Men’s Pool C: 2016 Club Championships Preview

Some sleeper teams lurk behind Truck Stop in Pool C.

Rowan McDonald and Truck Stop are ready to take flight at Nationals. Photo: Kevin Leclaire --
Rowan McDonald and Truck Stop are ready to take flight at Nationals. Photo: Kevin Leclaire —

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Pool C is no Pool of Death but it doesn’t lack for intrigue. An elite top seed, two likely sleepers and a team hungry to prove they belong — don’t be shocked to see fireworks in this grouping.

Washington DC Truck Stop [Pool #1, Overall #3]

The hot take since Nationals ended in Frisco, TX, last season is that Truck Stop may have been the second best team at the tournament. That take is, first, a little offensive to the teams that finished ahead of them, and second, quite possibly true.

In quarterfinals of 2015 they gave the best team in the country the best game of the tournament. DC built an 8-5 half time lead on Revolver before watching the game slip away on double game point. San Francisco would go on to win their fourth title in six years, further cementing themselves as a modern dynasty.

“Coming out of that tournament it was like ‘Let’s put our [expletive] cleats on and play Revolver again tomorrow. And let’s play Sockeye after that,'” six year Truck Stop veteran Jonathan Neeley said when asked about being on the losing side of an instant classic. “I think it was like that all winter.

“Let’s lace ’em up and let’s do it again because we certainly believe we can beat those teams and that’s a really fun feeling.”

Saddled again with high expectations, Truck Stop has not faltered in 2016. DC picked up right where they left off and has played at a consistently high level.

Early on, they won Colorado Cup, and have gone 12-4 against the rest of the field at Nationals, having only lost games to teams who are also seeded at the top of their pools – Ironside (#1), Revolver (#2), and Johnny Bravo (#4).

Impressive results like that are the hallmark of an elite team. There are no head-scratching losses. Though there were some games that were likely a little close for comfort at Mid Atlantic Regionals, Truck did what they needed to do, even in the absence of several contributors due to wedding obligations on Saturday.

In 2015 DC made some quality additions like Nate Castine and Nicky Spiva to help make it the consensus best Truck Stop to date. That is, until this year.

“Yeah. It is [the best Truck team to date],” Neeley said quickly. “I’ve had this conversation with guys before… every time we’ve got a new season together, we’re getting better.”

The roster has indeed improved, with nice additions as well as the same familiar — now more decorated — staples. Spiva, along with Peter Prial, Alan Kolick, and Tom Doi, all received the highest individual honors, going on to represent the US at the Worlds this summer. The defense will be anchored by David Cranston. First year Trucker and University of Connecticut star John Wodatch will join his brother Jeff Wodatch on the O-line. Sean Keegan returns from two years (and a national championship in 2014) with Johnny Bravo. Handler defender extraordinaire Daniel Kantor is back from two years with Ring of Fire.

It’s been a hell of a season for DC. The stars, roster depth, and Nationals experience are all there for a serious run through the bracket.

Winning a national title would be a program first — as would making semifinals.

The first step towards hurdling the final four obstacle is for Truck Stop to keep Pool C’s top seed.

Likely Ceiling: 2016 National Champions
Likely Floor: Quarterfinals

Madison Club [Pool #2, Overall #6]

You have to imagine that winning North Central regionals was extra special for Madison. Not only did they avenge a Saturday loss to Sub Zero, but did so in dramatic fashion. After being down 8-4, they went on a 9-2 run to rally back and beat Minneapolis.

An effort like that bodes well for Club. With so much of their roster overlapping with the Radicals of the AUDL, where they routinely blow out Midwest opponents, a come from behind win to take their region should serve as a valuable experience — and a warning to the rest of the field at Nationals — that this team is never out of it.

Just like Pool C’s top seed, Madison was a double game point loss away from making it to semifinals last year when they nearly stole a game from Sockeye late.

A perfect storm could be brewing for the Wisconsin team this weekend.

Madison is actually six minutes closer to Rockford than Chicago, which effectively makes them an out-of-state home team. Perhaps most intriguing is that early weather forecasts call for steady winds on Thursday and Friday, which is an ideal setting for one of Club’s best attributes: an arsenal of varied defensive looks.

“I don’t think anyone has run a zone as much as we have in the last four years,” said Madison Club head coach Tim DeByl. “I’d say we’re the most practiced.”

Madison’s zone isn’t just a junk set for a few throws to get offenses out of pull plays. DeByl will load D-lines to run zone looks for the duration of the point. Big bodies like Scott Richgels and Kevin Pettit-Scantling keep throwers honest, while fierce athletes like Andrew Meshnick and Peter Graffy will have some creative license to sniff out blocks.

The success of a zone can be measured in a different ways, not just through turnovers. Once Madison gets opposing units thinking up remedies to the zone they can go right back to man and catch teams standing around looking for space.

15-25 mile per hour winds ought to help Mad Club’s D-line stay on the field.

Offensively, can play aggressively with guys like Kevin Brown and Brian Hart looking deep for playmakers like Pat Shriwise and Colin Camp down field. They’re also capable of playing to walk to disc up with clinical handlers like Andrew Brown.

