Well, indeed, Michigan fought through the loser's bracket and finished 9th again, a repeat of last year, beating Midwest compatriots Wisconsin in that game. Notre Dame, it should be noted, beat Tufts with a highlight-reel greatest by Dan Furfari, and then defeated Princeton to finish 13th. Santa Cruz had a rough time of the loser's bracket and dropped to the bottom after a tough loss to Michigan. They faced Tufts to avoid the ignominy of last place.
That's the scoop on that side. I got plenty of scuttle from the observer side of things, but lets head to the Finals, shall we?
Brown versus Carleton. Brown finally found their essence, the determination, intelligence and sheer talent that got them the top seeding all along. Yesterday versus UCSB, junior Moses Rifkin found a groove and threw the final three goals of the game, two on deep hucks. To start against Carleton he came out ready and did it again making it four in a row, hitting Forch in the back of the endzone deep.
Forch's long game proved to be deadly to Carleton as repeatedly he was sneaking deep with plenty of steps on his man. On the day, the dynamo collected five scores and connected for two throws-for-scores. Comparatively, Callahan winner Justin Safdie was less productive, but a threat nonetheless and a solid defender against the Nord-Brody duo.
Next point, Brown gets a turnover and Harper Alexander finds Forch. Then Carleton sends it deep to Nord but Safdie gets a nimble D block. Then Rifkin went to the well once too often and came up dry, and Carleton turned around and got it deep to Nord who short-passed it to Brody for the score, 2-1 Brown.
CUT came in zone and Brown worked patiently before Forch sent a sideline picture-perfect placed pass to Rifkin for the upwind score, 3-1. The wind was mild, but Forch's stepped-up presence was anything but. He set the tone for Brown by coming out and making the first three scores of the game. As a veteran leader and veritable superstar playing in a field below the level he's used to (already a World Champion and Club Champion) he did what he had to do to get this Brown team on target.
On the next possession, Carleton sent it deep to Nord unnecessarily and the play was incomplete as Brown defensive help back got position. Brown had a chance here to jump up by three, but Jeremy Schwartz couldn't get a huck to land in bounds and Carleton marched upfield. Great CUT movement, players scattering everywhere and diving Brown defenders biting on fakes led to a crisp score to Nord from 10 feet. Carleton looked really solid on that point and now the game was on.
The next possession, Garrett Westlake sparked some turnovers after a big layout block, and a possession change later Carleton punched it into the endzone to make it 3-3. How would Brown respond?
Badly. Rifkin sent it deep again and knocked down by Thomas Sebby, one of three CUT defenders in the area. But Forch again stepped up and made a mad layout block on Sam O'Brien to give the disc back to Brown for the easy score, 4-3.
At this point, I leaned in to Brown Coach Nathan Wicks and asked him what Brownian Motion had decided to do against Carleton. "We want to make them uncomfortable in their offense." 30 seconds later O'Brien turfed a throw and Brown scored easily.
Truly, whatever Brown had cooked up between Saturday and Sunday worked. They were playing a zone, a triangle clam zone with matchups deep, a zone switch to man, and hard aggressive marking. They recognized Nord and Brody and worked to contain them.
Carleton was forced to attempt such silly plays as the next one, an inside-out forehand huck from Nord. Didn't work. But then a deep Brown huck and Brian Healy couldn't hang on. Brown tightened up the man-to-man and forced Sebby into a desperate huck that was easily defended, and finally Brown found Forch in the endzone on the resulting fast break and it was 6-3. Forch stepped off the field after that. He was tired from chasing down several long hucks.
Nord and Sam then worked a give-and-go after breaking thorough the Brown zone to close the gap to two points. Those two are a real combo, short and tall, lanky and stocky. Together they really form the core of the team as each of them is given the green light to make mad-crazy plays and each of them finds a way to come up big. Watching them on a quick give-and-go really reveals their kinship and unity in team leadership. Not that I am a huge Utah Jazz fan, but they reminded me of Stockton and Malone.
Brown called timeout to set-up an offense and insure a score. Well that's precisely what they did, working a European four-corner isolated offense, secluding cuts and opening a big swath down the middle of the field. They run this only once or twice a game; any more and it would lose its effectiveness. In this instance, it worked quite well, allowing easy ISO cuts all the way down the field for the score, 7-4.
