May 25, 2015 by Simon Pollock in Preview with 0 comments
It’s been near impossible to talk about the top of the Men’s division without mentioning Oregon Ego or North Carolina Darkside in the conversation for the last four years. For Oregon, this finals appearance eradicates the long-purported conspiracies about a team that couldn’t get over the mental hump of the semifinals. For Carolina, it’s a return to the last, most important game of the season–this time with experience gained from 2014.
This final matchup will also feature two winners of the Callahan Award: Oregon’s Dylan Freechild won in 2013, receiving recognition for his ability take over games and his signature give-and-go style. UNC’s Jon Nethercutt just walked away with his trophy yesterday, his throwing prowess carrying his team throughout the 2014 and 2015 seasons. One of them will walk away from today a college national champion, and it’s the last chance for both.
Oregon’s precipitous rise to college ultimate’s biggest stage comes on the heels of repeated semifinals appearances, but the Ego that takes the field later today is much more measured, patient, and dangerous. After an 0-2 start the tournament, they’ve put together a 5-0 turnaround, literally running their way through the competition.
North Carolina may be the best matchup for Oregon so far, with a fleet of speedy defenders and a dynamic set of defensive strategies to gum up the Ego offense that relies so heavily on creating space on the open side. Oregon’s hucking discipline, manifesting itself as player after player catching an under and holstering as a teammate clears hard into deep space, has kept their offense well under control until the reached the red zone. Expect Darkside coach Mike Denardis have that offense broken down, with his junk looks adjusted to force Oregon players other than Dylan Freechild to attempt around and break side throws.
Darkside will need more discipline than they have all tournament to keep Ego in check. The Carolina offense, while formidable, has a penchant to get huck happy with their big throwing leader Jon Nethercutt. They’ve relied on speed and switching to create extra turns and get holds, but Ego is not the type of team to waste break chances.
The Carolina defense has been remarkable in the postseason, and it’s on that side of the disc that Darkside has eaten their fill. While they may have struggled earlier in the year to convert, they’ve applied brutal pressure with a combination of bigs in Nethercutt and Ben Snell, while using the speed of JD Hastings, Nick MacLeod, and Nathan Kwon to hassles offensive backfields and looks underneath. After the turn, Nethercutt’s ability to get open on resets and work towards both sides of the field until he finds his spot is bolstered by his rapport with Snell, and the two help to run the show for Darkside until the D-line can find an opening for the break score. Oregon’s biggest challenge may be gearing their offense up to play defense against Carolina’s D-line.
For Nationals, Carolina also welcomed back two key defenders in Tim McAllister and Vik Sethuraman from injury, who made veteran plays for the team in the semifinal against Central Florida. Both got their big game experience on this stage against Colorado in 2014 and could be X-factors for this already heady D-line.
As the wind continues to gust here at Uihlein Stadium, the edge in this game may go to Darkside with their heavy focus on defensive strategy and ability to make adjustments based on conditions. That said, they have struggled offensively with wind historically. Oregon will need to pick their shots well and may be forced to work to the break side of the field well before they reach the red zone. Ego will also need to contend with Nethercutt, who’s yet to really be limited by a defense this tournament.
No matter how this final ends, one Callahan Award winner will walk away with a trophy, and the other will never have another shot in this Division. Freechild was relaxed after his semifinal win, feeling good about finally making it to this game and knowing that his teammates have risen to the challenge after a bad start to the weekend. When asked about what Ego would need to do today, he said, “Hmmmm. Have fun. It’s the same thing, just have fun. Attack their best players, take your chances, play our game, and have fun.”