Key questions after day one of FWU.
February 3, 2024 by Edward Stephens in Preview with 0 comments
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Florida Warm Up is a lot. It’s a lot of expectation, a lot of emotion, a lot of expectoration during the throws of all that emotion, a lot of action, a lot of rising fortune, a lot of disappointment. It’s a lot of college frisbee all wrapped into a couple of days. The good news is that it feeds an appetite that has been growing since last Memorial Day. The tough news is that it can feel like a firehose of information, so much that it’s all too easy to bury the lede.
That’s where we step in to help. Putting our traditional press gaggle hats and lanyards on, we’re going to take you through the importance of Friday’s events with an old trick of the trade: the Five W’s. That’s right, five questions provoked – and, in some ways, answered – by
WHO Are Some of the New Players Taking the Stage?
A lot of the chatter about this year’s college season has been about the staggering number of returning stars. We’ve heard less – so far – about the players who could make an enormous impact on the men’s division for the first time. Here are a few of the ones who stood out on Friday and will probably shape the months to come.
Noah Stovitz (5th year, Washington University) – #23 WashU Contra’s Cinde-relevant run to 13-12 and 13-11 losses against #9 Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur and #11 Vermont Chill would not have been possible without some Stovitz heroics. He has the hops, footwork, and incurable go-get-it-itis of all of the game’s best playmakers. When – yes, ‘when’ – WashU end up at Nationals this year, he’ll be a huge part of the reason why.
Austin Gin (2nd year, Minnesota) – Gin might have been a little bit more of a household name if his freshman year effort hadn’t been upstaged by the sparkling play of Max Dehlin in his same#10 Minnesota Grey Duck Class. Dehlin still sparkles, but Gin, on the O-line, has become indispensable. His backfield presence and gifted hucking ability relieve a lot of the pressure rightfully placed on Paul Krenik and Ian McCosky. He had a few huge moments in Grey Duck’s Win over Pitt.
Jack Rice (4th year, Vermont) – Vermont love their athletes. For the past few years they have stuffed their roster with players who get after the disc with wild eyes and churning legs. Except – they graduated a few of them after their run to semis last year. Enter Rice, a combination showpony and workhorse, to soak up the kind of invaluable minutes provided by James Cairn last season. That kind of player is great on any team, but especially a Vermont side who can be just a mite loose with their throws.
Eli Chang (1st year, Brown) – Fast, vicious, powerful – Chang will end 2024 as one of the prize rookies in the country. He’s already taken over control of the D-line’s offense (see: Dexter Clyburn, Cal, 2022) and figures to be involved in most of the breaks #3 Brown Brownian Motion score all year. The real key to measure his impact is to see how many fewer points Brown have to spread between their other top-level starters to get a similar break percentage now that Chang is on board.
Michael Poe (2nd year, Alabama-Huntsville) – Okay, we could be getting a bit out over our skis on this one: a single day isn’t necessarily going to impact the whole college landscape. Whether this highlight really matters will be determined by how high the Alabama-Huntsville Nightmares can push. It’s up-in-the-air. You know who else is up in the air? Poe. The Nightmares have a lot of fifth- and sixth-year handling talent, and it’s huge for them to have a playmaker like Poe on the other end of their shots. He doesn’t shy away from the defense, the ground, or the moment. He can throw, too, when the upperclassmen aren’t keeping the disc to themselves.
WHAT Is the Matter with Pittsburgh?
Friday was not a day to remember for En Sabah Nur. As it stands now, these mainstays of the Warm Up championship bracket sit outside the tournament’s Elite Eight. Yes, they went 2-1 and only lost to fellow top-10 squad Minnesota, which is nothing to sneer at on its face. Yes, it’s a long season. Yes, they could still play their way into the top bracket and regain their usual spot in the semis, or even the final, by Sunday. So let’s not panic.
Still, it’s hard to watch them without getting the sense that, going back to the beginning of the 2023 season, the results are not aligning with the talent. Pitt have more than their share of game-altering players. You know the names: Aiden Landis, Henry Ing, Scott Heyman, Tristan Yarter. Add in rookies like Julius Clyburn and Thomas Mazur, both of whom played well in their sanctioned debuts, and a few more solid college players.