The next point was an important one. Brown had successfully regained an advantage after CUT had tied it at 3s, and the Carleton sidelines were cowed and quiet, needing a score to rev up the cheering machine. Sam O'Brien can't connect with Alex and resets into playing defense on Forch, who up to this point was unstoppable. But it was Derek Gottlieb that came up big, getting a nice layout defense to return possession to CUT and instead of an 8-4 Brown half, CUT scored to make it 7-5. But it was a quick burst, because immediately after the pull, Forch once again baited someone in and burned him deep as Rifkin let one rip and suddenly it was half. Once again, Forch stepping up in the first half to boost his team.
OK, so now it was halftime and I took the time to chat with the Carleton Syzygy team and Coach Lou Burruss. "We graduated all of our handlers from last year. I'd say all but two points that we scored in the 99 finals have left. But we picked up a lot of athletes, including two women from the track team. Defensively, this is the best team we've had since I've been coaching. We use a huck strategy -- throw the disc down the field and play D. I wouldn't say it's a huck-punt sort of thing, because we're successful with a lot of those looks"
I asked Burruss about how Carleton handles the zone, especially since UNCW has employed theirs to great effect. "We have shredded every zone we've played against. If it stays windy, we will ruin them." And what about this time of season for the team? "We're peaking right now -- for sure. When we went to Easterns we didn't even have an offense."
The other thing is matchups. Leah Rehill has been a main handler, hucker, and receiver for Seaweed and she's tall. Likewise, speedster Christie Timbers has caught a lot of discs long and can get open at will. How would Carleton stop those two?
"I feel like we have great matchups. Beckah Sexton covered Melanie Carr and Johanna Neumann -- we'll put her on Leah, and Liz Penny will guard their receiver (Timbers). If they hang it -- it's all Liz. If we play like we did yesterday (in wins over Tufts and UC Davis) we will beat them badly."
Prophetic words perhaps, because nearly everything Lou said came true. But back to the Carleton men, facing the best team in the nation in Brown. Boom! Big huck for a score when they received the pull and game is on, 8-6. Then Forch takes a chance and puts up a huck but Jeremy Schwartz couldn't come up with the disc. O'Brien immediately cranks it deep the other way and Nord runs it down and flips it to Sebby for the score and the sidelines go wild and CUT players are bumping and jawing each other, getting juiced.
So now CUT comes in a zone to try and stymie Brown potent offense, namely Moses, Forch and Safdie deep. The zone is good, but when they switch out to man its even better, and Brown has to play perfect offense because Carleton players are draped over the offense on every cut-back. They do, working patiently in a handle, throwing crisp throws and finally John Gearen jams it in breakmark backhand to Safdie in the short corner. A solid score for the team as they showed diligence and prudence when necessary and resisted the urge to score points quickly.
It helped that they did not make many mistakes. A notable dropped pass early in the game allowed CUT to tie, and a few misreads on hucks, but I'd say up to this point Brown had committed maybe 2 unforced errors and made 4 turnovers on potential catches. But CUT was unable to do the same. Brown came down in a zone, the same one that proved so effective against a tired Tide team, and got a gak out of Carleton near the endzone. Five passes later they swing it up to Safdie who's fouled by Nord and the call is upheld and he punches it in with a breakmark forehand to a hard-charging Rifkin up the line. That score makes it 10-7. Still a tight game, but Carleton could not prevent getting broken on their offensive possession and were now facing a must-score situation.
It looked like a sure thing when Sebby caught a pass five yards from the goal line. Quickly he flipped a backhand to Nord, who was open, but it was behind him and Nord, turning quickly, watched it bounce through his hands. A key turnover. On the Brown sideline, offensive weapons Forch, Rifkin, Harper Alexander, Safdie and others were resting, while a defensive team of subs remained on the field. Marching up the field it looked like Brown was going to steal an upwinder with a defensive squad unaccustomed to handling the disc. "Holy smoke, If we score with that team..." exclaimed Forch. But true to form for a squad missing its handlers, they got stalled near the endzone.
