Northwest Challenge 2017: Tournament Recap (Men’s)

BYU and UBC both finish with undefeated weekends to share the crown as tournament co-champions.

BYU CHI capped off their 2016 season with a big win over Victoria en route to a tournament win at Northwest Challenge. Photo: Brian Chu —

SEATTLE, WA — Brigham Young CHI and the British Columbia Thunderbirds recorded 6-0 records this past weekend at Northwest Challenge in Burlington, earning the title of co-champions in the fixed schedule format. The teams unfortunately did not have the opportunity to play each other.

All three days of the tournament were soaked by a cold rain that felt typical for the Northwest in springtime, but added challenges nonetheless. While intermittent showers on Friday and Sunday contributed to drops and failed fakes, Saturday’s schedule took the real beating: all mid and late afternoon rounds in Burlington, WA were cancelled after the once green grass fields turned dark brown and sloppy.

Two teams the conditions didn’t slow down were BYU and UBC.

BYU Caps Season With A Near Perfect Weekend

On Saturday night outside of Seattle, #10 BYU CHI celebrated a 6-0 weekend and strong 2017 season by packing thousands of calories back into their (dad) bodies at a Five Guys and nearby Baskin Robbins. Though the team is still considering putting in an appearance at Conference Championships, Northwest Challenge was the grand finale to another nationals-worthy season from the athletic and disciplined squad from Provo, UT.

The weekend peaked under the lights at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium,1 where an amped BYU team jumped out to a 5-1 lead over Washington with a crowd in the stands and the Space Needle watching over the field. “It was a career-defining moment for a lot of our guys as that’s one of the biggest stages they get to play on,” said coach Bryce Merrill.

In the second half, UW pushed to close the gap, but the efficient work that was a hallmark almost all weekend for BYU helped keep the hometown team at bay. According to team-kept stats, BYU allowed only five total breaks in six games all weekend. “From a coach perspective, I couldn’t have asked for better offensive efficiency,” said Merrill.

“BYU is a legit nationals-caliber team,” said Washington head coach Alex Wells. “They’re deep and they’re consistent. They’ve clearly been growing and learning as a program. Hats off to Bryce for all that.”

UC San Diego played BYU closest, in the first round of Saturday play. They handled the BYU zone looks with ease and played well in the steady rain. It took next-level cutting from Seokhee Burningham to drag CHI out of trouble — tough UCSD defense had slowed the work of handler Jason McKeen, who was otherwise spectacular all weekend.

The rain clouds were swept away in the middle of the day, and tournament volunteers used porto-fields to open an auxiliary patch of grass to host BYU’s final game of their weekend (and likely their season) against Victoria. As the rest of the tournament scrambled to relocate and reschedule, a fired up CHI took out Victoria 15-4.

According to Merrill, the weekend was an emphatic demonstration of how important teamwork is to his program. They were without their starting center handler Bob “Dad Bod” Bodily and defensive standout Devon Terry.

“We graduate a lot of big names in 2017,” said Merrill. “Jason McKeen, Bob Bodily, Jordan Hill, Tanner Yorgason, and half a dozen more. But this weekend reinforced two things: A) team ball got us to where we’re at, and B) team ball will serve us well with the next group of CHI ultimate players that join us for 2018.”

For the last two seasons, BYU CHI has been a team that gets the little things right. Every player — from Mckeen, Bodily, and Burningham down to the last guy on the bench — knows the sets, works to stay in position, aims to break the mark, and keeps a positive attitude during gameplay. At Northwest Challenge this past weekend, they added an exclamation point to 2017.

UBC Successfully Hangs Onto Strength Bid Position

While season-defining wins and upsets continued to roll in on the women’s side, the UBC Thunderbirds quietly turned in the only weekend on the men’s side with strength bid implications. Also at 6-0 (since the format didn’t schedule a game with BYU), they inched up the USAU rankings ladder from #19 to #17 this week thanks to their hard wins in Burlington.

A perfect weekend was never a done deal, though.

