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This year, USA College Division Ultimate Frisbee was guaranteed to crown a men’s champion that had never before won the national title. The question was who.
The Harvard Red Line, the university’s men’s club Ultimate Frisbee team, was pitted against the Grey Duck of the University of Minnesota in a match that would decide which team could boast their program’s first national championship ever.
When all was said and done at the end of the Memorial Day Weekend tournament, it was the Grey Duck that came away with the 15-12 win, but the Red Line had already made history of its own. Not only was this the first national championship game the program, which was given the name Red Line in 2000, reached, but Harvard had never made it to the semifinals before Sunday’s defeat of the University of Georgia’s Jojah Ultimate team.
“I think the biggest thing was that the team found a really nice mindset over the course of the weekend,” senior Mark Vandenberg said. “I think after that the team found a balance that we were hoping for and making sure we were taking our game seriously and being able to find that middle ground was helpful for not being too caught up in the moment.”
Neither the No. 10 Red Line nor the No. 4 Grey Duck had come into the tournament as a favorite to win the entire thing, as neither team won its respective regional championship, with Harvard dropping its conference championship to UMass, 15-10, on May 1.
Despite the regular season setbacks, the Red Line qualified for its eighth appearance on the national stage in the past 12 years. Harvard harnessed its power at the right moment in the tournament, riding a three game win streak that brought them to the championship game after going 2-2 in pool play. A win over the Oregon Ego, which propelled the Red Line into the quarterfinals, was only the third time the Ego had lost all season, with one of the regular season losses coming at the hands of Harvard on March 6.
The Red Line’s victories over Georgia and the University of North Carolina Darkside were the final steps the team took to land in the championship game.
“Having to play an elimination game first thing Saturday morning put us in a good position for the next three elimination games we played and won,” Vandenberg said. “Overall I think we played really well but weren’t able to get the victory today.”
Upon arrival into Monday afternoon’s match up, Harvard was riding a scoring streak from junior John Stubbs, who was involved in every Red Line score in the first half of the semifinal game against the Darkside. Stubbs, alongside Vandenberg, were key forces in the Harvard offense throughout the tournament, a trend carried on into its final game.
The Red Line took the early 1-0 lead over the Grey Duck, but after fighting back on back-to-back breaks, Minnesota took a 3-2 command and did not trail for the remainder of the contest. Harvard, however, was not going down without a well-fought rebuttal to everything the Grey Duck threw at it. In a game which saw seven ties, Minnesota was only able to pull away in its final four scores.
Before the half, it seemed that the two teams were content with trading breaks. The Red Line’s strong offense pushed back against the Grey Duck’s early lead by airing its fourth break far down the field, testing Minnesota’s speed and establishing a multidimensional offense early in the game. As the Grey Duck ultimately reached its eighth score and brought the first half to a close, Harvard came out of the break with a new energy, quickly tallying its eighth on a break that resembled a jump ball between Stubbs and a Minnesota defender.
The Grey Duck began to pull away late in the second half, as the largest lead for the team was four before the Red Line mustered up two goals in what could have been called a comeback string if the results were reversed.
In a season that saw many ups and downs for Harvard, it was a combination of preseason training and contributions from up and down the line up that ultimately led to the team’s postseason success.
“We went relatively injury free this weekend and we were pretty good which was different than in years past and I think that’s a huge testament to the work we put in in the gym to get ourselves in shape to play this tournament,” senior captain Ben Scharfstein said. “This is when we wanted to peak and we did.”
—Staff writer Ariel Smolik-Valles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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