CUT took a few passes then hucked it up to Nord, covered by two reasonably tall defenders. One hop and up and Nord's got the disc, lands on the line, or in, or out, and scoober-spikes the disc. Celebration. But wait -- was he in? One observer signaled no immediately. Another one, further away, thought he was in. The call went to the first observer and it was ruled that he was out, turnover. Big mistake. Instead Brown moved it upfield against the stunned CUT squad and John Gearen found a short huck from Schwarz for the key score to make it 11-7.
Two costly possessions for CUT and, like UCSB said yesterday, "you can't make mistakes against these guys." Well, chalk up three in a row when on the next possession, with Brown in a zone, Carleton hucked it long, but let it go short and low, and Forch easily read it and collected the disc, then found Safdie, then Safdie found him in the endzone and it was a five-point lead at 12-7 and you could feel that Brown was not going to let this game slip out of their hands. Only three more scores to go -- all they had to do was trade points.
Which is exactly what happened. CUT finally got the mistakes out of their system and rallied to play solid Ultimate, but it was too late and no matter what Carleton did, Forch and crew were not going to let this game slide. No way.
Carleton worked a perfect offense and their patented give-and-go up-field for a score, then Brown responded. Carleton made one more mistake, sending it long from the zone O, but Nord got it back on a long-armed layout D and they scored, Goocher to Nick Reich. Brown brought out the ISO offense again to great advantage and scored to Safdie to advance to game point.
I have written this note: all the big guys, like Safdie, Nord and Sebby especially, have adopted what I call the Billy Rodriguez catch: two hands out in front catching the rim of the disc. To my knowledge, no one had really favored that catch as it was deemed dangerous because one of the hands make knock the disc away from the other. But after watching Billy make that catch without a single drop (not true I am sure) over 10 years of National Championships, it seems to have gained popularity and usefulness.
OK, so CUT scores, O'Brien a layout throw to Nord and then Harper to Forch and Forch to Schwarz to Ian Fischer for the game winner and that's all she wrote. 15-10, the exact tally I predicted before the game (to my gambling advantage) and Brown was hooting and hollering while Carleton was quiet, reflective, but not disappointed. Led by those two underclassmen, O'Brien and Nord (actually Nord is a junior) this squad will be back in full form next year. They played well, spirited, and were fun to watch.
"The season went really well. We took a bigger team than usual to Nationals and went with a lot more players, splitting into 12 guys to play D and 11 to play O. We were building this whole tournament," spoke a mellow O'Brien afterwards. "Our motto this season was: want it more than the other team. But I think Brown was more focused. It's gratifying playing a team this good, I wish we could have played better..."
It was notable to witness a CUT squad that wasn't so hung up on playing perfect handling offense. They had busted out the big men and deep hucks last year, but still reverted to a nervous do-not-turn-it-over handle scheme midway through last year's semifinal with UCSB. But for the 2000 campaign, the restrictions were lifted even more, as O'Brien and Nord, the "risk-takers" were allowed to send it deep and throw no-look passes without fear of reprisal. "A lot of our teams have been mechanical in the past, and players stayed around Carleton. So we told everybody to get out of the area and play with a club team this past year," explained O'Brien.
"I'm nervous I think. I was nervous before the Georgia game too," spoke UNCW leader Nikki Miani before the women's final. "But we're focusing on ourselves and not the other team. We know they're a team that will never give up -- just like us -- so expect a battle. We have to earn every point."
Miani also spoke of the great support the team has received from former players, alumni, and related parents and friends. But the "magnitude" of the situation clearly rested on their heads as they knew they were dealing with a Carleton squad that had been in the last two Nationals finals, whereas UNCW hadn't even qualified for the big show last year.
It has been a awesome season then for Seaweed as time and time again the proved themselves, finishing second at Stanford Invite, winning a powerful Easterns tournament, and claiming Regionals and the number one ranking in the UPA. For a team that can rely on some first and second-year players, it has been remarkable.
It would turn out that the Finals were just too much for this team and they could not find a way out of a bad situation when unforced errors paralyzed the do-or-die team. Like Carleton last year, in fact, this team was so focused on themselves and the game that they couldn't step back, take a deep breath, and enjoy playing. As a result, once those bad turnovers came they were impossible to shake.
Everyone on UNCW felt it. Dropped passes, bad hucks, getting hand blocked, making bad decisions, clogging the offense -- it was only their sheer athleticism and determination that prevented this game from being a complete blow-out.
