Wednesday, May 7, 2008

If I Were Jeff Kula (Nationals Seedings [Open])

This is a tough year to seed Nationals, if only because there is so much parity among teams and so much disparity between some teams' skill level and their season performance. Without too much buildup, this is how I would seed Nationals:

1) Florida - the undisputed #1, only one loss all season was to Arizona at Vegas on universe point. Brodie is healthy now, and they won Centex and the AC to earn this seed.
2) Colorado - they came to play at Centex. With Martin back they only lost to Georgia, a perennial tough game for them, and Florida 13-15 in the semis. They deservedly beat Michigan in the 3rd place game, a game where both team were going 100% to win. Giving the edge to their results later in the season and their performance at Nationals the past few years, they earn this seed over Michigan and Wisconsin.
3) Michigan - Michigan placed 4th at Centex and won Regionals handily. They had a huge Centex with wins over Wisconsin and Arizona. Universe point losses to UNC and Colorado hurt, but they're still a dominant team behind Ryan Purcell, Will Neff, and a cadre of strong sophomores.
4) Wisconsin - It seems strange to seed them so low, but they lost 3 games at Centex to Nationals teams. The two games they lost that mattered are to two teams ahead of them. Their other loss is to Pittsburgh and was in consolation. Wisconsin recovered well and won Regionals, giving them the #4 seed. They're still a dominant team and the defending champions.

This group of five teams from 5-9 is the most difficult to seed. Carleton is the best team of the bunch, but they've lost to so many of the others that it's impossible to seed them above 8th. Georgia seems the weakest, but they turned it on at Regionals and beat UNC twice to make it to Nationals. Having played both Illinois and Texas, Illinois seems better and has the head-to-head win. If I were seeding on skill and predicted finish, I would go Carleton, Illinois, Texas, Arizona, Georgia. But because we're seeding on season results, my rankings are as follows:

5) Illinois
6) Texas
7) Arizona
8) Georgia
9) Carleton

10) UC-Santa Cruz - It's tough to put them here, especially in light of their big win over Georgia at Centex, but the Slugs are the only team at Nationals with a losing record, and they didn't start to pick it up until Sectionals and Regionals.
11) Stanford - It's been a down year results-wise for Stanford, but most of our losses have come on two days - Saturday of SB Invite and Saturday of Centex. We made finals at Stanford Invite with a win over Texas. In common opponents, we're better than UNT.
12) North Texas - UNT hasn't proven anything yet. They beat a flaky Texas team at Sectionals and then lost to them at Regionals. They have no history at Nationals and lost to Stanford last year at SB Invite. Their big win was 10-9 over Illinois at Mardi Gras, and they've lost to teams like Whitman, BC, and UCF. That being said, they have the potential for big upsets with an explosive offense, and I wouldn't want them in my pool.

13) Delaware - they've had a very unimpressive season and by all measures should be the #16 seed. Unfortunately for everyone else, they won the Metro East after Pitt faltered for the third year in a row, so now they must be above Pitt. Their out-of-region losses are all to AC and GL teams, and in their only game against a NE team, they beat UMass 11-8. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, and considering they have some Nationals pedigree at least, they get to leap over the New England teams who may have had slightly more impressive seasons. Also because Pitt does not deserve to be a #16 seed, and Delaware should get some credit for that win.
14) Pittsburgh - It's a shame that Pitt has to be so low, but now they can play spoiler and ruin a pool. This is the first Pitt team that really deserves to be in Quarters, and if they can bring it to Boulder, it's not out of reach.
15) Dartmouth - they're a solid team, but not one that should expect to make much noise in this trip to Nationals.
16) Harvard - this is an interesting year for Harvard, in that they have some very good freshmen and a bunch of seniors who are the team leaders. Next year, this will be a very different team, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them at Nationals again in two or three years.

And, as a bonus, how I would rank the 16 teams in the extremely scientific terms of "how good I think they are":

16. Delaware
15. Harvard
14. Dartmouth
13. Georgia
12. Arizona
11. North Texas
10. Texas
9. UC-Santa Cruz
8. Pittsburgh
7. Stanford (I never said I wasn't biased)
6. Illinois
5. Carleton
4. Michigan
3. Colorado
2. Wisconsin
1. Florida

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Call: We Made Nationals! Response: Yes!

This past weekend in Davis, 16 open teams battled for two bids to UPA College Nationals in the most hotly contested Regional tournament of the weekend. With no clear frontrunner, each of the top 6 or even 8 teams considered themselves in contention for the two bids to Boulder. UBC entered the weekend as the #1 seed, but they finished in 4th place among the 5 Northwest teams at Centex. Santa Cruz had the second seed by virtue of their first place finish at Bay Area Sectionals, and they were followed by Stanford, LPC, Cal, and Oregon, a dangerous 6th seed after leading at half against every team they faced on the Saturday of Centex, including Wisconsin and Michigan.

We opened the weekend against Humboldt, a team that struggled at Oregon Sectionals but gave us trouble at Sean Ryan in the fall, when we won 11-8. Led by Ben Carlson and his big forehand huck, Humboldt kept it close at the beginning, and Matt Kissman cut strongly in the middle of the field. Sloppy play from both teams led to a long first half, but Stanford took half 8-6. There was a lack of urgency from Stanford, but drops and throwaways from Humboldt allowed us to pull away. Humboldt did shred our zone defense, which was cause for concern, but our defense clamped down later on, and we ended with two breaks to take the game 15-10, after a point block on Ben Carlson's attempted around forehand break.

That led to our quarterfinal game against Oregon, our first game against them since an 11-10 victory in consolation at Sean Ryan in November, and our last meaningful game against EGO was the 15-10 Regional final last year. The typical players who got recognition were fairly quiet in this game, as Eli Janin, Dusty Becker, and Kevin Stout were outshone by Gavin McKibbon, Spencer Wallis, Joe Condon, and Cody Bjorklund. After starting out up several breaks, Oregon clawed their way back when our offense stagnated and Eli and Gavin broke through our marks and various defenses. Stanford took a few break lead but Oregon never gave up. After the game, Reid Koss remarked on the sideline that without a coach, Oregon could never channel their talent into success because the egos (get it?) of the "Big 3" led to sloppy play and poor decision-making.

Midway through the first half, Mark Sherwood caught an upline pass as Eli was poaching off his man and slammed into Sherwood, knocking him into the ground with a lowered shoulder. Sherwood lay there for several seconds before popping up and shoving Eli in the chest, sparking the closest I've ever seen in ultimate to a bench-clearing brawl. After the observer issued TMF's, play resumed as normal. Speaking of the observer, this weekend proved that having one observer who doesn't know the rules is worse than no observers. At one point he ruled that the offensive player fouled the defensive player, upholding the D player's foul call. Instead of awarding Cody Bjorklund the disc, he sent it back to the thrower, giving Stanford a second shot. Dusty had at least one monstrous layout D, as did Sherwood, and Dusty got into several confrontations with Stanford players who considered his late bids at the disc dangerous and gratuitous. Oregon took the lead early in the second half, but Dusty dropping a pull helped Stanford claw back. We found ourselves on universe point with Stanford pulling, and both teams with their money lines on the field. After Oregon had a couple swings and short gainers upfield, Dusty had the disc on the open sideline and launched a forehand huck OI to a streaking Spencer Wallis with a couple steps on Angus Pacala. But the disc hung in the air long enough for Angus to catch up, and with the disc lingering out of bounds, Angus was able to get the D just out of bounds in the endzone, and Stanford began to march the disc up the field. In what seemed like 100 passes, Stanford calmly moved the disc from side to side with swings and stall eight bailout cuts from across the field, as Mark Sherwood took over and led the charge. Everyone was exhausted, and finally Chris McCarty, out for most of the season with a broken leg, threw the winning goal to send Stanford to the semis. After the game, Eli and Sherwood settled things with an apology and an explanation, and Eli's still alright with us.

