Carleton GOP should win going away, but the second bid in the DIII North Central is up for grabs.
April 23, 2015 by Charlie Enders in Preview with 2 comments
After a 1-bid 2013, the past two seasons have seen the DIII North Central pick up an extra strength bid for a total of two. While last year, the bids were anyone’s for the taking, this year at least one qualifier appears clear. The fight for the second bid should be a battle – one of the best that the DIII conference has to offer. Here’s a look at the four favorites to pick up the two bids.
GOP comes into regionals as the #1 seed and the hands-down favorite to win. They absolutely annihilated the competition at Conferences, with no team scoring more than four on them. GOP returned almost every key piece from last season, a season that saw them exit in the national semifinals. This season saw GOP travel to tournaments around the country in order to develop their depth – and while the depth is obviously there, GOP’s stars are doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Anders Berglund has been a whirlwind of cutting destruction, while Matt Godfrey has, as always, provided reliable handling and steadfast defense. This team has its sights set on a National Championship; it’s tough to see them being upset by anyone at Regionals.
Grinnell has had a fantastic season. While they didn’t play the most difficult of schedules, they finished with a 16-3 record, boasting wins over John Brown and Richmond. The Grinnellephants are led by handler Jacob Salzman and defensive stud (and UCF transfer) Caleb Leedy. About Leedy, captain Benyamin Elias is especially gung-ho: “A former captain described him as the best defender he’s seen Grinnell have in six years of watching the team. He also reliably anchors the defensive cutting set.” Elias believes that the team’s depth is much better this year than in years past, and hopes that the Grinnellephants can return to Nationals for the first time since their semifinals finish in 2011.
St. Olaf Berzerkers
While familiar faces like John Knapp and Vihn Bui are gone, Ben Liska has taken it upon himself to steer the Zerks towards their first Nationals appearance since 2012. Olaf was ranked highly throughout 2014, until a meltdown at Regionals ended their season. Olaf looked sharp at Conferences, edging out St. John’s in the semifinals and in the 2nd place game (after a 15-4 drubbing at the hands of GOP). Olaf will look to use their young core of skilled handlers to play patient offense and frustrate defenses, while playing hard man on D. While the pressure of being the favorite may have been too much for the Zerks last year, 2015 Regionals brings less expectations, less pressure, and, they hope, better results.
St John’s BAM*
BAM* has had a successful season, procuring a second bid for the North Central (after some rostering kerfuffle was sorted out). The Monks run an extremely tight rotation, with Matt Berthiaume and Charlie Schuweiler handling, and Tyler Myer, Sam “Tosh” Ehrrenman, and Jeff McGurran running around in a ho-stack. They have yet to play GOP or Grinnell this season, and their likely pool-play matchup against the Grinnellephants will probably be the most compelling of day one. A key for the weekend is whether or not they can put games away quickly. If yes, then it will pay dividends in later games; if no, then the wear-and-tear on their small rotation might present an issue.
One of the most interesting stories coming out of NC DIII regionals is how teams will strategize against GOP. If GOP dominates their way to the finals, it may be a better play for their opponent to rest its starters, in order to be more prepared for the back-door game to go. Beating Carleton at Regionals will be a tall task and it may not be worth it to try at the expense of fresh legs. No matter the case, North Central regionals should be one of the tightest, most interesting battles in the country.