The Hodags arrived in Colorado healthy, confident, and under the radar in the eyes of many of the teams in Boulder. Given the 6th seed after winning their regional championship a month earlier, the hodags found themselves in a pool with Florida, UC-Santa Cruz, Washington, and Luther College. The only team that Wisconsin has played this year was Florida, the top seed in the pool, a team that the Hodags went 1-1 with on the year. Not knowing what to expect and trying not to look past the other teams in the pool, the Hodags went into the tournament focused and ready to build off their momentum generated at Regionals.
The first game was against Washington, a team of red-headed athletes that the Hodags hadn’t faced since 2009. The hodags got the first break of the game on a huck from John Bergen to fellow captain Ben Feldman. Washington would break back later in the half, but the teams traded in the upwind-downwind game until Washington took half 8-7. Wiseman and Feldman played nearly every D point for Wisconsin, who opted for a zone defense strategy for most of the half but failed to cash in on break opportunities upwind. Pat and Brian had big sky goals for the offense that seemed to get better as the half went on. In the second half, the Hodags played more man defense and were successful in breaking Washington twice to go up 11-9 on huge hucks from Feldman. But, Washington continued to connect on hucks and broke back to tie it at 11’s. The offense remained strong with goals by Pat and Brian, and both teams were unsuccessful in converting turnovers into breaks. Trading until 13’s and forcing universe point, Feldman again hucked big to Wiseman, who caught the disc over his defender for a goal and win for Wisco. Despite a much closer game than expected, the Hodags were happy to come away with a win against a scrappy Washington team that deserved a lot of credit for their performance. Next up: Florida.
As expected, Florida came out hucking in the windy game against Wisconsin. But, unlike the game against Florida at Easterns, Wisconsin had an answer this time. Playing Florida physically proved to be a perfect strategy in the game. The Hodags had a deep roster filled with athletes and Florida relied on their top 5 players the whole game. Jerry McGinnis, a top defender for the Hodags, was given the task of shutting down Florida’s top player, Cole Sullivan. His performance was impressive, to say the least. He began the game with a deep D on Cole and then caught a huck for the first break of the game. He continued to force Sullivan into the backfield, and pressured him into throwing many turnovers that the Hodags capitalized quickly on for breaks to start the game. Wisconsin got out to a 6-1 lead on hucks to Pat, Scotto, Wiseman and Cullen. But, Florida then began connecting on their throws and went on a 9-4 run to tie it at 10’s. The Hodags offense was having trouble learning the wind and had several overthrows and drops during this Florida run. But, finally, the Hodags began to break the Florida zone and won two long points in a row to take the game 12-10. Dayu threw a hammer to Wiseman, who continued to Jerry for the win. 2-0 on the day, Wisconsin went to “The Creek” to take a team ice bath and prepare their bodies for day 2.
Day 2 of nationals entailed 2 scheduled pool play games against Luther and UC-Santa Cruz and a prequarter game for the non-pool winners. A win against Luther was necessary to win the pool, so the Hodags got to the fields early on Saturday to watch Luther take on Washington. After seeing Luther pull out a close win against Washington, the Hodags figured out matchups and defensive strategies and got set to battle the central region surprise team. Wisconsin came out hot, rushing to a 4-0 lead on sweet D’s by Wiseman and Bergen and goals by Scotto, Coolidge, Alter, and Wiseman. Luther scored the next point, but it was all Wisconsin from then on. Ridiculous layout D’s by Cullen, Kelsen, and Rainman highlighted the route by Wisconsin as they cruised to a 15-2 victory. This crucial victory made Wisconsin the Pool C winners, which allowed the injured and tired Hodags who’d been playing many of the points so far in the tournament to rest in the next game against UC-Santa Cruz.
