By: Louis Zatzman
Ultimate celebrates its 50th anniversary as the National Championships return to San Diego. The city previously hosted Nationals in 1988, 1992 and 1999, and this bicentenary celebration is chalk-full of storylines. San Francisco Revolver will look to capture their sixth title since 2010. Challengers like New York PoNY and Raleigh Ring of Fire will look to capture their first-ever National Championships. Past champions from the 2000-aughts, including Vancouver Furious George and Seattle Sockeye, will try to try to redeem themselves after last year’s letdowns. Sixteen men’s teams will descend on San Diego from Oct. 18-21, so here’s a preview for every team in the division, in order of seed.
1. San Francisco Revolver
It’s been a strange season for the men’s division’s most recent dynasty. Despite Revolver finishing the season with a stellar 15-2 record, PoNY is receiving an outsized share of the pre-Nationals press, due of course to their major tournament victories. Revolver failed to win either the Pro Championships or the U.S. Open, but that hasn’t been their fundamental goal. Make no mistake: Revolver is focused on Nationals.
Their expectations are sky-high. At the U.S. Open, Revolver beat Doublewide, PoNY, Truck Stop and Ring of Fire, yet the team’s performance was described by star cutter Antoine Davis as “shaky.” Anything less than perfection is not acceptable.
At their best, Revolver is the most demoralizing team in the world against which to play. They could feasibly win a full game with Ashlin Joye throwing hucks exclusively to Antoine Davis. Joye is one of the best throwers of all time, and Davis is one of the best deep cutters. Joye can throw virtually anyone open, and Davis is so fast he doesn’t need steps to be open. What makes Revolver so difficult to defeat is that they could also easily win a game with neither of those two even on the roster; Joel Schlachet, George Stubbs, Eli Friedman and others are all capable of slotting in as lead handlers. Simon Higgins, Marcelo Sanchez, Grant Lindsley and more are capable of roasting any defender deep at will. Revolver is the deepest and most talented team of the past decade.
At their worst, Revolver is still one of the best teams in the game. Yet they’re fallible. The offense commits sloppy turnovers on occasion, which Davis said was acknowledged and addressed by team leadership prior to regionals.
“Our offensive line has been a little shaky, and [before Regionals] there was some doubt going around on the team, and on the offensive line,” said Davis. “The team motto is like, when we lose, it’s really we lost. We’re coming into Nats where we think we can win every game, and any team that beats us, they played an impeccable game, and we probably made some errors.”
One of Revolver’s losses was to a scorching-hot Minnesota Sub Zero who did in fact play a nearly perfect game. The other was to a Jimmy Mickle-led PoNY team at the Pro Championships. Byron Liu was unable to contain Mickle, who freed himself at will for PoNY’s offense. Fortunately for Revolver, Nick Stuart is returning healthy for Nationals, and he is a far more imposing athlete than Liu; Stuart will likely guard Mickle if the two teams face each other.
Revolver is undoubtedly the favorite going into Nationals. “We’re all ballers on here,” said Davis of the team’s talent level. “Let’s go out and ball.”
2. Seattle Sockeye
Sockeye will be one of the most uncertain question marks at Nationals. 2018 was thought to be something of a rebuilding year for the fish after a disastrous 0-3 pool play performance at Nationals 2017. That proved not to be the case, as Simon Montague, Dylan Freechild and Matt Rehder dominated on offense, not to mention Trent Dillon continuing to be one of the best defensive players in the world.
Seattle has spent 2018 continuing to masterfully blend the old with the new. Danny Karlinsky, Duncan Linn, Sam Harkness, BJ Sefton, Chris Kosednar, Phil Murray, Rehder, and Montague have each been on the team for half a decade or more. Some for far longer than that. Almost all those guys are all in their late 20s or early 30s. Alongside the elder statesmen is new Sockeye blood, represented by Freechild, whose talents are increasingly defining Sockeye’s style more than Karlinsky’s. Freechild is the kind of star who can take over a game on offense or defense, with his throws or his legs. The roster will play fast on offense and poach heavily on defense; their style is no longer a revelation, but it is certainly still effective.
