Centex 2023: Tournament Recap (Men’s)

A South Central regional final preview capped off a great weekend in Texas.

Colorado’s Danny Landesman at 2023 Presidents’ Day Invite. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 college ultimate season are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

Deep in the heart of Texas, top teams squared up in the first Centex with the most competitive field since 2019. Colorado Mamabird bested Texas TUFF in a universe point win to take home the title of Centex champions. Here’s how the rest of the tournament shook out and what to think about as we reach the fourth quarter of the regular season.

The South Central is Back on Top

The Centex final between Colorado Mamabird and Texas TUFF highlighted one of the storylines to watch entering the tournament. Over the past few years, Mamabird has been the dominant team out of the South Central. But TUFF started this tournament with an upset win over BYU CHI and continued undefeated on their run to the final. They also mounted an impressive comeback win over Tufts E-Men in quarterfinals, so there was no reason to think they would roll over against Mamabird. The one thing standing in the way for TUFF would be whether they could shake the little-brother complex that has plagued them for the past few seasons.

The game opened with a quick break from Mamabird after some tough defensive pressure. For Colorado to be successful, they would have to find a way to deal with TUFF’s offensive duo of Zach Slayton and Matt Chambers. At the start of the game, it was Zeke Thoreson who took the Chambers matchup, but a handful of different players would cycle through these matchups throughout the game. Having the chance to cycle through their depth was a big goal for Mamabird this tournament — and a point of emphasis for Bob Krier. “[Mamabird was] trying to play deeper into our roster, and bring up a lot of our rookies or younger players to get to be able to play in these bigger moments in bigger games. And so we spent the two weeks in between [Smoky Mountain Invite and Centex] focusing on fundamentals and making sure that those players were getting all the feedback they needed about what they had to do to be on the field. And we were able to see it come together quite a bit.”

TUFF were able to string together a series of holds until the next Colorado break at 5-4. Their success came in the deep space. Jake Worthington, who went out at the end of the Carleton CUT game with an apparent shoulder/hand injury but returned in the final, was a favorite target for both Slayton and Chambers. And at points the roles would be reversed; the TUFF cutters would find Chambers after a handler eject for a goal. The string of huck holds would come to an end with, first, a block from Conor Tabor on a Slayton huck, and then Mamabird’s D-line offense staying perfect on the turn.

Flash forward to a pivotal – and odd – series of events near the end of the first half. TUFF’s D-line had the disc going upwind with a break chance at 6-5 after a Mamabird drop. Alex Janelle called a timeout and TUFF had a chance to set up an offense. After the timeout, he swung the disc to John Clyde, who immediately called a second timeout. TUFF had elevated this situation from, “it would be great if we broke here,” to “we absolutely need to convert this break.” They turned it over within three throws after the timeout. Turnovers on D-line offense should be equal parts attributed to great pressure from the Mamabird O-line’s defense, but also reinforce the running theme that TUFF struggled to reset the disc on defense. Regardless of whether it was a chemistry problem or a system issue, that shortcoming was exposed against Mamabird.

The first half ended in about the worst way possible for Texas. After a poach block from Nanda Min-Fink, Mamabird had a short field going upwind to convert the break for half. They worked it to the breakside and struck Tabor, narrowly avoiding a bidding Matt Chambers, for the goal. Tabor appeared to take exception to the contact on the bid and spiked the disc to celebrate taking half. But Chambers stayed down after the block. He collided with the pylon, which left him with an apparent knee injury. He had trouble walking under his own power and would sit out the rest of the game. At this point, TUFF had both one of their top defenders in Gavin Babbitt and their center handler on offense Matt Chambers out with knee injuries and no timeline to return.

The start of the second half looked easy for Mamabird and uneasy for TUFF. The new Texas offense included defensive players Kolbe Bauer and John Clyde. This would prove valuable as their offense started to throw more turnovers. With Mamabird up two or three breaks at this point, it looked like their game to lose. The Colorado offense might be most known for Danny Landesman and Calvin Stoughton, but they’re supported by a cast of consistent players. Aylen Learned started with the disc going upwind on many offensive points and put the disc in play to Mamabird’s downfield stars. On the continuation, Mamabird could rely on Ryan Shigley or Dexter Luecke to reel in a deep huck.