The team sputtered to a start Friday play, as players who did not skip out or receive excuses from class either arrived late or were absent entirely. Western Washington and Brown both put the screws to UBC as the rain came down during the weekday afternoon, but UBC managed to sneak away with two wins, 14-12 and 14-13 respectively.

“Started off a bit rough with some teammates coming in late — it was still a Friday, many of us went to morning classes/tests and we just weren’t fully invested in the games yet,” the team leadership said this week. “When crunch time hit, we really battened down the hatches and played amazing defense.”

As the weekend rolled on, UBC settled into their uptempo rhythm. Their defense, which features a variety of sets that encourage poaching from fleet-footed defenders, generates plenty of turns, but the D-line’s offensive efficiency — as is the case with college teams across the divisions — could stand to improve.

On Saturday, UBC put away two in-region challenges in Utah and Victoria, 15-8 and 15-12, before tournament staff declared fields close for the remainder of the afternoon. Up in Bellingham the following day, they closed out Brown 13-9 in the morning and topped a hampered UW in a big regional rivalry 10-8. Unfortunately in that final game, D-line handling mainstay Victor Cheng suffered a torn achilles tendon on a non-contact injury. He’ll likely miss the postseason.

UBC, as expected, has put themselves right back in the race to earn a trip to Cincinnati.

Washington’s Just Fine, Thank You

With almost a third of the roster sitting for two of the three days of play, the #16 Washington Sundodgers don’t have much to complain about after going 3-2 and hanging tough in the rankings released earlier this week. Dongyang Chen put up a highlight-worthy endzone interception on Friday night under the lights against BYU that also ended his weekend with a heel injury. He joined seven other key players for Washington that either sat all weekend, or all of Saturday and Sunday.

This was, by all accounts, a great weekend for Sundodger role players. Big cutter Reed Hendrickson continued to settle into the offensive system and was a rock all weekend downfield, while Tian Chuan Yen handled the backfield confidently alongside Steve Benaloh. Rookie Lucas Chen and senior Jonathan Shuster both returned to the D-line to help restore some of the defensive lineup.

Given the short bench, Washington still confidently put away Oregon State, Northeastern, and Brown, while taking the pair of losses to the two undefeated teams BYU and UBC.

With not a whole lot on the line in terms of rankings or bids, Washington’s depth kept them afloat. Now they’ll rest up for the postseason, looking to put themselves back at the top of the Northwest when Regionals roll around in late April.

Quick Hits

No other team managed a winning record in the smaller Tier 1 men’s division at Northwest Challenge, nor did any team sneak into bid range. Much of scheduled play served as a competitive and exciting regional preview for postseason games to come in April, while Brown, Northeastern, and UCSD all picked up competition outside their home region.

Brown came closest to a winning record, going 3-3 over the long weekend and notching some nice competitive wins over a methodical Western Washington, an athletic Utah, and sneaky good offense from Victoria.

Victoria themselves were without star Malcolm Bryson, who — while allowed to return with his teammates via the approved consortium with Camosun — was still sidelined with a pesky hip injury that has lingered since the 2016 college season. The team tumbled into a 1-4 record on the weekend. If Bryson gets healthy, he’ll add significant firepower back into an offense already powered by fellow captain Ben Burrelle that no one will want to see lurking in the bottom of a pool come Regionals.

#23 Oregon State (2-3) and Western Washington (2-4) tread water this weekend in play and in the resulting rankings, in spite of their losing records. These teams are the competitive type that make Northwest Regionals no cake walk for the top contenders. Strong, fast, and well-coached, both teams have had their moments earlier this season, but Oregon, Washington, and UBC have higher ceilings.

Lastly, the staff and volunteers at DiscNW deserve their own shout out from this past weekend. As weather eliminated the large field site in Burlington, WA from play, tournament staff were timely, professional, and adept at relocating games and communicating with teams. As Northwest Challenge continues to grow in popularity, the Seattle-based crew has shown that they are more than prepared to host big time college events.

  1. The home field for the AUDL’s Seattle Cascades and choice showcase field for other ultimate events like the All Star Tour. 

  1. Simon Pollock
    Simon Pollock

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


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