There we met the UCSC Banana Slugs, who hadn't really been tested yet and were looking to repeat their Sectionals performance with another big win over their big brother Stanford. Unfortunately, we didn't test them either. We came out flat and found ourselves down 7-2. There was no energy in our defense, but the real problems were on offense, where Santa Cruz's force middle defense frustrated our handlers and cutters and stagnated the offense. On defense the marks were poor, and players like potential FOTY Cassidy Rasmussen and junior Steve Graves made huge grabs for UCSC. Without Tom James, a lot of the downfield matchups got shifted, giving players like Cassidy more favorable matchups and putting us into a deeper hole. We stopped the slide down 3-9, but with the cap approaching, our 6-3 run was too late. We finally figured out their defense, and Sherwood was literally draped over Danny Karlinsky for the entire game. To add to DLK's misery, I accidentally cut him on my wrist brace while marking him a few points into the game.

One of the most memorable plays from our end was a huck to Nick Chapman, who had about 10 steps on Ezra Schiff. But the disc hung a little bit, and Ezra took lazy loping strides (probably due to his sports hernia) and just as Chapman was about to catch the goal, Ezra leaps up, grabs the disc, does some of his signature flourishes, and bounds away to the goal line to put the disc in play. Midway through the second half, I bid for a disc in the endzone and landed awkwardly on my broken wrist, and the entire field of players rushed around me. It was actually Karlinsky who pushed them all back to give me some room. After icing and taking two Vicodin I was fine, and I even played on two D lines that got breaks and an O line that converted, but it was too late. UCSC scored up 12-9 to end the game at 13-9 and go into finals on Sunday. On the other hand, we had a tough road, facing Whitman who knocked off LPC, then the winner of Cal vs. Oregon, and then the loser of the finals. Three games - win them all and we're back at Nationals. Lose one, and our season is over.

We had a delicious team dinner at Applebees on Saturday night to recharge and refocus for Sunday. The only kosher for Passover meal at the pizza place we went to on Friday was a salad, but at Applebees I could have a delicious steak. Our waitress was actually wearing a pin that said "Landshark" on it - courtesy of Landshark Lager. Courtesy of the waitress, our entire team got Landshark coasters. Memories of Kaimana definitely fueled us for Sunday as well. I was actively pulsating throughout the night, as reports of a Maryland-Delaware Metro East final made me almost positive that Maryland and Mike Rubin would qualify for Nationals, and hearing about NC State's near loss to Emory made me cringe. It was a mixed day for my former teammates around the country, but really all I could focus on was making Nationals myself.

In the morning we met Whitman, who had a simple scouting report - Jeremy Norden throws hucks and Jon Loeffler scores goals. The game went pretty much the same way, although we fell into a hole early after our zone failed to produce breaks and our upwind forehand hucks turned over. Down 3-5, however, we turned it on and started playing smarter ultimate, working the disc underneath until smart huck options opened up. It didn't hurt that we had Tom James back, and we scored 5 points in a row to take half 8-5. After seeing Jeremy Norden play at YCC's last summer, I was expecting more from him in an elimination game at Regionals. He threw a bunch of hucks early, but for several points I covered him and he hardly touched the disc. What struck me the most about his play was the he didn't play defense. It wasn't smart poaching or team switching, but he didn't cover anyone on the turn. That didn't work against us, and we essentially traded out the rest of the game until hard cap went on with us up 14-12. We put in a rookie line that got the turn and worked the disc to the endzone, but a point block and a huck quickly ended that. 14-13, Stanford, and on to play another game. Whitman's most impressive player to me wasn't Norden or Loeffler, but Micah Jarnot who had several great grabs and nice D's to keep Whitman right on our heels.

We had a bye next, and our women were playing in the backdoor quarters against PLU after their loss to Cal in the quarterfinals. They were shaken up but looked great against PLU - Reign didn't score in the 30 minutes we were on the sideline watching the game. Apparently they carried that momentum into the next game against Oregon to go up 11-7, but the game ended in disaster for Superfly when Emily Damon and Becca Schwartz layed out into each other while Emily was catching the game-winning goal on universe point, sending the disc and their season crashing down.

Cal beat Oregon in their backdoor semi, 14-12, and now we were set to face Cal for the fourth time this season. Ben Ewing and Elliot Schatmeier were both injured and out for the game, and really, this game was over in the first 10 seconds, as Colin Van Lang got a huge layout D on the second pass of the game, just outside Cal's endzone. Three points later, he pressured Charles Denby into a drop, just outside their endzone again. We were up 3-1 and crushing. The first half ended 8-4, with Cal's spirits crushed and Stanford's legs churning faster than ever. We felt the game to go in our grasp and would not let Cal come near it. Brian Neil was slinging forehand hucks to Tom James and Mark Sherwood, and this handler even got a deep D against one of 6'7" twins in a hell point where Miles Brodsky and I almost killed an old man on the sideline after bidding out of bounds for a huck. The best part of it was, after he regained his senses he asked both of us if we were okay. Choon got several deep D's that point for Cal, but eventually we were able to punch it in and several points later, we sealed the win, 15-10.

We were able to catch the last two points of the UBC-UCSC final, where Cassidy Rasmussen and Steve Graves were again making huge plays, and Karlinsky and James Yeager were throwing pinpoint hucks. Thanks to UCSC, UBC finished the game dead tired. Eamonn Watson threw up on the sidelines and Jon Hayduk was hunched over on the field, shirtless. Their body language indicated that they wanted no part of a game against a Stanford team that had played two hard games but still had the legs for a third. Our entire team could smell blood, and we knew that the game to go was ours for the taking.

We started the game on defense and got a turnover on a rushed huck. Matched up on Blair Hole, I could feel how tired he was and was open deep and underneath on each cut I made - and from the way we were moving the disc up the field, it was evident that the entire team had fresher legs than their Canadian defenders. We broke first, then traded to 3-3 and then went up 6-3. Receiving at 3-3, we struggled through a long, long point that forced several UBC players to call injury subs, but we toughed it out as Tom James caught a huck over the four inches taller Jon Hayduk, then instantly cramped up in tremendous pain. To Hayduk's credit, he stayed with Tom and stretched him out until our coach and resident trainer, injured freshman Nick Greenfield, could take care of him. Our defense capitalized on UBC's exhaustion, breaking their offense two more times and watching them hunch over and gasp for air at the end of each point. But UBC wasn't done, and Blair Hole, Eamonn Watson, and Raef Immerman moved UBC up the field, throwing goals to Mark LeDuc and Jordan McPhee. But we gathered our composure at 6-6, then broke again to take half 8-6. Sherwood was poaching off of LeDuc a lot, given how tired he was, but LeDuc still managed to make him pay, and Blair Hole launched hucks that helped UBC avoid some long, grinding points.

In the second half, things started to get chippy, sloppy, and extremely frustrating. UBC scored some O points on long hucks, and they got some discs back with a Raef Immerman layout D and Dan Woodsworth sky. UBC's tiredness manifested itself with almost nonexistent defense, while Stanford started to crumble with rushed throws and overthrows. The second half was also marked by an inordinate amount of injury subs - the most I've ever seen in one game. After Steve Scardato dropped a huck in the endzone and UBC got a break back, the game got narrower and chippier. With the UBC womens team drunk and loud on the sidelines and Superfly supportive but still in shock, angry heckles crisscrossed the field. At 14-12 Stanford, we got several D's (two by Mark Sherwood and one by Derek Frome, a first-year player) and break opportunities, and receivers were open downfield, but a rushed huck, turfed open forehand, and a dropped dump all ruined our chances to win with a break, and UBC converted. At 14-13, we received and Sherwood touched the disc nearly every other pass, throwing scoobers over the top to Tom James and eventually scoring the game-winning goal to send Stanford to Nationals for the 5th straight year. Make no mistake, this is a different Stanford team than the ones that made Nationals before. Ten rookies joined twelve veterans in November to take this team to Nationals, and we achieved our goal. It doesn't matter that we'll be the #3 seed in our pool instead of the #3 seed overall. The way we cut on Sunday throughout all three games, and the intense defense that defined our play in all the elimination games we faced, will give us as good a chance as anyone to play on Sunday for the first time since 2002.

