On the fourth weekend of the college regular season, I will be heading to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the 8th Annual T-Town Throwdown. Though big names like Florida, Georgia and Ohio will be missing in this year’s lineup, there is a lot to play for outside of the Championship Title and Spikeball set. With teams like Central Florida and Ohio State fighting to earn strength bids, early season victories over either can certainly help one’s region in addition to putting their team on the map.
The 1 Seeds:
Central Florida (A1)
Coming into this weekend, no one can challenge the Dogs of War for the 1 seed. Seemingly in a class of their own, Central Florida approaches T-Town with Fall victories over regional rivals Georgia Tech and Florida State as well as National powerhouses Texas and North Carolina. Coached by Andrew Roca, this athletic squad is known more for their use of the deep shot, rather than a more relaxed style of play. The Dogs generally like their odds with a receiver like the 6’8” Sophomore Mischa Freystaetter constantly lurking in the deep lanes. Mischa moves well for someone his height as he often puts himself in great position to make D’s on in cuts. While Central Florida may appear to be one dimensional at times, most teams in attendance will be hard pressed trying to match up with their intensity and overwhelming physicality. Another giant, the 6’5” Michael Hickson is a more complete player, as his effect is felt downfield as well as behind the disc.
The main challenge for the Dogs of War will be to handily win this weekend without using up all of their gas. Next weekend, UCF will travel to Tampa, FL to face off against some of the top teams in the nation, like Florida, Wisconsin, Carleton and Pittsburgh, in likely their most important tournament of the season. Couple this and not looking past teams like Ohio State, Ball State and Cincinnati, the Dogs of War are about to have an exciting two weeks. Safe to say, anything less than a finals appearance will not be satisfactory for Andrew Roca and UCF.
Ohio State (B1)
The reigning T-Town runner-up, The Ohio State University Leadbelly, has returned once again for the beautiful early season weather in Tuscaloosa. Coming off a Fall season with a convincing win against UNCW on their way to a 9th place finish at Fall Easterns, OSU is looking poised to take the Ohio Valley by force. Led by captains Michael Meilstrup and Kevin Baumann (both of Madcow), Leadbelly is approaching the weekend looking to play some very aggressive defense while sporting a clean, efficient offense. Ohio State will need to assert their dominance against most of the teams in attendance in order to establish themselves high in the USAU rankings and should everything play to seed, the game against Central Florida will be critical in the battle for a strength bid between the Ohio Valley and Southeast regions. With a tournament (Michigan Indoor) already under their belt, I expect a lot of the early season rust to be out of Ohio State’s system. However, as the tournament was played indoors, a competitive outdoors game may lead to some mental errors and throwaways.
While a second bid to Nationals is certainly important, all signs point to Lead Belly playing the entire season as if there is only going to be one. In response to a question regarding their season goals:
“Win the Ohio Section, Win the OV Region, compete at Nationals for the first time since 2006-2007.”
Keep an eye (or ear) open this weekend for defender and ladies-man Matt Murray, as well as the young star Paul Arters.
You can follow The Ohio State University Leadbelly on Twitter at @pbultimate.
Georgia Southern (C1)
Georgia Southern comes into the 2012 Spring season with an upperclassmen heavy roster. Despite a rough Classic City Classic, where they suffered a vicious defeat from Pittsburgh in quarterfinals, I expect this Statesboro, GA squad will bounce back this weekend. I’ve heard talk of Junior Ryan Randall as well as rumors of a Jericho Barbour, whose efforts will surely help them win out against a weak Pool C. Saturday will prove to be very important, as GSU has to be able to stomp lesser talent in order to save themselves for bracket play. This is even more apparent, as they will have to find energy to play a Tulane team that is on the rise after a disappointing 2011 season.
Should they take the pool, Georgia Southern ought to be excited at the possibility of facing Tennessee in either quarters or semis, as Agent Orange knocked them out of contention at Regionals last year. Obviously, anything less than a quarterfinal finish would be poor, as semis or beyond should be the goal for this early season tournament.
A couple of years ago, if you would have talked about Cincinnati ultimate, most people would probably be surprised to hear they had a team. Before 2009, Cinister Ultimate had never attended sectionals and though their first trip produced zero wins, one wonders if the simple act of participating in the series helped turn this program around. Personally, I remember watching my team face-off against the 2009 Fall mixed gender squad of Cincinatti. Now, Cinister is coming off a 5th place finish at 2011 Ohio Valley Regionals, where they won out against Kenyon and Ohio after losing to Penn State in the quarters. This new squad has started off the year right, with wins against Towson, Tennessee and Virginia Tech on the way to a tournament victory at the Dave Baldwin Memorial. While, this 3 year swing from abysmal to strong results is absolutely incredible, Cincinatti does not forget their roots and how far they have come.
