Classic City Classic 2023: Tournament Recap

Brown and Athena emerge as champions at the fall classic

Brown’s Jacques Nissen flashes a peace sign as he leaves his defenders in the dust at the 2023 Classic City Classic. Photo: Gino Mattace

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The premier men’s division fall event, Classic City Classic packed some surprises as different contenders began to make their case as foils to North Carolina Darkside come springtime. Some of the top performers could legitimately challenge the three-time champs. Hosts Georgia Athena, meanwhile, ran away with the women’s division in a signal they will likely remain the dominant force in the Southeast.

Men’s Division

Brown Win the Crown

Brown Brownian Motion gathered steam throughout the weekend to take their first CCC title since 2019 with a 15-12 win over Georgia Jojah. It could go without saying that Jacques Nissen and Leo Gordon were fantastic as the two prime movers of the team’s offense, but, let’s say it anyway: they were fantastic. Nissen’s ability to spot a disc wherever he wants is (probably) unmatched in the division, and he has found his footing as a receiver even more than last year. Gordon, meanwhile, continues his tenure as one of the most indefatigable cutters and ruthless offensive attackers in the sport.

But there’s another half to the story of Brown’s success at CCC: early-season depth they lacked at this tournament last year. All the returners seem to have significantly stepped up their games: Caleb Moran, Andy Burriss, and Zach Kaufman are all on steady ground now after the learning experience they went through for most of the 2023 season. Jason Tapper looks like he’s ready to break out in a huge way. Cal Nightingale was tremendous this weekend playing the old Ned Dick/Sol Rueschemeyer-Bailey small ball role. And the defense – which, if reports are true, will miss last year’s stand-out freshman Emmett Young – gets an enormous boost from the return of 2022 top performer Cam Curney. Curney is still getting back up to speed after taking a year away from the team, but he’s already an impact presence on the field.

It took B-Mo a little while to put it all together, as demonstrated by a Saturday stumble on the stream against Colorado Mamabird – but by the time Sunday rolled around Brown were motivated, fit, opportunistic, and capable. That was the formula for their end-of-season success this past spring; it’s extremely encouraging to see the signs so much earlier this time around. The upshot was a Sunday run through three of the four other strongest teams at the tournament: Texas TUFF, UNC Darkside, and Georgia.

Buy your Brown stock now.

Notes on a Fearsome Fivesome

Brown took top honors, but they were far from the only impressive side at the tournament. The team they beat in the final, Georgia, looked like the best team at the tournament for most of the weekend. Let’s get the bad out of the way first: Jojah stacked up execution errors in the final to a point that made it essentially impossible to win the game. The drops, laser hucks, and botched upline moves acted like an emergency brake on the momentum they’d been building – they won’t want to falter that way in the spring.

None of those faults can take away from the idea that the early season results were more than promising for a group who have their eye on a big spring. In the absence of Aidan Downey (away for the fall semester but returning in the spring), Jake Powell and Cole Chanler were major forces on offense. If it’s that hard to slow them down without having to worry about Downey, imagine what it will be like when he’s back on the field. Jack Stephenson and Adam Goldstein seem poised for leaps this season, as well. On the defensive side, Adam Miller and Scotty Whitley were nothing less than brilliant, Kofi Reeves-Miller has begun to emerge as a major playmaker, and speedy freshman Drew Wentworth looks like a plug-and-play starter.

Also flashing some serious depth: Colorado. Playing without Seth Wells, who is likely to be one of the main handlers for them this season, the offense was multi-faceted and dangerous. Calvin Stoughton, of course, showed off his best-in-class quickness from time to time. More importantly, Ryan Shigley is settling in as a big-time disc mover, Ben Harris is nimble without the disc and creative with it, and both Dexter Luecke and Atkin Arnstein are going to win a lot of one-on-one matchups this season. The defense looked flat against Jojah in their semis loss, but were otherwise solid: Tobias Brooks, Zeke Thoreson, Walt Johnson, and Nanda Min-Fink showed off their chops often enough to make it clear they’ll earn plenty of breaks in 2024. All in all, Mamabird were content to spread the playing time around and build up the floor of the entire team. If this weekend is any indication, they’re poised for a huge spring.