Really, Madison Club’s success at Nationals will come down to their offense’s ability to keep it together. The defense can keep Club in games. Can the offense avoid multiple break slumps? If so, we’re likely the team that smothered Prairie Fire (who has been one of the surprise teams of the last month and a half) 15-7.

“When our offense plays confident we might be the best team,” DeByl said. “If things are going well it’s because of that.”

Likely Ceiling: Semifinals
Likely Floor: Quarterfinals

Michigan High Five [Pool #3, Overall #10]

The honeymoon’s over and High Five is no longer the sexy new merger team that they were a year ago. Now, they’re just a regular club team… and that may be a good thing.

At times in 2015, High Five looked like world beaters and an excellent regular season earned them the overall four seed at Nationals, before a disappointing loss at the hands of Madison Club sent them home in quarters.

“We were kind of riding high and then obviously didn’t have the Nationals final game that we would’ve like to have,” captain Phil Cherosky said about High Five settling in as a program in their second season. “This year has been more of a step back to refocus in on our system as a whole and really try to see what works best for us.”

To aid in that evaluation is coach and Michigan native Tyler Kinley, who spent the last seven seasons in Seattle. Kinley, who played on Big Ass Truck (the last Michigan-based open team to qualify for Nationals before HIGH FIVE), offers a wealth of high level perspective and experience.

“[It’s] been fantastic,” Cherosky said. “He’s able to bring in some things he’s had from Sockeye and coaching other teams.”

An over-reliance on the deep game came back to bite the freshly merged squad, who quickly hucked themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of in prequarters. One of the focuses for the offense this year has been to become more flow oriented: fewer set plays, more creativity.

“They sort of figured it out quickly and got on board,” said Kinley of the offense’s new framework. “And [they] were willing to work through when it really didn’t have success for decent stretches of time.”

There have been some growing pains – and High Five’s season results (3-11 against other Nationals qualifiers) illustrate that point. But it’s all about getting to Nationals and here they are. If the offense has added patience and an ability to rely less on the hucking game they will be as dangerous as anyone.

On offense Jordan Rhyne moved over from defense a year ago and will receive the first pass at handler. Speedy cutters like Mike Ogren (who played on Doublewide a year ago), Mitch Cihon, and Kevin Baumann will look to continue movement.

On defense, John-Michael Guest (who High Five was without for Colorado Cup and Great Lakes Regionals) will take tough match-ups, along with rookie Keegan North, who has been asked to guard some of the open division’s most notable cutters – like Kurt Gibson and Goose Helton – in his young career. Also on the D team is Johnny Bansfield, whose throws are basically the argument for having a skills competition at Nationals (have every team send their biggest hucker out there at half time of finals and let’s get weird, USAU!). Bansfield will give his team the opportunity to tally breaks from nearly everywhere on the field.

This isn’t a revenge ride for High Five, but they do have more familiarity with the rest of Pool C than anyone else. They’ve lost to Truck Stop twice this year, and, of course, veterans will remember their early exit courtesy of Madison in 2015.

“That’s definitely something that’s been on our minds,” said Cherosky. “I can’t say that I was upset when I saw the pool and we knew we’d have another shot at them this year.”

Likely Ceiling: Semifinals
Likely Floor: Done on Day One

Boston Dig [Pool #4, Overall #15]

Dig is more than just “Babbitt & Friends,” though they certainly are embracing that nickname, which they heard a cameraman call them on a recording from Bro Flight earlier this season.

While Jeff Babbitt is certainly the first name that jumps out at you on the roster there are a lot of recognizable Northeast ultimate players. Some of Babbitt’s University of Massachusetts teammates, Ben Sadok and Ben Tseytlin, will play offense along side lightning quick lefty Spencer Diamond and Alex Cooper (formerly of Ironside).

There have been many Boston area open teams not named Ironside in recent memory, but this is the first time Bean Town has sent a second squad to Nationals since Bodhi in 2009.

“It was an ever-developing roster,” said Dig captain Tim Schoch. “More people became available towards the end of the season…Bro Flight was really the first time we had our roster together.”

Like most first year teams, the roster is sort of cobbled together out of necessity but Dig has plenty veteran experience to balance out younger guys. 11 players in the program were on (the now defunct) Garuda last season. A few players from Ironside. The top players from Dark or Light, like Babbitt, Diamond, and Ryan Rzepka. Dig even has an international presence with D-line starter Galen Campbell, who captained the Dutch national team.

It was a wild ride at Northeast Regionals. Dig had some things go their way with GOAT’s strange circumstances, but give credit to the boys from Boston for winning the games they had to to be where they are.

“We’re not going for the experience. We’re going to win games,” Schoch said, adding that his team will likely be playing tighter lines to secure the best finish possible.

Dig will have a tough road to hoe if they want to make elimination play. The fluid roster that started the season has now solidified and with that comes comfort, as well as chemistry. This team will have that and it should give them the freedom to play fast and loose. Keep an eye on their tricky zone in the high winds on Thursday.

Likely Ceiling: Prequarters
Likely Floor: Done on Day One

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