But what to make of their regionals loss to Furious George? Seattle had already qualified for Nationals by beating Portland Rhino Slam!, so it wasn’t a disastrous loss for the club. However, losing regionals still has meaning. Sockeye struggled on offense under the spotlight, which did little to erase memories of their 2017 debacle. Seattle is capable of competing with any team in the world, but they played few games against teams of their caliber this year. Large-margined victories over Madison Club (twice), SoCal Condors and Michigan High Five stand out, but Sockeye will be punching uphill to reach their former glory.
Their pool will have no easy wins, as DiG, Doublewide and Temper all have more talent than traditional 7, 11 or 14 seeds. Even though the road is hard, Sockeye is on a mission of redemption.
3. New York PoNY
PoNY is midway through one of their best seasons as a club. After a troubling start to the season at the Pro-Elite Challenge, they hit their stride, not losing a game since August 4 – right about when Jimmy Mickle and Chris Kocher joined the team. PoNY’s 14-game winning streak includes victories over Truck Stop (twice), Ring of Fire (twice), GOAT and perennial favorite Revolver. PoNY won the U.S. Open and the Pro Championships, and a victory at Nationals would give them the rare sweep of the Triple Crown Tour.
New York’s offense is practically automatic. Mickle has been the best player in the men’s division since his return from Australia. He’s always had every throw in the book, and he’s always been able to jump over anyone. He’s added consistency and mental fortitude that allow him to rise to even the steepest occasion.
However, Mickle has more than enough help. Ben Jagt is one of ultimate’s premier deep threats; he finished with 16 goals at last year’s Nationals – good for second in the tournament. Jagt is unguardable deep in single converge, especially when you factor in the quality of throwers sending the disc his way. Harper Garvey can reach the moon with his flick or hammer huck.
On defense, Beau Kittredge may no longer be the most athletic player in the world, but he’s a grinder, and he knows when to turn on the jets. He’s huge and smart, and his workhorse mentality allows the D-Line offense easy yardage gains at will. Chris Kocher is one of the best defenders in the world. Sam Little is vital – athletic enough to stick with the fastest receivers and still create blocks. His throws are pristine after a turn. New York plays a poach-heavy defense, and they’ve been able to fluster even the best throwers in the game. New York created oodles of turnovers while playing Revolver at the Pro Championships.
Revolver plastered PoNY 15-4 at Nationals last year. New York didn’t have the horses to compete, but they’ve remedied that this year. They have all the talent, and they’ve played as well as anyone this year. Though Revolver is surely the favorite, PoNY is a legitimate challenger. Don’t be surprised if they end up on top.
4. Raleigh Ring of Fire
Raleigh has walked to a 12-4 record this season, but they are winless against the three highest-rated teams they’ve played. Though their only losses have been understandable, to PoNY (twice), Revolver and DiG, Raleigh hasn’t yet beaten a team in the top 10 outside of a dominant victory over Chicago Machine at the Pro Championships. That’s concerning. Raleigh hasn’t beaten Revolver in almost a decade, which is yet more concerning. Though virtually any other team would be happy with their season thus far, Ring is displeased. They would not be happy with even second place at Nationals.
“It would be nice to get more wins at big-profile tournaments. But hopefully when you don’t get those wins, you get growth. And I think we’ve certainly done that,” said Coach Mike DeNardis.
Raleigh is a team with the theoretical talent level of Revolver, but without the hardware to show for it. Jonathan Nethercutt can take over a game and simply create points out of thin air. His full-field flick huck is obviously a weapon, but Nethercutt spent much of 2017-18 improving his decision-making. If he keeps his turnovers down, Ring will win. Coaches Mike DeNardis and David Allison have used Nethercutt in the stack more often this season, changing up the offense’s look to shift the point of attack. Though effective, it can only do so much; opponents know that at some point, the play will go through Nethercutt.
