It’s no secret how Virginia ran into such success last season. Night Train was led by a ten-person senior class and that senior class was led by Robert Runner, now a National Champion with Chain Lightning.
Runner, in addition to being Night Train’s Callahan candidate, led the team on the field with a smart mind and an incredible presence in the huddle. We witnessed it first hand at AC Regionals as Virginia ran through the competition and there was no question that Runner was the head of the team. He was given great deference in between games, points and halves throughout the tournament.
So, while that gives us a lot of background and knowledge about where Virginia is coming from, it doesn’t answer a lot questions regarding how Night Train plans on getting back to where it left off last year.
How do you replace a Callahan candidate? How do you replace ten seniors?
Well, you start with Tyler Conger.
While Runner finished his summer off by winning a national title with Atlanta’s Chain Lightning, senior captain Conger matched his former teammate’s accomplishment by winning a title of his own with Charlottesville, Va.’s mixed team, Axis of C’ville.
Many would certainly ask whether or not Conger has what it takes in order to pick up where Runner left off as the leader of the team. As for his ability to influence the game, one need look no further than the 30-minute recap of the Club Finals, Conger took over the game for Axis and tore his opponents to shreds with well-timed and smart throws.
As for his ability to lead mentally the way the senior class ahead of him lead, Conger is aware that he’s got an uphill battle but he’s also quick to point out that he thinks his team is already ahead of the game.
“Our team last year was full of talent,” Conger wrote us in an e-mail. “The team this year knows what it takes to be successful.”
In addition to the advantage of watching last year’s seniors work for what they earned. This year’s team has the benefit of experience, both at College Nationals last year and during the club season this year.
“This year we have a few juniors who played a large part on their club team this past summer and came into this fall as completely different players,” Conger wrote. “Tom Licitra (Axis of C’Ville) is a tremendously smart thrower who can really make plays. Andrew Wilkes (Philly Love) is one of those guys who will be returning from injury just in time to play in CCC and he’s one of our biggest threats on both defense and offense. Another name who you might have heard is Jesse Macadangdang (Floodwall). (He has) a smothering mark that creates point blocks consistently, (he) acts as a staple on defense with smart play coupled with extreme athleticism.”
On top of players with experience, a main cog of Virginia’s team last season, Jonathan Neeley is returning as the coach of Night Train.
“As a coach, we look to Neeley to do the part of strategic planning both leading up to and during tournaments that we normally can’t focus on because we’re playing,” Conger wrote.
Neeley is also bringing a smart and unbiased mind to practice. Virginia has made minor alterations to its strategy from last year and Conger believes those changes have played a huge roles in Night Train’s early season success.
“Our offense is focused on moving the disc faster than the defense can move,” Conger wrote. “Sometimes it results in hucks, sometimes we throw 24 throws to get the disc in the endzone”
“Our defensive style can be characterized by a smart man defense that focuses on defending the parts of the field the opponent wants to use,” Conger wrote. “We’ve taught defense a bit differently this year, so we’ve got our rookies being in the right place at the right time more often than not.”
With all that in mind, Conger is confident that his team will be finishing the season in a similar, if not better, fashion than last year’s team.
“Our goal is Nationals,” Conger wrote. “I see that happening as long as we do the little things right, really focus on our gameplan, and give effort across the board. And when we go to Nationals, anything can happen.”
It’s not too late to take our survey on which teams to cover this weekend!