Stanford Invite 2020: Tournament Recap (Men’s)

Colorado’s young guys shine, trouble for Washington?

Oregon’s Steven Pearlman makes the catch as Colorado’s Quinn Finer lays out. Photo: Rodney Chen —

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STEVINSON, Cal. — The “big four” may have made it to the semifinals most unchallenged, but the Stanford Invite offered up more surprises than not on a beautiful weekend in California’s Central Valley. Colorado came away the victors after Washington took their first loss of the season, and teams started making their case for Regionals, and potentially Nationals, seeding. Let’s take a look at what we learned in Stevinson.

Mamabird’s Young Contributors Lead Team to Tourney Title

Colorado came into this tournament looking to make a statement and indeed exited with a punctuation. Colorado weathered a defensive storm from Cal Poly SLO in the semifinals to rally to a late 12-11 win before comfortably dispatching 13-10 Oregon in the final as their offense cruised all game.

These guys can play, and their young guys in particular showed that there are several new sheriffs out West.

All-tournament freshman Danny Landesman and sophomore Cole Besser led a bold O-line through a stormy Saturday and contested Sunday. Both underclassmen have veteran throws and play with a general confidence that evades that of their peers. It was common to see them both start the point gaining big yards off dominator sets, or chunky under throws to powerful cutters like Mathieu Agee or Quinn Finer. Landesman, in particular, does an excellent job of timing his upline cuts from deep handler space so that he can draw big gainers on the zip. He said after the final that they are looking to “throw and go on the open side,” and this was definitely the case in the final. If you watch the tape, all players on the O-line have an exceptional small ball game.

Landesman also said that [Bob Krier] “calls a lot of dominator plays and, I’m generally in that so that is fun.” It’s hard to underscore the importance of how involved these young guys are. Landesman was a major cog for the O-line this weekend and Besser, even Aylen Learned, were crucial for their success. Like most players this age, they will only improve, and in Mamabird’s case, they hope to see their rookie season peak come deep in the postseason.

RELATED: Hatching a New Bird: Coach Bob Krier Helps Guide Colorado Back to Prominence

Another thing you’ll notice about this team is their vibe. They’re like the Golden State Warriors when they won 73 games: swagger (check), can flip a switch when you need to (check), veterans that understand their role (yup), daunting deficits (no big deal). These traits might cause worry for some, but you have got to think that a cool confidence will fair well come Nationals when they will certainly face adversity. Of course, we know how that Warriors season ended, and straddling the line between “chill” and “competitive” could prove tricky, but you’ve got to admire a team with such an assured identity.

In the final, every major player contributed for a balanced box score. Landesman and Atkins each had four goals while Conor Tabor and Finer had three assists. But the real “not on the stat sheet” star was freshman Calvin Stoughton. He not only played lights out defense all weekend but had the tough task of guarding Xander Cuizon Tice most of the final — and he did just fine. Stoughton is one of those D-line dogs that doesn’t catch your eye at first, but who is grinding 100% on every single point and causing minor frustrations for the opposing team’s best players that lead to miscues or overthrows. He caused a couple of turns just by having smart marks and contesting unders.

It’s tough to say where this team will land come Nationals. You could certainly argue that they are semis ready (if you needed a reminder, they did it last year) but you could also see them with an early exit. This variance is endemic to the division so read these results how you want, but with star power (Finer and Atkins), young guns (Besser, Landesmann, Stoughton), and team vets who execute their roles (Agee, Brunker, Tabor) they’ve got some spicy ingredients that should make for a savory stew come May.

Ego Rides Short Rotation

Like many past iterations of Eugene teams, this Ego roster is very loaded on the O-line and just kind of hopes for the best with their D-line. Will Lohre, Ted Sither, and Xander Cuizon Tice played lights out all tourney, clearly belonging in the conversation for top players in the entire division. David Barram, Colby Chuck, and Duncan Fitzgerald all make their presence felt when playing, too. Unfortunately, ultimate isn’t a six v. six sport, and they are simply going to need to get more from the rest of the roster if they are to truly compete for a national championship.

