There was a lot to learn at Warm Up.
February 19, 2016 by Tad Wissel and Charlie Eisenhood in News, Recap with 2 comments
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TAMPA — It’s February. It’s early.
While that’s true – and was said by every coach at least a few times – it’s important not to understate a tournament like Warm Up.
Rust, outdoor adjustment problems, and parity are common this time of year. But with three sunny days of ultimate against one of the best field of teams of the regular season (nine of the 17 teams in attendance were at College Nationals last May), success at this tournament is impossible to ignore.
Minnesota Takes The Crown
We’ve written a lot about Minnesota: here in the finals recap, here in the College Update. There’s not a whole lot more to add. Let’s just say this — Minnesota is a team that has the parts you need for success: a deep bench, some standout defensive players (and they were missing two of them!), and a superstar in Ben Jagt.
The zap on Minnesota, though, is that they have, in the past, shown a lack of mental fortitude. We didn’t really see that this weekend, save for their collapse against Florida during pool play. Nor did we see it at Nationals last year: although they missed the quarters, they took just two losses. Both came at the hands of eventual semifinalists: UCF (pool play) and Oregon (prequarters).
The defending North Central champs were underrated coming into 2016. Let’s see how far they can go.
A Different Approach from Pitt?
In 2015, Pittsburgh completed a full sweep against the field at Warm Up, going 7-0 in pool play and handily beating Florida State to win the tournament.
This trip to Tampa was different.
The steady regular season performer from a year ago went 1-2 on Friday with losses to Minnesota and Texas A&M, and, after falling to Wisconsin under the lights Saturday night, failed to qualify for bracket play.
But in the midst of their struggles, Pittsburgh never panicked. There were no stacked “kill” lines at this year’s Warm Up the way there had been in 2015. You didn’t see top offensive starters playing both ways. Trent Dillon, Max Thorne, and Christian Pitts — the usual suspects — all got their points (save Pat Earles who is still recovering from a fall surgery), but Pitt really took the tournament as an opportunity to explore their young talent. Freshmen Mike Ing, Dan Goldstein, and Leo Warren saw time on defense. Sophomores Bobby Lincoln and Kyle Hartley started on offense. Oregon transfer Jack Slevin handled opposite Thorne all weekend.
If history is any indicator, Pitt’s offense will be fearsome by the time nationals rolls around. Their history defensively over recent years – like the ability to generate blocks – has left something to be desired.
“We are a pressure team, we are a team that doesn’t necessarily rely on [blocks]. But there should be more,” assistant coach Dave Hogan said Saturday afternoon before Pittsburgh’s game against Wisconsin. “We don’t have people who just take the disc away. We’re definitely putting people in the position to do that and we’ll see who steps up. But it’s not there right now.”
Tough Luck for Banged Up UCF
There was a lot that didn’t go Central Florida’s way after a 2-0 start.
First team all-region cutter Michael Fairley suffered a concussion after getting his bell rung in a third round game with Auburn. Stu Little played through illness in the early goings of the weekend. Another concussion limited Andrew McKelvey.
With injuries to impact players like that, the Dogs were able to shift attention squarely onto developing less experienced players.
“This is a blessing in disguise because our young guys are getting really good experience against really good teams,” an optimistic head coach Andrew Roca said Saturday afternoon. “If we’re a smart team, we’ll use this time to develop against really good teams and once we have our players back, put together a good performance at our next tournament.”
The writing was on the wall that Warm Up wasn’t going to be UCF’s weekend and Roca opened the lines up accordingly. Central Florida’s day two showcase game under the lights against Pittsburgh saw a lot of fresh faces – including 6’7” Adam Lapikas, who seems to be the next random huge guy from for a team with a long and storied history of random huge guys.
The Southeast is going to get bids. No question about that. Don’t let UCF’s 2-6 showing fool you. Once healthy, the Dogs will be as big and scary as ever.
Is Virginia Tech About To Shake Up The AC?
No team at Warm Up turned more heads than Virginia Tech last weekend and rightfully so. Burn went 5-2 with a big pool play win over Wisconsin and earned themselves a spot in the bracket – something perennial powerhouses like Pitt, Texas, and Central Florida failed to do.
Square that with this: VT finished 10th at Atlantic Coast regionals last year – and they broke seed to do it.
What a difference a year makes. This team has two big things going for it: youth and chemistry.
Virginia Tech has 20 players that are either freshmen or sophomores. First year player Joe Freund (Truck Stop) has club Nationals experience. 11 members of their roster played together this fall on a team called Roadhouse that competed in the Mid Atlantic division.
This could be the most interesting team to follow not just the rest of this year, but the next three. Don’t sleep on VT. Their strong performance is a sign of things to come.
Florida: Older and Wiser
Last year, Florida earned a bid for the Southeast but wasn’t able to claim it. A double game point loss should go a long way for a team trying to look ahead to Raleigh.