2008 NW All-Region Team:
Mark Sherwood, Stanford
Danny Karlinsky, UCSC
Blair Hole, UBC
Joey Durkin, California
Ernst Westphal, LPC
Tom James, Stanford
Nick Chapman, UCSC

Cassidy Rasmussen, UCSC

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A National Picture

Bay Area sectionals was this past weekend, and while none of the five regional qualifiers finished where they were seeded, the final results could hardly be said to be a surprise. The top four finishers will likely take 4 of the top 5 (or even 4) seeds at Northwest Regionals, and along with UBC and Oregon are very much in the hunt for a bid to Nationals. All across the country, late-season results are turning once-boring Regionals into hotly-contested battles for one or two spots to Nationals.

Metro East
Pittsburgh is the undisputed favorite in the ME, although their loss to Penn at Roll Call makes them far from invulnerable. Penn and Maryland will not be afraid of Pitt come Regionals, and Pitt's history of slipping up and qualifying via the backdoor - losing to Delaware in 2006 and Cornell in 2007 - could hurt them more than usual this year. Pitt has a strong core of cutters and handlers that will jam the disc down your throats on the open and break sides until a favorable deep look opens up. They will beat teams with their depth and consistency - their bench can also break the mark and has no fear of cutting against another team's starting D. Look for Chris Brenenborg, Josh Suskin, and Nick Kaczmarek to make the Metro East All-Region team while Julian Hausman and MIke Plunkett compete for FOTY. Penn is led by handler Ricky Chung and receiver Andrew Bailil, and Ricky at least has improved tremendously over the past couple years. Maryland is led by the fiery Reuben Saul and defense of Adam Reis, with the cutting of Andrew Hempstead and steady handling of Sam Burnim and Mike Rubin. They also have a legitimate FOTY candidate in Freddy Tsai.

As it's been ever since Beau pulled on Mamabird yellow, Colorado comes into Southwest Regionals as the favorite. After a shaky start at Vegas and Stanford, missing Martin Cochran and having severe handler problems, they pulled it together at Centex. Martin's return allowed Jolian to play less defense and handle again, and Chris Wicus is almost impossible to stop as he uses his long arms and legs to pivot around a mark. But for all of their superstar Bravo players, the player who seems to have been consistently good for Mamabird all season is defensive superstar Kevin Schipper, who seems good for at least one layout D a game. Arizona put together a magical run at Vegas and dealt Florida their only loss of the season on their way to a 12-11 finals loss to Wisconsin, and they've ridden that wave all the way to the second seed at SW Regionals. A quarterfinals appearance at both Stanford and Centex shows that they're not about to go away. Their loss to Texas at Stanford was without star Joe Kershner, but at Centex they were blown away by Colorado and lost to a Michigan team in the quarters that struggled to score upwind all day. Look for Austin Gregerson and Erik Gafni to lead this team with Kershner and take them all the way to Nationals. On the outside looking in is Claremont, a team that will be looking to upset Arizona in the semifinals with their big receivers coming down with discs over Arizona's big defenders. Michael Stout, Jay Schulkin, and even SW future FOTY Markham Shofner will be looking to rip down hucks from Gordon Stecklein and Daniel Bobrowsky - and even Stout and Shofner. If they can make the plays, they have a shot at making Nationals, although they'll have to beat Arizona in a tough backdoor game to do it, not to mention avoid slipping against UCSB, SDSU, or even Colorado State. If the weather is bad, UCSD might even make a run.

The big question lingering from Centex is how Minnesota and Carleton match up. That question should be answered next weekend at Northwoods Sectionals, but until then, Minnesota should not consider a trip to Boulder in May out of their reach. Led by Sub Zero's Jeff Anderson and last year's FOTY Michael Arenson, the handling of Kevin Terry and Josh Davidson also plays a big role. They love to put the disc and are strong in the air, although when forced to work the disc up the field, they will struggle and get impatient. Their 5th place finish at Centex placed them ahead of both Wisconsin (7th) and Carleton (10th). Carleton is an extremely fast team and more than half of their roster played high school ultimate - meaning they have the throws of players five years their senior. They punish teams on the break side and with hucks to speed instead of height - Grant Lindsley, Christian Foster, and Patrick Roberts are Junior Worlds receivers that they added this year to the already formidable Jerome Potter. After years and years of winning Central Regionals, they will not go down without a fight. Who am I forgetting? Only the defending national champion Wisconsin Hodags. While Florida might have the most feared O-line and zone defense in the country, Wisconsin has the most dominant man defense in the country, bar none. However, Muffin's quick hucks on turnovers don't have nearly the same completion percentage that they did last season, and nobody is taken by surprise anymore. But trust that the defending champions will bring it at Regionals, and they will be up in the title hunt again this year, perhaps content to no longer be favorites and to have taken some of the pressure off. Ben Feldman has improved massively over the course of the year, and he will have to help lead a much younger Hodag team next year.

Great Lakes
It was Michigan that garnered the most attention at Centex this year, beating Wisconsin handily on Saturday behind the play of Ryan Purcell (on my Callahan ballot) and Will Neff. In addition to their superstars, they have a very strong core of sophomores who contribute both their handling skills and cutting prowess to MagnUM. However, Michigan struggled on Sunday to score upwind, although their inability to get breaks may have been related to freshman D-handler Ollie Honderd's absence (Worlds tryouts). But for all of the attention Michigan received, Illinois nearly upset eventual champions Florida in the first game Saturday morning, losing 12-13. Illinois has a very, very solid offense that throws a lot of blady forehands to receivers with only a step or two on their defender, and they complete nearly all of them. They also have a strong switching defense that creates turnovers and layout D's, and after trading with Stanford in the first half of our game at Centex, they won the second half 6-1. Lurking in the background at second-tier tournaments have been Ohio State and Notre Dame, and both teams have the skills and players to upset one of the top teams - but do they have the focus? Last year Illinois was one of the favorites to make Nationals and fell short while Indiana rose to the top - who will fall this year?

The South has historically been one of the shallowest regions in the country, with Texas so far ahead of the competition that their Regionals was easier than some teams Sectionals. This year, however, North Texas shocked TUFF and came away with the sectional title, a 12-7 victory, and the #1 seed at South Regionals. Kevin Richardson is the go-to guy for UNT, and their speed and athleticism makes them similar to a Claremont team with better defense. It remains to be seen whether their high-powered huck-happy offense will pass muster in a less windy situation where turnovers are more costly. Texas is still the favorite to take the first bid to Boulder, led by Stephen "Franchise" Presley, a shifty handler who makes TUFF's offense tick. Presley, along with Steven Darroh, run a handler-motion offense that attacks the break side and launches opportunistic hucks. Throw-and-go handler motion generates opportunistic cuts from their vertical stack and punishes poaches and lazy defense. But less athletic than in years past, Texas fell to the sheer power of UNT. Left out of the discussion so far are Oklahoma, Wash U, and Kansas, the Ozarks teams looking to bump out the top two seeds and take the #16 seed at Nationals. It will take a heroic performance by one of these teams to qualify, but Oklahoma's "faceless army" might be the Ozarks best bet.

Atlantic Coast
Florida rules the roost in the Atlantic Coast, and their win at Centex has nearly cemented Kurt Gibson as the Callahan winner. Their offense is nearly perfect, and their O-team defense fights ferociously to get the disc back and prevent breaks. Kurt and Brodie Smith are a formidable pair and cause matchup problems for every team in the country. Cyle Van Auken is a reliable reset, and John Windham and Chris Gibson provide usually reliable downfield options but are vulnerable to layout D's. Their zone is often illegal but so effective, as their height forces risky throws over the top that Kurt eats up from his deep deep position. The main battle in the AC is for second, as UNC, UNCW, NC State, and Georgia all believe they deserve to be in Boulder. The story of the year is the rise of UNC-Wilmington, behind the play of Rusty Ingold-Smith and the reliable leadership of Adam Pflaumer. They're fiery and streaky, and they will get into teams' heads. Their weakness is in their depth, as they wilted against Stanford in the fourth game of the day at Stanford Invite. UNC has the players and the experience to make it to the big show, but they have a history of falling to NC State. Mat Thomas, Ryan Coffield, and Eddie Alcorn lead Darkside, with physical Ring of Fire defense and youthful Los experience from their younger players contributing to their success. Noah Saul is probably the best freshman in the region, contributing as a handler all season. NC State has to overcome internal turmoil between its captains and coaching staff, but they're confident that they have the tools to make it to Boulder - as long as they're given the opportunity by their line-callers. Georgia has fallen since Dylan Tunnell left, but Greg Swanson is doing his best to bring them back. But with a shoulder injury he might not even get the chance - their 14-13 victory over Georgia Tech in the sectional finals hardly inspires confidence in their chances.

