This article is brought to you by Greg Vassar and the rest of the good Wilmington folks who run the Easterns tournament series. Their long-standing support of Skyd has made it possible for ultimate aficionados to travel to tournaments, geek out over the course of a weekend, and relay their findings to readers. To give similar support yourself, check out our ongoing Skyd Fund 2014 campaign.
George Washington, the team that I coach, played at Fall Easterns in Wilmington, North Carolina last weekend. We went 3-5 in pool play and won the 5th place game against Clemson after coming in seeded 7th. Like any late fall tournament, Easterns left us with a better sense of our strengths and weaknesses as we look forward toward the spring.
An added bonus is that every team at Fall Easterns was a member of the Atlantic Coast Region, which made each game a glimpse of how the region could shape up in the spring. Based on how they finished at Fall Easterns, here’s my opposing-coach’s-perspective take on each of the teams we faced.
North Carolina won the tournament in convincing fashion, beating Delaware 15-5 in the final and not allowing any team in the field to score more than nine points in a game. Tournament director and UNC-Wilmington coach Greg Vassar told me he thinks his team’s two breaks might have been the only ones scored on Carolina all weekend.
Darkside returned 19 players from last year’s squad, which made the quarterfinals at Nationals last year and only lost to Pittsburgh and Central Florida while there, and they got rolling early by making cuts in late August. They’re big, fast, and coordinated enough to make up for swings that pop up in the wind or throws that come in too low, and on the endzone line— where most ultimate teams make a living— it’s clear that every member of the roster knows what throws and cuts to expect. Darkside’s veterans (which include marquee cutter Christian Johnson, standout handler Jon Nethercutt, and Ben Snell, a Truck Stop teammate of mine who has a gigantic and incredibly frustrating mark) established an early lead on us, which allowed Carolina to give rookies lots of playing time. All weekend long, North Carolina had the luxury of getting new guys into situations where they were expected to both run the system and succeed, which will bring up the bottom of their roster— a key indicator of a team’s potential.
North Carolina looks poised to maintain its status as the regional favorite, as well as make another deep run at Nationals. How deep? I’m not sure— I’m too out of the college loop to compare them to the rest of the upper echelon. But they made their goal clear when I talked to them last week: they want to win a National Championship.
Delaware made the Easterns final with a universe point win over North Carolina-Wilmington after losing two pool play games— one to North Carolina and one to Clemson. Across the board, I was particularly impressed with how tight they were downfield even after multiple cuts, as well as their ability to layout effectively for anything within range. Vassar added that he was impressed with how consistently Delaware runs its offense from year to year.
Sideshow came into the weekend with only 13 players—6 juniors, 5 sophomores, and 2 freshmen— and played against Clemson and North Carolina in the final with only 10 because captains Rich Lipari and Danny Katz, along with a rookie, had to leave early. Making the final of an eight game tournament with less than two full lines? Wow. Even more remarkable, the fact Delaware didn’t bring any seniors to Easterns isn’t because they couldn’t make the trip; it’s because they don’t have any!
“We actually had trouble booking a hotel room because we don’t have any 21 year olds on the team,” joked Katz. “I can’t wait to see what this team has in store these next couple of seasons. For a young team with no seniors, we have a lot to be optimistic about.”
UNC-Wilmington was missing a handful of starters due to injury, most notably Luke Hancock, a key handler that has flown under everyone’s radar for a few seasons now. Still, the Seamen showcased a pretty good sideline trap and few different offensive sets that make big patches of space for cutters while letting their handlers go to work. When I caught a glimpse of UNC-W’s game against UNC, I honestly thought it was closer than it wound up being (13-9). Though UNC is deeper, Wilmington has played them fairly close over the last few years because the top of their roster has been strong, they’ve game planned well, and they’ve risen to the challenge against a local rival; don’t forget, UNC-W also made quarters at Nationals last year. I’ll be curious to see if they really challenge Carolina in 2014.
App State has two very strong weapons: a zone that clogs up the middle while sending in wings to cut off continuation swings, and Justin Allen. Allen’s speed allows him to pinch in very far while playing deep in the zone, and on the turn he is consistently open because there aren’t many players who can keep up with his change of direction. Also, because he’s by far and away App State’s best player, he’s got the green light to throw hucks and breaks that defenders don’t see coming. The Nomads returned 13 guys this year, and given how coordinated their zone was, I don’t think 4th place at Easterns was a fluke.
Only two players on our team have ever won a game at Regionals, and we want to change that this year. Wins over Clemson and South Carolina, along with how we played during parts of the UNC-Wilmington game, were nice reminders that the goal is achievable. But that’s all they were. We ended the weekend talking about how our season will be defined by the work we put in from now through winter break.
Clemson and South Carolina
Like UNC-Wilmington, I’m not quite sure how to much to read into either of these teams’ results. Clemson was low on numbers, especially late in the weekend, and I’m not sure if the heralded James Cox was playing. They blew a late lead to South Carolina to lose on universe in pool play, but I think that’s going to be par for the course because these two seem neck and neck. South Carolina was without captain Woody Paschal for at least Sunday, and they definitely missed having a big guy that could stretch the field when I saw them play. So. The jury is out. But I expect Clemson and South Carolina to be in the middle of the pack at Regionals, fighting for a spot on Sunday.
Wilmington-B is a different case: they’re a B team (in only their third year of existence, which is remarkable for a program as storied as Wilmington’s), and before the tournament they told me it’d be an accomplishment just to score points at Easterns. Before we played them, I noticed that just about everyone on the team had solid zip on their throws, but they struggled to string passes together once the game started. Their players and coaches seem plenty dedicated, and the team is pretty tightly linked to the Seamen, which will push development.
Usual Atlantic Coast suspects that weren’t there…
Virginia Tech, James Madison, and Virginia all made Sunday last year and are likely candidates for deep runs this year. All three are established regional programs, and they’ll be at the Classic City Classic (along with North Carolina and Clemson) next weekend. Also missing were North Carolina State, William & Mary, George Mason, Georgetown, and Maryland, all of whom have either seen recent Regionals success or who, from my perspective, are building toward it.
Serious coaching puts me in a tough spot for discussing the Atlantic Coast candidly, but if you’ve got questions or thoughts about the region, I’m happy to address what I can. I loved playing here and I’m stoked to be competing again.