Six Top 25 teams are on hand to kick off their seasons on the west coast.
January 27, 2017 by Simon Pollock in Preview with 2 comments
West coast college men’s action has technically already begun, but this weekend the season kicks into gear as six of the Ultiworld Top 25 will take the field together at the 2017 Santa Barbara Invitational. A host of feisty regional competitors will be in attendance to keep things interesting, aching to test themselves against Nationals-level competition and in search of statement wins early in the season that could influence the bid picture come May.
SBI doesn’t crown kings. The tournament winners here do not necessarily finish the season with deep Nationals runs. The highest ranked team at this season’s event is the #11 Washington Sundodgers, who take the tournament’s top seed in Pool A, but finished tied for 17th in Raleigh last year. The only other 2016 Nationals-qualifier in action is #15 Cal-Poly SLO SLOCORE, who also finished tied for 17th, and head up Pool B.
Four other contenders are simmering and ready to seize some January glory away from the favorites: #14 Stanford Bloodthirsty, #19 Cincinnati, #21 Colorado State Hibida, and #25 Victoria Vikes. Western Washington Dirt, who upset the Sundodgers in 2015 at Northwest Regionals to earn a trip to Milwaukee, get the top seed in Pool D, above every other team in the paragraph aside from Stanford.
Here again are the pools heading into the weekend.
|POOL A||POOL B||POOL C||POOL D|
|#11 Washington (1)||#15 Cal Poly SLO (2)||#14 Stanford (3)||Western Washington (4)|
|California-Davis (8)||Oregon State (7)||British Columbia (6)||California-Santa Barbara (5)|
|#21 Colorado State (9)||Washington University (10)||Dartmouth (11)||#19 Cincinnati (12)|
|Arizona State (16)||California (15)||Brigham Young (14)||#25 Victoria (13)|
|California-San Diego (17)||Southern California (18)||SDSU (19)||California-Santa Cruz (20)|
Stories to Watch
Can Washington Turn Roster Consistency Into 2017 Strength?
Washington kicked off 2016 by walking away from the Santa Barbara Invite final to catch a flight, leaving the tournament title on the table after an otherwise undefeated weekend.1 Weather had delayed rounds and forced teams to consolidate fields, so the Sundodgers didn’t exactly have a choice.
Count this weekend as shot a redemption. Washington returns to their traditional season opener with all of the key players that pushed them to Raleigh in 2016, and with much more experience in hand. Especially early in the season, roster consistency will let the Sundodgers rely on chemistry —that’s often enough to get the job done in January when other teams are still figuring out how to play with each other when the games count.
Khalif El-Salaam, the well-known gamebreaker, is unfortunately out this weekend, per his twitter account.
First major injury. 4-6 weeks:(
— Khalif El-Salaam (@khalifygreens) January 14, 2017
Still, some combination of Dongyang Chen, Steven Benaloh, Tomas Delgado, and Cooper Schumacher will be available, and that makes for a dynamic list alongside a solid core and promising rookie class. Their biggest hurdle will be themselves.
The early season is about shoring up roles and solidifying the playbook, and last year Washington’s defense lacked firepower for much of their run. Coach Alex Wells has had his team running zone and junk sets by SBI before and it forced the right throws, but the blocks didn’t often accompany them. On offense, they occasionally stalled after a first throw and sometimes focused too hard on cutting to the breakside.
As a top seed, their schedule should favor more open lines, and the team is excited for a chance to win the tournament outright. They need blocks from the D-line early to set an aggressive tone, and a smoother offense that won’t rely constantly on Schumacher to zero in on high stall deep shots. It might sound lame, but success from Washington this weekend could look much more boring than the highlight-worthy plays that El-Salaam is known for.
The Sundodgers get a solid Saturday test in the second round against Colorado State Hibida, a strong regional competitor from the South Central that is looking to climb the ladder this season.
SLO Looks To Start Faster
Cal Poly-SLO was careening down pulls at breakneck speed by the time they ousted Stanford and took the Southwest’s lone bid to Raleigh in 2016, but the season didn’t quite start that way. SLOCORE were definitely newcomers to national-level competition and inconsistent results hampered their impressive and entertaining play style earlier in the season.
Now, SLO is a known quantity: a scary athletic group that can do more than just chase down hucks and get lucky tips for turns. They graduated veteran backfield composure in Joel Anton and Tim Okita, and also lost defensive firepower with Chris Cogswell, but Nate Pettyjohn, Cameron Wariner, and Ian Sweeney all return to keep the team’s defensive throttle in high gear.
What isn’t known yet about SLO is what they can do with high profile recruits Jeremy Dolezal-Ng (U20 National Team) and Justin Ting (U20 alternate). The influx of talent should fit nicely, though. SLOCORE’s athletes reward their throwers with big-time grabs, so there’s room for error while they figure out what to do without Anton’s measured attack and Okita’s resets.
