Huck Finn 2023: Tournament Recap

WashU win their second tournament in a row and second consecutive Huck Finn

Purdue Undue celebrate at Queen City Tune Up 2023. Photo: Katie Cooper – 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.

A deep line-up of teams converged on the St. Louis area this weekend for Huck Finn 2023. The top end knew this would be their last chance to get high-quality reps before setting their sights on poaching a Nationals bid in the postseason, particularly the eventual finalists Washington University Contra and Purdue Undue who were each the top-ranked team in their regions that did not earn a bid.1 As the weekend played out, the teams in Tier 1 (see our Tournament Preview for an explanation of the format) showed their strength and took seven of eight quarterfinal spots. St. Olaf Berzerkers were the only upstart from Tier 2 able to make it past the pre quarters, dismissing Emory Juice 11-8 to earn their way into the last eight. Out of Tier 3, Saint Louis University Archangel continued their strong finish to the season, going 6-1 on the weekend to finish T-9th after being seeded 21st overall.

Pool Play

Bracket Play

Adventures in a Huckleberry Wind

It is an understatement to say that Saturday of Huck Finn was dominated by wind.2 And to be clear, this was not a regular 15-20 mph that creates a serious upwind-downwind game; it was the kind of wind that makes something resembling ultimate functionally impossible. The early scores best illustrate the point: only four of the 32 games played in the first three rounds had a team reach double digits, and there were even some games where that wasn’t mathematically possible (see: Emory 5-3 Notre Dame). Some teams were able to thrive in the chaos and the equalizing weather led to shock results, like the 6-5 universe point win that the Cincinnati Bearcats edged out over WashU in pool play.

By the end of Round 4 on Saturday, the conditions calmed to a level where the sport on the field was appreciably more like ultimate. Strategies switched away from a straight field-position game and the true quality of teams began to show through. After an 11-2 thumping at the hands of Purdue in the tail end of the gusts, Iowa State ISUC were able to rally and hand Indiana Hoosiermama?s a 9-7 loss to end Saturday. That result catapulted ISUC into the bracket and kicked Indiana down into the 15th place bracket. It was the nail in the coffin of an unfortunate weekend for Indiana, who got the short end of the stick from the format and played out Sunday against weaker competition.3 At the end of Pool Play, WashU and Purdue earned the bye into the quarterfinals while Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Kentucky, Marquette and Grinnell joined SLU and St. Olaf as the challengers to Tier 1 in the pre quarters.

The bracket went chalk in the quarterfinals with no upsets in sight except for Notre Dame’s challenge to ISUC, though ISUC made good on their higher seed and pulled out a 9-7 win. Notre Dame’s star handler Chris Walsh was out with a hip flexor injury which allowed other players to step in larger roles. That kind of valuable development will surely raise Papal Rage’s ceiling going into Not-So-Great Lakes Regionals where the weakest Michigan team in recent memory is just waiting to be upset. Elsewhere in the quarters, WashU comfortably got past Alabama, Missouri dispatched the Cincinnati team that had upset Contra the day before, and Purdue ended St. Olaf’s run up the standings.

High-Drama Semifinals

In a preview of the forthcoming Ozarks Conference championship, Mizzou and WashU faced off in the first semifinal. These two teams know each other well as a lot of them play together in the St. Louis club scene and have been building up a friendly rivalry. Mizzou came into this matchup with a chip on their shoulder since WashU has gotten the better of them in past meetings. Unfortunately for the boys from Columbia, Contra’s dominance continued and WashU were able to power through Mizzou 11-8. Mizzou were able to build the most pressure Contra’s offense faced all day but were not able to convert their chances. Senior Ben Reimler basically took over as Mizzou keyed in on WashU’s primary downfield threats Cam Freeman and Noah Stovitz. Reimler called his own number and made two huge plays in the deep space to close out the game.

Despite falling to WashU and finishing third for a third tournament in a row, Mizzou’s coach Ryan Tray had a lot of positives takeaways from the tournament: “We’d never played a tournament where we were playing eight good teams and eight good competitive games. Proving that we could play consistently good ultimate against good competition was the big theme for us going in and we did that.”

Alex Bernier was a difference-maker for Mizzou as one of the few players with the power to consistently flip field position in the intense conditions. Bernier was injured for Sunday and Mizzou definitely missed his ability to stretch the field on the turn.