Those freshest on the weekend were given the opportunity to battle it out against USCS, a team who beat the Hodags in March at the Stanford Invite. In the game, Jerry finally got to play offense and completed a 30 yard footblocked flick huck to Tuna, Tuna got several D’s, Danny was open all game on offense, Scotto threw flicks upfield, Scott got a layout D under, and Jordan scored a few goals to lead the Hodag effort. The experience that the younger players got in the game was huge, and will pay dividends in the seasons to come. The future of the hodags is incredibly bright, to say the least. UCSC ended up winning the meaningless game 15-10.
In quarterfinals, the Hodags were matched against Harvard, who beat the Hodags twice on the season. Led by Callahan winner George Stubbs, Harvard had beaten Tufts in prequarters and UBC in pool play so far at the tournament. The Hodags came in confident in the game knowing that they were the deeper and fresher team, and it showed early. Coolidge scored twice early to lead the hodags to a 4-2 lead on hucks by Wiseman and Feldman. Feldman then threw or caught 5 more breaks in the game to lead the hodags to a huge lead that was sparked by D’s by Simmons, Kelsen, and Coolidge. In the end, Wisconsin’s depth and physical style of play proved to be too much for a depleted Harvard team. Final: 15 to 8.
The hodags prepared to face off against Colorado in semifinals. Colorado had rolled all of their competition previous to semifinals, and Wisconsin was anticipating a battle. Three years earlier, on the same field, the Hodags faced off against Mamabird in what many Hodags remember as an incredibly intense game. This game lived up to all the hype. The game started with Wisconsin pulling to Mamabird in front of a huge crowd. Colorado, the home team, had a huge fan base. But, Wisconsin’s crowd rivaled that of the home team; many family, friends, and alumni made the trip to Boulder to support the Hodags. Mamabird went up 1-0 on a huge sky by Hylke, one of Colorado’s many big cutters. The Hodag offense answered with a patient attack upfield that ended with a Brian Hart throw to Colin Camp for the goal. Loading up a big D line, a turn was forced and Wiseman hucked to Camp for the first break of the game. The depth of Wisconsin showed as the Hodags broke the Mamabird O line again on an Alter backhand to Feldman for a 3-1 lead. Mamabird answered with a goal by Hylke (3-2), but a Camp threw a goal to a laying out Bergen to answer right back (4-2). After a Colorado goal (4-3), Camp scored again on a huck from Bergen to make it 5-3. Only a sophomore, Colin Camp put together a performance in this game that further cemented his standing among the top cutters in college ultimate.
After a layout D by Feldman to give the hodags a goal line break opportunity, Mamabird’s defense showed its strength with a big D. After the Hodags forced a huck turnover, Bergen’s hammer was tipped and caught by Colorado for a Callahan (5-4). On the next point, Feldman hucked to Big Pat for a 6-4 lead. After a CU turn, a Feldman huck to Alter and short pass to Colin lead to another break and 7-4 lead. Mamabird scored to make it 7-5, but Colin got up huge to catch a floaty huck to lead the Hodags to a big 8-5 halftime lead. Pat skied again out of half for a 9-5 lead, and then Camp scored on a Feldman throw for a break (10-5). Trading until 11-7 after another Camp goal, the Hodags broke again on a Camp throw to Brian Hart for a 12-7 lead. With time beginning to run out, the Hodags refused to be broken on offense and cruised to a 14-10 lead. The win put the Hodags in finals for the first time since 2008. With Carleton besting Iowa in the other semifinal game, Wisco got ready for another battle against their regional rival.
The hype and excitement for the national championship game was quickly mellowed by a stiff 30-60mph wind. Ian Hollier, Grant Lindsley, and Simon Montague had good games as CUT completed many short passes and showed discipline in the wind while the Hodags couldn’t convert on their many opportunities. Breaking upwind to start the game, CUT never looked back as they went on to win the game 11-5.
Only losing 5 players, the Hodags are looking to improve on their second place finish next season. With many veterans and budding superstars, look for Wisconsin to have a big, athletic, and hungry team in 2012.