There was some fun chatter among other Ultiworld contributors around which handler out West is #1. Cal Poly SLO’s Calvin Brown, Washington’s Manny Eckert, and BYU’s Jordan Kerr (and Taylor Barton) are the cream of the crop, but if I had to pick one to start a team with, it would be Sither. It shouldn’t be possible for a ball dominant guy to play with such a high volume and not turn it over much – but that is exactly what he does. Think James Harden’s touches with Steve Nash’s vision. Ted Sither. Doesn’t. Turn. It. Over. He stalks the sidelines like a hunter searching for breaks and is constantly looking for new ways to gift goals to his fellow ducks.

Cuizon Tice was also a standout and continues to be a lightning quick cutter with a high IQ and consistent discipline. Everything is smooth for him: his backhands, pivots, cuts, even the way he moves in and out of an area all has an easiness to it. It is fun to watch a cutter with his size play so dominantly both in the college and club scene. He is a reminder to all my fellow short players that, yes, you can still be a threatening cutter if you are under 5’8″.

After Prez Day, we thought there might be more to this team than falling out early in a finals game. We may have even written about “Ego’s high ceiling” and potential to grow into something that the Eugene men haven’t experienced since ‘92. And they bounced back big to beat Washington in a break-free semifinal after getting crushed by them in San Diego.

But after this weekend, it is unclear if there is a whole higher gear to this team. Their stars played about as well as you could ask, yet their D-line failed to prove they could claw breaks out of top teams. They beat Washington in the semis 9-8 without notching a single break – it was all on the backs of their unbroken O. They notched a single break in the finals against Colorado off a fully extended Colby Chuck layout. This might just be what Oregon is this year – a very good college team. But can they beat UNC, Pitt, UMass, Carleton, or the West’s Best in May?

Here’s the good news: if they are going to do that, they just might have the secret weapon to do it. Enter Will Lohre. After missing nearly a year to a torn ACL, Lohre was fully back this weekend and is showing signs of a Callahan type return. In front of a hungry crowd eager to see Ego lose to Tufts in the quarterfinals, Lohre launched into the air for one of the dirtiest skies of the tournament to seal their victory on double game point. He came down with a pair of big snags in the Washington semis, too. It is clear that his teammates trust him, and it’s equally clear that he has some semblance of a clutch gene.

Lohre might embody the essence of ultimate in 2020 in all of the good ways. In a time where rookies come into the division hucks-a-blazing, where hubris sometimes reeks among good teams, Lohre stands out. He is elite but approachable, intensely competitive but friendly, serious but humorous. You could argue that a lot of recent Callahan winners have had an air of humility to them, but I’d say you might have to go back as far as 2008 when Joseph Kershner won the award to see how off-the-pitch intangibles affected the winner. (Or maybe just go back two years to Gabe Hernandez.) It would not surprise me at all if Lohre leads this team to a similar regionals win that catapults them to a higher ceiling.

SLO’s Arsenal of Zones

Cal Poly SLO had another strong tournament and, for the most part, is still growing while figuring themselves out. It was brutal in semis, where they experienced late game tremors with drops, turfs, and bad calls after building a big first half lead against Colorado. You could call it a form of collapse, as their O-line just struggled to execute when it mattered. I wouldn’t look too much into that, though: they know they should have sealed that game and a lot of these players have limelight experience. Hit the panic button at your own discretion.

The D-line is the real hidden gem of this team as coach Cody Mills has between five or seven defensive looks that can cripple even the best offensive units. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer as far as how many zones, junks, or “looks” they have. The SLO guys will smile with an assured twinkle as they know that these fronts will be their trump card come Nationals. Captain Justin Ting did reveal that it does “a good job containing” and that they are trying to wear down an O-line with lateral passes and a ton of throws. OK, duh, but what actually is their zone?

