The President's Day Invite opens elite competition out west this weekend in San Diego.
February 12, 2015 by Alec Surmani in Preview with 2 comments
As a tournament that draws both national title contenders as well as teams that don’t always make it out of Sectionals, President’s Day Invite in San Diego has historically been a fun mix of blowouts and grudge matches. This year should be no different.
Teams from across the nation, some as far as Vermont and Brown, will be making the trek south this year, a handful of them trading below-freezing temperatures for the lovely 70s forecast predicted for this weekend in the SoCal beach city.
To make things even more interesting, with the exception of Washington winning the Santa Barbara Invite and Oregon cleaning up at Colluvium, none of the remaining out-of-region teams have played in a sanctioned tournament this winter.
With USAU college rankings beginning next week, Pres Day (along with Warm Up: A Florida Affair, also taking place this weekend) should give a solid look of how some of the nation’s top squads are shaping up in 2015.
#2 Oregon Ready for Another Run at the Title
For the past few years, each new season has seemed like the one where Oregon might finally smash through the semifinals ceiling and claim the elusive national title. However, despite accomplishments like a two-total-losses season, three straight semis appearances, and the advantage of one of the most dominant players in the division in Dylan Freechild, it just hasn’t happened yet.
But that’s no reason to think this won’t be Ego’s year.
They may not have returned Nexgen phenom Aaron Honn or secured San Francisco Revolver standout Simon Higgins, but Oregon remains one of the most elite programs in the country and the likely favorite to win this weekend.
The losses of Gabe Fruchter, Ian Campbell, Charlie Wilson-Moses, and Brian Penner will require no small adjustment. Luckily, Trevor Smith, Chris Strub, Jack Slevin, Connor Matthews, and Freechild are all coming off their campaigns with perhaps Portland Rhino’s most successful season and should be primed to dominate. Other key components like Mario Bundy, Will Watkins, and FOTY Adam Rees will further help round out a compact, but skilled Ego squad.
Oregon will also be helped by a somewhat light road to bracket play — at least for them — as they are unlikely to face a top 25 team before semifinals on Monday.
Much like last year, one might safely expect Ego to cruise their way to semis and likely finals. How they’ll perform when they get there will be the bigger question.
#3 Colorado Look to Keep It Going
The defending champions may have suffered the biggest losses of probably any team in the nation, but, well, they’re still Mamabird.
Graduating Callahan winner Jimmy Mickle, Nexgen star Tim Morrissy, and Denver Johnny Bravo studs Dennison Bechis and Hidde Snieder will definitely leave its mark and return Colorado back to mortality after their near complete dominance in 2014.
The return of certain instrumental pieces from last year’s championship squad, however, should ensure that Mamabird’s theoretical “off year” will be the kind that plenty of other colleges would kill for.
Versatile centering handler Pawel Janas and Ultiworld 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Stanley Peterson will be back to anchor both the O and D line.
Wesley Chow, Matt Bubernak, Peter Gleason, and Tristan Voss — all of who played with Denver/Boulder’s Inception last summer — are also back for Mamabird and should provide further experience and leadership.
Also returning this season is Mark Rauls, the small but explosive handler that, based on his stellar postseason play last year where he often seemed unguardable, had Ultiworld shortlisting him for potential Breakout Player of the Year in 2015.
With all of these largely unsung, but nevertheless powerful, pieces loading up the Mamabird squad again this year, it’s tough to envision Colorado losing to anybody but the most elite of opponents.
#15 Washington to Square Off Against National Contenders
The Sundodgers’ Santa Barbara Invite victory introduced the country to a top competitor, revealing just as much through Washington’s blowout wins as in the near slip-ups of their quarters and finals matches.
The Northwest’s oft-overlooked underdog proved without a doubt that they were the best team at that tournament, but their struggles against Tulane and Arizona State hinted at a vulnerability in their system when they are initially denied their first looks.
When Washington’s hucks aren’t connecting and opponents tighten up coverage of resets and open side downfield cuts — as ASU was often able to do in the SB Invite final — the Sundodgers’ ability to remain disciplined and develop rhythm in other ways faltered.
Coach Alex Wells and his crew have assuredly been working on this and their overall chemistry since then, so an even more efficient Washington squad will show up in San Diego.
Perhaps their greater test this weekend will be in how they stack up against elite programs like Colorado, Oregon, and Minnesota.
