Tuesday Morning Standler: Regionals
By Bryan Jones
Welcome to a special edition of Wednesday Morning Standler. After a few weekends involving standling and coaching I have an opportunity to look forward to some high level ultimate. Six out of the eight regions are competing this weekend to decide 11 of the 16 teams going to Sarasota. Lets take a look at the storylines and the our picks.
Northwest – 3 Bids
At the tail end of Labor Day, the Seattle Sockeye and the Portland Rhino players rejoiced together about the region earning three bids to Sarasota. There’s not likely to be too much drama on the weekend, but a strong performance could indicate who will be contending at Nationals. Sockeye has looked fantastic so far this year, strong at ECC and a win at Labor Day showcased their offensive chemistry. Rhino made the finals at ECC and continued to prove themselves as a top eight team throughout the regular season. Even the Vancouver Furious George got their act together well enough for a strength bid after years of underperforming during the regular season.
I’ll be watching whether any performance here will indicate a similar performance in Sarasota. The top three teams are all good, and unless someone falls to Seattle Voodoo, they are all likely to advance. Last year, these three teams gave it their all and had to peak to try and grab one of the two bids available. With three bids this year, will they be more comfortable? Which teams are looking to crush?
I’m always trying to find trends in order to place my bet on who will win it all. The old adage in the NFL is “that defense wins championships”, but in an old ESPN article (unfortunately, only available in memory) there was an examination of such statements: Does the top offense win the championship? Does the top defense? What about momentum going into the playoffs? The only factor that seemed to correlate well to winning championships was a winning streak of at least 6 games in the regular season.
In college, in the years that I’ve been following closely, Regionals hasn’t always been a huge indicator of success. Carleton lost to Wisconsin and Iowa before winning in 2011. However, in 2010 Florida absolutely decimated their tough region, showing that their lackluster Stanford Invite meant little. In 2012, Pittsburgh handled Regionals just fine after having a strong regular season. In my contender search, I can’t conclude anything decisive about the correlation between Regionals and Championships performances.
Sockeye is the team I’m watching closely, because they are the team that has been the most impressive in the regular season. Rhino, while winning a lot at ECC, has shown promise of being able to hang, but not being able to dominate. Should Sockeye blow out competition I’m going to keep them in the group of small teams contending for the finals. Close games, or even a pool play upset loss is going to make me question their ability to put away top teams. The one flaw in my logic may be that the regional finals isn’t going to matter with both teams advancing to Sarasota. I still suspect all these teams will be playing all out.
We might finally get to see Chase Sparling-Beckley in action against some real competition for Rhino, as he was on the field for sectionals. The old smoke screen has been in place all season from the Rhino crew, giving us nothing verifiable that he will, in fact, be at Regionals. Either way, while he was one of the most dominant players in the early 2000s, I don’t see him being a presence that pushes Rhino into contending mode. We saw Alex Nord attempt a comeback last year, but he wasn’t the same. Expect good things, but not great things.
The bigger question for Rhino is how Dylan Freechild will continue to impact the game. There is no doubt that the kid makes incredible plays, but it’s one thing to make a highlight reel, it’s another thing to lead your team by consistently being the go to guy. He’s incredibly gifted athletically with the speed to catch up on defense and the agility to make handler’s lives miserable. Those traits should translate to a dominating game on offense. When we made the dream team post, we didn’t think he was there yet. As NexGen continued and the club season progressed, he’s looked even better. What’s scary is he’s just begun his career.
Furious George was ratcheted up for Regionals last year and it paid off. However, peaking at Nationals became an afterthought and it showed with their disappointing finish. “The reaction was yeah! We made nationals! Now what?”, said Marc Seraglia. Now that they really only need to sew up third place, they’ll have another month to gear up mentally. These are still rivalry games in the series, so expect them to come hard.
3. Furious George
4.Voodoo (not qualifying)
North Central – 2 Bids
By contrast to Sockeye, Minneapolis Sub Zero was supposed to be a break out team this year. Instead we saw disappointing loss after loss as they crawled their way to a #14 ranking. Eric Johnson and Grant Lindsley were supposed to be a devastating combo! All we got was a lack of chemistry from a team that looked like they had more potential. There is still hope, although I don’t know if it is for this season. In a conversation I had back with Revolver Captain Robbie Cahill he told me “championship teams usually have at least 2-3 years experience together before winning”. Chemistry takes a long time to evolve, and even though there is a lot of young talent on Sub Zero, we still might be waiting till next year for their full potential.
Madison Club is full of athletic bodies from the University of Wisconsin sprinkled with some other sources. They’re willing to throw their body around, play turnover ultimate and give anyone a game based on their performance at Labor Day where they took Revolver to double game point. They aren’t as highly skilled as other squads, but I doubt they care. They seem to be okay with letting the disc fly as well as the consequences. There is an ability there to keep themselves in games despite the turnovers. Mental toughness is not something to be overlooked, especially once we get to Sarasota.