New England
It's hard to predict much from the Northeast this year, as weather and various out-of-state tournaments have produced such starkly different results. Williams must go into Regionals as the favorite after their Yale Cup victory and Santa Barbara performance, but they might even falter at Sectionals. Brown has put up inconsistent results but has much more experience after their young team finished poorly at Nationals last year. Michael Vandenberg and Jimmy Lowe run this team from behind the disc, and they play well in wind and slop. Tufts and Dartmouth are the flashy picks to make Nationals, and they met in the finals of Southerns several weeks ago. Still in the picture are Wesleyan and Harvard, who may still be missing super-freshman George Stubbs at Regionals. Fellow freshman Andre Vogt has stepped up to lead Harvard's consistent but unspectacular older core. Middlebury jumped onto the scene with a Yale Cup finals appearance, but can the skirt-wearing Pranksters survive bracket play at Regionals? It will be a surprise to see them in Boulder, but New England has the most parity at the top out of all 8 regions - including the AC and NW.

My own region has had its fair share of turmoil this exciting college season. UBC or UCSC will take the top seed at Regionals - two teams that haven't been to Nationals in years. Stanford, coming off of four consecutive semifinal appearances, is either a #2 or #3 seed, and last year's quarterfinalist Oregon is languishing back as a likely #6. UBC is an odd team, with their baggy shorts and roster loaded with graduate students, some of whom have been playing with Furious for years. But there is no Morgan Hibbert or Oscar Pottinger, and their deep game shredded Wisconsin at Stanford Invite. But they nearly fell to Jeremy Norden-led Whitman at Sectionals and looked poor in the C-bracket at Centex. UCSC is led by Revolver's Danny Karlinsky and Nick Chapman. They're almost unstoppable at redzone offense - turnovers need to come on hucks or early in cuts to get breaks on Santa Cruz. Cal is a very solid team with a strong ho-stack offense that hucks a little recklessly but ruthlessly exploits lazy marks to romp down the break side. Alec Berg runs the O line, while Charles Denby, Choongil Fleishmann, and Erec Hillis make things happen on defense. LPC fell to third at Sectionals, but Brad Kearney, Nick Raisch, and Ernst Westphal are huge for them, while the more recognizable players Dan "Robot" Naruo and Michael "808" Liu draw more formidable matchups. Oregon has struggled this year, with all of their "big three" players suffering injuries. Despite that, Dusty Becker and Kevin Stout led Ego to huge leads over almost every team they played at Centex before they crumbled. If they can maintain those leads at Regionals, another Nationals appearance is in the cards. Stanford has struggled on offense this year with drops and throwaways, but Mark Sherwood is a difference-maker, and if players 4-7 on the line can step up and make plays against other team's 4-7 defenders, Stanford can make it to Nationals again.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Upwind/Downwind (Centex Sunday)

After the massive shakeup in the order of things on Saturday, this year's parity in college ultimate was evident on Sunday as well. The main theme of the second day of play was the wind - every field was upwind/downwind, and upwind pulls generally went 45 yards into the strong 15 mph winds. Every team dealt with the wind differently - Saturday's Cinderella, Michigan, had to face the consequences of indoor practices, while UNC rode the wind and Josh Torell all the way to the finals. But the clear winner was Florida, whose four-man cup devastated teams and Kurt Gibson got deep D after deep D.

Our Sunday started with Harvard, who played spoiler to Georgia on Saturday and avoided a three-way 4-1 tie at the top of Pool D. Star freshman George Stubbs was still out with a PCL tear, and Harvard looked like they could have used a confident thrower into the wind. Fellow freshman Andre Vogt looked able but overwhelmed, and Harvard struggled against a hard man defense but performed admirably against the zone. Harvard's coach, Josh McCarthy, controlled the team well, and talked Zirui Song out of at least one terrible foul call. We won the game by putting in a handler-heavy D-line and actively seeking an upwind break, then converting the downwind break. We did it once each half for the 13-8 victory. The game also saw the solidification of our only call/response cheer: "We scored!" "Yes!" After our dismal Saturday, we talked about how we should never expect to score and that we should celebrate each goal. And so we did.

Because of the different round times for consolation and the A-bracket, after finishing our Harvard game, I wandered over to the A-bracket quarterfinals. Planting myself between the Pitt-Colorado and Florida-Wisconsin games, I saw several points of each. Florida-Wisconsin was a contentious game, and several arguments between Muffin and Cyle had to be settled by the observers. Florida's four-man cup was doing their job, making every point long, but Wisconsin was working the disc pretty well with handler motion. But some turnovers cost Wisconsin, and Brodie caught a lucky goal over Shane Hohenstein after being layout D'ed by him and launched a vicious spike. Florida eventually eked out the win in the cap.

Pittsburgh was getting it handed to them by Colorado when I first started watching. Colorado's zone was eating up poor hucks and some drops led to Colorado getting an upwind break. Evan Padget swooped on a poor Chris Brenenborg huck and hucked it upwind to Martin, who threw the goal. The downwind break came on a dropped swing pass, and Colorado quickly worked the disc in. Apparently the game was one full of breaks, however, because after Pittsburgh worked the disc down and scored on a Nick Kazcmarek high lefty forehand, they managed an upwind break of their own with some disc movement between Chris Brenenborg and Jake Christian. Pitt, unlike Michigan later, was able to capitalize on loose offense by Colorado and convert upwind, but they were less able to stop Colorado from pouncing back with breaks of their own.

Heading back to the C-bracket, our game was further delayed because UCSD was grinding out a way over time cap come from behind victory over UCSB. We lost to UCSD at Santa Barbara Invite in the rain and wind, but we had a 13-5 victory at Stanford Invite, and we were well prepared to deal with the weather and UCSD's zone. Their blond handler, #7, hucked a lot going downwind so that the Air Squids could set their zone, and it was pretty effective. We only managed one upwind score the entire game, but as in the Harvard game, we actively sought it out with a handler-heavy line and smart disc movement. Match Diesel was on the sidelines for this game, pumping up the Squiddies with some movie magic motivational speeches. We retaliated with "Gladiator" at halftime, but with cap on so soon, we scored twice after half and won 9-6.

We followed that game up with the C-bracket finals against Kansas, a team that will be pushing on the edge of Nationals qualification if the South gets two bids again this year. Picking up star freshman Axl from Rockhurst High School has helped mitigate the loss of most of their handling corps from last year, and Kansas is a solid team with solid handlers and some big downfield receivers. However, their breaks and defense are not yet at a level where they can compete on a National scale with the best teams. We managed 5 breaks in this game - 3 upwinders and 2 downwinders. Kansas was the only team that scored upwind on us all day, to their credit. Their ability to throw in the wind was probably the reason they made it to the C-bracket finals, but their day ended in a 7-13 loss to us. We had 11 breaks and gave up none on the day - a massive improvement over Saturday's dismal performance.

