At UPA College Regionals this season the NC State Wolfpack forever burned itself into the memories of Ultimate players by beating the No. 1 team in the Nation, Florida, in the game-to-go, securing a spot for NCSU at UPA Nationals in Columbus, Ohio on May 22-25 and sending the Gators home for the summer. The Wolfpack had fought from the No. 5 seed to take the third bid to Nationals. Now NC State is attempting to do the impossible once again by defeating all odds and winning a National Championship.
This season has been one of constant improvement for the Wolfpack according to graduate captain Evan Bowles. The Wolfpack are a young team and haven’t won a tournament yet this season, two factors that certainly put them among the minority of teams going to Nationals. However, Bowles and the Wolfpack have made certain to focus on making themselves a better team.
“I do think that we have played better in each tournament this year,” Bowles wrote us in an e-mail. “We have learned from every tournament in offensive and defensive schemes, and what suits our team best. I think the reason we have been able to do that is that we have a good group of captains that are directing our team, a great coach in former alum James Murray who is keeping the captains fresh, and a great core of guys that bring intensity to every practice. Group that with a young team that is yearning for more experience and knowledge of the game, and you have a recipe to improve with each tournament that we attend. Because of this, we weren’t extremely discouraged with poor results early in the season, as long as we kept improving, that’s what we were trying to achieve. Anytime we felt we weren’t improving, we reevaluated what we were doing and found better ways of doing them.”
Along with that constant improvement has been a utilization of what Bowles told us was his team’s greatest asset at AC Regionals, numbers. NC State plays with a deep team of which nearly every member sees playing time on a consistent basis. With less games per day at Nationals one would think that those numbers may lose their effectiveness but the Wolfpack still plan to use its deep roster to its advantage.
“As for nationals, having those numbers can never hurt,” Bowles wrote. “It is quite a safety net to know that you can play as hard as you can for a point and, if you are exhausted afterward, you have 25 other guys that can step in and fill your role. Plus, never underestimate the power of the sideline. On those long points, its refreshing to hear your team pumping you up to dig through it and get the goal.”
That being said, NCSU also has the benefit of multiple players that have the talent to play with anyone on any team. Among those players are fifth year senior captain Thomas Ward, junior Ken Porter and sophomore Brett Matzuka. Each of those three earned All-Region honors from the UPA and, throughout NCSU’s season, have provided the Wolfpack with much needed leadership and talent. One need look no further than each player’s contribution during the AC Regional game-to-go to see how much each of them mean to their team.
Ward made a signature play when during the game-to-go, while suffering from groin and shoulder injuries, he made a layout point block against Florida to give NCSU the disc on game point. Not only that but Ward also accounted for three of the Wolfpack’s first four scores against the Gators.
“(Ward is) a stud,” Bowles wrote. “(He) always pushes his body to the limits and makes some ridiculous plays. (He)was a goalie in high school and it shows in some of his acrobatic plays. He is one of the more athletic players I’ve played with. (He is) one of the best cutters in both the college and club levels and an excellent defender.”
Porter stood out with a similar performance in the game-to-go. Whether it was skiing the dangerous Gator downfield cutters for D’s, saving possessions by laying out for ridiculous catches or catching the final hammer score to send NCSU to Nationals his presence was felt by everyone watching and playing in the game.
“(Porter is an) unbelievable athlete, but has developed a knowledge for the game with a year of club experience,” Bowles wrote. “In the game-to-go he began to take over the game with some great plays and confident throws. More importantly he keeps everyone loose on the team. Primarily a D player, he’s very fun to watch from the sideline.”
Matzuka’s style is a little bit different than Porter and Ward but no less important for the Wolfpack’s success. Matzuka focuses on the game and orchestrates a beautiful, furious attack from the handler spot that left many teams at AC Regionals scratching their heads.
“(Matzuka) is crazy,” Bowles wrote. “(He) never takes his mind off of ultimate. (He is) constantly trying to make everyone improve as well as himself. (He’s) a sneaky defender that can really annoy the opposition. On the flip side, one of the most creative players with the disc. While the throws he chooses may look silly, he rarely turns the disc and when he does, he is usually the one to get it back.”
NC State appears to have all the tools, from the dedicated and efficient program to the naturally talented all-stars and game-changers, all the pieces appear to be there. However, the Wolfpack have yet to put everything together in a single tournament yet this season. That is what Bowles hopes will change when NCSU travels to Columbus in two weekends.
“I expect us to play our best ultimate of the year (at Nationals),” Bowles wrote. “We have been improving each tournament, so I don’t look for that to stop. I think that we are one of 20 teams that has a chance. Everybody goes into the tournament with a clean slate so I obviously think we have a chance. The first goal is to get to Sunday. If we get there then we are one of 8 teams that have a chance.”
With that in mind, making Sunday is still a tall order. The field is competitive this season and considering that NC State already has losses to several other teams in the field. Bowles doesn’t believe that success for the Wolfpack is wrapped up in winning a National Championship.
“I only want us to play our best ultimate,” Bowles wrote. “If we do that then I think we have a great chance to make some noise and won’t be disappointed in the least.”