Santa Barbara Invite 2024: Tournament Recap (Men’s Div.)

How good is SLO? Who were the tournament's best individual performers?

Cal Poly SLO’s Calvin Brown winds up a pull at the 2023 College Championships. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

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With competition spread out across three days, including a Saturday than went from morning to night, there was plenty to discuss after Santa Barbara Invite. It offered a chance for a number of teams hoping to get to Nationals and beyond their chance to make their first impressions. It was Cal Poly SLO who conquered the men’s division.

Competition Schedule and Results

SLO’s Ceiling Higher than Last Year

The Friday night BYU showcase loss has become something of a tradition for what is otherwise a perennially strong Cal Poly SLO program. This year, there was a different feel to that game. Under the lights on Friday night, SLOCORE looked well-prepared and confident, dispatching an admittedly down-trending CHI team 14-9 before cruising through pool play and the bracket almost effortlessly, taking down a hot-handed Ego bunch 15-8. Bracket margins of 11, eight, and seven almost tell the story on their own.

This O-Line has to be an early contender for the most talented in the country with Calvin Brown, Kyle Lew, Seamus Robinson, Antone Orme, and Alex Nelson all being honest-to-goodness college stars, and James Whaelen (Revolver), Keaton Orser (Condors), and Dodger Middlebrook (Revolver PP) all with elite club experience and skill sets that put them in spitting distance of that same title.

Opting for a more fluid line-calling approach, D-lines were typically led by two or three of the names above, with a platoon of well coached role players around them. This approach proved extremely effective, as possession oriented offense on the turn made these lines highly effective at punching in the numerous turnovers they generated.

After this weekend it’s safe to say that semis is the expectation for this team, not the limit. They lose very little from an already semifinals caliber 2023 squad. What raises the ceiling, in addition to the growth of the stars, is the introduction of a sneaky-strong rookie class and the dramatic growth of a number of returning depth players. Freshman Hayden King was often handed the center handling role and showed poise and power hitting break throws with pace and hucks with precision. Among the defensive standouts were sophomore Max Gade (who had a two-handed layout point block in the final, along with the winning goal), junior Joseph Thatchet (who showed great instincts on defense and was nearly perfect on offense, digging up bad swings and churning yards with his legs and throws), and O-line center handler-turned D-line QB Carson Crouch, who made throwing zone on the turn a woeful mistake against the SLOCORE defensive unit. With so many teams yet to see the field it’s unwise to jump to any conclusions, but this team already looks as polished as the one we saw last May and it’s not even February.

Ego Impress Against All but the Best

All things considered, Ego’s weekend in Santa Barbara was a success. Their by-committee approach to filling Mica Glass’ lynchpin role on O-line was mostly effective. Max Massey and Aaron Kaplan were able to move the ball up the field with relative ease and, when necessary, flip their D-line switch and generate blocks on the turn. Kaplan was especially impressive in the defensive backfield, where his hair trigger and game sense led to a number of eerily Itay Chang-esque anticipation layout catch blocks. Downfield, Beckett Sessums, Chander Boyd-Fliegel, Gabe Nobis, and Adam McNichols all picked up where they left off last season. This team has exceptional cutter to cutter offensive flow.

Cruising into the final with a 6-0 record and single digits allowed in every game, the absence of Glass could almost be overlooked. That notion imploded in the final.

Against a well coached SLO defense, Ego consistently struggled to initiate their offense, resorting frequently to static hucks which were often uncatchable, and were otherwise swarmed by hungry Cal Poly defenders. On the other side of the disc, the Oregon defense was able to produce just five turnovers, four of them coming in SLO’s first two offensive points. They are fast and physical, but their youth was apparent here, with players often caught out of position, making many of Cal Poly’s holds essentially unchallenged.

Glass figures to buoy this offense significantly, but the defense will need to have stronger schemes and better execution on the turn to put a scare into any of the nation’s top offenses. The good news is that this team is young and the season has only just begun.

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  1. 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.

  2. Emmet Holton
    Emmet Holton

    Emmet grew up playing ultimate in the Bay Area and played 5 years on Cal Poly SLOCORE from 2019 to 2023. He currently lives in Berkeley, CA and works as an architectural designer in San Francisco.

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