With our playing over by 1, we were able to check out the A-bracket finals and consolation games. Florida was rocking UNC, with Kurt Gibson putting in a Callahan-winning performance, so I focused my attention on the 3rd place game between Colorado and Michigan. It was an intense battle of great downwind offenses and what looked like scared defenses hoping for turnovers. Some silly decisions like hammers from Jolian and hucks to Will Neff in double coverage led to possible upwind breaks, but nothing materialized the entire first half. Occasional turnovers would lead to Colorado's Evan Padget picking up the disc, yelling "Chinatown!" and hucking to Martin as far as he could throw, which usually ended up being 35 or 40 yards into the wind. Martin had his fair share of upwind turnovers trying to do too much, but Colorado finally got the break halfway through the second half and eked out a 13-12 victory. Big defensive performances from Martin, Padget, and Pebbles (a great defender) helped key Colorado all weekend.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everything's Bigger in Texas - Centex Saturday

This past weekend 24 teams descended on Austin, Texas for the nation's most grueling elite tournament and the crowning event of the 2008 National Collegiate Ultimate Series. Wisconsin had already locked up the title and $5000 check on the mens side, but the womens prize was still very much up for grabs. With rugby kicking Cultimate off of one set of fields, mens fields were shrunk and we played with 12 fields where there should have been 9 already small fields. Stanford came in seeded second, and we were ready to defend our seeding and beat Florida in the last round to prove that we could go farther than semis this year. Unfortunately, the day did not go as we'd planned.

We started with our sectional rivals UC-Santa Cruz, but we were missing Sherwood, whose flight hadn't gotten in until 3:30, and he was sleeping at the hotel. That was probably our first mistake - coming into the Santa Cruz game extremely over-confident. And for an over-confident team, we played terribly. Our defense couldn't stop Chapman, and Karlinsky broke the mark easily. And we made it easy for them because our offense coughed up the disc a lot. We attempted a spirited comeback at the end of the game, and Sherwood played two or three points, but we squandered our chance when Sherwood threw a goalline scoober to Ben Kenigsberg, who laid out for the disc and landed out of bounds. We fell, disheartened, 10-13 to the Banana Slugs.

We found out that Illinois had taken Florida to double game point, and I already knew that they had an extremely solid offense that didn't give up breaks. But I was confident that we could run our own offense well and get a few breaks. However, we got broken on our second offensive point, and while our offense played well for the rest of the first half, our defense was being run ragged by Illinois cutters. We were trailing instead of dictating, and they had their way with us, launching big OI forehands for goals. Illinois has a ton of solid receivers, with a couple shifty handlers, and athletic players willing to lay out on defense. Halftime was at 7-6, and we had to get a break at some point. Instead Illinois reeled off five straight goals. Our offense was dropping discs at our own goalline and getting layout D'ed instead of going to the disc. It was horrible to watch, and if we play like that at Sectionals or Regionals, a lot of teams are going to beat us. We lost 7-13, but we threw that game away. We matched up poorly - Sherwood shouldn't be covering Joel Koehneman - and didn't correct our mistakes. Hopefully with our coaches back, we'll recover.

But we were still without coaches for the weekend, and our slide continued against Minnesota. From halftime against Illinois to the first 5 points of the Minnesota game, we were outscored 11-1. Down 5-0 with an abysmal offense, we had to reevaluate ourselves. We were generating turns against Minnesota, but we couldn't score for the life of us. Our offense was stagnant, and it wasn't their defense, it was our players afraid to cut. Michael Arenson played well for Minnesota, but he was an interesting choice for freshman of the year over Sam Kanner. We tried hard to claw our way back in this game, but we had too many turnovers and more lazy defense. We fell to 0-3 on the day with our 9-13 loss.

Our low point came in our next game against Georgia Tech. After starting strong and coming out with a 3-0 lead, we started playing horrible defense again. Russell Snow took advantage of poor matchups again, and we turned the disc over on offense like it was our job. Georgia Tech is not a deep team, and we were too disheartened and mentally absent to take advantage of that. This loss hurt the most - we finished at 8-13 and had a long team meeting after the game where we decided to turn things around against Florida.

So, after hoping to be 4-0 and facing a 4-0 Florida team to see who would take the top spot out of the pool, we found ourselves 0-4 facing a 4-0 Florida team that featured probable Callahan winner Kurt Gibson. But with a pep talk behind us and more motivation than we'd had all day, we matched them for the first 9 points, holding serve as Alex Hill, Brodie, and Kurt all went deep to score on us. We managed to force turns on defense but couldn't convert - Ezra threw away a break around backhand just outside their endzone in one of our best chances. I matched up on Cyle, and after my layout D attempt, he accidentally savagely cleated my chest and balls - Matt Lane has a great picture. After that, Florida came down zone and we struggled with their tall cup. Our handlers worked the disc well, but the downfield players turned the disc over a few times, although Angus Pacala made a great hammer catch in front of a charging Kurt Gibson, who is an amazing deep deep.

In the second half, we struggled a little more but kept fighting, and Florida pulled away. Brodie made some great catches, and the observer made a terrible call on a Chris Gibson catch where he leapt from out of bounds to make the play. Florida was not an unreasonable team to play with observers, despite Windham's two awful (and overturned) calls and the two TMF's they got. My ranking of teams I don't like to play against (in terms of their attitude and calls) now goes Santa Barbara is better than Florida is better than Wisconsin is better than Carleton is better than terrible French Canadien teams. We lost 8-13 but played better ultimate than we had all day. There was still plenty to work on, but we'd started to turn it around.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Stanford Invite Thoughts

Last weekend 20 mens ultimate teams converged on Palo Alto for the Stanford Invite, the first true test of the spring season for most elite teams. As the Stanford coordinator for the tournament, I worked with Cultimate to provide a challenging tournament and great experience for all teams in attendance. It also meant that I spent hours and hours the two weeks prior making sure everything ran smoothly, and arranging the finer details of our showcase game. The weekend was one of upsets - perennial Nationals contenders Oregon and Carleton both failed to make the winners bracket, and in their place stood UNC-Wilmington, 13-4 losers to Maryland earlier in the season, and Las Positas - a Bay Area junior college. But the end result was no surprise to anyone, as Wisconsin rolled in the finals, 15-4.

Carleton - They came out strong against us in the first game. They were missing Grant Lindsley, Patrick Roberts, and Alex Evangelides, three strong freshmen who were at Junior Worlds tryouts, as well as a couple seniors. However, they moved the disc extremely well against us and scored with relative ease. We came out sluggish on defense, and we could have done much better with better marks and quicker defense immediately after a throw to stop their handler motion. Jerome Potter did not hurt us this game - Sherwood and Jacob Speidel played some great defense on him. But 16 throwaways and 4 drops did do us in - including a couple in the endzone. Had we played more patiently on offense I have no doubt we would have won the game, but we were jittery. We could have also used some smarter matchups. Next time. Carleton looked tired in their next 3 games and finished 2-2 on the day.

UCSD - Our next game was against UCSD, and Danny Cox wasn't playing. Their offense ran through a blond player with a wrist brace - #6, I think, and hucks to #80. They took UNCW to universe point in an ugly, ugly first round game, but they did not look good in any of their Saturday games. They're looking at 5th or 6th in the SW again after having a great SB Invite.

UNCW - I invited UNCW for several reasons, chief among them their attitude. NW teams don't get to play against a lot of fiery teams during the regular season, and this was a great opportunity to see which teams will fold and which teams will rise to the occasion. After a shaky start against UCSD, they upset Carleton and Cal and came into the game against us 3-0. With Rusty Ingold-Smith's (Slow White) play behind the disc and huge grabs by "Condor" downfield, they were feeling great about their chances. But they were tired against us, and Rusty spent part of the 2nd half dry-heaving over a trashcan on the sidelines. We took half 7-4 and pulled away to win 13-5, only allowing one goal in the 2nd half. UNC-Wilmington then upset Colorado in the pre-quarters, capping a great tournament for them, where they came in seeded 18th and finished 7th. It will be interesting to see where they will finish come Regionals - they looked a lot better than the shell of a UNC team that came out west.

