Sometimes the hardest part of the road is the middle of the road. While the people at the top are applauded and the people at the bottom are pitied, the people in the middle, at times, cannot seem to find a place to fit in. Such has been the case for the Clemson Ultimate Joint Chiefs in the 2009 preseason.
The Joint Chiefs have seen success as varied as a semifinals appearance at their home tournament, Joint Summit, to a 2-4 performance at Queen City Tune-Up. Coping with the ups and downs of such a schedule certainly hasn’t been easy on the boys from Upstate South Carolina.
“It’s been tough,” Clemson captain and graduate student Ben Slade wrote us in an e-mail. “Despite taking half on teams like Forida, N.C. State, ECU and Dartmouth our team has consistently underperformed in the 2nd half. Just like winning solves all problems, close losses certainly wear on us.”
Nonetheless, Slade and company have managed to stay on the bright side of things. Many would be quick to count Clemson out considering its 14-16 record and that Clemson is 1-4 against Sectional A team competition this preseason. However, Clemson’s five games against Sectional competition is tops among teams attending GA/SC Sectionals this weekend. Slade, despite the team’s record in the previous matchups, sees the Joint Chiefs’ experience against the section as a huge positive.
“(Our experience against other teams in the section) gives us a big boost on teh defensive side of things,” Slade wrote. “We are able to tailor our strategies so that teams have to beat us with their 3rd or 4th options. Anytime we can make them move away from their strengths, it gives us an advantage.”
Slade also has confidence that his team has learned from their early season stumbles and second half collapses. The Joint Chiefs proved at Southerns that they are not quickly done away with, nor are they as weak in the second half, as they were earlier this season. Slade and teammates aren’t going to get stepped on this weekend.
“I think we’ve managed to avoid (a losing) train of thought,” Slade said. “We had a 15-13 win over Virginia Tech at Southerns after being down 8-2. So we’re hoping that was more of an early season trend.”
After taking their lumps Slade is confident that Clemson has learned a thing or two. Of course, he also believes that the Joint Chiefs have been learning all season under the tutelage of a legendary figure on the Atlantic Coast Regional scene.
“Actually, Clemson has been missing three puzzle pieces to be a contender within the region,” Slade wrote. “The first puzzle piece is a knowledgeable leadership team to structure practices. Adding ECU legend Ben Dieter as a coach this year has been a huge help in this area. The second puzzle piece is big-game experience. Our shcedule this year is the strongest it’s ever been. The final puzzle piece is a healthy roster.”
So it’s apparent that Clemson has employed an experienced coach to help them prepare for the series as well as experience with high quality ultimate. Now, the only thing that the Joint Chiefs need is their health.
“We’ve had five players out since February 1st with knee injuries,” Slade wrote. “The team’s been playing shorthanded all season and sectionals will be no exception.”
With or without injuries Slade thinks that Clemson has a strong chance for a good showing at Sectionals. The team’s performance will depend on offensive consistency.
“Clemson will be successful if they are able to give their stars adequate rest on Saturday. If they can take control after every halftime and if they are able to sonsistently score on offense. The defensive line will create opportunities but that’s not possible if the offense is unable to get them back on the field.”
Clemson has faced a lot of adversity this season. From injuries to mediocrity, the Joint Chiefs have powered through plenty to put themselves in a good position for this weekend. However, an outsider would certainly have to wonder if, considering their middle of the road position through this season, if Clemson will be able to summon the fire it will take to get to Regionals. Wouldn’t they be fine with a middle of the road finish?
“In answer to (that) question,” Slade wrote. “No.”
Clemson will be spending its Saturday pool play facing off against Emory, Georgia Tech-B, Georgia Southern-B and Georgia State.