With that much talent, what gives? They needed to stack lines at the end of the second half to come from behind against WashU, finally holding on universe to win. The round after that, Minnesota out-threw, out-jumped, out-cut – in every way outclassed them. Pittsburgh, if they are indeed the championship-contending team that they are in their hearts, need to look like a championship team.
A couple of issues are holding them back:
- Not enough easy points on offense. They’re pushing way too hard for way too little. The top teams will have five or six holds almost every game that feel inevitable and are almost a rest for most of the O-line. Because they’re gassing themselves so often, they start to make mistakes or lose some of their high-end steam at key moments late in the game.
- Not enough depth to fill out both a world-beating offense and a world-beating defense. Pitt’s top four can beat anybody in the country. Their top eight or so can play with anybody in the country. After that, the talent on the roster drops off below the elite level. Right now, they are loading the talent on offense and with semi-frequent crossovers. That formula needs tweaking.
WHEN Does the BYU Era End?
Some time over the past six years or so, essentially since #14 BYU CHI broke into the elite level of the men’s division, they became the regular season matchup that every team hoped for, feared, and circled on their schedule. Part of the appeal was the perceived strangeness of their differences from other college teams: who are these old dudes – BYU players typically don’t start in college until after completing a two-year mission, so they are older on average – who won’t play in the bracket games?1 But a much larger part of the appeal was getting a test against one of the best teams in the country. They have been an appointment game for the competition, and they have been appointment viewing for fans of the sport.
It’s no exaggeration or overreaction to say, however, that this year’s iteration of CHI have the program’s lowest team ceiling in years. Are they top 20? Top 15? Top 10? The exact level is still pretty unclear, but they aren’t at the same easy-top-five, maybe-top-two level in 2024. They are now 8-4 on the season, including two bad losses to UMass and #3 Cal Poly SLO SLOCORE. This time last year they were 12-0. If that trend keeps up, it’s fair to wonder whether BYU will continue to put in so much effort to travel cross country. Will they keep seeking out elite level competition? Will elite level tournaments continue to reach out to them and help them make a playable schedule?2
Well – anything is possible. But let’s not gather the funeral choir to sing the program’s dirges just yet. In the first place, while the ceiling has been lowered, they are still well above the cut of the top 25 range. Teams who play them are still going to get a test, and everyone in the country who has any sort of aspiration for Memorial Day Weekend will want an extra test against the only good squad in the country who they are guaranteed not to see there.
More importantly, they have all the seeds of a roster who will be able to get them back to their former heights very soon. It might be next year, it might be the year after, but the BYU freshman, sophomore, and junior classes are extremely good. McKay Yorgason has the potential to follow in his brother Luke’s footsteps as one of the premier handlers in the country – he’s already showing signs. Jensen Wells is a fireball. Justin Mecham is a fireball-in-training. Sean McDonald is one of the best unnoticed players in the country.3. Evan Miller is the embodiment of grit. Simon Dastrup, who injured himself during a scrimmage against #19 Utah Zion Curtain the week before SBI and is out for the season, could be better than all of them. Yes, every era comes to an end. But this one won’t for at least a couple more years, in spite of BYU’s down-to-earth results over the past two weekends.
WHERE is the Best O-line in College Ultimate?
Cards on the table, this question is one I asked myself while watching the Brown vs. Carleton game on Friday afternoon. And also while watching UMass take on #8 Texas TUFF in the first round of the day. And also pretty much every other day of the college season. It’s a fun one to think about, and the answer changes from day to day. Setting aside some obvious nominees from teams who played last weekend – #1 UNC Darkside, Cal Poly – we can at least try to figure out the best O-line from among the top teams at Warm Up. In fact, let’s rank them!
First, here are the top eight teams after a day of play:
8. #20 Northeastern Huskies – With the caveat here that this reporter didn’t see much of them on Friday, they maybe need to be a little deeper. Peter Boerth and Owen Cordes can straight ball, though.
7. Georgia – Jojah played a lot of their most dynamic offensive pieces on the D-line. When Adam Miller and Aidan Downy cross over, they rise in a ranking like this. For now, in spite of excellent play from Jake Powell, they’re lower in the pack. Seems to be working just fine for them.
6. UAH – They’re solid and deep on offense. See below for more details on the Nightmares, but this ranking – above Georgia and Northeastern – falls squarely on the shoulders of Kenni Taylor, who instantly lifts their floor to an obscene height by being so reliable and easy in the backfield.