Cal - Berkeley beat us 8-7 at Santa Barbara when we were missing a lot of players. This was our chance to show who's on top of the Bay Area section. This was also the showcase game at the Stanford Stadium, and it was quite the show. There was a port-a-field, two observers, announcers with spotters, Ultivillage, the famous Stanford Band, and hundreds of fans, including Stanford students, Cal students, and other ultimate teams. It was also a great game for the fans - there were tons of layouts, skies, D's, and even a greatest for a goal. The field was fast - almost like playing on turf - and cuts were smooth by both teams. With no wind in the stadium, man defense was played almost exclusively.

Cal likes to put up the disc a lot, and this time we responded a lot better with our deep defense - having Sherwood, Tom James, Ezra, and Jacob in this game helped a lot too. We were confident and aggressive on both offense and defense, and Cal could not keep up. We took half 7-2, and not until a 3-0 run at 9-2 did they break us. Typically Cal has great spacing on their horizontal stack, but we cut off their easy under looks and competed with them deep. Tom even got a deep D on one of the 6'7" twins. Ezra had a double deep D on one point, and Tom had the crowd moaning in despair as he dropped what looked like an easy deep goal. He won them back with a greatest at 11-7 to Steve Scardato for the goal, and Brian Neil dropped a D at 12-7 for what could have been a Callahan and the greatest back-to-back plays to end a game ever.

Claremont - The Braineaters are an interesting team. They have several throwers and a ton of deep threats, and their offense will put up 6 or 7 points on any team in the country. Their defense, however, is poor, and if their big guys don't come down with the hucks on offense, they'll lose games against good teams. We won 15-10 on the strength of some deep D's and smart offense. They rely on huge hucks from #13, Maniac, to receivers like Michael Stout, Jay Schulkin, and sometimes-thrower-sometimes-receiver-likely-SW-FOTY Markham Shofner. I also got my lefty bookends against Claremont to go +2 for the weekend.

Texas - They are a good team that somehow scores a lot. They are (generally) smart with the disc and have great handler motion, and they can punish poaches with hammers and breaks. They're not the most athletic team, but they will run with you. They like the around looks and Stephen Presley and co-captain #10 will move the disc around all day in the backfield and on the break side if they have to. There is no way that this game should have been as close as 14-12, but poor decisions on our part helped Texas claw back into the game. And so did my D on Stephen Presley that I immediately threw right back to the thrower for the instant turnover.

Wisconsin - It's no surprise to meet Wisconsin in the finals, but it is a surprise to watch your team's offense just crumble. We came out flat and immediately went down 4-0, and we never really gave our defense a chance to get on the field. We forced turns on at least two of their four O points, but when our offense was playing as poorly as it was, we were never in the game. We were down several handlers, but when Sherwood and Tom are both playing behind the disc we will never do well against a team like Wisconsin, especially if they don't trust the downfield cutters enough to throw to whomever Muffin is poaching off. On the plus side, we got a lot of players good experience in this game, and it's better to get romped by Wisconsin now than in the semifinals of Nationals. The next time we see them, we will not go down so easily.

Colorado - We never played Colorado, but I watched most of their Cal game and they have issues. Their handlers are in serious trouble - turfing regular short throws, unable to break the mark, and turning the disc over on dumps. Downfield they are slightly better, but with Mac making poor hammer decisions and other players dropping passes, they need to get their mind right before they can consider themselves a Nationals-caliber team. There were some spectacular plays on defense, as you would expect from some great players, but in general defenders were just trailing their men and getting beat up and down the field. Cal worked the disc easily and probably should have won the game.

UCSC - Santa Cruz is a very solid team with a few very good players but little depth and without the sheer athleticism necessary to compete at the elite level. In a year when they were looking to move up in the NW, they will struggle to make it far at Regionals unless some favorite slips up.

UNC - This was a shell of the UNC team I saw at Nationals last year, and I know that they were missing a lot of players. But they looked terrible at Invite and if they keep it up, could be looking at 5th place or even lower in the Atlantic Coast. Like the NW, it's an extremely competitive region this year, and preseason favorites can slip out of contention extremely easily.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Kaimana: Still Recovering (The Post 2 Weeks in Coming)

What's the verdict on Kaimana 21? Those three days might be the best three days of my life so far - and I didn't even get to play (much). Some of the best ultimate players and the most fun ultimate players in the world converged on Waimonalo for an epic tournament that featured 4 Stanford-affiliated teams - women, men, and two sets of alumni. Despite half of our teams coming down with the plague, I stayed healthy - unlike last year - and spent my days coaching and nights partying. It was great to get to know alumni better and finally meet (or meet again) some of the ultimate community's more prominent figures. I was even belligerently called out at the party on Friday night by Match Diesel.

I got to Hawaii on Thursday, and our team was boarding 36 in 6 rooms at the most secure and most annoying hotel in Waikiki. The problem was that we only registered 12 people, since it was $30 extra per person - it seemed like no trouble, until the cops came. Or a single 18-year-old rent-a-cop came because our attempt at a game of Kings was getting too loud. He relayed all of our names down to the desk in military alphabet, and they found out that only one of the 13 people in the room was actually registered to the hotel. After a protracted attempt to kick us out failed after we threatened to sleep in our cars, they let us register for free because "there was a shooting at a hotel yesterday." On another island. So we all slept in the hotel, but our festivities were cut short.

We woke up in the morning to find that one of our rental vans had been broken into, and one of our rookies lost his laptop, iPod, etc., and Alicia lost her wallet, keys and cleats. But we put that behind us and went out to the beaches and campsite, where people set up tents and we played many epic games of Double Disc Court - broken-leg-Chris and broken-wrist-Ryan even managed to win a game, 11-7 over chump rookies Alec and Angus. We were quickly brought back down to earth by Lauren Casey and Jenny Founds, who beat us handily, 13-9. Too many cheap shots to injured body parts in that game - typical Superfly.

That night was registration and the opening party. The theme for Kaimana 21 was "Finally Legal," and the gear was all designed with a playing card motif. Unfortunately, the Hawaiian aspect of the design wasn't quite there this year. I ended up at the captains meeting for Bloodthirsty, Superfly, and Superflown after meeting Match and then caught up with Brett Matzuka (formerly UQueensland/Nhara Moku, now NC State/Voltron). It was a relatively tame night, with no open bar and traditional island music instead of a roaring DJ. Notable and shameful occurrence from the night: our rookies getting roasted by the women in a boat race. Early to bed in the van in order to keep the wrist elevated, and I woke up around 7 and hit the fields early in order to grab some delicious smoothie and muffins at the tent.

Our first game was against Freaks, a Japanese team in some way affiliated with Sophia University. They were a quick team that moved the disc well and killed us with upline cuts at first. We started out with a 4-0 run, then they came out with a 5-0 run after making some adjustments, and then we clamped down on their dumps and got a lot of sideline turns during our next 4-0 run. In a common thread of the weekend, we were up 11-8 and pulling when hard cap went on, and they scored the final point. They were good, and they proved it by winning Ninals on Monday. Notable from this game: a rookie (with B-team experience) got a D, caught the disc out of bounds, and then threw it back at the field for a turnover. In front of the heckling sideline, no less. How embarrassing.

Our second game was against Helolo, a team we played last year in our first game. They're an older team from the Big Island but incredibly fun, and we had a great time during this game. We started out a game with a spandex vs. pink thong point (victory: spandex!), took half 8-5, won the halftime boatrace to receive the pull, and immediately sent out our rookies for a naked point. Helolo didn't want to be upstaged, and six of them joined in (one pink thong). Unfortunately, they won the naked point, but fortunately it took a while, so our womens team got the full monty. We won 11-6 and headed for some delicious Keneke's plate lunches in the main tent. Highlight: a rookie toes the line for a catch right in front of Superfly, then pivots out of bounds for the huge forehand as the girls watch in horror/delight, only half-pretending to cover their eyes.

