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Hellfish Bonanza 2013: Open Preview

A UNC - Wilmington player grabs the disc at the 2012 Atlantic Coast Regionals.
Photo by Ultiphotos’ Kevin Leclaire.

Although some teams are just getting their spring seasons started, we’re not far from a crop of top tournaments, including next weekend’s Easterns Qualifer, the Stanford Invite, and Centex. The Hellfish Bonanza is a big first test for a lot of Atlantic Coast, Ohio Valley, and a lone Metro East team. Although the Bonanza isn’t as packed with top talent as last weekend’s Warm Up or Prez Day, it’s still an opportunity for a lot of Regionals contenders to get an early start on strength bids.

Here’s a look at the teams coming into the weekend:

POOL A

North Carolina – Wilmington (#16): The Seamen are off to a late start this year after they passed on Queen City Tune Up. They come into Bonanza as the clear favorite — and the only top 25 team at the tournament. After a good run at Fall Easterns, where they lost in the finals to arch rivals North Carolina 15-13, they will be looking to get a good batch of wins under their belt as they warm up for next week’s much tougher Easterns Qualifier. With NexGen’s Tommy Lamar returning as a grad student, this team shouldn’t have much trouble rolling to a victory this weekend. Keep an eye on 2012’s Atlantic Coast Freshman of the Year Xavier Maxstadt to be making some big plays.

Pennsylvania: Penn, who finished 9th at Regionals last year, nearly scored a huge upset over Penn State in the backdoor bracket, but lost 15-13. They are a more experienced team this year and are led by their All-Region nominee captain Xinran Wang. After a forgettable fall, they’ll have a chance to break through here at Bonanza with lots of teams right around their level.

Towson: Towson Pandamonium is a consistent mid-level Regionals team; last year they got bounced by eventual AC champions North Carolina in the quarterfinals. Led by Captain Joe DiPaula and outstanding defender Delrico Johnson (both of whom have club experience with Baltimore’s Medicine Men), this year is likely Towson’s best shot at a deep run before a lot of roster turnover.

Mary Washington: A DIII school playing up against DI teams to get some experience, Mary Washington will be looking to compete in the lower brackets on Sunday against teams like Virginia Commonwealth (who beat them in the fall 13-6).

POOL B

Penn State: Penn State had an excellent Queen City Tune Up performance, finishing with a 14-12 loss to Ohio in the semifinals. In Week 3 of our Power Rankings, they crept into the top 25 before being dropped just outside it this week with the additions of UC Davis and Florida. Certainly the team that’s most likely to compete with UNC-W for the title this weekend, Penn State grinds teams down with physical defense and a gritty attitude. If SPANK can clean up their offense, they will be a very tough team to beat.

Georgetown: A team that had to be a bit disappointed about their QCTU results, Georgetown is better than their scores indicated. Although they are still adjusting to the loss of Ben Feng, they have a surprisingly deep team with some strong players (notably 6’0″ senior Matt Kerrigan). They won out on Sunday at QCTU with a quality universe point win over Michigan State. Their matchup against Penn State should be one of the more interesting Saturday games.

George Mason: After a disappointing finish in last year’s Series where they failed to qualify for Regionals, George Mason looks like they have the talent to do more damage this season. Two of their best players, Caleb Ward and David Baughan, return as seniors this year. They had a decent fall, including wins over Maryland and Shippensburg at CUFF in November. This will be a big early test for them. Their height could cause problems for other teams.

Virginia Commonwealth: Virginia Commonwealth got off to a rough start to their season last week at Business in the Burg with five straight losses (two of which came on universe). The young team will have their sights set on wins in the 9th place bracket on Sunday.