Florida had some solid wins: two over Wisconsin, a resounding 13-4 pool play win against eventual tournament champion Minnesota, and a victory over Virginia Tech, who was the darling of Warm Up 2016.
What’s different about Florida this year? At a glance, not a whole lot. Bobby Ley and Billy O’Bryan are getting it done in the backfield. Head coach Cyle Van Auken and his flawless windbreakers still follow the disc up and down the field.
What Florida does have is another year of development – and that can do wonders for a college player. Lots of guys stepped up for Gainesville and played tons of points. Jacob Dummeldinger and Pat Gettino really set themselves apart. Gettino, particularly, was impressive, certainly leading the team and maybe the tournament in blocks.
They have some young height in sophomore Matt Thompson who is a work in progress but able to contribute now. With Van Auken running such a tight rotation (about 11 guys per game), his role players will have plenty of reps to improve before Regionals.
A Deeper, Improved Texas A&M
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of Dozen right now. They were definitely a team that was trying some different things out.
Texas A&M was making a pretty concerted effort to get their whole roster game ready and not run O guys over to the D line when the going got tough – something they’ve also been working on at practice.
“We’re really trying to push everybody. We want them to be able to run everything if they get put in that situation,” assistant coach Bobby Lewis said of his team’s practices. “Years past that hasn’t been the case.”
At times, country strong big guys Ben “Ebay” Lewis and Carter Hollo took more shots than one might be used to seeing a Dozen cutter take – simply due to the handler-driven nature of the team over the last few years. Both capable of making an impact as throwers…but that’s one of the questions for A&M: can they find ways to spread the disc around for a more balanced attack? Can they find ways to get assists from players other than Dalton Smith?
Do they really need to?
Smith was a monster all weekend. In the first round of bracket play against Carleton he caught one goal and threw 10. In a pool play game with Florida on Saturday, he threw a lefty scoober, a beautiful 55 yard hammer to a guy cutting deep, and a righty scoober – all in the same point.
Like the throwing clinics we saw departed A&M Callahan finalist Matt Bennett put on (his 11 assist performance against Dartmouth at College Nationals in 2014 comes to mind), Smith has now fully stepped into the limelight.
Their offense has enough firepower to get it done. They’ll need to find more answers defensively; they were outflanked by Minnesota’s O line twice — they got just a single break in the semifinals.
Wisconsin Seeks Offensive Consistency
It’s been a long indoor season for Wisconsin thus far and they appeared to struggle mightily in Tampa’s cross wind conditions.
While Wisconsin was without cutter Craig Cox and defensive standout (on a team of defensive standouts) Sterling Knoche, Madison was still able to make some important strides and put together some good performances.
On Saturday evening, with bracket play on the line, they balled out on defense and beat Pittsburgh.
“We approached this as a finals mentality. Second day of the tournament, last game of the day. What do we have left?” head coach Hector Valdiva told Ultiworld after the 11-9 victory. “We made a point at the beginning of the game to say ‘everyone just make half a play more.’ And we came through. In the second half we showed that we still had energy to do that.”
The Wisconsin offensive line was far from perfect but they found ways to manufacture holds. Turn the disc over three times – get it back three times.
One thing that stood out in their win over Pitt was their defensive mindset. There was a play early in the game where a Wisconsin defender was trailing a huck that was probably uncatchable for the man he was guarding, but he laid out and made sure of it. He finished the play. That’s important. Little things like that aren’t something you want your team looking for late in the season – and the fact that the Hodags have that now is a good sign.
Wisconsin has some sizable kinks to hammer out offensively but they have time and tournaments to do that before what should be an exciting North Central regionals.
“That’s just the nature of college ultimate. You’ve got to develop your new guys because you’re going to lose your stars,” Texas coach Calvin Lin said of another year of roster turnover. “I think we’re making steady progress.”
TUFF may have lost another star with the departure of Chase Cunningham but the cupboard is far from bare in Austin. This team still has some great weapons like Dillon Larberg, Joel Clutton, and Michael Hayes.
Like many teams, Texas was not at full strength and was noticeably thin at the handler spot. That forced Larberg, a 2nd team all-region player in the South Central a year ago, back around the disc instead of downfield where he is most dangerous.
Though they failed to qualify for the bracket, there were bright spots for TUFF. Down 10-7 they went on 6-0 run to put away Brigham Young on the back of some great zone play.
Calvin Lin has some more polishing to do but you know what you’re getting with Texas – a well-coached team and a lot of vertical stack. They have to find some answers at the handler position — they were challenged a great deal by zone, notably against Carleton — but they have enough talent to be in the quarterfinals at Nationals again this year.
Carleton Still A Year Away?
By many measures, Carleton had a good weekend. They went 6-3. They reached the championship bracket. They were playing without a key cog and captain, Natan Lee-Engel.
But it felt like we were seeing a Carleton team that’s a year away from really getting back to contender status.