Handling in the backfield beside Nethercutt are stars in Noah Saul and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas, as well as shifty speedsters in Bob Liu and Brett Matzuka. Raleigh will have the most talented or second-most talented handling core at Nationals. Henry Fisher, Terrence Mitchell, Jonathon “Goose” Helton and Jack Williams are elite athletes capable of catching anything in deep space. Ring is so deep in the cutting position that the explosive Jacob Fairfax and Mischa Freystaetter play defense. The 6’7” Freystaetter is perhaps the most dominant big man in the world, with nimble feet and a surprisingly varied arsenal of throws. His length can bother any thrower.
At their best, Raleigh can trample anyone. They committed a single turnover against Atlanta in the finals of Southeast Regionals, and it came on a fluke. The only thing holding Raleigh back from dominance is themselves, yet they haven’t yet performed up to par under the brightest spotlights. Raleigh holds themselves to the highest of standards.
“We’ve certainly felt that pressure in terms of, hey, we should win these tournaments. And we haven’t,” admitted DeNardis. “My expectation is that we win. My expectation is that we win every tournament, because we’re capable of winning every tournament.”
They haven’t yet won enough to back up their expectations, but with so much young, dynamic talent in Raleigh, that’s sure to change eventually. Maybe this is the year.
5. Vancouver Furious George
Furious’ 27-4 record is deceiving. They’ve won one game over an elite-level team all season. That win just so happened to be in the Northwest Regional final against Sockeye. Furious spent much of the season beating up on teams nowhere near their skill level; however, their early season competition was supposed to be exactly the right level of difficulty for a team that struggled in 2017. The team is going through a youth movement, and it has progressed faster than expected.
“In retrospect, it’s easy to say the teams we’ve beat up on weren’t as good as us,” said do-it-all giant Morgan Hibbert. “[But] we weren’t very good last year. Heading into this year, I honestly think it was the appropriate level of competition for us.”
“If we had started playing at all the top-level tournaments, against the Sockeyes and the Machines and the Revolvers, I think we would have gotten s&#t-kicked, and it really would have hurt our development.”
The team has benefited from buy-in. Practice attendance has been stellar all year, as players have exclusively prioritized Furious in their schedules. The result has been consistent improvement shown easily by their season results against Rhino. Portland beat Vancouver in three straight tournaments spanning from June to August. However, come regionals, Furious smacked their Portland rivals 13-8.
On offense, Vancouver plays one pure handler in Tim Tsang and six position-less athletes. Anyone can take a handler spot, strike deep, initiate from the stack and rotate between all those positions. The versatility makes poaching difficult, which is how Vancouver was able to defeat Seattle at regionals.
Hugh Knapp quarterbacks the defense after a turn, which has greatly increased Vancouver’s ability to punch in the goal after creating a turn. Knapp’s throws are silky smooth, and he almost never makes a mistake. Knapp could easily make a name for himself if Vancouver makes some noise at Nationals. He oozes talent and rises to the challenge in big moments. Hibbert himself will moonlight on the defense if the offense seems to be rolling without him, and his massive frame can eliminate practically any offensive target. However, Vancouver’s secret weapon on defense is Irish import Robbie Brennan.
“When those guys come over, they come over to come play Frisbee,” said Hibbert. “That’s their thing. They’re here to play Frisbee. They’re super committed. [Brennan] is a short little stocky Irish guy, who is incredibly fast. Just torches everyone on our team, speed-wise.”
Brennan took the Dylan Freechild match up at regionals, and his success was a huge part of Vancouver winning. If the right pieces fall into place, Vancouver could accelerate their development further and win some games at Nationals. Their pool is a mixed bag, as Ring and Machine are both veteran squads with histories of success at Nationals. Either way, Vancouver is on the rise, and this year is proof of dramatic improvement. Just being at Nationals is a victory. Everything after is gravy.
