2014 Nationals - Men's Division Preview

Posted: October 15, 2014 05:46 PM

A preview of the Men's Division at the 2014 National Championships in Frisco, Texas.


2014 Nationals Men's Division:



Pool A

A1 A2 A3 A4
2104TCTlogos PoNY 2014TCTLogos PrairieFire
San Francisco
New York
Kansas City
Prairie Fire


2014 was the first season in recent memory that Revolver wasn’t talked about as a near certain contender for yet another national championship. With the other teams’ big roster moves and the ever-increasing parity in the men’s division, more things than normal were in question to start the year. But Revolver again put together an incredibly impressive season, and they still know how to win when it matters. They had some uncharacteristic large-margin losses in pool play at the U.S. Open, but they rebounded when it counted and took home the big check, their second in two years. And again, at Worlds, they faced some challenges but were always able to do what it took to win. And in another repeat of last year, after a strong season, Revolver seemingly faltered at the Pro Flight Finale. For the second year in a row, they finished fifth. But no one is questioning their talent or ability to walk away from Frisco with a fourth national title. Until another team can do enough to counter their mental toughness, Revolver is the deserving one seed.

Doublewide was one of the year’s most talked-about teams, but not for the reasons a team normally likes to be talked about. With the departures of key playmakers and veterans like Kurt Gibson, Mike Natenberg and Kevin Richardson, Doublewide needed to do some rebuilding. So they went out and added a bunch of young athletes – tall ones, of course. Doublewide is still one of the more physically imposing teams in the division, which they use to their advantage well. There weren’t many people who weren’t pondering just how the Well Nasty Brotherhood would fare this year, but they seem to be peaking at the right time. After two not-so-close losses to Johnny Bravo at the Pro Flight Finale, they challenged the Coloradans throughout the South Central Regional final, a game that eventually ended in Bravo’s favor 16-15. Doublewide claimed the region’s second bid with an easy 15-7 win over Inception. If they can carry that momentum into Nationals, they could make some noise in trying to defend their home turf. 

In a perennially hard-fought region, PoNY again defeated Garuda in the game to go from the Northeast, and again they find themselves in Pool A with Revolver at Nationals. PoNY is leading the charge in the utilization of statistics, the idea being that they’ll get a better, unbiased look at what really works for them, so they can implement effective changes in their game plans. It worked for the Oakland A’s, and by the time the weekend is over, we should be able to see whether it’s working for PoNY as well. After an exciting season in 2013 where many people expected them to play spoiler, they got knocked out of contention at Nationals in a nail-biter pre-quarterfinal against Machine. They’ll be looking for more this year.

Prairie Fire got a lot of flak throughout the year for sitting atop or near the top of the rankings, but they’ve proven they deserve to be in the competition field in Frisco. While many of the nation’s elite teams are one of the main attractions for ultimate players looking to make a move, resulting in a mixed bag of geographic and prior team affiliations, Prairie Fire is a homegrown team. Their players may not hail from the behemoths of college ultimate, but they’ve steadily been adding athletic, talented guys from Kansas, Kansas State, Arkansas and elsewhere across America’s heartland. As with most first-time Nationals teams, they have a tough road ahead, with the two most recent national championship teams sitting atop their pool. Even with an impressive looking 28-4 record, they’ll need to step up their game a notch when they arrive in Texas. They’ve only played three games this year against fellow Nationals teams, and they lost two of them, including a 9-7 defeat in a shortened game against PoNY, who they’ll see again in their third game on Saturday. The only win in that category was a 13-11 victory over Temper at Heavyweights. 


Pool B

B1 B2 B3 B4
2013TCT Rhino
Sub Zero
Washington, D.C.
Truck Stop


Chicago Machine is one of the more exciting stories of 2014. Their wins at the Pro-Elite Challenge – Chesapeake Invite and Pro Flight Finale – ECC are their first major tournament titles in as long as most anyone can remember. They’ve been a presence on the national scene for years, but they’ve never been able to break through to the semifinals at the National Championships. They’ve been hanging around in the fifth and sixth spots for the last two years, so maybe 2014 is finally their time. Anyone following the division knows about Bob Liu’s creative throws, but he is complemented by other capable throwers like Tom Annen and Stephan Mance, and they all have plenty of athletic downfield receivers to pick out. Machine’s explosive offense and lockdown defense, along with their impressive sideline energy, make them fun to for any spectator to watch and tough for any opposing team to play.