Colorado was up two with a few minutes left until soft cap. After a Mamabird hold to make it 13-10, it was a game to 14. So Texas would have to hold, then string together three straight breaks to win. On Saturday against Tufts E-Men, they scored three times in a row to win on universe point. Would lightning strike twice? Almost.

John Clyde, Xavier Fuzat, Kolbe Bauer, Jake Worthington, and Zach Slayton decided to empty the tank in the final game of the weekend. Bauer got two blocks in the last four points of the game, and the TUFF defense got back to back breaks to bring the game to universe. However, Mamabird looked calm and collected on their final upwind offensive point. They swung the disc and punched in the hold for the goal. Mamabird 14-13 TUFF.

After the game, Bob Krier talked about Mamabird’s keys to success. He also noted some personnel adjustments after SMI that lead to a successful Centex. “Carter Halstrom moved over to the O-Line the last game of Smoky Mountain and played O-Line the whole time here. Did great,” he said. “Moving Nanda Min-Fink to defense and being able to have that big defensive body instead of being on O before. Switching those two around, as rookies, they did a really good job. And the next few that stepped up, Tucker Kalmus and Axel Hartzog, really stepped up and were part of that starting D-line for us.”

Going into the postseason, Krier noted some of the lessons they learned from their game against TUFF. “Number one, Texas is looking good,” he said. “Last season they weren’t as sharp. We thought they would be a different team. They’ve really filled in.”

Focusing on his own team, Krier noted some other takeaways. “What we take is that, one, we have that grit to fight through some of these ugly games. We’re not riding the emotions. Keeping our focus during the ups and downs and the games with back and forth. We still have to clean up the breaks we give up when we’re trying to close out the game. Each of the games we get to we give up one or two (breaks) and it gets tighter than it should be. And, that comes down to Nate Buchholz being out, being sick, so he was a starting O-player and less availability there. But defensively, a lot of the things we were trying to work on we were seeing the success as we get ready feeding into Regionals.”

Regions from Outside the South Central

The third place game for Centex was between Tufts Elephant Men and Carleton CUT, two streaky teams this weekend. Tufts would leave Round Rock with a 3-4 record, with losses to BYU, Texas, Colorado, and, on universe point in that third place game, Carleton. The holistic results for the E-Men, however, are not a good indication of the team’s performance. They have a strong talent base on their offense that can work the disc through zones and matchup sets. They’re anchored by Zach Singer, who has the ability to distribute the disc on longer cuts and play give and go. But the standout on both sides of the disc for Tufts is Oscar Graff, a true hybrid that can get big blocks at key moments and take any space they choose on the field. He’s explosive and will be a problem for defenses the rest of the season.

As it stands, Tufts holds the third bid out of New England. UMASS Zoodisc is undefeated and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down their dominance. And Vermont Chill’s trajectory from Florida Warm Up through Smoky Mountain Invite looks like they’ll peak at the right time for the postseason. But it can’t be sold short that Tufts is a very good team. They’re putting in their work to earn the third bid for New England, which, given the performance from other bubble teams this weekend, seems more and more likely. But even without the third bid, Tufts has the pieces to put together a run at Regionals through a game to go and onto Nationals in May.

Carleton CUT was another team with mixed results this weekend, going 4-3 with wins over Middlebury, Oklahoma Christian, Tufts, and, most importantly for them, Wisconsin. It’s clear that CUT is a young team with some growing pains to work through. Their offense is anchored by Declan Miller and Cullen Baker. When these two are clicking, CUT looks fantastic. They moved the disc well through other players including Anders Shenholm, San McCarty, and Jace Dean. On defense, standout players included Leo Jordan and Leo Xiao, who were able to generate blocks and convert break chances for CUT. But when teams contained Miller and Baker, CUT started to look unsteady. Going forward, CUT will either need to ensure that their two stars can beat any matchup in the region or alter their system to let other players cycle through when Miller and Baker are locked up.