True to form, the second pass of the game has a deep Carleton huck, or punt perhaps, that gave UNCW the disc going upwind. Carleton effectively trapped UNCW on the sideline midway up the field and two successive Miani backhands up the line just inched out-of-bounds. The throws were there, a beautifully soft touch from Nikki, but they ever curved around and in. Syzygy turned it back downfield and scored, 1-0.
UNCW responded however, working it through the Carleton zone keyed by Miani breaking it up the line to Carrie Link. More patient handling, and a brilliant breakmark results in a score.
UNCW has great throws and cuts, maybe the best in the game. When they are patient, they are precise, and the team knows how to read discs perfectly. Carleton responded downwind behind tall woman Bekah Sexton, a real nice placement pass down the line for a score, 2-1.
Wilmington again responded, this time Leah Rehill faked, then placed an inside-out backhand breakmark down the line to a cutting Miani in the goal. And then it started to go south for the team. They always fought and the game didn't get out of hand until the second half, but on the next possession Leah got a D in Wilmington zone defense. But Carla Hunt couldn't' make a connection. Again UNCW's zone worked but again an unforced error from a drop.
Finally it led to an emotional huck to Anna Nelson who put in the score to Anna Coldham for Syzygy. UNCW has another drop, and Liz Penny lofts up a huge hammer for a score.
Here I must digress into a Penny Opera. Last year, Liz Penny was one of the most exciting players on the field. This year she was the most exciting women of the tournament. She is tall and grungy, gnarly almost, with her shirt sleeves rolled up and her shirttails rolled up to expose a washboard stomach. She is always wearing a necklace or two, this time a big fat chain of Mardi Gras beads. Her hair looks unwashed, her legs are unshaven, and her tenacity is transparent. She seems to play a game all to herself. "Always insane," says Coach Lou. In the first half she threw three monstrous, sky-clinging hammers for perfect completions, this last one for a score. I hadn't seen a women's hammer all weekend -- they seem to have gone out fashion.
Dominating the air with those seemed to diminish UNCW, or at least it left the sidelines in certain awe. And Penny played on fiercely, oblivious of her opponents. And oblivious of her feet apparently as well, which is now a cruel sort of irony for UNCW. Several observers and lines-people agreed that she was stepping and walking all over the place on her throws, especially the big hammers. But UNCW, once the dirge of specious travel-calling, never called her on it. In fact, except for a rash of foul calls and travel calls by both teams midway through the game, UNCW was reluctant to call anything at all and perhaps it hurt them. Perhaps not, because this game was not won or lost on travel calls, that's for sure.
4-2 Syzygy. UNCW got back and a little luck, as Cara Mogridge caught a macked huck in the endzone for a score. Wilmington needed breaks to go their way. Then they got a turnover and a confidence builder as Miani made a great grab in the endzone to even the match at 4s.
But boom right back came Penny, a deep hammer over the entire field, landing in Mimi Frusha's hands and she broke the mark to the short corner for a score to Anne Sawyer. "Those are the first three hammers Liz has thrown all weekend," exclaimed Lou from the sidelines. Good time for the Wild Child to bust it out, eh?
Ok, and then another unforced UNCW turnover and Anna Nelson sends it Penny for the score to make it 6-4 and the sidelines were whooping and Syzygy was madly hugging each other after every point. All the emotions were with Syzygy and they were using them to great advantage. They were confident and comfortable. In fact, before the game I asked a group of Syzygy players what they had done to prepare for the final game. Laughing, smiling, "We listened to Eye of the Tiger. We danced a lot and wore sexy clothes."
Timeout UNCW. Coach Zeldin, angry at first, tried to get his team focused. "No one is stepping out with the wing and the cup! Our zone is not working -- there's no communication. Where are you at sidelines? We need your support. Now look, we got to go on our run right here. Leah -- you stay home in the O." Then he brought it down coolly, "OK, let's calm down. I know this is a big deal -- but there ain't no one out here but 7 on 7."
Penny pulls, and now UNCW has to go upwind. A miscommunication on a throw to Timbers and another turnover. UNCW traps Syzygy on the sideline and gets a turnover. Wilmington needs a score here and Carleton's defense is really tough. Still, they are able to move it, working up until Miani uncorks another perfect throw -- her specialty -- to Timbers. But Timbers, in her first year playing, cannot handle the pressure of Carleton's defense and makes a bad throwaway, a hooking forehand into the endzone that had no chance. Back the other way and Julia Gardner finds -- who else? -- Liz Penny for a huge, skying endzone grab over two UNCW defenders.