After a bye and a round spent on Superflown's sidelines (Lauren Casey is a turnover machine when she's not on Fury's leash), we had our most important game of the weekend against Doughboy for control of the pool. Skeletor had a bye and controlled the far sideline, and as the game got more intense they moved from heckling to cheering. We started with a 3-0 lead, and Doughboy never really recovered. They are an athletic, strong team with great throws and defense, and we battled the entire game. We led until the very end, despite a comeback at the very end of the round. We found ourselves receiving at 11-10, with a score to win the game. Sherwood took the pull at the brick mark and immediately threw a huck to Jacob Speidel, who went up early and posterized his defender, who was playing good defense and even with him. Game, blouses. 12-10. Afterwards we sang about bestiality with the Aussies, but their heart didn't seem to be in it. It was actually really sad.

The dinner was decent Mexican, which was okay. The music was more upbeat, which was good. And the bar was open, which was great. We played several rousing games of Blowy Baggy, which we learned from the Aussies last year - an almost empty gigantic bag of tortilla chips is placed in the middle of the table, and everyone seated blows at the bag. When the bag lands, whoever it's pointing to must drink - and if it touched someone, that person has to finish their drink. Thanks to focused efforts, we managed to hit Laurent "LARE-AUNT" Lessard, our hapless B-team coach, something like seven times in a row before he tapped out. I missed most of the rest of the party, since both Bloodthirsty and Superfly were initiating rookies behind the tent. Before we knew it, it was 1 am and Tom James was shaving an arrow into my chest hair.

Sunday morning brought on Aloha Spirit, and I was determined to play. Despite intentionally leaving my cleats and compression shorts behind, I warmed up barefoot, throwing lefty. Unfortunately, the rest of the team was not as enthusiastic - I was the first person down on each pull, and we only took half 8-6. They had a great lefty thrower who launched some big hucks to a strong receiver. I did have a point block - not with the casted hand. We pulled it together in the second half, and at 14-8 with the disc on the endzone line, we called a reverse injury sub and put in Chris, who hopped past his man and layed out for a disc at the front cone. But Tom put it way out of bounds, and Chris had to call an actual injury timeout. Final score: 15-8.

Next up was Match and Almos Pau, which was a must-win game for us if we wanted an easier road to the semifinals. They were a good group of players, but we just outran and outfocused them. They had miscues and didn't deal well with our variety of defenses, and when we shut down their hucks they crumbled. We let them back into the game by trading with them at the end, but it was too little too late as we came away with the 12-8 victory.

Our final game of the day was a no-pressure game against Ono, the defending champs and a team stacked with experienced club players. We started out strong with two breaks, but Ono came back strong and hard. We worked the disc well against their man and they eventually came zone, which we broke well with hammers, scoobers, and give-go power moves. But we did turn the disc over a few too many times. Their offense was extremely strong and efficient, and while we managed to stop their hucks with some straight-up defense, they worked the disc underneath extremely confidently and with good breaks. It's easy to see why they won last year. But we were grinding hard on defense and pressured them into turnovers and several long points. Sherwood had great matchups on Dugan and Jacob played well against Hollywood too. This game showed us that we can play with any team in the country - we'll see how we've improved when we play against Jam and Revolver at DUI. Ono won 11-7, but we were the first team to take them to the cap.

After a quick "shower" in the water fountain and sink at the beach campsite (can't get that cast wet!), we went back for the Keneke's take on Chinese food dinner. I spent some time behind the table handing out egg rolls (spring rolls?) and then sat down and began the night's festivities. I got recognized by Meredith Tosta at the bar while Miranda poured me a stiff drink (her choice, not mine). After a while of just sitting and talking with Superflown and Skeletor players, I picked up another drink and talked with rookies about their debauchery the night before. There was plenty to go around. On my way back to the tent, I inadvertently walked into a big circle that had formed around a wheel attached to a pole. I was peer-pressured into spinning it, and imagine my horror when the wheel landed on "LANDSHARK."

After a couple half-attempts to avoid it - "I don't have a disc" and "Who will carry me?" - were taken care of, I shucked my clothes and got paraded around the dance floor. Several times. Right in the midst of the Stanford/Stanford alumni crowd. Thanks anonymous carriers! Except for the one that dropped out and the one that kept cupping my balls. Of course, Chris McQwerty couldn't be outdone, and he followed with his own landshark - where he swung his crutches around at head height and cleared the dance floor. After getting his clothes back, Chris tried to crutch back to his beach bed, but ended up sleeping on the fields for about two hours. It's okay - he wasn't alone.

Back at the tent, the dancing went well into the night, and the Stanford teams were well represented, along with Lone Star, Voltron, Ponies with Uzis, and Smoke Fire Higher Lower. The guys from Philthy and Phlllbt and the Phine ladies were still around but off the dance floor. Despite having our important early morning quarters game against Mulva Park, we represented at the party. That was one of the most fun nights I've ever had - I love you Kaimana!

The team wandered over to the fields in a slow trickle from 7:30 to 9, with a couple sudden victims of the plague coming several hours later. Our game against Mulva Park was never in doubt, as we went up early and traded out. They had some good players, and Rocky in particular hurt us. But we were more disciplined and never let the game get out of our hands. We were pulling at 13-10 when cap went on, and they scored the last point to finish the game 13-11.

Our final game of the weekend was the semifinals against Skeletor. We should have been fired up to play our alumni team, but we came out flat and they were incredibly energized. We started out even enough, and Angus even took Josh Wiseman deep. But soon we found ourselves staring at a 5-13 deficit. We battled back, though, and went on a 5-1 run where Skeletor's only goal game on one of our pulls that went out of bounds at the goal line and never came back in. Hard cap sounded at 14-10, and we requested to play out to 15. Kevin Cissna quickly interjected that the game was over, and Skeletor wouldn't play anymore. Instead of playing to 15, we never even got to play the meaningless last point. Discuss: did Skeletor sell out by having Davis alums and Daryl play? We match up better without Halverson and Mike Stintenos on the other line. Rematch? Just alumni vs actives.

Regardless, there was a bye before finals, so more Keneke's was had by all. I had the bright idea of filling up a pretzel barrel with 160 ounces of beer, and Chris and Tom finished it all themselves. This was only the first barrel of many. Half of the team was passed out by the time we got to our house Monday night. For those of us still lucid, the finals was a great game. Skeletor led most of the game, and fantastic catches and D's were on display. At halftime, a landporpoise and Chris's 2nd landshark were on display. Brandon Steets made an amazing endzone grab right in front of me and came down injured on the play, and Robbie Cahill had a spectacular layout grab of a leading pass in the same general area. Ono came up with several crucial breaks late to force universe point - it was a final for the ages. When Skeletor scored the last point, the sidelines erupted and Stanford rushed the field. In a couple years, when we join Skeletor, we'll be able to remember when we won the championship.

Striking the campsites at Kaimana is an interesting feeling. We rent a house for several days afterwards, so there's still plenty of fun to be had. But the camaraderie of Kaimana isn't exactly present - it's just college kids (and the occasional sketchy alum) having fun in Hawaii. Kaimana is hundreds of ultimate players enjoying Hawaii and the spirit of ultimate in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It's a good thing that the competition is great too, otherwise we couldn't justify coming back year after year. I hope the competition stays great - I plan to return for many years to come.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Aftermath

It was a wild weekend for college ultimate in Las Vegas and Charlotte, as plenty of teams showed up on the national radar for the first time, while others vastly underperformed. The big surprises at Trouble in Vegas were finalist Arizona, semifinalist Harvard, and quarterfinalists Whitman and Illinois. Teams like Colorado, Oregon, and Florida still have something to prove - this season the Northwest, Southwest, and Atlantic Coast regions are all up for grabs. In Charlotte, NC State rose to the top of the pack while Michigan and UNC-Wilmington plummeted. Across the country, NUMP polls were turned upside-down and excitement about the season is palpable.

Vegas maintained its reputation as a tournament conducive to upsets, as the first news reports rolling in showed Illinois going 2-0 over powerhouses Colorado and Oregon. Illinois played together during the club season much like Cal and Notre Dame, and the team is reaping the benefits. They jumped 12 spots on my NUMP ballot this week with a convincing 13-6 victory over Beau- and Martin-less Colorado and a 14-13 nailbiter over Oregon/

Ego had a trying weekend, with losses to Illinois and Whitman sandwiching an important victory over Carleton. Their style is uniquely suited to match Carleton, and Kevin Stout is the difference-maker when he's healthy. But Jeremy Norden-led Whitman upset Oregon on universe point, causing more turmoil in the Northwest. Cal has beaten Stanford, Whitman, UBC, and Santa Cruz so far but they're hardly the front-runner in a crowded field.

