Teams Eyeing Bids and Tournament Win at DIII Easterns (Tournament Preview)

Easterns 2014.While DIII Warmup may have hosted more top-tier teams, the inaugural DIII Easterns in North Myrtle Beach may be the deepest DIII tournament of the year. Seven teams from the Ultiworld Top 25 and several other programs that harbor Nationals ambitions will compete in the biggest event of the year for east coast DIII teams.

With bad weather cancelling tournaments and flights left and right this spring, Easterns will be the first chance for a number of the teams in attendance to prove that they belong in the national conversation. With another storm battering the East Coast this week, the forecast calls for wind and rain that could certainly have an effect on the play this weekend. Wind and rain may not be ideal ultimate conditions, but most of these teams have suffered through a harsh winter of sleet and snow.

It is unlikely that a little bad weather is going to deter them from getting the chance to play in one of the biggest tournaments of the regular season.


Pool A

Brandeis TRON (#13):

This will be Brandeis’ second tournament of the spring season following a 4-4 finish at DIII Warmup in February. TRON recorded a pair of decisive wins at Warm Up against St. John’s but faltered against Lewis and Clark and Puget Sound of the Northwest. Under the coaching of Boston Wild Card’s Sam Dinning and Lily Steponaitis, Brandeis has prided themselves on their fundamental play, relying on high percentage throws and physical defense as opposed to forcing the issue on offense.

Captain Nadav Pearl anchors their D-line, but will find himself on both sides, running the Brandeis offense with the help of fellow captain Max Zaslove and handler Justin Lesser. A disciplined TRON has the top-level talent to compete but the quality of their bench will be the deciding factor for this New England stalwart.

Like many teams at Easterns, TRON will be looking to record as many wins as possible this weekend in an effort to secure a strength-bid for their region. Although the USAU rankings are far from complete, New England currently holds just one bid to Nationals.

SUNY-Fredonia Terrifying Turtles (#17):

SUNY-Fredonia also comes into DIII Easterns with a tournament under their belt. The Terrifying Turtles placed third at DIII Midwestern Invite, going 4-1 that weekend. Fredonia notched impressive wins over Kenyon and Indiana Wesleyan, but lost 12-10 to North Park after leading 7-3 at half.

Their core players include 2013 Metro East player-of-the-year Greg Wakeman and 2013 first-team all-region Kevin Quinlan. Cutter Max Kesselring will also play a main role in Fredonia’s offense as he looks to beat defenses with both deep and under cuts.

The Terrifying Turtles can sometimes be their own worst enemy, as they tend to rely on their deep game and high-risk, high-reward throws. Wakeman and Quinlan’s ability to throw breaks and hucks often result in lower percentage shots over dependable offense. Still, Fredonia’s top players will make them a tough opponent for any team they see at Easterns.

Fredonia needs a strong weekend to remain in the running for a strength bid for the Metro East. If they play within themselves and keep their legs relatively fresh for Sunday, this team can make a deep run in bracket-play.

Elon Big Fat Bomb (#19):

Although Elon hasn’t qualified for Nationals since the inception of the DIII conference, this team looks primed to make a run this season. Big Fat Bomb had decent results at the weather-affected Terminus, beating Indiana Wesleyan and Alabama and losing close to Dartmouth, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. Their ability to hang with strong DI teams should have their DIII competition on alert.

Seniors Peter Bostancic, Andrew Grunniger and Ian Girelli highlight Elon’s strong group of returners. While Elon is still adjusting to losing star player Sam Lee to graduation, they have become a more well-balanced team as compared to past years. This season, they have been relying less on one player to spark their offense and more on executing a team offensive system.

Though Big Fat Bomb may not be the tallest team at DIII Easterns, they make up for it with good help defense and smart decision-making — two factors that should help them make a run on Sunday. Elon, like other Atlantic Coast teams in attendance, will use Easterns as preparation to dethrone Wake Forest and earn additional bids for the region.