6. Washington, D.C. Truck Stop
Among all teams at Nationals, Truck Stop has had the biggest difference in play between the beginning of their season and the end. In July and August, D.C. played to a 5-8 record, losing games to a variety of teams who aren’t Nationals-quality. However, they finished the season on a 9-2 spree, with an impressive win over DiG at the Pro Championships. That’s exactly the type of season any team would take; D.C. will be coming into Nationals red-hot.
D.C. won Mid-Atlantic Regionals with their virtually unstoppable deep play, as huck after huck found the end zone, despite the pouring rain during the finals against Temper. Darryl Stanley is one of the brightest offensive minds in the men’s division, and his offense proved infallible; Truck’s offense wasn’t broken a single time at regionals.
Truck Stop finished in an impressive fourth place at last year’s Nationals, and they have carried over a majority of their talent. Nate Prior, Lloyd Blake and Markham Shofner are elite throwers. The team is full of athletic cutters, but Eric Miner has shown up as perhaps one of the most impressive. Tyler Monroe is a devastating thrower out of initiation cuts. Rowan McDonnell has grown into perhaps the team’s best offensive weapon, and he can carry a large offensive burden if D.C. is struggling. The talent’s there for D.C. to put together another deep run at Nationals.
7. Boston DiG
This is the first year of union between Ironside and DiG. This year’s Nationals will thus be the first of surely several major measuring sticks to come in judgment of Boston’s new top dog. This year, they beat Ring of Fire and pushed Revolver at the Pro Championships. For Boston, it’s never been about the talent. Success is predicated on defining roles and organizing how the whole thing is supposed to work.
Against Toronto at regionals, it worked well. Boston lost to Toronto in pool play, but they earned revenge only a day later, retaining their own bid to San Diego. They won by empowering Tannor Johnson to dominate the offense. Even though Boston is an unbelievably deep team, Johnson has the potential to be the best player in any game. No Toronto defender could hope to stop Johnson’s deep strikes from the handler position.
Though incredibly young, the 6’3” Johnson has been surpassing even the loftiest expectations. Built in the mold of a Ben Jagt, he’s a gigantic cutter with incredible speed. Johnson is greedy for goals, and he’s strong enough to leap over a pile. Johnson’s throwing is underrated. After dominating the mixed division last year with Slow White, Johnson has dominated the men’s division this year for DiG. He’s the player around whom the offense should revolve, and Boston will rely on him in tight games.
Alongside Johnson are a variety of veterans from past championship teams. Jack Hatchett and Jay Clark have been all-division defenders for years. Rusty Ingold-Smith and Josh Markette are two of the most veteran players in the division, and their experience and talent will ensure Boston remains consistent under the spotlight of Nationals. DiG has not yet replicated the success of Ironside, who won Nationals in 2016. Perhaps they’re about to start.
8. Madison Club
The team with the least creative name in ultimate is enjoying an incredible season. Coming off a poor season in which Madison just finished as the Great Lakes Top Select team, they managed to dramatically improve after losing a number of veteran talents. Madison Club finished the season with a 14-4 record, sporting losses only to fellow-Nationals attendees Sockeye (twice), High Five and Sub Zero. For Madison to succeed at Nationals, they’ll need to avenge past losses; Sub Zero and High Five are both in their pool, along with the dreaded Revolver.
“The team is going to be engaged with the prospect of redeeming ourselves in those situations. I’m excited. I’m a person who likes to get that chip off my shoulder,” said defensive star Kevin Pettit-Scantling, regarding both Sub Zero and High Five being in Madison’s pool.