U-23 baller Khalif El-Salaam and recent Seattle Cascades signee Jonny Stacey will give opponents headaches all day, as will emerging stars Kyle Steen and Robin Breen.
If Washington can manage to take the better looks and remain patient when things aren’t going their way, it’ll be well within their power to further cement their status as a team to be reckoned with in 2015.
#13 Minnesota Hungry to Finally Break Through
It’s been a rough couple of years for Minnesota.
Last year, after finishing ninth in the USA Ultimate rankings and earning the North Central a second bid, Grey Duck missed Nationals by way of a 15-13 loss in the gritty backdoor game to a Carleton team rallying in a difficult season.
Even worse, in 2013, after winning Easterns, taking only one loss in the regular season, and placing third in the USAU rankings, Minnesota finished sixth in a three-bid region after dropping to Carleton in the semis and Iowa in the backdoor bracket.
Not since 2012, when the North Central earned five bids, did Minnesota seemingly live up to more of their significant potential, enjoying a solid run through Nationals before being knocked out by eventual champion Pitt in quarters.
One can be sure that Grey Duck will be extra hungry for a return to the show in 2015.
The loss of NC Player of the Year Jason Tschida will be big. But the return of killer handler Josh Klane and fellow Minneapolis Sub Zero teammate Reese Hornnes, as well as Minnesota Wind Chill scoring machine Ben Jagt, should cover this absence.
Minnesota have made the trip out to Pres Day a number of times since the tournament’s inception in the mid-2000s, but have yet to break through and claim the title, despite making it to the finals in 2011 and 2013.
With a somewhat diminished field (at least outside the top four), this just might be their year.
Santa Barbara Eager for a Breakout Weekend
UC Santa Barbara put together an intriguing performance at their home tournament last month.
Though they took their pool thanks to a solid win over Cincinnati and a blowout victory over Cal in the evening showcase game before a home crowd, Black Tide fell in quarters to a strong ASU squad that did a better job of capitalizing on UCSB’s miscues than any other team did that weekend.
Instead of rallying behind their system, Black Tide occasionally slipped into the common college tendency of trying to do too much and force looks that weren’t really there, despite their sizable bench and up-till-then efficient offense, and it cost them.
For a program as storied and a culture as ever-hungry for more success as UCSB’s, those kind of losses tend to be season markers and motivational tools. That is, look for Black Tide to be even more determined to prove that slip-up against ASU was just that: an anomaly.
With a likely bid to Stanford Invite — and thus crucial experience against the nation’s best teams — on the line, expect veterans like Hunter Corbett and Will Turner to lead UCSB to a deep run through power pools and bracket play this weekend, en route to another potential banner year for Black Tide.
Another Chance for the Rest of the Southwest
As the Santa Barbara Invite illustrated, it’s going to be another tough year for the Southwest region, especially for teams not named ASU or UCSB (and maybe Stanford).
A good majority of the region’s top talent graduated last year, leaving recently powerful squads like UC San Diego and Cal at something of a loss in terms of trying to reclaim their former prowess.
Teams like UCSD and Cal still have great programs and can be counted on to evolve over the course of the season, but tournaments like Pres Day will be a good indication of their likely ceilings come April/May.
A few other squads, such as UCLA and Cal Poly-SLO, revealed some potential at SB Invite but will need to actualize a great deal more of it if they wish to compete at a tournament of greater magnitude like the San Diego classic this weekend.
If they, as well as their fellow Southwest brethren, can’t manage to sneak at least one of the region’s squads into the semis it might be the kind of season where all the Southwest receives in the way of respect come postseason is an auto-bid.
The Other Out-of Region Competitors
As mentioned earlier, it’s tough to get a read on really any of the out-of-region squads that will be in attendance this weekend due to Pres Day being their first tournament of the actual season.
Brown seem like the possible head of the pack (outside of the obvious top four), as they’ll be coming off a disappointing Regionals last year where they helped earn New England a fourth bid but were then swooped by Dartmouth. They’ll return a good amount of their roster, including Boston Garuda’s Eli Motycka, and should be hungry for another trip to the show.
Whitman, Vermont, and Oklahoma all had somewhat underwhelming showings at Pres Day last year, each occasionally flashing sparks of potential but rarely having enough to contend with the vast array of firepower that a number of the Southwest squads had in 2014.
Columbia and Colorado State both had below average seasons last year, and it would be admittedly difficult to see them rise up and challenge too many of the teams at this tournament.