Xavier B.L.O.B (#21):

Xavier heads into Easterns having already played at two tournaments: T-Town Throwdown and Cat Fight. B.L.O.B had a strong showing at T-Town, posting a 6-2 record, but found mixed results at Cat Fight, finishing just 3-3. At Cat Fight, Xavier was missing players, running loose lines and playing with minimal practice time, so their T-Town performance is likely more indicative of their potential this weekend.

Xavier returns their entire handler core and almost all of their cutters, with Alex Riahi and Michael Lopez bearing most of the handling load. John Cassidy acts as their primary cutter on offense. Newcomers Brian Fallon and Jake Lamier come in and provide athleticism and talent for a Xavier team that relies on its top players to make up for its lack of depth.

B.L.O.B will be coming into DIII Easterns looking to test itself against some of the top talent DIII ultimate has to offer and use their results as a measure of where they need to be once the series begins. In a deep Ohio Valley region, every opportunity to improve will count.

Davidson DUFF:

One team that could surprise people this weekend is Davidson. DUFF performed well at T-Town, going 6-2 with a small roster, and they played fairly well at Emory Invite and Mardi Gras.

Captains Rob Stevens and Graham Whittington highlight Davidson’s returning players, along with handler-cutter Chris Peek. DUFF is aided this year by a solid freshman class, including Chris Johnson, Ben Whitfield and Jordan Clark-Brown — all of whom have been consistent players throughout this season.

Davidson’s core is very skillful and athletic, but the deciding factor for this team will be the play of their mid-level players and beyond. DUFF is 11-1 on Saturdays this season but just 2-6 on Sundays. Needless to say, they’ll need to see Sunday improvement if they hope to avoid early elimination. DUFF will be focused more on growing and learning than tangible results at DIII Easterns.

Richmond Spider Monkeys:

With weather conditions forcing the cancellation of their only planned tournament thus far, Richmond will play their first sanctioned tournament at DIII Easterns. On top of a group of talented returners, the Spider Monkeys feature a strong freshman class led by Michael Babcock, Joey Cullison, and Sam Gillispie.

Richmond’s style of play is tough and athletic. They look to stretch the field and let their athletes make plays on offense. The Spider Monkeys trust in their ability to open up the field and bring down jump-balls. On the defensive side of the disc, they look to be the more physical team and force teams to work hard and make mistakes.

Richmond has been affected by the weather throughout the season, resulting in more indoor conditioning practices. They are less concerned with their results this weekend and more concerned about getting some outdoor playing time. Still, their games against Davidson and Elon may very well be Sunday regional previews.

 

Pool B

North Park Lost Boys (#16):

Coming into the season, North Park was the prohibitive favorite to take the Great Lakes title and was even a dark-horse candidate to win Nationals. All of that is still in play, but the Lost Boys hit a speed bump three weeks ago at DIII Midwestern Invite, dropping a universe point game to Indiana Wesleyan and getting dominated by unknown Cedarville 13-5 in the finals.

While they ended the day on a sour note, North Park showed what the team is capable of by completing a huge comeback against SUNY-Fredonia in pool play. After getting frustrated by Fredonia’s zone, North Park trailed 7-3 before coming out of halftime on fire, scoring 9 of the next 12 points against the tournament’s top seed. Additionally, in the finals, Lost Boys were coming off of two long games while Cedarville was essentially coming off of two byes.

Throughout the tournament, the handling core demonstrated crisp throws and high levels of ultimate IQ as they marshaled the come from behind victory and two other wins.

Entering the season, North Park’s handlers were a big concern after losing studs Jeffery Erickson and Nate Peterson to graduation. With poor conditions in the forecast this weekend, Tom Williams and the rest North Park’s handlers will have to demonstrate the acumen they displayed in the second half against Fredonia if they want to emerge on top at Easterns.

