D-I College Championships 2023: Round Two Quarters Recap (Men’s)

Texas can't hold on for the upset, and the giant-slayers Oregon are slain themselves

Massachusetts Zoodisc advance to the semifinal with a universe point win over Texas TUFF at the 2023 D-I College Championships. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

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We’re down to the final four at the 2023 D-I College Championships! Quarterfinals this morning went to seed, with giant killers Oregon meeting their own makers and the only non 1-8 seed left in Texas succumbing for the sake of chalk. We’re here to break down the storylines from the second round of quarterfinals ahead of the second semifinal.

Follow along on the D-I College Championships event page for updates as the College Championships reach their crescendo!

SLO Soar Into Semi

Cal Poly-SLO take down Oregon 15-11 to advance to the semifinal for the first time since 2019. Max Gade (3G/2B), Anton Orme (1G/5A), and Calvin Brown (1G/4A) led the concerted SLOCORE charge.

Oregon tested SLO early, securing a quick hold to start, and then converting a break to go up 2-0. The offenses traded a point each to put the score at 3-1 in favor of Oregon. But that was where the narrative flipped. The rest of the story was the excellence of the SLO defense, finishing out the half on a 7-1 run.

SLO’s defense is as dangerous as it is for a number of reasons. Firstly, they have a deep bag of schemes and tricks they can deploy to confuse opposing offenses – courtesy of coaches Sean Liston and Cody Mills. They also have the matchup defenders to play person defense and force takeaways. Case in point: freshman Max Gade is perhaps the man of the match for SLO; he made two tremendous layout blocks to steal the disc from Ego. He has the athleticism to harass any matchup he takes on and absolutely churns out downfield movement on D-line offense. Seamus Robinson, back from an injury that sidelined him for much of the season, also had two critical blocks, the first a heads-up play to snatch an upline away from Adam McNichols. His second was the rare two-handed hand block, stuffing an around backhand huck from Chander Boyd-Fliegel.

The SLO offense got broken three times, but overall played a solid game. The Carson Crouch-James Whealan combo was hyper productive and made short work of the myriad defensive looks Ego threw their way. Their ability to control the pace will serve SLO well in semis.

For Ego, Itay Chang showed once again why he’s a player of the year candidate. He had one goal, three assists and three massive, highlight reel defensive plays – that’s an everyday line for a star like Chang. Mica Glass (2G/2A/1D) was also impressive as usual, working hard against the SLO matchup defense for resets and moving the chains for the Oregon offense. He was upbeat about the season despite the loss: “We’ve never been results oriented. We’re about working as hard as we can and doing the things that we’re good at,” said Glass. Ego held seed and made a big step forward this season, getting back to their program’s history of success after missing the last two Nationals.

With another multi-goal win, it feels like SLO still have yet to play a game with a narrow margin at Nationals – although they have been tested at other times in 2023. “We’ve definitely had some close games this season, so we can rely on experience from that,” said Orme. When semis come, we’re ready for any opponent we might face. We’re excited to embrace that grind and embrace the opportunity to play another game with this team.”

Zoodisc Upend TUFF in UP Thriller

UMass Zoodisc just barely continued their undefeated run through Nationals, breaking Texas TUFF on universe point to earn a 15-14 win and advance to semis. Five years since not only their last quarterfinal appearance, but also their most recent appearance at the tournament, Zoodisc are carrying themselves with the emotional confidence of perennial contenders.

To hear them tell it, they weren’t even rattled. “I believed the whole time, to be honest,” said Zoodisc captain Isaac Kaplan. “We’ve come back a bunch. There’s no team that we can’t beat. There’s no deficit that we can’t come back from. Just, like… We’re gonna do it.”

“There’s something about it when [coach] Dylan [Tunnell] calls that line with those players…” said captain Luca Harwood, who was on the sideline for the final point. “When I see them out there I’m just like… [Harwood thumped his fist over his heart]… like, ‘I know where this is going,’ because these guys are automatic.”

Those are earnest words fom a team who can definitely count self-belief as one of their superpowers. But I was there too – and I am here to tell you that everyone else around was at least a little skeptical they could pull it out, given the circumstances.

Zoodisc fell behind two breaks to start the game on funky O-line receiving errors. First, Noel Sierra waved his arms around a deep ball from Wyatt Kellman. On the second point, Harwood dropped an under on the first in-cut. “Sometimes you come out and stuff just doesn’t go your way,” said Harwood.

Compounding the hole they dug themselves is that Texas TUFF clearly came into the game in attack mode. Between Matt Chambers launching brilliant deep shots from one good leg, John Clyde getting over the top of the UMass zone with the tournament’s crispiest hammers, Cade White tearing up the lanes, and freshman Owen Smith engaging in his highest level play of the season, Texas had all the tools to put the disc into the endzone with consistency.

“It was probably our best game of the season,” said Chambers. That’s a major judgment considering the team closed out Saturday’s play by blowing the doors off of Georgia in prequarters. But it’s a fair statement: the saggy Zoodisc defense that has been the bane of the division hardly bothered them at all, and they were extremely opportunistic with the UMass errors.

The game was on serve at 11-11 before Texas ran two breaks. Trailing 13-11, Zoodisc put their D-line on the field for a crucial hold. Harwood credits the D-line for keeping having the O-line’s back all year. “I think that’s a big part of why our offense is able to shake off those little execution errors. We just know that our defense is going to get breaks… So we have this sort of cushion – even when we don’t have a cushion. It’s like a mental cushion that we have trust in our teammates, that they’ve got our backs.”

The D-line picked them up with a quick hold up the field: Jonah Stang-Osborne to Toby Paperno to Sam Green up the break side. Then they re-tied the game after a Texas drop set up a fast break away shot from Stang-Osborne to Paperno.

Zoodisc would need one more – and they almost didn’t get it. On universe point, Chambers saw Clyde take a hard S-cut line to a huge space on the backhand side of the end zone. The throw was just a bit low and just a bit fast, and Clyde’s sprawling bid came up short. “I think everyone has one at some point that they want back,” said Chambers. “I definitely turfed that deep shot to JC.”

Zoodisc didn’t convert the first time, but they pushed Texas deep into their own territory. The field position paid off when Kolbe Bauer, who had been a rock throughout the tournament, dropped an under, setting up a short field. Kellman, Kaplan, Caelan McSweeney, and Artie Aucoin wove an intricate red zone set until, at the front of the end zone, Gavin Abrahamsson – the world-class freshman who has been an integral part of Zoodisc’s success this season and posted a four-goal, two-block line against Texas — found a window to receive the game-winner.

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

  2. Jake Thorne
    Jake Thorne

    Jake Thorne is a staff writer for Ultiworld with a focus on the college division. He is a graduate of Cal Poly SLO, where he played for four years. He now lives and works full-time in sales for a fintech company in San Francisco.

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