2014 TCT Pro-Elite Challenge - Men's Preview

Posted: July 11, 2014 04:27 PM

The second Pro-Elite Challenge comes this year to the Chesapeake Invite, held in Leesburg, Virginia and jointly organized by the Washington Area Frisbee Club and the Central Maryland Ultimate Association. This USAU Triple Crown Tour event will feature 12 open teams from the Pro and Elite divisions, all of which attended the 2013 National Championships. This will be the first major tournament of the season for every participating team other than Sub Zero, who took fifth last weekend at the US Open in Blaine, Minnesota. With each of these relatively untested teams looking to make a strong statement to start the season off, let’s check out the pool play matchups. 

Pool A

Doublewide comes into the Pro-Elite Challenge as the top seed and will look to improve upon their fifth place finish at Club Nationals last year. Although the 2012 national champions are losing all-stars Tyler DeGirolamo, Alex Thorne, and Mike Natenberg, they have retained a strong core which includes 2014 Callahan nominee Will Driscoll. Doublewide will go up against only one other Pro Flight team during pool play: Toronto’s GOAT. GOAT had a disappointing finish at last year’s Club Nationals (tying with Atlanta’s Chain Lightning for seventh place) after coming in as the top seed, and will play with about half of their roster on Saturday, making their early matchup with Doublewide a strong test of their (possibly) newfound chemistry.

PoNY, Ring of Fire, Madcow, and Boost FC will look to upset the two Pro-Flight squads for a shot at the championship bracket. Ring of Fire has experienced a lot of roster turnover since last year, losing both Brett Matzuka of Team USA and Ian Toner of the U23 National Team, but picking up Truck Stop veteran Daniel Kantor in addition to the core of Cash Crop, who has disbanded for the 2014 season. Ring also brings in Mike DeNardis as a new coach, who has constructed a young but clearly dangerous team. Look for UNC all-stars Jonathan Nethercutt and Christian Johnson to capitalize on any doubts that the competition may have about Ring, who boasts the longest string of Club Nationals appearances in the country. 

After a rough offseason, PoNY will start off Saturday with games against Doublewide and Ring of Fire, leaving little room for error in their semifinal aspirations. Veterans Chris Mazur and Robbie Gillies will look for a repeat of the 2013 Pro-Elite Challenge, where PoNY upset Atlanta hosts Chain Lightning for the win. Madcow and Boost FC both experienced disappointing finishes to last year’s season and will look to pull off some early upsets.

Pool B

Chicago’s Machine enters the Chesapeake Invite with an impressive roster that may be gearing them up for a strong Nationals appearance after only reaching quarterfinals for the last two years. Machine at this point is deeper than Doublewide after picking up a few guys from Madison Club and will contest their top seed in the championship bracket, assuming they can contain both Atlanta’s Pro-Flight Chain Lightning and Minnesota’s Elite-Flight Sub Zero. Chain will look to improve upon their disappointing loss to PoNY last year despite a substantial roster turnover which includes the loss of Dylan Tunnel additions of local college standouts Brian Moore (Alabama) and Sam Little (Georgia).

Sub Zero presents a danger to both Machine and Chain, especially after destroying Seattle Sockeye 15-8 and eliminating them from the bracket last weekend at the US Open. Sub Zero plays at an extremely fast pace centered around veteran handlers that demonstrates that they’re ready to contend with perennial semifinals contenders at Club Nationals. They also come into the Chesapeake Invite as the only team having concrete tournament experience this season and may have already worked out some of the kinks that other teams will face for the first time this weekend.

After their disappointing universe loss to Chain Lightning in the quarterfinals of Nationals last year, Washington DC’s Truck Stop is using the Pro-Elite Challenge largely as a tryout tournament, as many of their players have other obligations. Despite this, Truck is developing rapidly and is definitely still dangerous. The core of their offensive line has improved drastically during the offseason, even when considering the loss of Sean Keegan to Denver’s Johnny Bravo. Ironside cutter Peter Prial has jumped ship to Truck and along with Alan Kolick and Markham Shofner will run a relentless offense that has shown it is ready to contend with anyone. Their defensive line, led by captain David Cranston, shows enormous depth that allows them to consistently convert break opportunities. NexGen veteran Chris Kocher will also join Truck Stop this year in his first ever club season, bringing the team a massively talented but relatively untested player that will stand out on both sides of the disc.

Both Florida United and and HIGH FIVE come into Chesapeake looking strong after last year’s season. Florida United managed to, much like Ring of Fire, unify much of the talent within the state, including a great deal of players from successful college programs like UCF. The two will start off against one another on Saturday and will look to set a strong precedent for the rest of their season in order to lead up to a more impressive finish at this year’s Club Championships.

With the club season just taking off and a great deal of turnover from previous years, the Pro-Elite challenge will be the strongest indicator of talent that we’ve had so far this year, so stay tuned for more from Leesburg.