January 30, 2014 by Taylor Stamps in Preview with 12 comments
Harding Apocalypse has been out in front of the South Central for the past few seasons. However, the loss of three key players may signal the beginning of turning tides in this competitive region.
John Brown Ironfist impressed last season at the highest level and return the same unit to defend their bid. Players and fans across the region are asking if this is finally the year that someone else takes down Harding, the South Central’s usual top dog.
#7 John Brown Ironfist
By returning all but one player, including all 7 starters, from their 2013 campaign – one in which they finished second to Harding in conference play and qualified for their first appearance at D-III Nationals – Ironfist is poised to control the region.
At the core, John Brown is led by seniors Christopher Genheimer and Andrew Goode. Genheimer, a native of South Africa, brings experience to the team and has the capability to play any position on the field at a high level. Goode is one of the most recognizable athletes for John Brown: His size and power make him a difficult cutter to guard, whether underneath or over the top. Genhemier and Goode will combine for much of the offensive firepower and emotional energy for Ironfist.
With Nationals experience already under their belt, Ironfist’s starters and upperclassmen will match up well with any other D-III team in the nation. A solid fall season, with wins over Arkansas and Baylor, prepared John Brown for the spring season and showed that they are serious about contending nationally .
Yet it is the development of John Brown’s more than twenty rookies and underclassmen, over the course of the next few months, that will prove to be the deciding factor in how far this team goes at Nationals. Lack of experience and depth beyond the starting lines seemed to hamper Ironfist’s play at 2013 Nationals, especially with some crucial injuries added to the mix. With savvy underclassmen like sophomore Ethan Penner (John Brown’s top goal scorer at 2013 D-III Nationals) this team could go much further this year than in their 2013 Nationals debut.
#14 Rice Cloud 9
Having represented the South Central Region at D-III Nationals two years in a row, Rice is poised to return to the tournament for a third time. They will also be looking to secure the conference crown for the second time in three years. If the South Central region secures only one bid to Nationals, don’t be surprised to see it come down to Rice and John Brown.
With seniors Amod Desai and Matt Liu in the backfield, both armed with club and Nationals experience, Rice’s handler core should maintain a high level of poise against their competition. Among their downfield targets will undoubtedly be 2013 1st Team All-Region cutter, Michael Drewry, and quickly developing sophomore wing, Johnny Frohlichstein.
Just as with other top teams in the region, rookie development and maturation will be crucial for Rice. Having lost seven seniors from the previous year, Rice was faced with the necessity of revamping certain offensive and defensive schemes in order to more rapidly prepare rookies and second-year players for the coming college season. Furthermore, limited results from the fall season cloud outsiders’ knowledge about the level of development among their rookie class and unseasoned players. The experienced core of Desai, Liu, and Drewry will anchor the team, but the level to which their underclassmen step up will dictate how far this team will go at the Conference Championships and beyond.
#24 Harding Apocalypse
Harding, a yearly contender for the regional crown, faces a rebuilding year and must find ways to replace several key components from past seasons. Names synonymous with Harding’s success over the past few years (Taren Goins, Tucker Bankston, and Nick Doores) have graduated, leaving Harding to develop a new identity and new stars.
A combined 5-9 record as a split squad at Gulf Coast Warmup and losses to conference opponents Air Force and Missouri S&T at Missouri Loves Company this fall may have foreshadowed issues with this developing team. While very talented, Harding’s underclassmen have been, understandably, very inconsistent (as seen in the losses at MLC). More so than even Ironfist and Cloud 9, Harding must be able to harness the raw talent of their up and coming players if they want to stay competitive.
But Harding has a strong track record with their system and team-focus; it allows for them to develop unknown players, seemingly every year, and make them into All-Conference level contenders (Taren Goins and Tyler Samuel are good examples). If they are able to do the same this year, they’ll certainly play better as the spring progresses than they did in year’s past.
The play of Greg Downing will be crucial for Harding. Having some of the highest plus-minus averages on the team in 2013, Downing will look to repeat and become one of the toughest players to guard in the conference. Still, the feeling around the region is that this may not be the Harding of years past.
#22 Truman State JuJITSU
While the fall season may not have treated Truman State well, record-wise, JuJiTSU used the freedom of the fall season to encourage rookie development and player retention by incorporating rookie only tournaments (Grinnell) and split-squads (Glory Days & Western Classic). A victory over Missouri S&T marked their only matchup (and victory) over an in-conference opponent.
Once in conference play, a lot of Truman State’s offense will flow through Tim Fergus. Having played with Chicago Machine and Chicago Club over the last few club seasons, Fergus brings experience and work ethic that very few can D-III players – in either the country or beyond – can match.
However, in order for Truman State to be successful, they must have additional pieces to surround Fergus. Captains Tom Crockett and Aaron Davis will be charged with the task of piecing together lines from JuJiTSU’s deep bench. This is the key for Truman State if they hope to challenge John Brown and Rice at Conference Championships.
Make no doubt about it: the fall season was very impressive for Air Force. Wins over Harding and Kansas at Missouri Loves Company boost their resume and establish the team as a serious contender in the South Central. With strength and athleticism often in Air Force’s favor, the cadets may very well move up in rankings, so long as they are able to secure the necessary games.
Quietly, brothers Christian and Austin Walker are developing a program that could very well raise eyebrows in conference play and catch some teams off guard. With six missing starters during the fall season, due to study abroad programs, UDU was still able to rack up wins against Kansas, TCU, and regional rival Trinity to go 15-8 during the fall.
One of the more underrated players in the Conference, Christian Walker will anchor the Defensive line for UDU and will undoubtedly provide many spectacular layouts on both ends of the field.
Trinity will be eager for spring season play to commence as they had only been able to attend one tournament during the fall – a four-team round robin. Having gone 3-0 at that tournament, Turbulence will now begin the difficult task of preparing for the spring season without much real-game experience.
Trinity has been able to encourage player development through the numerous club teams in Texas, namely Space City, HIP, and San Antonio Rage. Senior D-Line handler, Derek Tinker comes from the Houston-based Space City and will provide the most difficulties for opposition on both sides of the disc, particularly with his defensive expertise.
Missouri S&T Miner Threat
Miner Threat took full advantage of the fall season by attending three regional tournaments (Glory Days, The Manhattan Project, and Missouri Loves Company). Because of this, Missouri S&T has faced more regional competition than most other teams in the conference; most notably gaining wins over Harding and Tulsa as well as a loss to Truman State. The engaged fall schedule suggests this is a program on the upswing. But, after losing all their pool play games at the Conference Championships last season, S&T still has a lot to prove if they want to become a true contender this spring.
Ultiworld Pre-Season All-Conference (First Team)
- Tim Fergus (Truman State)
- Andrew Goode (John Brown)
- Greg Downing (Harding)
- Christian Walker (Dallas)
- Derek Tinker (Trinity)
- Michael Drewry (Rice)
- Christopher Genheimer (John Brown)