Veteran Harvard Takes Down Youthful Oregon, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Harvard gets another game against Georgia in the morning.

Photo: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This article is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate!

It’s been a wild two days in Raleigh, with the conditions and the competition pushing players to the brink. Both Oregon and Harvard survived ups and downs to find themselves facing off in the prequarters. Harvard, who handed Oregon their only defeat during the regular season, got the best of Ego again with a 15-13 upset win.

Harvard started off with an offensive possession that represented exactly how they want to attack opposing teams, with Mark Vandenburg finding John Stubbs in the lane followed by Stubbs launching a flick bomb to a streaking Alex Hem for the easy score. That combination was money in the bank this morning against UNC Wilmington, and continued to torment Oregon all evening.

Stubbs, in particular, was a nightmare for Ego to deal with, as no one on Oregon’s D-line seemed capable of preventing him from getting under cuts. His five goal, four assist performance is impressive enough on paper, but it can’t be overstated how important his ability to get open was to Harvard’s offense. He was able to act as a pseudo handler reset that could keep possessions alive in high stall count situations, except he was also gaining 10-15 yards every time. Perhaps Stubbs’ effectiveness could have been mitigated had Oregon’s defensive captain Will Watkins been healthy — the D-Line standout pulled his hamstring against Colorado — but Stubbs played with such quality it’s hard to imagine anyone having slowed him down.

Harvard’s offense was able to roll along largely unchallenged in the first part of the game, and the defense was able to hang a break on Oregon when Milan Ravenell made a spectacular diving catch after running down a John Stubbs huck. Oregon managed one break in the first half when Chris Strub was able seal off the angle on a Vandenburg around backhand, but Ego were generally unable to slow down the Vandenburg/Stubbs combo, with one member of that dynamic duo either throwing or assisting on every single one of Harvard’s first half goals.

Oregon’s offense was not as smooth as their counterpart’s, as Harvard’s veteran chemistry and experience were put in sharp relief to Oregon’s young and emotional offense. Heavily featuring two freshman, Will Lohre and Xander Cuizon-Tice, who were getting their first taste of  “win or go home” bracket play, Oregon’s offense had moments of greatness but also some puzzling errors that lead to three first half breaks, and allowed Harvard to enter the break leading 8-5.

As the second half kicked off, Oregon’s defense started to ramp up the intensity and put more pressure on Harvard’s whirring offensive machine. In particular, Chris Strub really started to harass Mark Vandenberg’s resets, making it very difficult for Harvard’s best thrower to get the disc back in his hands. This matchup was the highlight of the game, the smooth Vandenberg flowing around the handler set like a stream of water, and the high octane, frenetic Strub matching him step for step. “He’s good,” said Strub of Vandenberg. “He’s got a style I like to play against. He got me a couple times, but I think I limited him.”

“He’s a really great dump defender,” said Vandenberg. “I was super impressed. He just stuck to me all game.”

This disruption forced Harvard into trying a few higher degree of difficulty throws that hit the dirt, and allowed Ego to claw their way back into the game, eventually tying the score at 9-9 after Cuizon-Tice elevated for a crucial block to deny a Harvard goal, then sprinted full field and reeled in a huck from Adam Rees for game tying bookends.

With the score tied and the game in the balance, Harvard went back to the well and relied on their pair of superstars to halt Oregon’s momentum. Vandenberg zipped an inside flick break perfectly into Stubbs’ waiting hands to regain Harvard’s lead at 10-9, a lead they would not relinquish.

While Red Line has been able to ride their two talismanic players thus far, to get deep into the tournament the depth of their team is going to have to show up. It is a good omen then that Harvard’s most important break of the game, which came at 10-9, did not feature Stubbs, Vandenberg, or other impact players David Reshef, Alex Hem, and Ben Scharfstein. “We work really hard to cultivate our depth,” said Vandenberg. “We get really hyped up when they play well, and to see them do it in the biggest game of the season is why we work all year.”

Harvard would widen their lead to 13-10 as Oregon’s offense made a pair of communication errors, where the cutter and thrower just weren’t on the same page, that gave Harvard the chance to increase their lead. Oregon needed to start rolling off some breaks, fast, and at 13-11, it appeared they had an opportunity to get one when something strange happened.

Ego freshman Leandro Marx rose up to make a catch block just outside of Harvard’s endzone, and after appearing to land out of bounds, dropped the disc and ran downfield to cut. However, several Harvard players began to cry foul, claiming that Marx’s actions constituted a turnover. The observer on the scene judged that Marx had established possession before dropping the disc, which resulted in a turnover and an easy hold for Harvard that made the score 14-11 and put them on the precipice of the quarterfinals.

Oregon would get as close as 14-13 after Cuizon-Tice climbed the ladder on Reshef to breathe some life back into Ego. Harvard’s methodical offense would stamp out that life on the next point, as despite good pressure from Oregon, Ben Scharfstein was able to squeeze an inside flick into the endzone and send Red Line into the quarterfinals.

“We’re going to celebrate for the next 30 minutes,” said Harvard coach Mike MacKenzie. “And after that, we start getting out bodies right and ready for tomorrow.” Harvard will get Georgia in the quarterfinals on Sunday morning, a rematch of their epic game from earlier this year at Easterns when Harvard went on a 5-0 run to come back from a 14-11 deficit. “We’ve been in two elimination games already, so I think we’ll have the right mindset and be ready for it,” said MacKenzie.

The Georgia team that has taken Raleigh by storm this weekend is very different from the one that fell to Harvard back in March. The knock on Georgia all year has been their consistency, but so far at Nationals the Southeast champs have looked consistently excellent. Sam Little is one of the best players in the country, and it will be fascinating to see how Georgia deploys him. If he and Vandenberg go head to head, it is sure to be a can’t-miss matchup. Georgia’s top players can hold their own against Harvard’s studs, and Red Line will need their depth to show up if they hope to survive beyond tomorrow morning.

For Oregon, the season is over, but there were a lot of positives to take away from the weekend, mostly the high pressure reps their freshman class got. “We’ve got the strongest freshman class of anyone in the country,” said Strub after the game. “And we’re getting a stronger one next year.”

It was made clear today that this is Harvard’s time. While the future is bright for Oregon, this day, and this season, belongs to Harvard.

  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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