Portland Rhino is one of several teams in the field this year that is familiar on a broad level but still a bit unknown. They arrive in Frisco as the seventh-ranked team in the nation thanks to a 23-2 record, but they only played three other teams from the Nationals field during the season. They were handled pretty easily by Sockeye at Northwest Regionals, split games with Ring of Fire at the Elite-Select Challenge – Colorado Cup and have had Furious George’s number this year in all four of their match ups. And they’re young. Only two people on their roster have an age that starts with a three, and the team’s average age doesn’t quite reach 25. They’ll need to rely on their experienced players like Cody Bjorklund, Timmy Perston and new-to-Rhino but veteran-to-Nationals Adam Fagin to help lead the team through the weekend. Oh, and there’s always Dylan Freechild and all his talent, too. 

Sub Zero is a scary three seed. They’ve had a crazy season, beginning with filling in a spot at the U.S. Open, and they maintained a high level of competition throughout the year. If this were the NCAA, they would make the tournament thanks to their RPI, despite all the tick marks in their loss column. This pool presents interesting match ups for Sub Zero, as well. Despite the scary three seed moniker, they’ve also split games with the four seed in the pool, Truck Stop, so while looking ahead, they’ll also need to be careful not to slip. If Sub can take all the experience they’ve gotten over the course of the year and turn it into more consistency on the field, enough to match their potential, there could be an upset or two in their near future. 

If they were going to have to be a four seed, Truck Stop has to be pretty happy with how their pool ended up looking. They’ve already played both Sub Zero and Machine this year and very likely had a chance to do a little scouting of Rhino at Colorado Cup. Truck Stop’s season has been a mixed bag if you’re looking strictly at wins and losses, but nearly all their losses have been close. They lost one of their more talented throwers in Sean Keegan this year, but picking up Peter Prial won’t hurt anyone. After their worst Nationals performance in recent memory last year, perhaps it’s time for Truck to start moving back up the final standings. This pool provides them a good chance to earn a more favorable match up than their initial seed forvasts heading into Friday’s bracket play. 


Pool C

C1 C2 C3 C4
2014TCTLogos Temper
Ring of Fire


Sockeye vs. the east coasters: Flat out, Sockeye should win this pool. Up and down the roster, they have more depth and big-game experience than any of the other teams in Pool C. But they also have fallen short on more than one occasion this year. Their blowout loss at the hands of Sub Zero that kept them out of the U.S. Open semifinals surprised everyone, but they also got wins over Johnny Bravo and Ironside that weekend. They fared alright at the Pro Flight Finale, leaving their home tournament with a 3-3 record and a fourth-place finish after an early exit from bracket play thanks to Pool C’s three seed, GOAT. Their rematch in the first round of play this weekend should be fun. Northwest Regionals was a cakewalk for Sockeye, with six points being their smallest margin of victory. And when push comes to shove and you have guys like Matt Rehder, Joe Sefton, Nate Castine, et al., on the roster, you will always be in contention for a title. After getting so close last year, it’s a good bet the Fish have eyes on their first national title since 2007 in Frisco.

After a couple years of adjustments, the North Carolina men’s ultimate scene has combined once again with the top tier of players from Cash Crop moving over to join Ring of Fire. Names like Brett Matzuka, Tuba Benson-Jaja, Thomas Ward and Josh Berkowitz, names that had become synonymous with Ring ultimate, have moved on, and the team has retooled with some young guns. They also added a coach in Mike DeNardis who recently led North Carolina Darkside to the College Championship finals. His impact may have been felt early on: Ring’s performance at the Elite-Select Challenge – Colorado Cup showed more mental fortitude than the team has been known for in recent years. After coming out slow on Saturday and falling to Rhino, they rallied to close out the weekend with six straight wins and a tournament title, another something that’s been elusive for Ring recently. That also happened with a small squad. Fewer than 20 players made the trip to Colorado, so for Ring to succeed this weekend, the chemistry from that group needs to be equaled by the rest of the roster as well. Keep an eye on rookie Terrence Mitchell, who isn’t quite as much of an unknown anymore after his strong performance for the U-19 boys’ team at the World Junior Ultimate Championships, and North Carolina ultimate veteran but Ring first-timer Ben Dieter. 

Other than the late-season addition of Morgan Hibbert, it seems like GOAT has largely flown under the radar this year. Except that, in contrast to many other teams in the field, GOAT has played almost exclusively other Nationals teams this year. Among those games are wins over both Sockeye and Ring of Fire, which has to give them some confidence coming in. They also managed to upset Revolver at the Pro Flight Finale. But on the flip side, they also have big losses to Chain Lightning and Ironside and a strange blip in the form of a 13-7 loss to Boost from the Pro-Elite Challenge in July. GOAT is a talented team with a good mix of youth and experience that always comes to play at big tournaments. There is no reason to expect Nationals to be any different, making them likely to contribute to an exciting Pool C. 