Again, it is tough to say exactly, as they really do throw wrinkles in it depending on what their objective is. One thing is certain, and that is that KJ Koo was a block machine. He had at least three in the 3rd place game, and if you watch him on the D-line for even just a little, you’ll see him swatting discs like an angry bug catcher (he wears a floppy hat!). Pair Pokemaster Koo with a bunch of disciplined grinders and you’ve got a D-line that can break any offense.

Justin Ting and Matt Miller are plenty capable of being O-line handlers on many other Southwest teams and play a possessive style that you generally don’t see on a lot of college D-lines. This kind of conservative frugality with the disc is something that should bear ripe fruit at Regionals or Nationals when other teams tighten up. Of course, this wasn’t enough in that semis defeat to Colorado, but captains Ting and Sommer praised the work of the defensive players who did the “small things.” Things like sealing the mark and causing a loopy break throw, containing shots up the middle, and throwing and going on offense were all hallmarks for this team’s second unit.

You could make an argument that the ceiling of this team will depend on the variance of Calvin Brown and what kind of day he has come May. His throws are still top notch and he is the rock that will keep this team close with whomever they play later this year. He seems to have a good connection with ace cutter Connor Schofield, and as far as duos out West go, they are one of the best. Brown spoke about bringing the energy up when they were down in the Washington game as a catalyst for that third place game victory that shouldn’t be ignored. All weekend this team had solid energy, and they are a visibly tight knit group with impressive maturity.

Though the Southwest can be historically volatile come Regionals, this team is sharp and the odds on favorite to sweep the field. The big question will be how they fare at Easterns against teams from across the coast. At this point, a poor performance could reflect badly on the West. A strong showing, though, and you could argue that they are a top two or three team in the country.

Sundodgers Get Punched – Twice

So Washington finally lost, and we will have to go another year to see if a team can win the West Coast Triple Crown. To pour salt on their wounds, Alaska Airlines canceled about half the team’s flights from the Bay back to Seattle because of “technical difficulties.” This means that they had to spend an extra night in Merced, California.

So, here’s the deal: they finished fourth out of the big four in the West and might not be as great as we thought they were. But losing might have actually been just what this team needed. Captain Derek Mourad said after their SLO loss that it was “nice to get the monkey off the back” and that when you are undefeated there is “a lot of pressure to keep winning and winning.” He’s right, for an undefeated team that hasn’t won a championship before, you don’t necessarily need to keep feeding some illusion of perfection. In fact, Mourad even said that when you’ve only won, you “have a fear of losing.” Teams that play not to lose almost always inevitably, well, lose.

If you’re wondering how this team finally lost, I’d chalk it up to two things: weak offensive flow with their D-line, and energy and attitude when losing. In the semis game to Oregon, their O-line wasn’t broken. It was their defense that struggled to convert turns as they relied more on hucks and big throws and suffered from stagnant cutting. There were signs of this at Prez Day, as a lot of their D-line goals came from Tony Venneri hammers, Mourad hucks, or fast breaks. When their D guys have to orchestrate an offense from a stopped disc near their own end zone, they just aren’t as efficient and seem much less comfortable than their rock-solid O-line.

Not having the perseverance to overcome a two point deficit and losing a game because of a controllable like energy is cause for concern. Coach Mark Burton is intense and their players usually play with a feistiness that is both distinct and contagious. This, like other tourneys, resulted in multiple blue cards during their Oregon semi. That’s why it is bizarre to hear that SLO beat them in part because of energy and a simple desire to just want to win a consolation game more. You would think that great teams shouldn’t need a show to get up; they should demand excellence every time they take the field. (And, to be honest, normally Washington is one of the most consistent high-energy teams in the division. But that’s been when they’ve been winning. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.)

With all of that said, I still think this is the best team of the big four. Manny Eckert was brilliant all weekend marshaling the offense, and like his regional counterparts, he just has an easiness to his style that is refreshing and fun to watch. Lucas Chen is still as speedy and untouchable as any in the division. Watching him run around the field is kind of like seeing a teenager who took the governor off a go kart at the family fun center and who is taking joy in lapping everyone else. He really does seem to have more energy than just about anyone on the field and buzzes around the end zone as if there was nobody guarding him. Toss in Peter Johnson, Jake Steen, and Sam Cook and you’ve got some tall guys who can also win sky battles. The elasticity of their O-line will come in handy later this season and should give them the balance they need to compete for a championship.

