Fall Easterns 2015: Tournament Preview (Men’s)

The Atlantic Coast's top teams take the field for their final fall tournament.

easternsWhile seven men’s nationals qualifiers take the field in Athens, GA, this weekend at the Classic City Classic, four more will meet in Wilmington, NC, for Fall Easterns. The tournament marks the kickoff for a long list of prestigious events hosted by the UNC Wilmington Seamen. Though the mid-November contest bears much less drama than its action-packed cousin in late March, there will be no shortage of interesting matchups to puzzle over.

It’d be easy to let North Carolina Darkside take over as the focal point this weekend. Much is expected from the 2015 National Champions, even though Jonathan Nethercutt, Ben Snell, and Justin Moore have moved on. Darkside draws the #1 seed heading into the tournament, regardless, since a majority of their rising talent returns. They’ll top out Pool A.

But when talking about the fall version of this Darkside team, time may be better spent revisiting the team’s previous approach to any contests that don’t carry the weight of the postseason. Under the stewardship of Mike Denardis, Dennis Tarasi, and Nethercutt, the Chapel Hill outfit will have an internal agenda to go along with their seasoned, physical playstyle. More than anything else, the fall is a time for this team to keep lines open, experiment with players all over the field, and emphasize the importance of man defense first. If the savvy zone looks that defined Darkside’s title run do make an appearance, that might be more of the players having fun and switching it up than it is them looking to choke out an opposing offense.

The bottom line: if you’re looking to heap scrutiny on team outlook and behavior this weekend, your time is better spent on teams other than UNC.

This weekend’s hosts, the UNC-Wilmington Seamen, could easily walk away with an early tournament title. The preseason #3 ranked team, UNCW sits atop Pool B. Though some departures and new arrivals certainly alter the team makeup, the heavy artillery that helped the Seamen gun their way through an impressive regular season last year is back with plenty to prove. A disappointing performance in Milwaukee last May is just motivation for Raleigh in seven months.

“I also think we’re angry with how we ended up playing at Nationals last year. If we can harness that, we can be great,” said coach Greg Vassar.

With Nethercutt coaching instead of throwing for regional rival Darkside, Xavier Maxstadt will step back into the spotlight for Wilmington, a now unparalleled thrower in the region. He returns to the Seamen with a gold medal from U23 World Championships, as does one of his favorite targets: Jack Williams. In good health, there’s little in the early moments of the college season available to stop this duo.

The Seamen also return staunch defensive presence Charlie Lian. Expect Wilmington to not shy away from the chance to making an early statement on both the regional and national stages.

The other familiar faces from May’s national tilt are the Maryland Space Bastards and Cincinnati Cinister. Both teams made statements last season (though in vastly different ways)1, and those accomplishments land them in according places in this weekend’s lineup: Maryland will get to build on their rivalry with Chapel Hill as the #2 in Pool A, while Cincinnati should have a fun, bruising matchup with Wilmington in Pool B.

Maryland made waves last year with impressive athleticism and a well-organized set of designed looks that coach Ben Slade unveiled with confidence. Though his team saw scattered flashes of individual brilliance throughout their postseason run last spring, the Space Bastards brought team-first mentality on both offense and defense that kept their fire stoked. This weekend will be the Space Bastards’ first chance of the year to test their new talent against other teams looking for a trip to Nationals in 2016.

The story of last season should be comfortably behind Cincinnati — they showed up ready to play at Nationals in Milwaukee and hope to make another statement in the Ohio Valley this season. They’ll have to do that without many of the playmakers that took them there, but as we’ve seen many times before, getting a spot at Nationals can flip a switch within a college program. Perhaps the underclassmen’s experience will guide Cincinnati back towards the top of the region.

The rest of the field is dotted by various regional talents, chief among them of Atlantic Coast stalwarts North Carolina State and William & Mary in Pool A, and Georgetown in Pool B. William & Mary ended Georgetown’s bracket hopes at last year’s Atlantic Coast regionals, and a rematch on Sunday between the two could promise a revenge opportunity for DC-based Catholic Justice. NCSU had an emotionally devastating end to their season after firing off glimpses of greatness at random points through the 2015 run — this weekend it’s most important that the Wolfpack institute a good, emotional balance for the upcoming regular season. They return plenty of talent to engineer a deeper regional run this year, but the tone of focus needs to be set early.

A lot can happen as practices packed into gyms, cancelled by snow and inclement cold, loom close by at the end of terms. Don’t place too much stock in any one performance this weekend — if anything some tough games to build an identity on will be the best that any competitor seeking 2016 seeking greatness can expect in Wilmington.

  1. Maryland battled through a cold and windy Easterns to earn a third strength bid for the Atlantic Coast. Cincinnati skipped Huck Finn to keep a second bid in the Ohio Valley, then captured it at Regionals. 

  1. Simon Pollock
    Simon Pollock

    Simon Pollock is a former Contributing Editor at Ultiworld. He lives in Seattle and started writing for the site in 2014 while living in Baltimore, MD. Email him: [email protected] or tweet at him: @_simonpollock_ .

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