1. Sub Zero
2. Madison Club
3.Prairie Fire (not qualifying)
South Central – 2 Bids
Another easy region to predict the top two, but similar to the Northwest, I’m interested in how Johnny Bravo and Doublewide look against each other. Kurt Gibson is getting healthier by the day, and I’m still skeptical of Bravo’s ability to be a semifinals team this year. I won’t be surprised to see a close game, so we may not be able to ascertain anything from the final tally. The important indicators won’t be in the score, but how the scoring is done. Does Bravo’s offense make it look easy? Does Gibson being at full strength temporarily make things run a little less smooth? How does a healthy Jack McShane impact Bravo’s bottom line?
Bravo matches up well in this game with their height and athleticism but I think we’re looking more at Doublewide’s mental game to determine the outcome. If Doublewide thinks this game is important, they’re going to come out strong. If they aren’t really worried about potential seeding at nationals, I think we could see them a little flat. We’ve seen this before from 2011 where they lost to Chain Lightning in the regional final and beat them in Sarasota. Call it a gut feeling, but I like Doublewide’s mental edge when they are in this game. In talking to Kenny Dobyns earlier this year, he said he still thought that being the best comes down to what he aptly labeled as a “grrrrr” factor. My “grrrrr” leans towards Doublewide in this case.
2. Johnny Bravo
3. Inception (not qualifying)
Great Lakes – 1 Bid
Chicago Machine has quietly taken care of business so far this year, and I expect nothing less at Regionals. This is a squad that has been building on recent success in the years and has found a way to dispatch lower teams consistently. A.J. Nelson has been tearing things up deep all season while Dane Olson and Walden Nelson have been helping the offense move. It doesn’t hurt to have a AUDL MVP on your side in Jonathan Helton either. Unfortunately they’re probably this year’s version of “Stuck in the Middle with You” in regards to finish at Nationals. Highest possible finish? Quarters.
2. Madcow (not qualifying)
Southeast – 2 Bids
Is Atlanta Chain Lightning this year’s 2011 Sockeye? Not in that I’m predicting their season to end at Regionals, but they’ve been underwhelming this season. A surprise loss to GOAT at Chesapeake has them exiting in the semifinals, and they were unable to pierce the bracket at Labor Day. Last year we all kept waiting for the real Sockeye to show up, and they fell short of expectations. Chain has a little more time to get their act together and an impressive Regionals showing could put them back on track. We’ll still waiting for this season’s debut of the team with Nick Lance, who will definitely make a difference.
Is Raleigh Ring of Fire facing the prospect of not going to Sarasota? Possibly, but I believe they will rebound. Cash Crop played the game of their lives to beat Ring at sectionals. The game has little importance as they are projected to meet in the semifinals of Regionals anyways. Ring has a lot of talent, and I had them marked as a bit of a sleeper after the Chesapeake Invite. I was then in turn disappointed by their subsequent performance at Labor Day. This team is still better than they’ve been playing
1. Chain Lightning
2. Ring of Fire
3. Cash Crop (not qualifying)
Mid Atlantic – 1 Bid
As soon as the bids were laid out, I knew this was going to be the Regionals to watch. Three qualifiers from the previous year, and only one will have the opportunity to go back. D.C. Truck Stop, Philadelphia Southpaw, and Oakland Haiders are among the favorites to be in the semifinals and finals. Heva Havas is looking to play spoiler and pull off a miracle upset for themselves.
Both Truck Stop and Southpaw expressed that they were unconcerned with the possibility of a one bid region after Chesapeake. We all know that the Haiders are going to bring in a sense of confidence and cockiness as always. All three teams are ready to battle, and prepared to go the distance. We’re looking at two, perhaps three key games that will decide who will go to Nationals.
Key Game: Oakland vs. Southpaw: Seminfinals
I’ll be arriving Sunday morning in time for this round, because it’s promised to be a great one. Oakland took the section over Southpaw, but all that did was swap the two and the three seed in this tournament. Tyler Degirolamo has been making plays all over the field, keeping a team mostly comprised of Pittsburgh college players in the hunt. Southpaw was missing leader Trey Katzenbach at Labor Day, but they might be hurt more by the absence of Jeff Snader. Snader coached them throughout the AUDL season but after leading them to quarters in 2011, was unavailable for this season.
I’m sticking with Southpaw on this one with one caveat. If they can’t contain Degirolamo it’s going to come down to one play.
Key Game 2: The Finals
Assuming Truck Stop doesn’t get upset by someone like Heva Havas, we’ll seen them face off against Southpaw in the finals. Truck Stop notably features Alan Kolick and Sean Keegan, two players that give them the edge in this game. Keegan was fighting a foot injury through ECC and Chesapeake, and him returning to full form will make a big difference. Let us also not forget that Truck Stop took the only other meeting this season 13-11. I’m sticking with the favorite.
1. Truck Stop
2. Southpaw (not qualifying)
Tune in next week for more Regionals previews, mock seeding, and a recap of this weekends action!