenders.

For Colorado, it is clear that when they can play their game, they are going to be very hard to beat. The punishingly effective vert stack that suffocated their opponents last year at Nationals is back, and was deployed today to great effect.

When Colorado struggled it was because their opponents forced them to do something they didn’t want to do, and weren’t able to adapt. In the first half of their game against Wilmington they got roped into trying to match the Seamen huck for huck, which is not a feasible option for anyone, let alone Colorado.

At points over the rest of the weekend teams will force Colorado out of their comfort zone, and how they deal with that will go a long way towards determining their fate. It has become apparent that they don’t have an exceptional throwing talent on the team, someone who can bail them out of high stall counts with creative looks. Against Wilmington today the team did a fantastic job of not putting themselves in situations where they needed to make a huge play. In all likelihood however, there will come a time this weekend when someone on Mamabird needs to be a gamebreaker, and we have yet to see a thrower on their team that seems capable of doing it.

On the other end of the spectrum is Wilmington. Looking at all of the turnovers that UNCW had in the game against Colorado, it could be tempting to say that the Seaman need to adjust their tactics and decision making to limit the situations in which their throwers are making high risk, turnover prone throws. They will certainly need to reduce their turnovers if they hope to emerge victorious this weekend, but not necessarily by changing anything tactically. Wilmington lost to Colorado today because of execution errors more than anything else. They played with essentially the same style and tactical acumen that they demonstrated all season long, largely to great success, but today they simply didn’t execute well enough.

Jack Williams, one of if not the best deep receiver in the country had two crucial drops that could have really changed the outcome of the game. The two flamethrowers Maxstadt and Hancock both missed on a couple shots towards the end of the game that we have seen them hit all year. Wilmington needs to come away from today looking at what they can do mentally and physically to make sure they execute better the rest of the weekend, because they are already too invested in their playstyle to change now.

Colorado now sits atop the pool and in control of their destiny. If they can beat Cornell and Massachusetts tomorrow then the pool, and the coveted bye into the quarterfinals, is theirs. Their game against UMass is anything but a formality however, as UMass looked very impressive today when they steamrolled Cornell and UCSB.

A pair of 15-7 wins looks great on paper, but just as important UMass passed the eye test. When they had their best throwers, Ben Sadok and Brett Gramann, behind the disc the offense was able to move smoothly horizontally and vertically down the field. Jeff Babbitt has been impressive all season, but he took his game to another level today, operating as a handler at times and dishing assists just as often as he scored. His 9 goal, 9 assist performance today puts him atop the list of superstars in the pool, and tomorrow’s showdown with Stanley Peterson is appointment viewing.

The problem on the horizon for UMass is that they looked very impressive today against two weaker teams. They ran a very aggressive version of their 3-3-1 zone, and it ultimately was very successful because Cornell and Santa Barbara simply did not have the throwers to make them pay for all of the risks they took. When they take on Wilmington tomorrow it will be a very different story, and an excellent test of UMass’s primary defensive set.

UMass has one of the toughest single day schedules in the tournament ahead of them tomorrow, taking on the #4 and #5 seed consecutively, and potentially a pre-quarters opponent. It is a daunting task, but if UMass is able to persevere and pull off a big win or two it will take their entire program to the next level, the kind of opportunity only Nationals presents.

  1. Preston Thompson
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    Preston Thompson has been a staff writer for Ultiworld since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama where he played for four years. He started playing ultimate in the AFDC in Atlanta, GA in 2009. You can reach him by e-mail (preston.james.thompson@gmail.com) or follow him on Twitter (@pston3).

  2. Simon Pollock
    Simon Pollock

    Simon Pollock is a Contributing Editor at Ultiworld. He lives in Seattle and started writing for the site in 2014 while living in Baltimore, MD. Email him: simon@ultiworld.com or tweet at him: @_simonpollock_ .

  3. 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.

  4. Alex Rummelhart
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    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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