Neeley played at Regionals so here’s his first and second All-Region squads along with his reasoning. Feel free to to critique his decision making but please, be gentle, because he’s just coming off an injury.
All-Region picks are a tricky thing. Like MVP awards in professional sports, everyone defines the criteria for the accolade differently, and with as many opinions on the comparative importance of team finish, how integral a player is to his team’s success, and individual skill as there are readers, any writer who broaches the subject is doomed to rub somebody the wrong way.
Still, those of us with opinions are unable to resist, and here I am to offer my take on things. In picking my top seven, I put most value on which players contributed most on the teams that went deep into the tournament.
It’s no secret that the Atlantic Coast is deep in talent, and individual standouts were not all that hard to come by. Still, for better or for worse, Virginia or NC State’s third-best players had an advantage over well-known players like Sam Gainer, and Clemson’s very talented Ben Slade was less likely to make the team than his brother, Michael.
Also, it should be noted my picks are influenced as much by the field locations determined by my team’s schedule as they are my own opinions (although my decision not to play on Saturday and during Sunday’s pre-Quarter round due to a hamstring pull did afford me a bit more time to watch teams other than my own).
To neutralize this process, I decided to make both a first and second All-Region team. Without further adieu:
Robert Runner (Virginia)
While this is the quintessential “best player on the best team” pick, it is nothing short of hard-earned and well deserved. From the opening pull of pool play through high-pressure games against Florida and Georgia, Robert provided his team with pin-point throws, clutch Ds, and a cool, calm demeanor that led Virginia to its first ever Nationals berth. Also, the absence of an offensive starter had Robert playing on both sides of the disc throughout the entire tournament, making his performance even more impressive.
Tyler Conger (Virginia)
If Robert was Virginia’s steady force, Conger was the provider of this team’s firepower. His quick, creative movement of the disc kept things moving for an offense that relied on possession and efficiency, and his play in the air, especially on defense, was nothing short of electrifying. All the while, Conger drew other teams’ top defenders, and there is little doubt that Peter Dempsey, Chris Gibson, or Lucas Darden would disagree with this pick.
Peter Dempsey (Georgia)
That said, Dempsey wasn’t too shabby himself. He came up with numerous big plays in Jojah’s crossover against Florida, and while most of them were on D, the hallmark was his sky/layout on the goal line that led to the game-winning toss. When I saw the Bulldogs play, Dempsey always drew the other teams’ attention, and his return was a big part of his team’s success at Regionals.
Brodie Smith (Florida)
With the sweltering heat in Charlotte (along with Florida’s perhaps unwise decision not to rest its starters more on Saturday) giving him heat exhaustion, I don’t think we saw the best of Brodie this weekend. Still, he showcased superior athleticism on a number of his plays, the hallmark of which being a jaw-dropping sky on NC State’s Ken Porter to open up the game-to-go. Throughout the weekend, his presence on the field was commanding, and when he left the handler position, he was sure to draw a double or triple team.
Alan Kolick (William and Mary)
The Blue Ridge Section has known about Alan since his freshman year, and it seems that the rest of the Region is finally catching on. Sure, other teams like Florida State and Clemson have do-it-all guys, but Alan is a cut above the rest. His field vision is unparalleled, and every time he touches the disc he is likely to make one of those “I would never have even thought to throw that” passes that leaves you scratching your head. Any team who plays William and Mary has to adjust their defense to contain him, and even then it is unlikely that he’ll be stopped from throwing the smoothest, flattest break throws around while getting skies and lay-outs on top-notch opponents.
Rusty Ingold-Smith (UNC-Wilmington)
While I didn’t get to see Wilmington much this weekend, picking Rusty comes down to a play that he made during the one point that I watched during their pool play match-up with NC State. Brian Casey put up a huck to Rusty, who was picked immediately up by two Wolfpack defenders. Having already taken off at a full sprint, Rusty kicked it into high gear, and the look on his face let me know that he’d be pulling down the disc twenty yards before he got there. Needless to say, he skied both Ken Porter and Bobby Jones for the score, and although his team fell short this weekend, I’ve got this to offer about Rusty: he does it all for his team, he is impossible to guard, and an indomitable refusal to give anything but every ounce of effort in his body.
Ken Porter (NC State)
I had a tough time choosing between Porter and Brett Matzuka, but I’d be remiss not to give the nod to a guy whom I’ve twice pointed out as having been skied by my other selections by pointing out that KP made a plethora of breathtaking plays himself. When Virginia played NC State, the Wolfpack’s only reliable scoring option was a high, floaty huck to Porter, and in the game-to-go against Florida, he came up big over and over again, laying out to save some questionable throws and making sure to be wide open for the game winner.
Brett Matzuka (NC State)
Brett ran the show in their game-to-go, with his accurate hucks and break throws frustrating the hell out of an exhausted Florida team. As I said, choosing between Brett and KP for first team was a near toss-up, and had Brett’s play throughout the weekend matched that of his last, the scales likely would have tipped the other way.
Thomas Ward (NC State)
Ward gave Virginia fits at the ACC Championships, but wasn’t quite as dangerous at Regionals. Still, Ward’s impact for NC State was only reduced lightly, and his speed, leaping ability, and physical play were a big part of their run to Nationals. He is certainly a big time player, as evidenced by his layout block on Cole Sullivan on the final point of the game-to-go, and a few more weeks to recover from injury should have him performing at a high level in Columbus.
Sam Gainer (Emory)
To me, the best way to describe Gainer is a man among boys. The time on Chain has certainly paid off, as his speed, leaping ability, and field vision stands out among the top talent. He and a handful of others really carried Emory, and Sam looked to be enjoying the ride regardless of how Juice was playing, which is a sign of a true leader.
Jesse Macadangdang (Virginia)
Layout Ds, layout Ds, layout Ds. Robert and Conger draw a lot of press for Virginia, but its players like Jesse who make the Virginia defense what it is. Aside from his multi-point block, multi-score tear during the NC State crossover, Jesse came up with huge Ds against Florida and Georgia. Virginia is loaded with players ready to step up and defend, but Jesse rose above the crowd in Charlotte.
Noah Saul (UNC)
UNC is loaded with some young talent that will probably bring Darkside back into the regional foreground next year, and Noah is right in the thick of things. He does the little things to keep Carolina’s offense moving, getting upline exceptionally well and throwing upfield with accuracy, all the while defending and getting Ds on top cutters from other teams.
Tom Morris (Georgia)
Probably Jojah’s best cutter, Morris was getting open all day late into the Finals. He’s got quality throws to compliment his cutting, and his leadership was probably a big part of the Bulldogs’ success.
Ben Slade (Clemson)
While the Joint Chiefs didn’t have the best weekend, it’s hard to deny this guy’s talent. He runs Clemson’s offense and usually picks up the other team’s best players on D, but what really makes him noteworthy is that he’s virtually unstoppable in the air. An exceptional leader on a team that struggled all year, Slade is definitely worthy of an All-Region spot.