Georgia is surging in 2015 thanks to strong chemistry from the veterans and a deeply skilled rookie class.
February 26, 2015 by Preston Thompson in Preview with 0 comments
After a few years of flirting with national relevance, Georgia has proven themselves as true contenders in 2015. After a double game point loss to UNC Wilmington in the finals of Easterns Qualifier, some might say that UGA isn’t quite ready to take the plunge in to elite status. But their plethora of youth talent and senior leadership suggests otherwise. Here are the steps Georgia is taking to not only get back to Nationals, but make their Sunday run.
Leaving Last Year Behind
A bitter end is a bit of an understatement. After an impressive defeat of UCF in the Southeast Regionals semifinal, UGA was in perfect position to return to Nationals. But as it turned out, the team just wasn’t quite there.
They lost three consecutive games to go over the course of two different weekends, first to Florida, then Florida State, and finally Central Florida in a revenge game.
That would leave a lot of teams gutted. But according to Georgia captain Sam Little, it hasn’t affected their preparation or their outlook for 2015. “When we look back on last year as a whole, I think everyone on the team would say they were disappointed in the team’s performance, but it wasn’t because of how one tournament went,” said Little. After all, the goals have always been on the end of the year performance rather than making any noise in February. But now the full team is beginning to shift focus.
“Practice this year has been focusing on the balance of making sure each player on the team is getting better everyday while also keeping the idea of peak performance at the end of the season in mind,” he added.
The Incoming Class
“It’s fair to say that this is probably the most ultimate polished group of rookies the program has seen in a really long time,” said Little.
A really long time could be an understatement; this has to be the best incoming class UGA has ever seen. This class shines some light on the growing youth Ultimate scene of Atlanta with a majority of the rookies coming in with championship experience already. The Atlanta youth club championship team produced two of their best rookies — Nathan Haskell and Sebastian “Sebbi” Di Francesco. Their contributions have already been noted in the Ultiworld analysis of the UGA youth in January; don’t expect those contributions to dwindle.
Gino Mattice is also a byproduct of the Atlanta youth scene and has also contributed right away. Even with the talent and poise of these three (among others), the most important factor is still there. “From the first day they all stepped on campus, they have been making themselves better,” Little told Ultiworld. “So far, they have been setting the example for most of the returners.”
It’s not just the young guns that will help Jojah this season. Both Little and Elliott Erickson played with Chain Lightning this past summer, getting some valuable elite experience. Erickson is a definite contender for Southeast player of the year, and he’s slowly changing his game to fit the new UGA system. “Elliott is probably more known for his athleticism, and nothing should be taken away from that aspect of his game, but he is actually a really good thrower as well,” said Little. “Playing alongside him these past couple of years has shown me his versatility as a player, so I guess I just know he has that throwing capability.”
This allows him to work from the backfield and let the athletes downfield go to work. But he’s a very tough matchup: any team that puts a “handler” defender on him will quickly learn that he has elite level speed.
Even as of Easterns Qualifier, nobody has found their super specific role. The team is “trying to not pigeon-hole people into specific roles,” according to Little, a sound strategy when you have so many players that can do so many things. The team has plenty of veteran weapons, including skilled deep cutter Shawn Paul and Mike Peters.
Little could eventually act as a defensive line cutter, as he did for Chain Lightning, but in true captain fashion he’s willing to do whatever it takes. “We are trying to make everyone a more rounded player, so the more I am getting down field, probably the better,” he said. This long-term mindset might be the key to UGA going from being home in May, to possible Nationals quarterfinalist.
Strong Results To Start
Jojah opened its regular season in Charlotte, North Carolina, at Queen City Tune-Up. In slightly windy conditions, Georgia struggled. Big blowout losses to UMass and UNCW didn’t help their bid-hopeful resume. But now that the season’s been underway for three or four big tournaments, are these losses really that bad? Yes, they’d obviously like to put up a fight with these national powerhouses, but losing to #5 UNCW and #7 UMass is to be expected for most teams in Georgia’s position.
Easterns Qualifier was a different story. It was obvious from the beginning the two teams that were supposed to make the finals. But “obvious” results have haunted Georgia in the past. They made sure it didn’t this time. Outside of the finals, Georgia won its games by a combined score of 89 to 28, with no team scoring more than 8 points against them. Then the finals, where they were one point away from avenging the QCTU drubbing from UNCW they had received just two weeks earlier. Take away Wilmington’s Jack Williams, and this week’s USA Ultimate top ten (Georgia currently ranked tenth) might have looked a lot different.
With their success against all but top 10 ranked teams thus far, Georgia looks to be in a good position to earn one of many bids for the Southeast and to return to Nationals. But just showing up won’t be good enough for a team with as much talent as they have this season. If they continue to grow over the course of the season, they could well be in the conversation late in the weekend at Nationals.