Carolina Kickoff 2024: Centering Pass Recap (Men’s Div.)

The picture of the Atlantic Coast is taking shape.

North Carolina Darkside’s Ben Dameron with the catch against NC State’s Henri Lessard in the 2024 Men’s Carolina Kickoff final. Photo: Brian Whittier

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If Saturday’s play at Carolina Kickoff provided the opening gambits for various Atlantic Coast bid hopefuls, the Sunday Bracket furthered those trends. There is now an initial pecking order in the region – headlined, of course, by tournament champions #1 UNC Darkside. #19 NC State Alpha finished a strong second, and there was a lot of healthy jostling to round out the field.

Competition Schedule and Results

Darkside Dominate; Alpha Aim High

UNC finished off an undefeated weekend with a polished 15-10 takedown of NC State. For the most part, their top-of-the-division group of upperclassmen were fast, smart, and ruthless, even as an early spot of trouble with deep throwing put them down a break to their Tobacco Road rivals. The offense is a thing of beauty, with sweeping, 30-yard horizontal cuts and a shallow stack manufacturing plenty of opportunities for hucks from motion and isolated deep cutters. As you might expect, Matt McKnight, Josh Singleton, Kevin Pignone, Dylan Hawkins, Ben Dameron, and Rutledge Smith featured heavily. They gave some run to Grayson Trowbridge and Seth Fried, as well, to fill out the line. Andrew Li, Bodhi Harmony, Jason Manning, and grad transfer Noah Krumme led the defensive effort: their tirelessness didn’t bear much fruit in the first half as NC State kept the game close, but they earned plenty of takeaways and goaded unforced errors out of them to pull away in the second. Every indication from their first official outing of 2024 points to Darkside as the championship favorite on Memorial Day.

Don’t sleep on NC State, though, who, despite the five-point loss in the final, came away from Chapel Hill looking pretty strong. The offense in particular seems to be built on the steadiest foundation of motion and clearing since their 2019 iteration. Much of the credit goes to Daniel Ferriter at center handler, picking up right where he left off after an excellent club season with Raleigh-Durham United. Suhas Madiraju, Allen MacMillan, Sean Wiles, Will Scudder, and Matti Lee all seemed to slot right into place alongside Ferriter’s stabilizing presence. The D-line benefited greatly from the playmaking ability of Henri Lessard – who did a nice job against the toughest Darkside matchups –  and Tejas Sivarajakumar. After turnovers, Zac Kuelz was nothing short of marvelous nimbly guiding Alpha to breaks. They won’t go unchallenged in a tight AC, but they start the season as clear favorites for second place.

Poultry Atop the Pecking Order

It has been years in the making, but 2024 might finally be the year that #25 South Carolina Gamecock Ultimate break through to Nationals. Close wins over Duke Brimstone, UNC Wilmington Seamen1, and UNC Charlotte Skyrise will give them a major confidence boost moving forward. Their heartening third-place Kickoff finish is due to determined play from Michael Murawski, Gavin Russell, Jaida King, and Tyler Catton. We’ll see what else they can accomplish to burnish their talents before gearing up for a post-season run. Could they find their way to earning a bid?

Let’s not hand anything to South Carolina just yet, though. UNC Charlotte were right on their heels in the universe point contest for third. Skyrise have a very strong O-line that, if they can iron out a few unnecessary execution errors, will be one of the most potent in the region. Christopher Saacks, Ben Simmons, Jerrel Bushel, Matthew Nightingale, and Jack Simmons form a powerful unit that will keep them in any game. Not to be outdone – although they were, in fact, outdone this weekend – are UNC Wilmington, who also pushed the Gamecocks to UP and have their own power center of offensive talent: Colby Francfort, Patrick Grossheim, Diego Collazo, Stewart Kelley. Kelley, in particular, has a bright future (and present) as a deep cutter. They also have a tremendously athletic freshman recruit in Ryan Manuel on the D-line. He will likely be burning through your highlight reels on a regular basis. Duke, on the other hand, seem like they have a bit more ground to make up. Albert Yuan is still all that, and he has some good pieces around him (Shaan Narayan, Nick Bos) but Brimstone didn’t show enough depth or discipline to hang with the other teams at Kickoff.

Other Notes

  • They might have fallen a bit out of sight into the fifth-place bracket, but Kickoff was a very solid debut for Penn State Spank. They showed a lot of heart clawing their way back against NC State in the second half of a losing effort, and, more importantly, they hung 12 points on UNC in quarters. (No intel yet on what kind of lines UNC were running, but that’s an impressive result in any case.) Sophomores Ethan Pigeon and Zander Lutz are capable of leading this team to great heights. We’ll see what more they can accomplish in a couple of weeks against a deeper field at Queen City Tune-Up
  • It was a bright start to the season for D-III’s #22 Carleton CHOP. CHOP downed Duke and Lehigh on Saturday, and followed it up with another D-I victory over Tennessee Prohibition and a 15-8 drubbing of division-mates Davidson DUFF. Rest assured they will see a Power Rankings boost this week.

  1. who knocked South Carolina out of the first- and second-place brackets, respectively, in last year’s two-bid AC Regionals 

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  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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