“We have players on our team who have gone from a winless Sectionals…to then placing 5th at Regionals last year. Even with this improvement, we know we’re still underdogs. We’re out to prove ourselves wherever we go.”
Cinister’s offense relies on the athleticism and poise of Chance Hill and Garrett Moulder, while their defense is anchored by Madcow players Gus Misleh, Ian Collins and Dan Latz. Cincinnati rounds out their roster with the Youth Nationals handler, Tommy Koch. With a fiery intensity on defense and an unselfish style of play on O, look for Cincinnati to be battling late on Sunday.
You can follow Cincinnati Cinister Ultimate at @CinisterUF.
As for the rest of the field…
Time to Roll, Crimson Tide
For those of you paying attention to the Skyd College Tour brought to you by Spin Ultimate, the Joint Summit Classic was a tournament to forget for the Yellow Hammers. With big losses to Florida State and the Gators, Alabama will have a lot of difficulty making it high up in the rankings. However, with the sixty degree sunny weather in the forecast, it would be hard for any host team to not feel confident heading into this weekend. The best thing that Alabama has going for them is that their losses came from in-region opponents. With that in mind, the Hammers should be focusing on development of their depth. This doesn’t mean that the Crimson Tide can’t do some serious damage this weekend, especially in Pool B where wins over Ohio State and/or Ball State would make for a very strong resume.
Look for Matt Hardman, Brian Moore, and the consistent play of Michael Venezia, who is returning from a year off for the Yellow Hammers. When all is said and done, this weekend should be about a fresh start for Alabama, as they draw inspiration from the great Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Hey Tennessee! It’s Time to Nut Up or Shut Up!
Ever since Tanasi began to show up on the club scene, people have been prophesizing about the rise of Agent Orange. Despite coming close in the past two years, Tennessee has been unable to break into the top few spots. With a region diminishing in strength, it is on Agent Orange to pick up their weight. With a fresh start, it is anyone’s season to break into the Top 19 to earn that extra bid for the Southeast, and Tennessee will have to put up some results that are better than an 11th place finish at CCC. The Orange have 6 players from Tanasi’s 2011 Club Nationals Roster in Matt Pirkle, Matt Ractliffe, Harrison Hayes, Richey Ward, Mark Allmon and Trey Williams. Having this kind of firepower makes one confident in thinking that a semis or finals appearance to not be out of the question.
As the only Great Lakes team in attendance, Ball State has the opportunity to make some serious noise for their region this weekend. I would wager that not many people know that the Wizardz finished T-3rd at GL Regionals last year, but being seeded 10th must really provide some fuel to their fire. Not only was their series finish strong, they dominated basically every team they crossed paths with. With stars like Hans Rasmussen and Luke Broderick, I expect Ball State to break seed by a large margin, finding their way deep into Sunday’s bracket play. Keep an eye out for the round one matchup between Alabama and the Wizardz, where the Yellow Hammer alumni Will “Bama” Drumright sets to face off against his former team.
One of the most interesting games on Saturday will be the 1v2 match-up for Pool D, which places Cincinnati against Vanderbilt Virus. This rematch of the semifinals of the Dave Baldwin Memorial, where Cinister edged out by one, will surely be an exciting game that will most likely provide a first round bye on Sunday for the victor.
Yes, this team is ranked 11th out of 24. However, given that they have the ability to take down a team like Florida State should make Georgia Southern play them honest. A team built around the love of defense, Mississippi State plans on using this tournament to develop their growth on the way to a goal of winning the Gulf Coast conference in April.
Don’t Forget About D-3!
D-3 Nationals quarterfinalist Harding will also be taking the field this weekend, seeded 12th. As the team that almost ended Claremont’s run at the title, expect Harding to surprise some teams as they look to prepare themselves for a run at Nationals appearance, this time in Appleton, WI.
Check out Zack Purdy’s interview with the Harding Apocalypse, who happen to be one of the classiest teams on the field.
As always, you can follow my coverage via Twitter at @Skyd_ZackSmith. Also, check out the live blog on Sunday and be sure to tune into my live audio play by play of the finals!