In the second year of the new USAU structure, the race for strength bids has already started. All of the teams at this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference Ultimate Championships are jockeying for position within their respective region, and hope to become the leader of the pack with some big wins.
Does North Carolina have anyone to fear?
The question this weekend really isn’t can North Carolina play. It’s whether they are going to face a real threat from teams below them in the region. They may be the deepest team in the region with players like Marshall Ward and Jonathan Nethercutt playing big roles. Coach Mike DeNardis provides stucture to the game plan, which is important in a region with experienced teams like UNCW and UVA In my Atlantic Coast preview I talked up Thomas Sayre-Mccord, and while that’s still the case, I really want to focus on the development of Christian Johnson. He can make great strides in the next three months that might just help Darkside book their ticket to Boulder.
On top of everything else, North Carolina has been patient and disciplined during the fall season. This is unlike last year, where players and teammates would go through periods of play with consecutive dropped discs. If anything, this year’s squad is more relaxed in appearance, letting the game come to them.
Expect to see North Carolina playing for the championship. Based off of fall play, and their system, I don’t think there’s another team here that’s as complete. The issue for Darkside is that they have so little to gain, and so much to lose. When you’re likely to lead your region in the rankings, you need help from other teams, (VT, UNCW, USC, UVA) to get another bid. Beating your fellow rivals does little raise them up. None the less, when you’re in the lead, you can just focus on playing the game.
Is Virginia Tech a top four team in the AC?
Fall results can be a great or a horrible indicator of Spring performance. Despite mixed fall results, there is confidence oozing out of Virginia Tech Burn’s camp. Led by Captains John Andrukonis and Josh Reynolds, Burn comes into the year with high expectations. There’s little doubt that there is talent on this team, but talent doesn’t always succeed.
I’ve gotten the chance to watch Burn up close for the last two years. Big plays, huge hucks, skying opponents with regularity is their calling card. Their issue isn’t about their individual abilities, but the strive to be greater than the sum of the parts. Decision making, patience, and an ability to grind are not things this Virginia Tech squad is historically known for.
The questions I will be looking to answer is will Burn adjust their strategy? Do they have the talent to go out and be at the top of the region regardless? If you aren’t going to have a very structured offense, you better have talent to overcome that. I’m excited to see the results, as they are almost guaranteed to be entertaining.
Georgia Tech, the most to Gain?
While North Carolina has a lot to lose, Georgia Tech may have the most to gain from this tournament. With Florida out in front in the South East, Central Florida, Georgia, and Georgia Tech would gladly take a second bid to Nationals. For the Tribe, it starts here. Wins over Virginia Tech and UNC would likely have a large impact on their ranking late in the season.
If you haven’t already heard, one of the top players in the country plays for Georgia Tech. Of course I’m talking about Nick Lance. Lance, while having the ability to cut down field, is mostly known for his ability to throw. When you’re talking about disc skills, only a select few in the college game come up. Jeremy Norden, Alex Thorne, and of course Lance. Skyd All-American written all over him.
One player does not make the team, but Georgia Tech does have complementary players. Andrew Fish has returned for his last year of eligibility and is very much the prototypical student of the game. Jay Clark is a new addition from Tufts, and adds another play maker to the roster. EJ Layne gained experience under Ben Wiggins’ tutelage on Seattle Voodoo this summer, and is another guy that needs to play well for the Tribe.
Don’t count the programs out, UVA
There’s not too many positives you can draw from Virginia Night Train’s fall results. A miserable Fall Easterns and a mediocre Classic City Classic leaves much to be desired. It’s clear that these guys don’t have what it takes this year, too much talent has departed, right? In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
I’ve done my share of underestimating successful programs, doubting their ability to come back year after year. I cannot put it better than Alex Kadesch, former Cornell Captain, has said, “It’s about getting players to play the right way as a freshman, if they figure it out by the time they are a senior, it’s too late”. Night Train, in my eyes, has established themselves as a team that preaches fundamentals first. I’m looking forward to see the progress they’ve made from the fall.
Captains Roy Matthews and Aaron Mullins lead a young Night Train squad. Brian Kiernan may just be Virginia’s best all around player, and will be tasked with replacing past play makers. Also looking to step up is our own Ian Toner, whose solid handler play will be vital to his team’s success. More importantly than seeing Virginia play well this weekend, is seeing them continue to raise their level of play throughout the season.
Maryland, their first taste against top competition
27-0 in the fall season. That’s not a mistake, Maryland beat every team they faced this fall. With a large returning class, and a star player in Freddie Tsai, the Space Bastards are looking to make noise at Regionals this year. Doubters, including myself, say that they have not played against top competition. Thankfully, we don’t have a BCS and Maryland will be able to prove it on the field this season. I’ll have my eye on what makes this team tick, and if they really have a shot of doing damage this year.
The best of the rest
Like Georgia Tech, Boston College has a lot to gain by playing out of region opponents. Chuck McBride is their player to watch, along with freshman standout Dylan Wolff. Look for this team to break seed, and possibly sneak their way into the semi finals.
Now for a little word association… NCSU, Scrappy. Brandon Jones leads a squad with a never say die attitude. They scored 6 straight on Penn State at Fall Easterns in a comeback to win on universe. I mentioned in my Joint Summit recap that James Cox is the player to watch for Clemson. Wake Forest will likely go D-III again this year, and can only benefit from playing teams above them. Duke sports players Cameron Albion and Charlie Fuse from Ring of Fire.
Look for our live blog on Sunday, play by play of the finals, and recap coming on Monday or Tuesday. Follow me on twitter @No_Look_Scoober for score updates and more.