The University of North Georgia hosted their very first tournament, the Dahlonega Dodgefall Fest, this past weekend (and for anyone still wondering, it’s pronounced “duh-lawn-eh-ga”). Visiting teams included Georgia Southern, Virginia Commonwealth, and Western Kentucky. It was an interesting tournament with some pleasant surprises and takeaways from the event. Ultimately, WKU came out of the event as the big winners, moving up from #12 to #10 in the Gonzalez rankings after finishing 3-0 on the weekend. Here is a quick recap of some of the observations made throughout the day, and the implications and things to watch for going forward.
UNG’s Top Talent Can Compete with Anyone
Despite being a brand new team, the Nighthawks showed that they have the ability to compete against many of the veteran teams in the country. Their two losses to VCU and WKU were 3-0 and 5-1 respectively, but it would be tough to say that represented their performance accurately. They were within 1 point of each game going into halftime, with a 1-0 deficit against VCU and a 2-1 deficit to WKU, and there were many opportunities for UNG to tie during each match. In the end, the lack of experience and a couple of key plays not going their way resulted in their defeats, but this will not be the case in the future.
A large part of the impressive showing has to do with the play of two of their captains, Liam Bartlett and Kyle Dattelbaum. Liam’s experience in Elite translated well into the NCDA format, as he made a lot of key plays for his team, including being able to stall out points for a significant amount of time in order to keep his team in the game. Kyle almost pulled off an amazing comeback in a point against WKU. He was faced with a 1 v 11 situation, and made some big time throws and catches to bring it within 1 v 4 before getting out. Their poise and leadership shined throughout the day, and I fully expect them to make their team better as the season goes on.
Some other players for their team who had big impacts throughout the day include Jacob Tuttle, Noah Epstein, and Matt Bednarick. They make up a solid bit of the production for their team and will be important pieces for them going forward. This can be a potentially nightmare overtime matchup for any team, and I expect this group to pull out more wins for them sooner rather than later. The biggest key for this team however will be the development of players outside of their top 5 or 6. Once they get a little more practice in and get the chance to play more games, expect to see this team shoot up in the rankings as soon as next semester.
VCU Still Has Depth Issues
Much the same with UNG, VCU has demonstrated that their top level players can compete with anyone in the country. However, this weekend WKU was able to expose some of VCU’s players and secure their 3-2 win in the second half. In order for this team to make a significant impact come Nationals, they will need to start getting stronger performances from more players, or get more of their top talent to travel more frequently. There is no doubt that they are able to have an impact on a match, it has happened in spurts throughout the semester. The biggest issue is getting the more consistent play from these players to not only keep the team in a game, but also get them back into a game or seal a win.
On a side note, this has without a doubt been the best VCU has ever looked as a team. Even with what I said about where their depth is currently, it is miles ahead of where they were in past seasons. If they continue their progression upward, then there is a very good chance they could see themselves in the second round at Nationals this year.
WKU Continues Their Win Streak
Dating back to Akron’s Pink-Out tournament, the Hilltoppers are on a 6 game win streak which is the third longest active streak behind GVSU (8) and UK (7). This moves them to 7-1 on the season, and #10 overall in the country. Considering this team started in the bottom half of the rankings, it would be hard to imagine that they are in the position they are in now. Their success has been for the most part a well-rounded team effort, with some extra help from guys such as Wilson Horner and Tyler Proctor.
One of the issues for this team going into the year was seeing who would step up and be a leader for this team in-game as well as off the court. Nick Johnson has done a great job in both regards, but it seems that his team has progressively started to pick each other up and put themselves in a position where anyone can step up and be “the guy.” There will be many people who want to see just how long WKU can keep this up, but for the moment, they are riding a very high wave for their program.
GSU Is Young but Hungry
Unfortunately, the Eagles got the short end of the stick on the weekend with losses to UNG, VCU, and WKU. To their credit, they were only able to come with 11 players total, one of which who had to play on a twisted ankle over the course of the entire day. I think what impressed me the most about this team was their willingness to keep competing and also learn from some of the other teams there at the tournament.
Another credit for them is that they progressively improved throughout the day. After each consecutive game they started doing more things well whether it was catching, communicating, or just working better as a team, and this was reflected in their scores as well. While this team may not be in a position to be ultra-competitive this year, everyone should keep an eye on where they will be a couple years down the road. Once they get their full squad on the court and reflect on the lessons learned at UNG I have faith they will continue to get better.
VCU def. UNG 3-0
WKU def. GSU 10-0
VCU def. GSU 8-0
WKU def. UNG 5-1
WKU def. VCU 3-2
UNG def. GSU 6-0