Fort Collins Finals

Was there ever a time that fifth place mattered? A time where winning the consolation bracket actually meant something to a team? Probably. But chew on this: the year Colorado State Hibida went to Nationals, they got 5th place at SBI, 5th place at Centex, and 5th place at Huck Finn. Their results from this year? 5th place at SBI and 5th place at Stanford. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?

Captain Mo Scott said that “5th place is traditionally our job” and that “we call it the Fort Collins finals.” If I’m a Hibida player, I’m doing everything I can to ensure a 5th place victory at Centex this year. Put weights on your ankles or have a cheeseburger for breakfast, because you have got to secure that dub in the consolation bracket.

The thing is, Hibida is actually very solid this year and plenty capable of not only securing another Fort Collins Finals, but potentially even stealing a bid. Scott and Hudson Martin are skilled handlers who can move an offense. Sam Goldstein had a monster layout block in the pre-quarters game and played well on Sunday. On defense, senior Sean Peskin was a beast and helped them convert on one of only two break opportunities against Washington in the quarters game.

This team has a lot of veterans, has good chemistry, and seems to be having fun together. They said that their goal for the tournament was to “get better” and that they are “a process-driven team” — blah blah blah. When I asked what their goal for the season was it was much more clear: “win Regionals.” That is probably unrealistic, but, they showed this weekend that they can beat good teams and hang with the big dogs. It should be interesting to see what they do at Centex and if they are more of a contender than pretender.

Other Notables

Tufts E-Men might have had the top-heaviest roster of any other team this past weekend. A lot of their scoring points came from some variety of a three man show: Caleb Seamon, Toshihiro Nagase, and Anthony Goss were all in and out of the handler space, burning defenders up line, and dishing bombs to their bigger cutters. They went toe-to-toe with both Colorado and Oregon and nearly, nearly came away victorious. They notched nine straight holds against Mamabird and lost to Ego on a double game point Will Lohre insane sky. So the margins are close. They represented the East Coast well this tourney and should be in prime position to make another surprise run on Sunday at their next competition.

Cal UGMO played about as well as we thought they would, breaking seed by one spot. They beat a good UBC team in prequarters but lost to CSU, and they were never really in their games against Washington and SLO. It’s hard to see how this team would steal a bid at Regionals again like they did last year, but right now they are earning their very own bid. They have some great players — Munis Thahir, Christopher Lung, Tommy Lin, and a handful of others can all make a big play or swing a point. They connected on some slick hucks against SLO in their quarters game. But they do lack the depth and sharpness of the other top teams. The Southwest is always unpredictable, and they were able to bury a feisty UCSB team and placed well ahead of other regional threat UCLA. At this point, UGMO will likely be at the mercy of the rankings. Trying to go through SLO for a single bid would be a tall task.

– As mentioned in the Saturday recap, coronavirus concerns were a subtle undertone to the weekend. With far higher use of post-portapotty hand sanitizer than usual and bows and elbow bumps in place of high fives, it was clearly on the minds of players, though the sudden cancellations of upcoming events and major disruption to university life were still mostly unforeseen.

All-Tournament Line

  • Danny Landesman (Colorado)
  • Xander Cuizon Tice (Oregon)
  • KJ Koo (SLO)
  • Manny Eckert (Washington)
  • Caleb Seamon (Tufts)
  • Ty Barbieri (UBC)
  • Riley Kirkman-Davis (UCLA)
  1. Nolan Schmalenberger
    Nolan Schmalenberger

    Nolan Schmalenberger played college at the University of Arizona and has played club with Sprawl, Smokestack, and Prairie Fire. He captained teams Rebellion and Jeollado in South Korea and recently returned home to SoCal. He is currently on the roster for the San Diego Growlers.

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