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This weekend in Little Rock the South Region comes together with 3 bids to Nationals on the line. There are two main stories to follow: which powerhouse program will win the Region and which contender will punch their ticket with the third bid.
Doublewide out of Austin has won 3 of the last 4 Regional Championships over Chain Lightning of Atlanta. Both clubs are amongst the elite programs in the country but they haven’t played this year to date. Chain has been ranked in the top 5 in Skyd’s Power rankings all year and Doublewide only dropped from 3rd to 7th after a poor showing at Labor Day. At Labor Day Doublewide’s Kurt Gibson was injured and the change in their offense was drastic. Without Gibson, Doublewide’s offense seemed stagnant and had trouble getting the disc in their playmakers’ hands. But Gibson is back for Regionals and the combination with Brodie Smith is very difficult to stop. Doublewide rolled through Sectionals winning on average by 13 points.
Chain Lightning on the other hand hasn’t relied as heavily on the top of their lineup. They won Terminus and made the finals of Labor Day with a deep and talented roster. Rookies have been making contributions all year and expect the likes of Nicky Spiva and Micheal Arenson to be a big part of Chain’s success. Because of their depth, Chain would be hard pressed to lose to anyone but Doublewide. The height of Chain and the disc skills makes for matchup hell for every opponent. in order to be successful against Doublewide, Chain is going to have to figure out how to contain Gibson and Smith and put the weight of the production of the rest of Doublewide. Joel Wooten is back this year from playing with Southpaw and it will be exciting to see how he is utilized to slow Doublewide’s deep game.
Chain wasn’t quite at full strength at Sectionals, but they did seem more vulnerable than their Texas counterpart. In the finals Tanasi (3rd seed at Regionals) was able to put up 10 points and were within 3 or 4 points late in the second half. Even so, Chain was still very open in their line calling which bodes well for Regionals. Pool play format leads to a 7 or possibly 8 game weekend. Being able to dispatch mid-level teams with the bottom half of their roster allows Chain to come well rested into their anticipated matchup with Doublewide in the finals.
The Doublewide-Chain game will be one of the more exciting games of the weekend from a national perspective but from a South Region perspective the real question is: “who will qualify for nationals in third place?” This year the South has been gifted a third bid to the big show and there is a buzz of excitement amongst the mid-level teams with a shot at Sarasota. Last year’s third place finisher and national qualifier Tanasi leads the pack. But a couple teams behind Tanasi have beaten the Tennessee team earlier this year and so as many as 7 teams could realistically be in the running for that final bid.
Tanasi is a different team than last year’s nationals roster. Big contributors on both sides of the disc left for other teams in the region. Nicky Spiva moved onto Chain while a handful of players moved to Birmingham’s Iron Men and Athens’ Six Pack. With all the turnover, Tanasi had some early season stumbles losing to Charleston’s El Diablo, Six Pack, Orlando’s Omen and Tampa’s Uproar. But at sectionals they avenged some of the losses handling El Diablo easily and beating Six Pack twice. Tanasi is still led by the handling of Tyler Conger (former World’s Champ with Axis of C’Ville). Offensively Tanasi is one of the few teams that have the fire power to put up points on Doublewide or Chain. Defensively Tanasi is anchored by Cameron Amey and Phil Brock with an army of University of Tennessee young legs. Although Tanasi has solid amounts of depth compared to the other mid-range teams in the region, their success with be dictated by the weekends of their top playmakers. Tanasi lost to Omen and Uproar back to back at Terminus earlier this year and they will have to beat them this time around to win the pool. At Terminus the O-line playmakers for Tanasi struggled at times and allowed Omen to go on a run of breaks to make a big comeback and win on universe. But if Tanasi can avoid the O-line rut they should win the pool with a good chance to make semis.
