The Notre Dame Men’s Ultimate A Team traveled to Chicago this weekend to participate in Chicago Invite 2014. Of the 64 men’s teams, Notre Dame was ranked third overall. The top eight teams were split into two “power pools” to give those teams competitive match-ups all weekend. Notre Dame was the second seed in Pool B (the second power pool).
Saturday was a cloudy, windy, cold day—not ideal conditions for ultimate—and the fields were covered in thick, deep mud. Despite the poor weather, all of the teams showed up ready to play Saturday morning. Notre Dame’s first game was against the four seed in Pool B, Oregon State. After a pretty tight, sloppy 75 minutes, Notre Dame was able to pull out a win, 10-9, thanks to relentless, effective cutting from sophomore Charlie Labuz and junior David Terry. Both cutters were reliable, dynamic options all weekend.
Next, Notre Dame took on third seed Ohio Wesleyan on the worst field Notre Dame Ultimate seen in recent years: two-thirds of the field was covered in soft mud with three inches of water on top of it. The playing surface acted as a leveling factor and kept another easy match-up too close for comfort for Notre Dame. Huge deep throws from juniors Peter Hall and Jason Wassel came at the right time, though, and the team was ultimately able to come out on top, 11-9.
The final game on Saturday was against the one seed from the pool—Washington University in St. Louis. Exhausted from the previous game in the mud and, perhaps, discouraged by the gray skies, Notre Dame put up a weak showing, falling to Washington 13-2. The 2-1 record in pool play was enough to get Notre Dame straight into the championship bracket for Sunday, without a need for a play-in game.
Eight teams advanced to the championship bracket, and Notre Dame’s quarterfinal match-up was against Kansas University, the third seed from Pool A (the other power pool). Sunday was sunny, hardly windy, and clear-skied—much nicer conditions for ultimate. Notre Dame seemed to respond well to the weather, coming out firing on all cylinders against Kansas (despite nearly missing the start of the game due to extended warm-ups). Junior captain Kyle Hill kicked the game off with a beautiful full-field throw to junior Erich Kerekes, giving Notre Dame a fast 1-0 lead. The team never looked back, taking half 8-5 and going on to win 15-7. Freshman Joe Nolan and senior Jack Hefferon, stalwarts of the defensive line, combined for some fantastic plays on both offense and defense.
The quarterfinal victory set Notre Dame up for a semifinal match against the tournament’s overall one seed, Missouri. The offensive line was able to score on almost every opportunity, but the defensive line was unable to break Missouri’s offensive line to push Notre Dame ahead. A tight game ended in Missouri’s favor, 14-11, dropping Notre Dame into the third-place game—the final game of the weekend.
Notre Dame took on Wright State with lots of energy, despite the tough loss to Missouri. Superior athleticism and an outstanding performance from freshman and recent call-up from the Notre Dame B team, Danny Fitzgerald, helped Notre Dame coast to a 15-7 victory. There was one moment, at 8-5, when it seemed like Wright State might be able to get back into the game, but junior Keith Podgorski came up with a spectacular layout block in the opponent’s end zone, setting up an easy score that jumpstarted a string of breaks for the Notre Dame defensive line.
Finishing third in the tournament meant that Notre Dame held seed, but more important than the final rankings was how much the team improved as a whole over the weekend. With strong performances at three tournaments under their belt, the men’s A team will travel to Evansville, IN on April 12 with hopes to hold on to their Eastern Plains conference title.