Harvard snuck into the semifinals, knocking out fellow upstarts Illinois and Whitman without Chain star George Stubbs (PCL tear). But their Day 1 defeats to Carleton and UCSD highlight their somewhat easier road to the semis. Harvard's wins were against North Texas, Illinois, and Whitman - teams that haven't made much of an impact on Sunday in years past.

Arizona's run was the most impressive, going undefeated on the weekend until their 12-11 loss to Wisconsin. They've now lost to Wisconsin in all three years of Vegas! Sunburn also dealt Florida their second-ever loss at Vegas and first on Sunday. Word on the street is that Arizona has an incredibly efficient offense and a very fast team overall, loaded with seniors and 5th-year players.

Another veteran team with surprising success (to some) was NC State. After a great Queen City result last year - a contentious 14-15 loss to Georgia in the finals - they collapsed with internal strife and inconsistency leading to subpar results at Terminus, Centex, and Easterns. The final blow was registering late for Sectionals and being DQ'ed for the series in a year when they entertained hopes of going to Nationals. This year they are supposedly in a better frame of mind, and the team will be looking to maintain their dominance of UNC (3-0 this spring so far) all the way through Regionals.

Michigan showed promise on Saturday in Charlotte, taking UNC to universe point in a 9-8 loss, but they ended up behind Illinois and Ohio State in terms of weekend results for Great Lakes teams after their shocking prequarters loss to UPenn. Georgia outlasted Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, 13-12, but fell Sunday to UNC in a spirited comeback. They'll regroup and come out as favorites for Terminus on the weekend of March 15th. Pittsburgh is still lacking that big win over an out-of-region team to propel them into the top tier of teams - after falling to UNC and Georgia at Nationals last year by two points apiece, they lost to Georgia again and NC State 10-12 this weekend. Playing top teams close doesn't mean much if you don't get the W every now and then.

(rankings below are how things stand now, not a prediction)
Regional Rankings/Nationals Contenders:
Tier 1: Oregon/Stanford/Whitman/Cal
Tier 2: UBC
Tier 3: UCSC
Tier 4: LPC/Western Washington

1. Arizona
3. Colorado

1. Wisconsin
2. Carleton

Great Lakes:
1. Illinois
2. Ohio State
3. Notre Dame
4. Michigan

1. Texas
2. North Texas
3. Kansas

Atlantic Coast:
1. Florida
2. NC State
3. UNC
4. Georgia

Metro East:
1. Pittsburgh
Tier 2: Maryland/Cornell/Delaware

New England:
1. Harvard
2. Dartmouth
3. Williams
4. Brown

Friday, February 8, 2008

QCTU Preview

While most of the country's attention will be focused on the glittering lights of Vegas this weekend, a lot of Nationals contenders will be staying out of the spotlight a little closer to home, as the best teams in the Atlantic Coast, Metro East, and Great Lakes regions battle it out at UNC's home tournament. Even as Illinois is making waves in the desert, their main competition for a Nationals berth, Michigan and Ohio State, will be clashing with other hopefuls for Boulder in the two-day Queen City Tuneup. There are eight or nine teams that will be legitimately looking to prove that their seasons deserve to extend into May.

In Pool A, Georgia will be looking to repeat as tournament champions, with their fiercest in-region rival, Florida, in Vegas. Greg Swanson has admirably stepped into Dylan's shoes and is the unquestioned leader of this team. The last-round game against Ohio State will provide their first test of the weekend. Penn should be helped by sophomore receiver Aman Nalavade and veteran captain Ricky Chung and could upset William and Mary.

Elon is easily the odd team out in Pool B, as Michigan, Delaware, and favorite UNC all have claims to a Nationals bid. Delaware, however, is down a year after their miraculous upset of Florida and likely won't factor in the pool's results. Michigan, led by Ryan Purcell and with pickups Will Neff and Ollie Honderd, will look to upset UNC. Darkside lost stud Zach Washburn, but they return Josh Torell, Mat Thomas, and Nate Hood, and pick up freshmen Noah Saul and Lucas Darden and transfer Paul Weeks.

Pittsburgh leads Pool C, and although their roster is lacking the familiar names Ben Ristau and Brent Bellinger, Pennsylvania juniors talent has helped mitigate the loss and keep Pitt on the rise. Look for Josh Suskin, Brad Bellinger, and (if healthy) David Vatz to lead the cutting ranks while sophomores Chris Brenenborg and Kyle Baynes control the backfield. Sophomore Eddie Peters will also be in the mix for Pitt. UNC-Wilmington is their chief competition, led by Slow White layout artist Rusty Ingold-Smith. Their fiery demeanor is no shock to Metro East veterans Pittsburgh, but it may surprise some teams when they go west to Stanford Invite.

Pool D belongs to NC State by seed, although Georgia Tech will be looking for the upset. Both teams are known for their inconsistency, although NC State's 15-10 win over UNC in an unofficial scrimmage bodes well for them after a season marred by internal strife. New leadership on the team is trying to build a squad capable of upsetting Florida, Georgia, or UNC and tasting Nationals again. This is also Maryland's best team in years, and they've already proven that they belong among the teams mentioned in any discussion of ME contenders. And if Edinboro still has Ben Banyas, they will be able to upset teams. Both NC State and Georgia Tech could get caught out if they underestimate the other two teams in their pool.

With 8 games packed into four days, the teams left standing at the end of the day may be the two that have managed their energy and resources best, not necessarily the best teams. But with Stanford, Centex, and Easterns all game-heavy as well, results here could be an early indicator of which teams are capable of doing well in tournaments throughout the pre-Series season. Look for Georgia and Pittsburgh to have a barn-burner if they meet, likewise UNC and NC State.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Vegas Open Preview

Trouble in Vegas marks the beginning of the college season for many teams across the country. It's the largest tournament of the season that still draws an elite field, and it boasts one of the most regionally diverse lineups ever. Teams from all 8 regions are in attendance, and after the weekend is over we should have a sense of how they stack up. The elaborate schedule and A-bracket are posted at

The most interesting elite matchup is in the D-pool (as usual) as Colorado takes on Oregon in a matchup of the #3/#9 and #7/#4 teams in the NUMP Rankings and MSSUI Power 16. Can Dusty Becker, Eli Janin, and Kevin Stout lead Oregon over last year's finalists? Without Beau and Martin, Stout will still have his hands full with Mac Taylor and Jolian, but Oregon's fast-motion offense and breaks might be too much for Colorado to overcome with their big-play offense at sea level. Upset special!

In the lower tiers, look for Pool E to be a real battle. LPC and Central Florida were the #26 and #27 vote-getters in the NUMP poll, and Washington is building up a program in the tough Northwest Region. Pool K should also be interesting, as UCLA tries to get through a Cornell team that beat Pittsburgh at Regionals last year and MIT, a solid New England team. In the lowest tier, both Messiah and Carleton-GOP seem massively underseeded and should move up as the weekend continues.

Predicted Power Pool Standings
UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Barbara
UC San Diego

Texas State

Colorado State

Texas A&M

Boston College

Va Tech

North Texas
Central Florida
San Diego State

Western Washington
Florida State

Oregon State

Predicted Bracket Results
Wisconsin d. Claremont
California d. UCSD
Florida d. Whitman
Colorado d. Illinois
Oregon d. Western Wash
Carleton d. UNT
UCSB d. Harvard

Wisconsin d. Cal
Colorado d. Florida
Oregon d. UCSC
Carleton d. UCSB

Wisconsin d. Colorado
Oregon d. Carleton

Wisconsin d. Oregon

Boring? Maybe ... the actual results are usually far more exciting. Tomorrow: QCTU Preview