Should we be skeptical of Carleton entering the postseason? Yes.

While there were moments of brilliance from CUT, their wins were not the most impressive. Middlebury and Oklahoma Christian are two games they should win. While they are very good D-III teams, they are, quite literally, in a weaker division than CUT. The win against the Wisconsin Hodags is important for their regional rivalry, but the Hodags had a bad weekend overall (more on this in a moment). The most impressive win of the weekend was clearly the universe point win over Tufts to take third at the tournament. If CUT can replicate that ability to close out tight games come Regionals, then they should have no trouble taking a bid out of the North Central.

The other storyline out of the North Central was whether the Wisconsin Hodags could place themselves as a bid-earning team out of the NC. In the Saturday recap, the Hodags were trending upwards. After the full tournament, however, they look to be moving in the opposite direction. Wisconsin has all the pieces to be a dominant team. They have standout players including Patrick LaVallee, Luke Youngdahl, Oliver Walke, and Graeme Alexander, who should contribute to a Hodag win. Their two most dominant players, however, are Pieran Robert and Nico Ranabhat. Robert is a true two-way threat. He can go downfield and get a big sky on offense and crank a flick upwind for a break on defense. Ranabhat is a powerful initiating cutter for the Hodags. He’s a lefty, so he’s able to hit throws and angles unavailable to other players on their roster. Much like CUT, when these standouts play well, the Hodags look good. But, when teams start to figure out the Wisconsin system, the Hodags start to lose games.

Their one notable victory from this weekend was against Colorado State, where they crawled back from a halftime deficit to win on universe. What became evident in that game was that the Wisconsin system is both a virtue and a vice. Although they have very talented players, there is not a lot of room for improvisation. Once a team can figure out their system and stop it, the Hodags are down and out. Going into the postseason, and this is, admittedly, an odd thing to say about a team, but they need to deviate from their structure and let their big players make big plays. It’s clear that Wisconsin has all of the pieces to beat CUT and go to Nationals. But if Wisconsin plays like they did this weekend on Regionals Sunday, the longest-running streak of nationals appearances by a D-I Men’s program will come to an end.

Division III Teams Punch Up

Three of the top four D-III teams in the country were in competition this weekend at Centex. The best of the three was Oklahoma Christian, who made it to the Elite Eight and left Round Rock with a 4-3 record. In this quarterfinal, they lost to Carleton CUT on universe, which is a great result for any program, let alone a D-III team. Top players for the Eagles included Emmanuel Kameri, Sammy Roberts, and Logan Krehbiel. Their stars, though, were Ryan Loui-Ying and Cooper Kerns, who frustrated teams that play at a much higher level than the Eagles.

The biggest win for OC with respect to their own division, however, was against Colorado College Wasabi. This was not only the game for regional supremacy, but was also the #1 vs. #2 game in D-III. The game ended with an Oklahoma Christian win on universe point, but not before Wasabi tried to claw back at the end of the game. Despite this loss, Wasabi should leave their weekend with their heads held high. They had key wins over the Middlebury Pranksters and Dartmouth Pain Train, and close losses against Georgia Tech Tribe and Northwestern.

It’s worth noting that some key in/out calls going both ways and a downfield foul call that gave the disc back to OC on universe point means that the game could have easily gone the other way, but to say the loss against OC came down to calls alone would be wrong. The D-III South Central is shaping up to have one of the best regional finals in the division.

Ultiworld subscribers, read on for more team notes, final thoughts, and the All-Tournament lines!

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  1. Chris Cassella
    Chris Cassella

    Chris Cassella is from Orange, Connecticut, and started playing pick-up at the age of 11. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, where he played four years with the Richmond Spidermonkeys. While at Richmond, Chris won a national championship (2017), two High Tide titles (2019, 2020), and the “worst decisions award” four years in a row. He is a current graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he will play his fifth year with TUFF. You can follow him on Twitter (@nerdyboypolis) to see his daily takes about zone defense, political science, and I-35 traffic jams.

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