John Stubbs Wills Harvard To The Finals, Presented By Spin Ultimate

Stubbs' first half was one for the ages.

John Stubbs caught the winning goal after a historic performance against North Carolina. Photos: Kevin Lecaire -- Ultiphotos.com
John Stubbs caught the winning goal after a historic performance against North Carolina. Photos: Kevin Lecaire — 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!

There are boys, there are men, and then there’s John Stubbs.

John Stubbs used a three goal, five assist first half and a final line of 4G/6A to lead Harvard to a 13-11 win over North Carolina in the semifinals at the College Championships.

“This one felt special,” said Stubbs on the ESPN3 broadcast after the game. “It definitely felt special. Big stage, and Red Line’s never been here, but we tried to keep our focus and treat it like any other game.”

It’s so rare in college ultimate that we bear witness to a performance like Stubbs’ first half, one in which he scored or assisted every point Harvard scored. His dominance on the field is reminiscent of the 2014 match between UNC and UNC-Wilmington, when UNC’s Jon Nethercutt sent his team to the national finals with a blistering second half. But in front of a UNC crowd, Stubbs flipped the script.

UNC wanted to flex their full roster in this game. To beat Harvard’s top two of Stubbs and Mark Vandenberg, they needed to spread the wealth amongst their deeper roster. Everything went according to plan, when freshman Elijah Long threw a backhand break to take the first point of the game. Harvard responded in their own style. They set the tone for what this game would look like, with Stubbs skying big then dishing an assist to tie it up.

A key strategic question before the game was how often Vandenberg and Stubbs would play. Harvard was only without both of them for two points the entire game, but, unfortunately for them, those points were key break opportunities. Tied 1-1, Harvard squandered an early break chance when James Thurm missed on a deep look. Matt Gouchoe-Hanas found Aaron Warshauer, and UNC held to take the 2-1 lead.

Darkside continued to show depth in the first half. Harvard came down in a zone in an attempt to shake things up, but Dain Nielsen unleashed a 50 yard hammer from half field. It floated perfectly into the hands of Ryan Greaves, giving them the 3-2 lead. But Red Line stuck to the plan. David Reshef found John Stubbs in the end zone for an easy goal and the hold.

At this point, Stubbs was already poised for a great game. His two goals and one assist had him on one end of every Harvard point so far, with his offense registering no turns in the early points. But things started to fall apart with Darkside up 4-3. Stubbs found Jonah Hahn with a beautiful hammer, but in an attempt to milk the throw into the end zone, Hahn dropped it. UNC drove down the field, only to turn it over near their attacking end zone. But an Alex Hem drop added to the marathon point for Harvard. Darkside’s Nathan Kwon was not only around the disc for the D-line offense, but he put Vandenberg to work in coverage. The long multi-turn point seemed to play into the hands of UNC, with their depth outlasting Harvard’s top end. After the eventual hold, the two Harvard stars would need a rest.

Darkside gave Harvard a break chance on the ensuing possession, but with no Stubbs or Vandenburg on the field, the chance was again wasted. Stubbs went on to play almost all of the remaining points. With the game tied at five, he got his first break opportunity. He took Matt Gouchoe-Hanas into the endzone, who couldn’t hang with the quintuple cut from Stubbs. The streak survived as Stubbs remained on one end of every Harvard score.

On the ensuing possession, Gouchoe-Hanas gave the disc away on a sloppy throw giving Harvard their fourth break chance. With the disc thirty yards out, lightning struck in the distance and the WRAL Soccer Park’s detection system blasted an alarm. The game was delayed for the next hour, and the stadium emptied out as players and spectators headed to their cars. Harvard led 6-5, with possession.

“It gave me time to think about the game and evaluate,” Darkside head coach Mike Denardis said after the game. While the coaches may have kept focus, the players on both sides were trying to relax. “We listened to fun music and enjoyed our time together,” UNC captain JD Hastings said about the uncommon break. Harvard had a similar strategy, retreating to their cars and coming back knowing they could win one point at a time.

After the long break, the trends continued as if it was just a regular timeout. John Stubbs scorched an upline cut and got yet another goal, sealing the break. The two teams would trade, giving Harvard the 8-6 halftime lead. John Stubbs had one of the best halves of college ultimate in recent memory. Stubbs finished the first half with five assists and three goals, accounting in some way for every one of Red Line’s points. With his teammates dropping four inexcusable passes in the first half, Stubbs was forcing them forward. Whether it was Hastings, Sethuraman, Kwan, or Warshauer, no one on UNC had an answer. And giving one of the best coaches in the country a full hour to adjust their gameplan had little effect.

The second half started poorly for Harvard. The first possession exposed a chink in the armor for Stubbs, as he threw into a Sethuraman block. The big players for UNC were calm under pressure, and JD Hastings hit Matt Gouchoe-Hanas for the break. Hastings would take Stubbs for the rest of the game, with newfound physicality in the second half. “My role was to force him deep,” Hastings said after the game. “We had a nice cap over the top, whether it was Mark Rovner or Walker Matthews.” The bracket zone that UNC ran stifled the Harvard O just enough for Darkside to claw their way back even at 9-9.

On the ensuing possession, Harvard finally took advantage of the height disparity between Vandenberg and the shorter Kwon. Vandenberg streaked deep, and, in triple coverage, caught a critical huck in a collision of defenders. The play gave Red Line the belief they needed to win a tight game late. UNC stayed out in front after Nielsen placed another perfect huck for a Darkside break and the 11-10 lead. A final timeout for Harvard retooled the Red Line offense, but a drop from Milan Ravenell could have been the final nail in the coffin. But a last ditch effort gave Vandenberg the block, allowing Stubbs to throw another game tying assist. Someone besides Stubbs or Vandenberg needed to make a play for Harvard to advance.

A forced Darkside huck to Aaron Warshauer gave Red Line the break chance they needed. “It’s the choices you make when the pressure’s on,” DeNardis said after the game. “When all of the sudden you’re just bombing it because you want to get out of that point.” The forced huck gave Harvard a chance that they wouldn’t waste. Vandenberg roasted his defender up the line for a 12-11 lead.

On the final point, Harvard got a huge play from a player outside the top two. Milan Ravenell leapt high in the air to intercept a low Darkside huck. A spin move from John Stubbs was the cherry on top to a remarkable performance, as he streaked up the line to snag the game winner.

“That was an incredibly fun, physically aggressive game,” Reshef said after the game. Despite the wild bids from UNC, the spirit was high throughout the contest. “It was a blast to be a part of.”

Harvard may have a hard time recovering for today’s final, but the gameplan will stay relatively the same for Red Line. John Stubbs had a career elevating performance on Sunday, and one more of those may deliver him a national championship.

  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).

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