POOL C

James Madison: After a disappointing showing at last year’s Regionals where they had just one win, the Hellfish will be looking to recast a team that will no longer be able to rely on top playmaker and first team All-Region standout Kyle Fredericks. James Madison always seems to have a couple big guys that can take over games — this season look for Lloyd Blake or Benjamin Fleming to step into that role. After a decent showing at Fall Easterns, JMU will look to protect their home turf and notch some upsets. They’ll first have to get through a tough pool; NYU beat them last year in the quarterfinals of Bonanza.

NYU: After a 2011 Regional finals run, NYU has become a consistent Metro East contender. Last year they dealt with the graduation of a strong class of seniors, but, after a season to rebuild and little turnover, they could be poised to make a deep run. They return one of the premier defenders in the Metro East in Sean Childers. Also watch for Billy Katz to make an impact on the offensive line. After a fall in which most of their top players didn’t even go to tournaments, Bonanza will be a big early test.

Millersville: Let’s put it simply: this team is underseeded. Although they had a forgettable series last year, many of their top players got club experience with a surprisingly strong Heva Havas (T-3rd at AC Regionals) in the offseason. They proceeded to roll to an undefeated fall, including wins over Rutgers, Penn, and NYU. With big playmakers Kyle Wolf and Mike Reeves returning, this team could well notch an upset or two in this pool of death. Millersville, like Heva Havas, loves the long ball — they rely on big skies and field position to score.

Richmond: After a semifinals finish at Atlantic Coast D-III Regionals last year, Richmond will be looking to break through to DIII Nationals this year. They return the excellent Joel Reimer, who can match up with the best players from DI. They will likely have trouble getting past any of the three strong teams in their pool, but they’ll be looking to do notch some wins on Sunday.

POOL D

Carnegie-Mellon: After a fourth place finish at Regionals last year, Carnegie-Mellon is hungry to claw closer to a bid to the College Championships. All-Region nominees Nipunn Koorapati (also a Captain) and Ben Clark return for a fifth year and hope to lead the team to an extra bid for very competitive Ohio Valley Region. After fall wins over Iowa (#23), Michigan, and crosstown rival Pittsburgh (#2), they’ve shown they can hang with top caliber teams. (Their only fall losses came to Wisconsin (#1), Texas (#3), and Ohio (#12)). Although they’ve lost a crop of strong players (including 2nd team All-Region player Chris Chang), Bonanza will offer a chance for Carnegie-Mellon to get some important early wins.

Delaware: After a frustrating early exit at the hands of Maryland in the prequarters at Regionals last year, Delaware will be looking to step up in the Atlantic Coast region this year. With their two All-Region nominee captains Nate Hess and Matt Jerry leading the team, they will be looking to get an early upset over Carnegie-Mellon. They showed some inconsistency in the fall, with some good wins (Connecticut, Georgetown), but some tough losses (JMU, Virginia Tech). They’ll need to win games against those teams to be in the hunt this year.

George Washington: GW shook the rust off last weekend with an easy tournament win at Business in the Burg. That could give them an edge on some teams that haven’t played yet this Spring. Watch for Chris Kocher (NexGen) to make some big plays, and their now-Sophomore All-Region nominee Turner Shaw. They had a rough fall, particularly at Fall Easterns where they won just one game, against the UNC-W B team. They’ll be looking to shake that off and show that they can compete in the Atlantic Coast.

Wake Forest (#12 – DIII): The top DIII team at the tournament (they finished 13th at Nationals but easily took the Atlantic Coast bid), Wake Forest was competitive at their first early season test, ACCUC. They won just once — against Duke — but they were in the game with NC State and Maryland. They’re led by Corey Casarella, who returns this year as a captain. They could surprise some teams this weekend.

PREDICTIONS

The one seeds won’t have any trouble getting to quarterfinals, but who comes out of Pool C on top is a tossup.

Quarterfinalists: UNC-W, Georgetown, Penn State, JMU, NYU, Millersville, Carnegie-Mellon, Delaware

Semifinalists: UNC-W, Penn State, Millersville, Carnegie-Mellon

Finals: UNC-W, Penn State

Winner: UNC-W

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