Fitness can’t be an issue for North Park at Easterns. The Lost Boys have to prepare themselves for a tough Easterns schedule that will see them playing eight games in two days without any cupcakes to rest starters against. North Park has made it clear that they are trying to come away from Easterns with a tournament win on their resume, and are bringing an elite squad of only their 14 to 17 best players. With a small roster, North Park will have their best players on the field at all times, but the grind of a long tournament will be a big test to the fitness of their roster.

SUNY-Geneseo Snail:

SUNY-Geneseo enters Easterns in rough shape. Snail will be playing short-handed this weekend after losing two of their starting O-line cutters (2013 All-Freshman team Sam Devine and 6’7” Matt Fuller) to a pair of torn ACLs. They’ll also be missing several other key members of their offense. For a team whose greatest strength was returning virtually every player from the 2013 season, these absences will surely hurt.

With a depleted O-line, the D-line players for Snail will have to step up in a big way this weekend. Geneseo’s fierce defense includes two of the team’s AUDL players in David Abbott and Matt Rybak, who will likely need to play on both lines throughout the tournament.

Playing in the blustery Metro East, Geneseo has plenty of experience with windy and rainy conditions. In 2013, they won Uprising in a blizzard and defeated their rival Fredonia at sectionals in over 20 MPH winds. Their fundamentally sound zone was very effective in the fall, and if conditions get nasty this weekend, it could benefit a Geneseo team that has a history of playing well in bad weather.

Snail’s first tournament of the year was cancelled by weather, and without those games in hand Easterns will take on extra importance for rankings purposes. Geneseo will have to do well this weekend if they hope to earn a strength bid for the Metro East this year.

Oberlin Flying Horsecows (Ultiworld #20):

Oberlin has had more playing experience this year than nearly any other DIII team at Easterns, finding two tournaments to play in this spring that weren’t rained or snowed-out. They played very well at those tournaments, giving good games to D-I schools and taking down an impressive list of DIII teams including their Ohio Valley rivals Kenyon and Xavier.

The conditions at Cat Fight were poor and led to some wonky, low scoring games. That wet, cold weekend demonstrated Oberlin’s ability to fight through bad conditions and tough games to earn victories — an important quality for teams looking to succeed in northern conferences like the Ohio Valley.

After missing out on the Ohio Valley’s lone bid to nationals last year, Oberlin has taken on a renewed focus defensively. Their combination of fundamental defensive tactics and elite conditioning make it a real challenge for anyone to score on them. Their improved defense has already paid off in a big way this year. After losing twice to regional rival Xavier last season, Oberlin took down B.L.O.B this spring in a 13-9 defensive battle.

As a team, Oberlin is in fantastic shape and will be looking to run their opponents into the ground this weekend. Don’t be surprised if this team looks better on Sunday than on Saturday, as their legs will carry them past more tired opponents.

The Horsecows will look to continue their good form at Easterns this weekend, and if they have the kind of success they had at their last two tournaments, they could vault themselves into the conversation of teams contending for a national title.

Middlebury Pranksters (Ultiworld #4):

The 2013 national champions come into Easterns this year with more question marks than is typical for reigning champs.

After entering Nationals in 2013 as the 10th seed, Middlebury surprised just about everyone by posting an undefeated weekend and outlasting Puget Sound in a grueling universe point championship game to take the title. Three of Middlebury’s standouts that propelled them to victory at Nationals last year — Davis Whitehead, Will Lones, and Nathan Arnosti — are all gone this season.

The loss of Whitehead in particular will be hard for the Pranksters to cope with, as he spearheaded much of what they did offensively. Middlebury relied on Whitehead to jumpstart their offense and create opportunities for the rest of the team with his throws, which led to heaps of assists and many turnovers for the senior. The Pranksters were more than willing to live with the high turnover numbers when they came in hand with the impressive assist stats that Whitehead provided (see his 27 assist performance at Nationals).

Someone on this year’s Middlebury team will need to step up and fill the roles vacated by Whitehead and the other alumni. Seniors Jeff Hetzel and Patrick Adelstein are likely candidates and this weekend should be a great indicator to see who on Middlebury will take on that responsibility.