Impulse : Pittsburgh : : Pittsburgh : Temper. The city of Pittsburgh has an impressive pipeline going on. Youth ultimate players get their start in the Pittsburgh High School Ultimate League before moving on to Impulse, the area’s U-19 YCC team, where they are coached by Nick Kaczmarek, and then moving on to play at Pittsburgh for En Sabah Nur, where they are also coached by Nick Kaczmarek. While they’re there, and after graduating, they have a chance to play alongside their inimitable coach with the local Pittsburgh club team, which this year is Temper. All this is to say that chemistry is likely never going to be this team’s problem, but experience might be. There are a handful of players on the roster with a few years of club play under their belts, but for the most part, they’re young. And thanks to an ill-timed appendectomy, Temper lost one of their experienced guys for Nationals in the form of Rob Dulabon. Temper has one quality win over PoNY from Heavyweights and should be fun to watch, but they aren’t the most likely dark horse in the field.


Pool D

D1 D2 D3 D4
Johnny Bravo
Chain Lightning
Furious George


Everyone loves the pool of death, except the teams that have to try and survive it. Ironside headlines Pool D as the overall four seed, and rightfully so. They finished the season second in the rankings but, excluding Worlds, with fewer games in their schedule than normal. But even with fewer games, they still managed to take on half of the Nationals field in just two tournaments. Ironside is the perennial team that almost could – they’ve qualified for Nationals every year since being founded in 2008 and have made it to the semifinals or finals each time. They just can’t quite seal the deal. Their roster is incredibly consistent, turning over just a few people each year, lending them stability in spades and an easier road to developing team chemistry in each new season. This year, they lost Peter Prial, one of their most consistent deep threats, to Truck Stop, but picked up JAM and Blackbird veteran Brian Garcia who started turning in major contributions as a downfield cutter almost immediately. They’ve also made a few changes to their offensive and defensive lines this year, in an effort to shake things up a bit, but it remains to be seen if those changes are enough to vault Ironside to their first national title. But first, they have to survive pool play against some of the more explosive teams in the competition field. 

If you follow ultimate and haven’t yet heard about Johnny Bravo’s 2014 roster additions, you must have either been vacationing on an island with no internet connectivity or had your head in the sand. But if you don’t know about them yet, you’ll know about them by the end of the weekend. This year’s iteration of Johnny Bravo is chock full of talent, from some of the game’s best throwers in Kurt Gibson, Nick Lance and Brett Matzuka to some of the game’s smartest and most hardworking players in guys like Bart Watson and Ryan Farrell. When they’re on, Bravo is practically unbeatable. Exhibit A: Their blowout win over Revolver in pool play at the U.S. Open. But when they’re down, they seem to stay down. They went 2-1 in pool play at the Pro Flight Finale, with just a one-point loss to Sockeye keeping them from perfection on the day. But during bracket play on Sunday, they went down early to Machine and couldn’t fight their way back. After that game, they lost two more consecutive games to finish dead last. Even if they play well, they’ll still have to figure out a way around Revolver to claim a national title. After two great tournament performances at the U.S. Open and Worlds, they couldn’t figure out how to get past Revolver, but maybe the third time is the charm. No matter what happens, Bravo is always fun to watch. 

Since the Southeast Region’s lines were redrawn to include North Carolina, Chain Lightning and Ring of Fire have fought with teams like Florida United and Omen over what is often two bids. After a crazy Chain blowout loss to Omen in the quarterfinals of Southeast Regionals this year, Chain and Ring didn’t have to face each other, and Ring claimed the regional championship for the first time since the redraw. Chain avenged that loss in the backdoor bracket before defeating Cash Crop to advance to Nationals for an amazing 26th time. Chain has plenty of talent; people like Nicky Spiva, Jared Inselmann, Byron Liu, Elliott Erickson, Jay Clark and others can all help keep the disc moving down the field, and they’re well-known for being an explosive team that likes to take deep shots at will. They already have one (big) win over Bravo from the Pro Flight Finale and certainly have the potential to do it again this weekend. That game (round two of pool play on Thursday) will be a big one for both teams, Chain coming off their first-round game against Ironside, who they haven’t seen at all yet this year, and Bravo looking to gear up and get in the right mindset for their match up with the pool’s one seed.  

The once-great Furious George, the team that won three U.S. title and has claimed 10 Canadian titles, seems to be floundering. They managed to qualify for Nationals last year thanks to a last-minute round robin tournament that gave them their required 10 games and went on to win a single game at the National Championships and leave Texas in 14th place. In 2014, they earned the Northwest’s third bid, a region where there hasn’t been a fourth team in real contention for Nationals (outside of Sockeye, Rhino and Furious George) in longer than most people can remember. Furious won some surprising games at the U.S. Open and still has some talent in the likes of Andre Gailits, Blair Underhill and Brendan Wong, but they also lost longtime heavy-hitters like Morgan Hibbert and Oscar Pottinger from last year’s squad. Given what will likely be a tough crossover match up in the pre-quarterfinals, this team has a tough road ahead. 

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