5. Vermont – Deep and athletic, Vermont would be ranked higher here if they didn’t sometimes play too fast for their own good. The Casey Thornton-Declan Kervick-Zack Watson-Stevens axis is certainly potent, though.
4. Texas – Now we break into the real top tier. When Texas run their full O-line – John Clyde, Saaketh Palchuru, Xavier Fuzat, Jake Worthington, Aaron Barcio, Peter Ngo – they will score regularly on anybody in the country. That unit helped push all the way to universe point against UMass. Also, as a team, they throw really good hammers.
3. Brown – Better get out in front of it: Leo Gordon seemed to be limiting himself to backfield duties today. That influences both this ranking and Brown’s ceiling; presumably he’ll be motoring around more like his usual self in the future. Even without him at full tilt, goodness B-Mo are smooth. There are some moments where Jacques Nissen, Elliott Rosenberg, and Cal Nightingale look like they are doing yo-yo tricks with the disc. Every throw comes out with sublime touch. They did, however, make a few clunky errors.
2. Carleton – Did I say that B-Mo are smooth? CUT might be smoother. Not necessarily in terms of the touch on their throws – Brown are definitely world-class there – but in the movement of the offense, the pacing, the clearing, the moments chosen for sudden attack. Declan Miller, Daniel Chen, Fin Furhmann, and Cullen Baker could really be the best offensive foursome in the country as soon as the end of this year – non-UNC division.
1. UMass – In terms of an offense who simply will find a million ways to score, it didn’t get any better on Friday than ZooDisc. You probably already know this, but Wyatt Kellmann is out-of-control good at ultimate. His give-and-go spacing and speed, as well as his creativity and decisiveness as a thrower, set him apart. Combine his talents with Noel Sierra, Caelan McSweeney, Gavin Abrahamsson, and Will Christian? Baby, you’ve got a stew going.4
WHY Should You Care About UAH and WashU?
What, are you some sort of heartless bastard? Of course you should care about Friday darlings UAH and WashU! In the first place, if it doesn’t warm your heart to see two programs who have worked hard for years to get an opportunity to play in a tournament like Warm Up actually shine in a tournament like Warm Up, then you don’t have a heart. Personal aspersions cast on an imaginary reader aside, you should care because these teams are good. Their runs today and the rest of their seasons are going to shake up the bid earning potential and pecking order of the Southeast and South Central regions, with the ripple effect of altering the bid picture for the rest of the country as well.
Here’s what they did well: Both teams are full of upperclassmen who take care of the disc, cut seflessly, and make big plays. For UAH, that meant trusting Chris Youngblood, Bradley Fleming, and Kenni Taylor with most of the handling duties on offense – Fleming and Taylor were especially steady. Michael Poe, Isaiah Mason, Riley Bong, Jonathan Sillivant, and Dominic Kenyon all did a phenomenal job playing spot roles and coming up with big plays in big moments. They have systems, play calls, defensive chops, and, significantly, an upper-tier teamwide height.
Except for the ‘teamwide’ part of the height equation, you can pretty much take most of the paragraph above and apply it to WashU. Contra are a little less steady than UAH in sheer possession offense, but Joel Brown, Cameron Freeman, and Bennett Schwartz aren’t by any means turnover-happy. More importantly, they flash a ton on in-your-face, big play kinds of throws, both booming set play hucks and nifty red zone shots. They are helped in that regard by having Noah Stovitz downfield, as well as sophomore Christopher Heron. On defense, Nick Jeschke and Seth Fisher-Olivera lead by example. Fisher-Olivera, in particular, was one of the best matchup defenders at the tournament on Friday.
Both teams will need more than just a single day of good play – UAH are 2-1 and currently in the top grouping; WashU are 1-2 but scared the hell out of both Pittsburgh and Vermont – to fulfill the early promise they have shown. But both are more than capable of continuing to sow chaos in the established divisional order as the season progresses.
Due to a BYU school rule, CHI don’t play on Sundays, which is the traditional day for most ultimate tournament championships. ↩
Author’s note: Personally, I hope the answer to both of these questions is ‘Yes, of course.’ ↩
Start noticing him! ↩