Madison Club is huge. Dave Wiseman is a gigantic initiating cutter who sports a wide around-backhand. Offensive cutter Colin Camp has developed his throwing to the point where he has no weaknesses, and he remains electric in the air. Even Kevin Brown and Ben Nelson are larger than opponents expect. Peter Graffy tops it all off. Though not the tallest player on the team, Graffy is unbeatable in the air, and he can go every-other when the offense tightens up.
Defenders like Chase Marty and Pettit-Scantling are natural grinders. They use their athleticism to wear down opponents, and they can often factor opponents’ top cutters out of games. Pettit-Scantling in particular has a nose for making thrilling blocks at the largest possible moment. He’s tall and fast, with long arms and monster hands, able to reach that extra inch in front of a cutter. Veteran Andrew Meshnick is an expert defender on the mark.
Madison has long emphasized depth and conservative offense, but they’ve gone in a slightly different direction this year, after losing players who had been in the system for years, such as Andrew Brown, Brian Hart and Pat Shriwise.
“It was very different. It felt like starting over with a new team. It felt as though we had an opportunity to really build from scratch,” said Pettit-Scantling.
Madison now has the ability to open things up and compete with anyone on offense. They will still wear down opponents while on defense, using physicality and persistence to take away anything up-field. They will double or triple team the sure-to-come Hail Mary huck. Even if Madison doesn’t have the single best player on the field in any game, consistent and forceful defenses are difficult to beat. Madison will have a chance to beat any team that wavers for even a few points at a time.
9. Chicago Machine
Like a few other teams this season, Machine has not yet played up to their expectations. It’s difficult to know what to make of Machine’s season, but it’s important not to overact. Chicago played an ugly Pro Championships, where they only beat Philadelphia Patrol. However, they were missing Kurt Gibson for the whole tournament and Pawel Janas for most of it. Chicago has wins over Doublewide and DiG this season, but Machine has mostly been defined by an inability to beat any teams in the top six, as Chicago finished 0-5 this year against PoNY, Truck Stop and Ring.
Chicago is not lacking top-end talent. Kurt Gibson remains one of the greatest men’s players in history, and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down this year. Mike Pardo and Ross Barker are elite deep threats: Pardo for his size and strength, Barker for his blazing speed. Travis Carpenter is a versatile threat, and Pawel Janas is one of the most talented throwers in the division.
Machine is still building their chemistry, and the few weeks between regionals and Nationals have been critical for Chicago. They have a wide variety of possible outcomes. If Gibson and fellow offensive stars like AJ Nelson finally click, Chicago could overtake Ring and Furious, the two better-seeded teams in Machine’s pool. If Machine’s offensive stars fail to click, Chicago will likely repeat last year’s performance at Nationals, where they failed to qualify for the Pro Flight after upset losses to PoNY, Florida United and Sub Zero.
10. Portland Rhino Slam!
Portland has had a full season, finishing 33-5, and playing by far the most games among teams at Nationals. Like Furious, they’ve beaten up on teams in their region, but Rhino has had a few more games played against elite teams. Portland played at the Pro-Elite Challenge, where they got encouraging victories over DiG and the Condors. Rhino even beat Sockeye at CBR Memorial early in the season.
Rhino has a few top-end talents in 2018 additions Will Lohre and Adam Rees, but the team is mostly defined by youthful energy. The addition of the Oregon contingent, along with Hylke Snieder – who won Nationals with Johnny Bravo in 2014 – adds experience to an otherwise up-and-coming roster. While rebranding back to their original name this year, adding “Slam!”, Portland has had an excellent season. They will face competition at Nationals against which the team has not yet been tested, but never count out young legs.
11. Austin Doublewide
Perennially under-ranked, Doublewide beat every team not named Revolver at Nationals last year, finishing second. This year’s roster has been far less dominant, but there’s every reason to expect Doublewide’s play to improve in San Diego. Health has been a massive factor in Doublewide’s up-and-down season, and a variety of players remain injured. Several won’t play at Nationals, including Kevin Richardson, Sam Ward, Abe Coffin and Gabe Hernandez. However, in San Diego, the team should be at its healthiest and most consistent yet this year. They’ve finally have time to practice in the lead-up to Nationals, after having precious little time to iron out the kinks throughout the season.