Seeded right behind Tanasi is the winner of the Gulf Coast Sectionals: Birmingham’s Iron Men. Iron Men’s roster is full of veteran players with the disc skills and experience to be in contention come Sunday. Led by Alabama alumni such as Gray Lloyd, Tim Brady and Josh Currey with the help former freshman of the year Craig Stuart from Davidson (beat out Brodie Smith!), Iron Men has the talent to win games against the rest of the mid-level teams. The biggest question for Iron Men is that are they going to be able to finish up games at the end of the day. The most competitive tournament Iron Men has been to so far this year is Terminus way back in July. Although they won their games on Saturday, Iron Men had two losses to physical and athletic teams (Madcow and Six Pack) to end their weekend. Iron Men has what could be a difficult matchup for them in pool play. Although they should handle the bottom two seeds, the last game is against Plex out of Dallas. There is barely any interaction between the Texas section and the rest of the South Region, but Plex is probably most comparable to Six Pack in makeup who Iron Men has struggled with. Iron Men needs to make sure the game doesn’t get sloppy and become a turnover-fest. If they can run smooth offense you can expect them to hold on to the 4 seed going into Sunday’s bracket.
Plex and Omen
On the flip side of that discussion is the next contender for the third bid. Plex is a young athletic team out of Dallas that despite sub-stellar early season results came through at sectionals to take 2nd and earn the 5th seed at Regionals. Plex is a dangerous team to a lot of the mid-level teams because of their athleticism. Their pool play game against Iron Men will be very interesting to watch and because of how unknown they are to the eastern side of the section, teams like Tanasi, Iron Men and Six Pack might get surprised. Whoever wins the pool avoids an elimination game at the end of Saturday but expect both teams to make it through to the championship bracket.
The last of the front runners for the third is Omen from Orlando (seeded 6th). Omen won the Florida section over Uproar without much of a challenge but sectionals doesn’t have the consistent difficult games that Regionals will. Omen does not have the depth of some of the other teams and relies heavily on players like Andrew Roca to make big throws. They are able to score quickly and go on large runs. Certainly talented enough to beat any of the mid-level teams, but they face a tough road. If they don’t beat Tanasi in the third game on Saturday they are facing a 4th game later that day in an elimination setting against either Six Pack or El Diablo. Both Six Pack and El Diablo deep rosters and are capable of playing with Omen talent wise. Omen is going to have to pick their battles but once they get into that 3rd place bracket all the chips are on the table and they have a very good chance to end some seasons.
The Outside Shots
There are three teams more teams that have outside shots at that third bid. Space City Ignite looked like a top 4 or 5 team coming into sectionals but two losses to Plex dropped them down to the 7th seed. Space City should have an easy path to quarters: they only have to beat Freaks Uv Nature, Eclipse and either Brah or Cartel. But the road from there gets much harder. A quarters matchup vs. Doublewide and after that they have to win 3 games in a row to win the third bid.
The last two teams are both in pool A: Six Pack and El Diablo. Neither team should give Doublewide much trouble but they could both be nightmares for their crossover opponents. El Diablo is the veteran team that has been here before qualifying for Nationals in the past. Although they had a poor showing at Sectionals they are one of the most dangerous 11 seeds you’ll ever see. They have one of the better offenses in the region, up there with the top 4 seeds. If they can force turns against their cross over opponent they easily could make the championship bracket.
Six Pack is a very different team from El Diablo but maybe even more dangerous to those higher seeds. They are very athletic and physical and use this to throw other teams off their games. They don’t have as smooth of an offense as some other teams but they love the deep ball and because of their defense they can afford to risk big plays. Don’t be surprised if both El Diablo and Six Pack make the championship bracket.
Most of the nation will be watching Doublewide and Chain but for the rest of South Region players and fans this is a very exciting year. Almost everyone in the region feels like this is the year they could reach the greatest stage in the World, USA Ultimate Club Championships. Come Sunday afternoon the 3rd place bracket will be filled with big plays and new faces stepping up to punch their ticket to Sarasota. Let the action begin!
Photo by Ben Beehner.