Why? The team’s most impressive players were all sophomores. Alex Olsen — a 2014 World Juniors player — was a rock on offense, showing off a lot of poise and some big throws. Henry Fisher was one of the better deeps at the tournament. Sol Yanuck — a 2015 Ultiworld Rookie of the Year runner-up — continues to be a key piece. It’s almost certainly the most talented sophomore class in the country.
While that bodes well for the next two years, it might be tough for CUT to crack into the elite tier this season. This looks certainly like a Nationals team — they had much better offensive consistency than they did last year at this time. But they have a lot of work to do to become a title contender.
There are reasons to be optimistic, though. “It’s the most coachable, highest frisbee-IQ CUT team I’ve ever had,” said coach Phil Bowen. “It makes me feel like we can make mistakes and learn from them really quickly and adjust.”
Depending on how quickly they learn, you never know what could happen.
UConn A Bit Up And Down, But Matches The Hype
It’s hard to imagine a better start to your spring season than coming in as a plucky upstart out of the Metro East and taking down Carleton. That’s exactly what UConn did at Warm Up.
With John Wodatch playing fabulous ultimate, UConn stunned the powerhouse program first thing on Friday morning.
Then they laid an egg. They lost a close game to UCF. Not too shabby. But then they lost by six to BYU. They were dropping discs, looking totally out of sorts. Then they lost to South Florida, the host team and one that went winless at this tournament a year ago. What the?
But you have to give UConn credit. New head coach Bryan Jones must have had the right things to say on Friday night, as the team came out and stacked up wins over Arizona State, Auburn, Northwestern, and Florida State, before losing to Pittsburgh in the 7th place game.
Their performance earned them a bid to Easterns in late March.
As you might expect, UConn still looks like a team that hasn’t played a lot at this level. They were very nervy to start against Carleton, but they weathered the storm and simply outplayed and outhustled CUT. Their calling card is their athleticism: they have a lot of big bodies and they aren’t afraid to take shots to their cutters.
It was an uneven weekend, to be sure, but they became the most successful Metro East team to attend Warm Up in quite a while.
BYU Makes A Splash
After a bumpy start to the year at the Santa Barbara Invite, BYU showed off why they deserve invites to tournaments like Warm Up with an impressive weekend in Tampa.
Wins over Florida and UConn. Close games with UCF, Texas, and Minnesota. A 4-4 record. That’s a rock solid performance. And regardless of the score of the game, this team was relentlessly positive. Getting blown out by Wisconsin? Cheering and clapping on the sideline. Up against Florida? Rushing the field for every score.
They weren’t doing anything fancy. No crazy zones or sophisticated offense. Just playing good, smart ultimate on both sides of the disc. Handler Jason McKeen was a standout player for them.
“It’s definitely different than last year,” said BYU head coach Bryce Merrill. “I think it’s inconsistent, but we’re there. We’ve got to piece together a couple more things…Definitely got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a couple more opportunities this year which is great. We get to go and play the Northwest Challenge in March and we’ve got a couple other games against ranked teams.”
It does seem plausible that we could get to a point where BYU is good enough that you have to start to consider what you might do to accommodate their school’s rule against Sunday competition. Should BYU be shut out of the opportunity to earn a bid to the National Championships? What if they were to earn a bid?
“That’s a couple years out still,” said Merrill. “So I don’t see it happening now, but if we do, I hope that starts a conversation. Because right now it’s just us hoping for it and eventually I think it needs to be a broader conversation…It needs to be a consensus that that’s weird…while it’s just us it sounds whiny. It sounds, you know, victim-y, and that’s not it. But I think if we can get a [strong season] performance, there will be a consensus, ‘hey, maybe we should do something about this. Let those guys get a chance.’ I think we’re patient. That’s hard for these guys because I get to be around for a while. Coaches don’t graduate. But I’m hopeful that we’re patient with it and maybe that conversation starts.”
Lots to chew on as BYU continues to improve as a program.
– Florida State is still a ways off from their 2015 team, but they have improved quite a lot since we saw them at CCC in the fall. They were in every game. If they can continue to develop their offense, they’ll be in the mix at Regionals, without question.
– It was not a great weekend for the Great Lakes. Northwestern and Illinois were totally outmatched and combined for just three wins (one of which was a Northwestern win over Illinois. It was their only victory). Regionals will still be competitive between those teams and Michigan, but it’s another rough year for the Great Lakes as a whole.
– Should the Southeast be nervous? For all the success Georgia had at QCTU, things were dicier for the region this weekend. Florida State had middling results. UCF‘s injuries kept them in the loss column for much of the weekend. Auburn‘s wild swinging between hot streaks and skids kept them close in games, but without a lot of solid wins. Florida, of course, played very well. But four bids looks unlikely, and getting to three could be tricky!
…Thanks to TD Dario Milano, as always, for his help with scheduling and logistics…Donald Trump’s appearance on USF’s campus Friday night made for a bit of a wild scene. Stay tuned for the Back Pages…The weather was mild and very pleasant. Sunny, highs near 70 with variable winds…