April 25, 2014 by Charlie Enders in Preview with 6 comments
The North Central region has year-in and year-out been one of the most competitive in the country. Two of the six finalists in the last three years have been out of the NC (SJU in 2011 and GOP in 2012). Although the weather for many Midwestern tournaments was less than favorable this spring, GOP and St. Olaf managed to lock up two bids. The five teams below will dive headfirst into the proverbial bloodbath that regionals is sure to be.
Olaf comes into Regionals as the highest ranked team, although they can’t be considered the favorite. They came up just short in an extremely competitive game with GOP in the finals at conferences.
Olaf has played third fiddle to Saint John’s and GOP for years, but this year appears to be theirs to lose. Captain Ben Liska told Ultiworld that the Zerks are trying to not let the pressure get to them. “We have to play well. We try not to be worried, but I’m sure we’re all nervous we won’t play to our potential. We showed we could play this season, winning some huge games, and we would hate to underperform.”
They certainly did win some big games this season, making it to the finals of DIII Warm-up in February, going through regional competitor Saint John’s along the way. Liska cites their veteran senior class. “Weston Birnbaum, Jeffrey Hudson, James Hanson, Isaac Rysdahl, Vinh Bui, and Doug Binder all contribute heavily to a strong O-line along with John (Knapp) and I. “ Knapp and Liska have been a dynamic duo this year, with Knapp using his length to break marks and Liska dominating downfield.
While much of Olaf’s star power is on offense, Liska says that they try to focus on smart team defense, as well as intensity, retention and efficiency. If Olaf turns in a performance akin to Warmup, they are going to be difficult for anyone to beat.
GOP seems to be peaking at the right time. With a Northwoods Conference championship in the bag, they have to be confident heading into Regionals.
Like always, GOP is an extremely deep team, spreading playing time out to keep legs fresh. Although they lost big contributors like Rhys Lindmark, Scott Graber, and Niko Duffy, GOP has reloaded, not rebuilt. Their system is one that never seems to rely on one player, so even though their 2013 stars are missed, they aren’t the be-all end-all for GOP’s success.
GOP’s bread and butter is their endless positivity. They are unique among almost any collegiate team in that they stay just as positive when they’re scored on as when they score. Players rush the field, offering encouragement and tips to the unsuccessful d-line. It’s demoralizing for the other team to see such relentless optimism.
GOP is also an anomaly in that they end every game with a spirit circle with the opposing team, where they talk about how much fun they had. If ultimate was a kindness competition, GOP would win DI Nationals every year.
After a semifinal loss at DIII Warmup, GOP attended Easterns and had a couple impressive victories (App. State, UCLA) as well as a couple of losses to other DIII contenders (Georgia College, Wake Forest). Despite only attending two tournaments before the series, GOP has toughened up against good competition. When they’re clicking they’re nearly impossible to stop.
Coming into the spring season ranked #3 by Ultiworld, Saint John’s BAM* has had a disappointing regular season. Although they hoped to procure three bids for the NC, a lackluster effort at DIII Warmup and a 14th place finish at Chicago Invite prevented them from reaching that goal. If BAM* wants to avoid missing Nationals for a second straight year, they’re going to have to steal a bid.
The Monks identity has been somewhat in flux this season, but they’ve attempted to remedy the problem by bringing in alumnus John Groess as a coach. John brings a gritty, defensive mindset as well as a focus on “the controllables”. “We can’t do anything about the weather,” junior Captain Max Rotert explained. “We can only control what we do”.
Although they have dedicated much of the spring to developing their depth, BAM* will need big weekends from captains Nihal Bhakta, Dan Cahill, Dave Stemper, and Callahan nominee Matt Berthiaume if they hope to pull off an upset.
I’ll say it right now: Parkside is the most improved team in the region from 2013. Although they made Regionals last year, they weren’t playing nearly at the level they are now. This is a team that has made an appearance in Ultiworld’s top 25 multiple times over the course of the season, despite it only being their third year of existence.
Parkside says that their success this season can be attributed to two things: a “taking every game point-by-point” mentality, and Captain Kevin Petit-Scantling’s knowledge of the game and great leadership.
Petit Scantling, a fifth-year senior, is one of best players in the region, if not the best. Freakishly athletic, he has played for the AUDL’s Madison Radicals as well as club team H1N1. This elite experience has not only made him a better player, but benefited his teammates as well.
Although they run somewhat of a tight rotation, Parkside has all of the tools to shock teams this weekend.
Since their semifinals finish in 2011, Grinnell has struggled to get back to Nationals. Captain Evan Ma thinks that this year may be the year. “We are certainly a deep and talented team. Our largest struggle has always been getting into the right mental state during tournaments and once there, maintaining that composure,” Ma told Ultiworld. “If we play our game, both mentally and physically, watch out for the Grinnellephants”.
Grinnell has a talented class of rookies, led by freshman and U-19 tryout player Peter Walker. Grinnell, too, cites their depth as a strength.
If Grinnell hopes to pull off a shocker this weekend, they’ll need huge performances from Walker, Ma and captain Eric Streed. While historically Minnesotan teams have dominated the region, Grinnell hopes to show that teams from Iowa are just as talented.
While GOP and Olaf have to be the favorites, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them upset by any of the other three. One thing is certain: each team is praying for the weather to be a little better than what the Midwestern spring has offered so far.