Coach Peter Raines will judge success this weekend by how much contribution he gets from his entire roster. Raines was instrumental in fostering the inner hype that powered his team to new heights last year, and no doubt their younger players will be chomping at the bit to get the blocks that Cogswell made hay with.
If SLO can play with anything close to the pace they were geared into at the end of 2016, the rest of Pool B should watch out. This is a team that has no fear when they turn it — regardless of line or position, everyone will be bidding to get the disc back and make the point count. A fast start here could put SLO right back in the bid conversation.
Stanford Needs More Than A Tournament Title
Bloodthirsty arrive as the defending tournament champs this weekend, but with a lot to prove. Already intimately familiar with the pains of a one-bid region, Stanford know that a top three finish (holding seed or better) this weekend will put them back on track to return to the College Championships.
They have a fearless leader in Elliott Chartock to help them do it. The veteran handler brings excellent composure and smarts to his position — he’s aware of his importance to the team when it comes to distribution on offense. Look for him to reprise his role as distributor on the O-line and to keep the disc moving while the team continues to adjust and tweak their offensive sets. Gabe Hernandez and Nolan Walsh should help Chartock get the job done when it comes to scoring goals.
As the Pool C headliner, Stanford gets a rash of tougher tests than the other top tournament seeds. They’ll need wins over a talent-packed British Columbia and well-coached BYU to secure a bye to quarters on Sunday, and it might not be easy while developing a large rookie class.
Bloodthirsty certainly have the pedigree to make another run at the SBI championship, but they’ll need contributions from more than their top three players to push the pace on offense and convert on defense.
Fighting Back Into The Conversation
What makes SBI exciting this weekend aren’t the well-known names and 2016 Nationals-qualifiers. Four rough and tumble contenders are scattered throughout the pools to make this a challenging run for the higher seeds.
UBC has eight players that have played for Team Canada, not the least of which is Hugh Knapp. The enter 2017 with a new head coach and full of potential, even without Peter Yu. Make no mistake, the Thunderbirds had the talent to make the trip to Raleigh last year, but they were by far their own worst enemies. They were capable of both sliding into inexplicably deep holes in games, and digging themselves right back out of them — they did it last year at SBI with a nutball comeback against Kansas on Sunday morning. There’s speed up and down the UBC roster and in the past they’ve used it beyond person defense. They have a history of smart poachy defense that can turn blocks into offensive gains in the blink of an eye — they just need to stay out of their own way. The loss of a star and a coaching change may work wonders for a team that needed focus more than anything else. If UBC can overwhelm a thinner rostered Stanford on Saturday and win their other games, they’ll have a nice path set out in the bracket on Sunday.
Western Washington and Victoria, both dealing with roster turnover, will also be around to make the way harder — they’ll meet each other in Pool D on Saturday in the early afternoon. WWU has been to Nationals before and they’ve got a taste for deep shots off of strong upline cuts, plus a nose for upsets. There aren’t many players left from the squad that made Milwaukee in 2015, but the program knows what kind of plays it takes to get there.
Victoria was a sleeper pick to make ultimate on the West Coast even more dramatic in 2017, as they anticipated bringing back Malcolm Bryson after a phenomenal season with Furious George. Unfortunately, Bryson’s participation counted on a USA Ultimate-sanctioned consortium with nearby Camosun College, a two-year agreement which was not re-approved this time around. Sparkplug cutter and captain Benjamin Burelle will still be more than most teams can handle, but he’ll need someone else to get the disc in his hands. It’s a bit strange to see them ranked 13th this weekend, and while they may not have a good shot at winning the tournament, it’d be no surprise to see them break seed.
The bright lights of promise dimmed a bit for BYU after USA Ultimate rule changes snuffed out any major appearances for the team beyond the regular season, but that won’t stop this dedicated team from playing solid fundamental ultimate with full hearts. The Northwest Challenge was their coming out party in 2016, and now they’ll get to play for pure bragging rights as they open the 2017 season. Coach Bryce Merrill has used a bit of a bench-mob approach in the past, and sometimes pure fundamentals and hard work win over talent.
Finally, Colorado State Hibida will get a good look at the west coast competition in Pool A and through crossovers play. They showed growing promise in 2016, and there’s a lot of roster consistency that should make them a difficult beat early in the season for any top team. A good start here would certainly be meaningful when it comes to bringing more bids into the South Central.
The weather outlook this weekend: high 60s, low 70s, and a thrower’s wind that shouldn’t top out beyond 7 or 8mph. That’s a whole lot better than 20 mph and rain, which battered the southern California coast last weekend for Lei Out.
Ultiworld will be on hand in Santa Barbara this weekend to provide video coverage of the tournament. Games will be available for replay with a College Season Subscription, so purchase yours today! Check out the filming schedule for the Men’s division below!
Victoria v. Cincinnati
Washington v. Colorado State
Oregon State v. WashU
Stanford took the win, finishing the weekend with the only perfect winning percentage. ↩