It’s easy to forget that Doublewide won the whole thing in 2012. It was different roster then, with only Andrew Walch, Dalton Smith and Rory Orloff as carry-overs from that title team; however, the expectation of success remains consistent.
“I think the expectation is that we can compete with anyone, and we want to be there on Sunday,” said team veteran Brandon Malecek.
Doublewide has no shortage of top-end talent. Jay Froude, Smith, Carson Wilder, Chase Cunningham and Chris LaRocque are incredible players. Malecek himself has hucks as accurate as any in the world. LaRocque however, in his first year with the team, will be Doublewide’s candidate to lead their Nationals stat sheet.
“He’s dangerous. When he has the Frisbee, he can pretty much put it anywhere. And downfield, he’s pretty tough to manage. I think he’ll probably be one of our strongest weapons, from getting the disc downfield to the cutters and attacking. He’s pretty good in that role,” said Malecek of LaRocque.
Doublewide struggled – according to their lofty standards – to a 9-6 record this season, but an August win over PoNY at the U.S. Open is evidence of Austin’s ability to punch with the best. Their roster is functionally the same as the 2017 roster that tore through Johnny Bravo, Florida United and Truck Stop in the championship bracket. Austin could well beat a variety of better-ranked teams at Nationals again this year.
12. Minneapolis Sub Zero
Minneapolis had an up-and-down 14-9 season against a very difficult level of competition; however, Sub Zero will go into Nationals with a strut to their step after beating Revolver this year. Sub Zero can pitch a perfect game, and we know this because they’ve done it before. Furthermore, they’ve also already beaten Madison and High Five this season. Those teams, in addition to Revolver, make up Sub Zero’s pool.
On offense, Josh Klane and Jason Tschida are impressive handlers who make few mistakes. Ryan Osgar is an incredible initiating cutter, with pinpoint downfield throws and sneaky athleticism. Greg Cousins is a monster downfield with surprising disc skills. Nick Simonelli, as always, has filled up the stat sheet. Minnesota is blessed with disc skills across the roster, and they are comfortable playing in any conditions – they’ll be hoping for as much wind and rain as possible in San Diego.
Sub Zero can be flustered by physicality, and they lost to GOAT at last year’s National Championships and can struggle at times against Madison Club. That being said, they beat Madison at regionals. Sub Zero can shock anyone if their handlers throw consistent aces, which we know is possible. For Sub Zero to beat higher-ranked teams at Nationals, their cutting core, especially Osgar and Simonelli, will need to out-match occasionally more athletic defenders. If Minneapolis’ cutters can consistently find themselves open, Sub Zero can win any game.
13. Michigan High Five
High Five is a newer club team that burst onto the scene in recent years, even beating Machine, Prairie Fire and Doublewide at Nationals in 2016 to snag the final Pro Flight spot. Though 2017 was a down year, High Five will be heading back to Nationals after a 14-10 regular season against elite competition.
Though High Five lost to Machine at regionals, they have beaten a variety of Nationals-caliber teams this year, including PoNY, Chain Lightning, Machine and Sub Zero. Even their Nationals-qualifying win over Brickyard was impressive, as High Five easily beat a talented and hungry Indianapolis team. Michigan is led by Keegan North and Paul Arters, though Joe White is quickly making a name for himself at the club level. The young and athletic cutter could put a variety of defenders on a poster at Nationals if they’re not careful – or even if they are. Johnny Bansfield is an athletic defender with a knack for theatrics.
High Five thrives against teams that are low on energy. If highly ranked teams enter Pro Flight qualification games after emotional losses, High Five will be happy to prolong their misery. Michigan plays with vigor, and despite boasting a variety of talents, that will be their strongest weapon at Nationals.
