There’s a lot of pressure with being on top. Everyone loves to beat the Yankees, the Patriots, the Red Wings and the Lakers. These teams are the types of teams that come into seasons and playoffs with giant, glaring targets on their backs. The Florida Gators (34-2) are the equivalent to these teams in Ultimate. While the Gators have been as dominant in the last several years as Wisconsin, there is something about their swagger that makes people strive to top them.
However, one thing that all of those teams have in common is that they never let that pressure get to them. The Gators and their captain, senior Brodie Smith, share that blissful ignorance of pressure with their professional counterparts and it will show at AC Regionals in Charlotte this weekend.
“It doesn’t really change anything for us,” Smith wrote us in an e-mail. “We just love to play and we know regardless of our seed whoever we play is going to give us their best shot.”
Teams have been giving Florida their best shot all season but the Gators have been more or less impervious to that pressure for most of the season. The only exception being two games throughout the course of the year. The first game, a showcase game against Regional rival Jojah, took place at Florida Warm Up in the Gators’ first tournament of the season. UF faltered, losing 13-11, and were subsequently removed from Warm Up’s championship bracket.
“We got away from our game (at Warm Up) that was mostly my fault,” Smith wrote.
Since that weekend in late January Florida has won every tournament that it attended. The Gators have won every single game they’ve played except for a single loss to the No. 2 team in the nation, Carleton College. The scariest thing for the rest of the teams in the field at AC Regionals is that the Gators are just now starting to sync up. According to Smith, UF will be playing its best Ultimate of the season when it arrives in Charlotte.
“We are hitting our stride right now,” Smith said. “Everything is clicking and we’ll be ready to go come April 25th.”
One the crucial aspects to Florida’s performance has been its experience at national tournaments versus Regional tournaments. Smith believes that his team has learned under fire during weekends like Trouble in Vegas, The Stanford Invite and Huck Finn.
“Well, (playing at big tournaments) has given our young team a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “We know that if we play our best, nobody can beat us. But if we come out flat, we can lose to anyone.”
That being said, Smith recognizes that this weekend may be the toughest weekend the Gators have had all season. The AC Region contains some of the best teams in the nation and when teams are fighting for their seasons, there is no telling what they are capable.
“Over the last few years AC Regionals has always been one of the most competitive tournaments,” Smith wrote. “Every year you know that Florida, Georgia and North Carolina are going to be good because they are great programs that produce year after year. Then you add in Virginia and Wilmington who have had great seasons so far, NC State who has had some good wins and a team like Tennessee who has beaten the defending champs this year. You have a good group of teams there.”
While Smith is renowned for his talent on the field it will require great play from more than just Smith to power the Gators on to Nationals this season. Smith told Monup that the players to watch for Florida include senior Chris Gibson, sophomore Travis Catron junior Alton Gaines and sophomore Alex Hill on defense, as well as graduate student Miguel Palaviccini, senior Chad Dahne, junior Cole Sullivan, graduate student Fernando Lugo and senior Geoff Chiles on offense. Sullivan and Smith move the offense while Gibson heads up the defense. Smith is confident that these players and the rest of his squad are prepared to do whatever it takes to win the Region and move on to UPA Nationals.
“Everybody knows what they have to do,” Smith wrote. “It’s a tournament that we have been thinking about for a while now. I expect the same out of my boys that I have seen all year. We love to compete and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
There is no doubt that all signs since the beginning of the season have been pointing to Florida making a run at the National championship. Now Smith and the rest of the Florida boys are more than ready to defend their AC Regional Title. The Gators are on a mission and it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping them.