The second semifinal was an absolute thriller between Purdue and Iowa State. The first half looked very similar to the earlier game where Purdue won 11-2 as Undue got out to a healthy 8-3 lead. Then, just after half Iowa State made some strategic adjustments and started to lock in. ISUC began fronting the Purdue cutters when Undue were going upwind and were able to generate pressure and turns. On the back of momentum-shifting defensive plays from Jeremy Marchesani and Matt Johnson, Iowa State brought the game back to 10-10. On universe, ISUC worked the disc all the way up the field to about 15 yards from the end zone before taking a ill-advised mid-range shot that a Purdue player was able to get to the ground before putting it full-field downwind for a score to win the game. That full-field throw was part of Purdue’s huck-happy offensive strategy going downwind. Undue held a lot of faith in their ability to get a quick turn and then punch the disc in with the short field. Though the risky strategy almost bit them in the back, Purdue escaped with the win and moved on to face WashU in the final.

WashU with a Dominant Display in Final

The final came down to the two clear best-looking teams over the course of the weekend, and everyone was looking forward to it. WashU came into the game with extra motivation because they lost to Purdue in the quarterfinals of MLC back in November.

The wind still played a factor, even as it was comparatively temperate to how it had started. Contra played small-ball to calmly work the disc upwind after Purdue would pin them on their own goal line with a downwind huck, and WashU’s superior depth played a big role. Contra’s 6th and 7th cutters on the D-line regularly got open, with David Higuchi in particular being a steady force downfield. Higuchi always seemed to bail Contra out whenever they found themselves in a tough situation. Junior D-line handler Seth Fisher-Olvera showed great maturity, pairing high-level execution of the basics with the ability to make tough throws when necessary.

On Contra’s offense, Purdue simply had no answer for Noah Stovitz.4 Once Contra converted an upwind break, they ruthlessly sent on a kill line to get the downwinder, and Purdue’s defense couldn’t string together enough consistency on the turn to break WashU upwind. It was a clinical performance from Contra to cap off the best weekend of their season.

To Purdue’s credit, they played a great tournament before meeting their match in the final. Their only games this year had been at Queen City Tune Up where injuries dominated the weekend. Looking to stay healthy and play good reps before the postseason, Purdue’s coach Phil Warren felt they met a lot of their goals, saying, “We had a lot of internal things we needed to work on like mental toughness and making sure we were bringing energy to every game. We were really happy with that. We were able to stay up and motivated the whole weekend.”

Ray Ye showed out for Undue with stout defense and an ability to adjust well to the wind. Ye made his impact alongside strong performances from Andrew Sin,5 the sharpshooting Eric Hoy, and Undue’s multi-tool linchpin Jaxon Moore.

Tournament favorites coming in, WashU did so well on Sunday that they even almost snuck into earning a bid. A few different results across the season and we would have been looking at a 3-bid South Central. Regardless, as back-to-back Huck Finn champions, Contra will be riding high going into Conferences and Regionals. Texas and Colorado should be wary.

All-Tournament Line

  • Ben Reimler (WashU)
  • Noah Stovitz (WashU)
  • Ray Ye (Purdue)
  • Jaxon Moore (Purdue)
  • Matt Johnson (ISUC)
  • John Marsh (Mizzou)
  • Aidan Vogel (Notre Dame)

  1. According to frisbee-rankings.com, WashU is #22 after #4 Texas and #6 Colorado. Purdue is #38 after #34 Michigan 

  2. The tournament has gotten some unfortunate weather luck on Saturday in recent years. You can see the brutal snowstorm that cut 2019’s Saturday short at the beginning of this highlight reel we made followed by the gorgeous weather on Sunday. 

  3. This is all incredibly ironic given their choice to forfeit Midwest Throwdown due to perceived weak competition. Would those extra reps have helped them get the few more goals they needed to move into the pre quarters? We’ll never know… 

  4. Rumor has it that nearby Scott Airforce Base actually mistook Stovitz for yet another unidentified flying object when he went up for the disc. 

  5. Who had been reported to be a smooth lefty handler after MLC but is in fact a righty handler that is just so smooth he could be mistaken for a lefty 

  1. Jesse Strod
    Jesse Strod

    Jesse Strod started playing ultimate his freshman year at Lexington High School (MA) in 2014 and has been hooked since. An alum of the WashU Contra program, he is now an assistant coach for his alma mater and plays club with St. Louis Lounar. He has also played ultimate abroad with the Israeli U-20 team and the University of Auckland.

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