September 27, 2013 by Charlie Eisenhood in Preview with 8 comments
With three bids this year, Southeast Regionals will have a big new layer of excitement as it won’t simply feature a placement game between Raleigh Ring of Fire and Chain Lightning. Florida United, which, for really for the first time, actually united the majority of the talent in Florida, got some big early season wins that vaulted them into the top 16. They may have earned the bid, but others will be looking to take it from them.
We have to start at the top, however, with the Southeast powerhouses Ring and Chain.It’s been a strange year for them.
Ring, coming off of a surprise semifinals finish at the 2012 Club Championships, had expectations rise dramatically from their 2012 campaign. They began their season at the US Open where they held seed, falling to Austin Doublewide, Boston Ironside, and San Francisco Revolver. But they showed glimpses of brilliance, particularly in their semifinal matchup with Ironside, a game they led for most of the contest.
They showed up energized over a month later at the Chesapeake Invite, but got off to a slow start against New York PoNY and eventually falling on double game point. The weekend simply got worse from there. They managed just two wins — one over Columbus Madcow, one over Pittsburgh Oakland — and were plagued by mental mistakes, drops, and a creeping sense of negativity as the losses piled up.
They arrived at the Pro Flight Finale with new purpose and took down Chain and Toronto GOAT, while falling to Revolver in a heartbreaking double game point finish that also saw them lose defender Micah Hood to a knee injury. They came out on Sunday and played an outstanding game against Seattle Sockeye in the quarterfinals…until the finish. They watched a 13-10 lead evaporate as Sockeye ran off a 5-0 rally to take the game.
Ring has struggled all season to stay mentally tough and close out games. As the most talented team in the Southeast, that may not haunt them at Regionals, but they would feel a lot better about a dominant undefeated performance than a more up-and-down one as they prepare for their 17th consecutive Club Championships.
They are likely to face off against Chain Lightning in the finals. It’s been four years since Chain took home the National Championship, and this year’s team is a long way from getting back to the top. Along with graduating some veteran talent like Sam Chatterton-Kirchmeier and Jason Simpson, they have failed to alter their style to a changing roster and adaptive defenses.
“Chicks dig the long ball” — long the Chain mantra — has deteriorated from highlight-reel skies on outstanding assists into floaty hucks into heavily contested spaces. It’s simply not working. Chain seems to have athletically lost a step in the last year and has struggled all season to put up wins on top teams.
Although they opened the season with a strong performance at their hometown Terminus (they lost to PoNY in the finals on double game point), they have had more trouble since. They lost to PoNY, Clapham, and GOAT at Chesapeake (they did beat Ring). They lost to Ring, Machine, and Revolver (twice) at the Pro Flight Finale. Their wins came against a mentally and physically depleted GOAT and Ironside.
Chain has no problems in the talent department. With World Games team members Nicky Spiva and Dylan Tunnell alongside a cast of veterans, they have plenty of great players. But they haven’t been smart offensively and they’ve paid the price so far this season.
Regionals will be a real test for them. They are likely to face a challenge from Florida United in the semifinals before facing Ring in the finals. Will they have shored up their offensive attack?
Florida United hopes not. The team — a mashup of talent from around the state — brings home Chris Gibson and Cole Sullivan from Doublewide along with Alton Gaines from Ring of Fire. They have top college talent in Florida’s Bobby Ley, Florida State’s Chris LaRocque, and Central Florida’s John Best. Yet they are still a bit of a mystery on the national scene. They played in one major tournament — Colorado Cup — where they took losses to PoNY, the Santa Barbara Condors, and Kansas City Prairie Fire, along with wins over Madcow and Voodoo. Their outstanding USA Ultimate ranking came about after they dominated in a late June tournament against mostly Regionals quality teams.
They comfortably took home the Florida Sectional title, beating Orlando’s OMEN 14-10 in the finals.
They come into Regionals as the strong favorite to take the third bid. The question is: can they upset Chain? Their likely matchup in the semis has potential to be one of the more exciting games of the tournament.
There are a handful of other teams in the wings that see the third bid as an opening for them to wedge themselves into the Club Championships field. OMEN, which features a lot of Central Florida’s top players including Mischa Freystaetter, Mike Ogren, and Michael Hickson, comes in as the four seed and will likely get a shot at Ring in the semis.
Tuscaloosa Southern Hospitality comes into the tournament with 23 straight wins, but they haven’t faced a really top competitor yet this year. Their quarters matchup against OMEN will be a chance for them to show whether or not they will matter on the weekend. That should be one of the weekend’s more interesting non-elite matchups.
Don’t expect to see Ring or Chain get upset, but the race for the third bid should be very interesting. Does Florida United have enough new talent — and mental strength — to get past all of the traps and emerge with a spot in Frisco? Or will another team rise up to steal their spot? Get your popcorn ready.