Lackluster fall results are nothing new for a Middlebury team that is notorious for peaking at the right time, so anyone dismissing the Pranksters based on their personnel losses and poor performance this past fall should be careful. Perhaps this will be a down year for the reigning champs, but until someone beats them, they still have to be considered a top team and a favorite this weekend.

UNC-Asheville Bulldogs:

UNC-Asheville’s 2013 season was an up and down affair consisting of some big wins and some tough losses. After breaking seed and winning their pool on Saturday at regionals, they dropped their first game on Sunday to Navy and in the blink of an eye their season was over.

This year, the Bulldogs are looking to develop more consistency so that they can rely on their best play whenever they need it. With a new coach and two successful tournaments under their belt already, it looks as though the Bulldogs have solved some of their consistency problems and are learning to put away games.

With a core of players based out of the Triangle YCC teams, Asheville brings a polished offensive system to the fields. While Captains Ari Lavinos and Sam Fontaine along with junior Chad Gerber will get most of the touches on offense, the Bulldogs can run their O through everyone on the field. There are capable throwers up and down the UNC-Asheville roster, and it will take a serious defensive effort for any team to shut down their dynamic offense. Having a large squad full of players who can step in and contribute could be huge this weekend for UNC-A, especially against teams fielding shorthanded rosters.

If the Bulldogs don’t come out on top of Easterns, they’ll still look to prove themselves against other Atlantic Coast teams. For a region with precious bids on the line, look for Asheville to step up and play well.

UNC-Wilmington B:

The local B team has stepped in as a last minute replacement after teams were forced to drop out. There aren’t too many standout names on this team filled with young, raw players, but they will be motivated by this big stage to pull an upset and impress the A-team coaches.

The top programs in the country grow from their B teams and Wilmington is no exception. Those paying attention to the play of Wilmington B this weekend could very likely pick out a few rising stars who become big players for the Seaman in the coming years.

 

Tournament Outlook:

Pool A is loaded with parity and seems to be up for grabs. With several teams that all have a distinct identity and play style, the top spot will likely be claimed by the team who is able to survive in close games and grind out wins late on Saturday. With four teams making the championship bracket, it may be less about finishing first and more about avoiding the fifth or sixth spot while maintaining fresh legs.

Elon, Davidson, and Richmond will all want to do well against each other, but for rankings purposes their games against out-of-region teams may be more significant. This puts a premium on getting into the top four in the pool and earning the chance to play additional games against quality out-of-region opponents.

In Pool B, don’t be surprised to see Oberlin continue their impressive performance, as the superior depth and conditioning of their squad should show through. North Park has the talent and needs to close out games quickly to avoid elongated affairs like the ones at Midwestern.

Despite the loss of their studs from last season, Middlebury will have to show that they are incapable of defending their title before we can pick them to finish anywhere lower than second or third in the pool.

Geneseo and UNC-Asheville may find themselves fighting for the last spot in the championship bracket, and it could ultimately come down to which team can play at a high level for a longer amount of time. This would be a stark advantage for UNC-Asheville and their deep roster as the injury-depleted Geneseo team may very well succumb to fatigue in their later games.

As Lewis and Clark, St. Olaf, and Cedarville have shown us this season, it’s not always the biggest names that have the biggest games. With the series rapidly approaching, some teams playing their first tournament, and some teams playing their last, anything can happen at Easterns.

 

Follow Ultiworld for written coverage and on twitter (@ulti_world) and be sure to tune in to the Friday livestream as Middlebury takes on Elon in Ultiworld’s first live stream of a DIII game.

  1. Elan Kane
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    Elan Kane is the DIII NE Region reporter for Ultiworld. He grew up learning and playing ultimate at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Wingdale, NY, and played in high school ultimate at Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY. He currently attends Brandeis University, where, in addition to playing on the ultimate team, he is pursuing a degree in American Studies and Journalism. You can reach him by email (elankane15@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@elankane15).

  2. Patrick Stegemoeller
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    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.

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