14. Pittsburgh Temper
This year ended a long string of failures at regionals for Pittsburgh, and Temper’s consistent inability to qualify for Nationals since 2014 could easily overshadow the talent on this team. Finishing 24-4, Temper has done a whole lot of winning this year. Despite finishing in the Top Select spot after last year’s disappointment, Temper cleaned up at the Pro-Elite Challenge in September. As the worst-ranked team in the field, they won every game other than the finals, defeating Sub Zero, PoNY, High Five, DiG and Sockeye. We know they can get hot, and we know they can perform against Nationals-caliber teams.
However, a month later at the Elite-Select Challenge, Pittsburgh laid an egg. They were the number-one seed, and the weighty expectations proved too much. Temper similarly lost badly to Truck Stop at regionals, despite being the better seed. Fortunately for Temper, they will enter Nationals as one of the lowest seeds: the perfect position from which to upset teams and make a deep run as an underdog.
As far as talent goes, Max Sheppard and Tyler DeGirolamo are a near-impossible one-two combination in the air. DeGirolamo has dominated in the past against even the best players, and many have viewed him as a potential uber-star in the vein of Jimmy Mickle or Kurt Gibson. Though he’s been hampered by knee injuries in past years, he’s been healthy this year. Furthermore, Temper picked up some players from Boston and Philadelphia, including handler Thomas Edmonds and former mixed division standout Michael Ing who Temper will be missing at Nationals after a foot injury at regionals. Though it’ll be Pittsburgh’s first year at Nationals in a long time, they have the necessary ingredients of talent and experience.
15. Denver Johnny Bravo
Only three players remain from Denver’s 2014 title team: Denny Bechis, Stanley Peterson and Henry Konker. Johnny Bravo has spent a few years bleeding away their veteran talents, including Jimmy Mickle and others. The team has, as a result, turned towards a youth movement.
Early in the season, it worked beautifully. Johnny Bravo ran their way to victory at the Pro-Elite Challenge, beautifully blending old with new. Bravo isn’t short on talent; Peterson remains a monster, Ben Lohre is terrific in the deep space, and Matty Jackson is an underrated player either as a center handler or a speedy cutter. Jackson mentioned to me early in the season that it was just more fun winning with this team, surprising folks as youth and energy overwhelmed opponents’ heavy legs.
The magic has worn off some, as Bravo struggled at the U.S. Open and Pro Championships. They put up a valiant effort in a loss to Doublewide at regionals. Bravo will need to regain their confidence before Nationals, especially in a pool with PoNY and Truck Stop.
16. Atlanta Chain Lightning
Despite an impressive 20-3 record this season, Chain Lightning struggled against Nationals-caliber teams. Their most impressive wins of the season came early, when they beat both GOAT and Temper at the Elite-Select Challenge. In the finals of Southeast Regionals, Chain didn’t manage to force a single turnover from Ring of Fire beyond a simple flub from Jonathan Nethercutt. They have missed the outbound Kelvin Williams, whose athleticism could be counted upon to create at least one turn a game. For Chain to thrive, they’ll need to out-quick and out-think opponents.
Chain thrived against less-talented teams at regionals by playing a peculiar brand of small-ball – a far cry from their previous reputation as a team that likes to huck. Coach Miranda Knowles has tried to focus on high-percentage plays. The team frequently sets up without handlers in the dump space, giving cutters extra room to cut perilously close to the disc. Against teams with less athleticism, it works like magic, with lightning-fast star Matt Smith leading the attack. Parker Bray is young but immensely talented, and the team hopes that as his decision-making improves, he can become a star capable of dominating any defense.
The question is whether that attack will find traction against defenses with speed equal to Chain’s offense. If Bray, Smith, Christian Olsen, Daniel Sperling and others play at their peak, Chain will be able to surprise some teams at Nationals due to their ability to retain possession of the disc.