Colorado’s year-in, year-out annual South Central rivals, Texas TUFF had an impressive showing of their own, cruising through pool play and falling on universe to Brown in quarters. Jake Worthington, Gavin Babbitt, Saaketh Palchuru, and John Clyde reprise their roles from last season. Meanwhile they have two of the most explosive speedsters in the division in Xavier Fuzat and Soh Nishiyama – look for both of them to continue to ruin their opponents’ best laid plans throughout the season. Another team sporting a similar look to last season, Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur, took 5th place at CCC and looked good doing it. 2023 Player of the Year Henry Ing didn’t play, but Tristan Yarter, Aiden Landis, and Scott Heyman kept the offense looking sharp. One notable addition from last year is freshman Julius Clyburn: if he keeps making plays downfield the way he did in Athens, you’ll be hearing plenty about him come springtime.

Here’s the rub, though, for Georgia, Texas, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Brown, or any other team who think they have a shot at a championship in the spring: the road to a title runs through Chapel Hill. Yes, Darkside dropped a dud in semis against Brown over the weekend, but in every respect they look even more like the team to beat this season than they were last season. Kevin Pignone’s flick huck might have been the most consistent weapon on display at CCC. Eli Fried seems to be back to full health. Seth Fried’s game coming in as a freshman is extremely polished. Rutledge Smith and Matt McKnight flashed a nightmare array of break throws. That only scratches the surface: we didn’t even see Ben Dameron cleat up. The takeaway as we head into the spring is UNC enter the spring as title favorites once again.

Other Men’s Division Notes

Vermont Chill, one of last year’s semifinalists at Nationals, have lost a lot of their top-end depth entering the new season. While they were a bit short-handed – Declan Kervick and Casey Thornton did not play, and Parker Lin-Butler went out early with an injury – it’s clear they’re going to have to put in a lot of work to replace production from the likes of Eli Standard, Turner Allen, Kuochuan Ponzio, and Carl Crawford. The good news is we’re already seeing performances from CJ Kiepert (in a center handler role for the offense) and Chase Drinkwater (as an unanswerable defensive stopper) that exceed their previous high standards. The jury’s out on their potential until we see something like a fuller picture.

NC State Alpha, meanwhile, return most of their top-end. It could be the ticket to rising higher than last year’s disappointing finish at Nationals. Daniel Ferriter and Suhas Madiraju were two of the weekend’s stand-outs. Alpha pushed Texas TUFF to universe point in consolation, a sign they may be ready to compete with just about anyone in the division. They might have their hands full in the Atlantic Coast, though: both UNC Wilmington and South Carolina look like they could take steps forward this year. Jaida King, Tyler Catton, Diego Collazo, and Stewart Kelley all have all-region1 potential.

The list of disappointing showings is short: Michigan MagnUM probably hoped for better than 13th place. We’ll see if they can get on track in the spring. And none of Tennessee Prohibition, Florida, Emory Juice, or Georgia Tech A Tribe Called Tech appear, at the moment, likely to push Georgia in the Southeast or play well enough to earn a second bid. The good news, of course, is that neither bids nor regional titles are earned in the fall.

Women’s Division

Athena on the March

The women’s division of CCC did not offer nearly the same depth of competition as the men’s side. That being said, Georgia Athena look like the real thing at this point. Fiona Cashin and Quincy Booth completely lived up to the hype: they were the best two players at the tournament. The better news is that the roster appears to be deepening behind them: Mia Bongcaron and Mae Kline flashed a lot of poise in the handler sets, and they can count all of Sarah Lang, Sami Chambers, Emma Tucker, and freshman Zoe DeLuca as good scoring threats. They coasted to a 14-8 win in the final over an athletic South Carolina Scorch side.

Scorch, for their part, look like a dark horse Nationals candidate. Returners Annie Maier and Erin McDonough were perhaps their most impressive players, but they are solid all the way through. Their zone look, which has shifted away from the huge cup of past years and into a more diamond-like set, is sure to pose problems for most every opponent they face. Let’s not anoint them legitimate threats to take the AC region from UNC Pleiades yet, but they are definitely in the mix for a second bid should someone in the region earn one.

Behind Georgia in the Southeast is a mix of teams who could all be vying for a second bid: Florida State Seminole Ladies, Central Florida Sirens, and Georgia Tech Wreck seem to be a step ahead of Florida Fuel and Emory Luna at this point. Central Florida took third place with a strong 10-7 win over Wreck, but, as has been the case for a couple of generations now, they traveled with a small roster, and it will be difficult to maintain that momentum at tough tournaments in the spring.

  1. non-Darkside 

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

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