OK, here's where it got a little messy. The last couple of points contained a lot of calls. Travelling, fouls, brush-offs, anything and everything. Carleton was marking over-aggressively, UNCW responded, some talking, a few bumps. More calls. It looked really ugly from both sides out there. This lasted until half. Neither team could get a rhythm and it just hurt UNCW all the more, because they desperately needed to find a groove.
I have it as 7-4 at this point, and then 7-5 so there was a UNCW score in there somewhere, and then Anna Coldham found pretty Penny in the hot box for the half and Carleton looked unstoppable.
I asked Coach Burruss about the rash of fouls. He told me he was going to tell his team to try not to make calls and to play through. Zeldin must have done the same, because the second half was clean. But emotionally, Carleton was on top.
And Penny? Could she keep it up? Was it dangerous for her to keep throwing risky throws? Did she have the green light from Coach Lou? "I never turn it off."
The start of the second half was the end of the game. Carleton was still pumped and UNCW still in misery. A long, drawn-out point with several turnovers was put in by Carleton, then a Syzygy point block by co-captain Paige Anderson resulted in a 10-foot score-shot and it was 10-5.
Penny cooled off a little in the second half, while fellow monsters Anderson, Sexton and co-captain Julia Gardner stepped it up. Anderson and Sexton, especially, proved too much of a matchup for UNCW. They are both tall, and while Anderson is a savvy veteran, Sexton is an unbowed underclassmen who hasn't had to deal with adversity and mistakes yet. Instead, she just runs, catches, and throws.
Carleton slipped a little bit at this point, as their defensive intensity dropped a level. UNCW scored downwind, to Timbers, and then upwind Timbers got a block back after a turnover and Rehill sent a beauty to Mogridge who found co-captain Melanie Bossert for the score. A nice two-point run, the last goal an upwinder.
Then Sexton gets a point block. Score. Then UNCW drops a pass. Syzygy score. UNCW hucks it away in the zone. Carleton turnover. UNCW drop. Ugh! Wilmington was out of control, like the Lakers in game 2 against the Blazers. They were not together and here I think they should have called a time-out and regrouped but it never happened. Carleton scored easily on the drop and it was 13-7 and they were not going to lose.
Wilmington never did give up. Until the very final point they felt they had a chance to win. Truly, they fought valiantly, but couldn't see the big picture. At 14-8, UNCW ran off two before Syzygy finally lined up those three celestial bodies, Liz Penny with a forehand up the sideline to Gardner who leapt in the air and landed in. 15-10, championship to Carleton.
Carleton is ecstatic. They gather in a screaming huddle and belt out their song. Afterwards I talked to Lou again. "Liz was indomitable as always. I think it's a way of being for her. She has a twisted ankle, a pulled hamstring but it didn't matter."
"I knew going into this weekend if we clicked we would win. It's been four years of coming out and pouring it out and for the seniors who have been here since I've been here, it means a lot to me and to them," said Burruss.
Finally, Carleton breaks through two years of finishing second to take home the title. And I do believe that its the first time a team from the Midwest has emerged victorious.
Clarification from yesterday: Bob Krier is actually 6'9", not 5'8" (or maybe somewhere in between) and most observers agree that the end of the Carleton-Colorado men's game, the big huck to Nord that resulted in a foul cal upheld by Mike G, was a correct call, and that the Colorado player did bump into Nord rather than Nord initiating contact.
Props to the Observers, who did a great job all weekend. I think Ultimate really benefits from an objective source empowered to make judgments on disputes.
Also a fond goodbye to Kate Bergeron, National College Director, who has done an excellent job in the three years that I've been involved on this side of things. She oversaw the Regional restructuring, the Wildcard restructuring, the X-Rules, and continued growth for both divisions. And incidentally, the wildcard problems from this year were not her fault. Culpability on that one is still an off-the-record mystery.
Observers Jon Shepard, Mike G, JD, CVH, JCC, The Rev, Vic, Mark, Jeff, Alan, Pete, Joe, Sonya, and others all worked hard and deserve support.
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