Mailbag: College Champs, Club Predix, High School Growth

Charlie Eisenhood talks College Championships, makes predictions for Club 2014 and College 2015, and more in this week's mailbag.

Mailbag! Let’s do this.

Q: Within the past few years, UNC has started drawing heavily from the local youth scene: many of the rookies this year were with the Triangle area’s U19 team, and many had sizable roles and play time in the college championships this past weekend.

Colorado, as we know, did something considered quite radical – zero rookies, and a slimmed-down roster of 23.

In future years, do you see more teams following Colorado’s lead, or UNC’s? On the one hand, the rapidly growing youth scene could allow teams to have game-ready rookies every year, but on the other hand, some teams might have such enormous depth that taking rookies is unnecessary.

– Dan M.

A: Great question, but it neglects a critical point. Colorado already has an unbelievable, in-house development system in their B team, which allows all those rookies to get lots of playing time and skill building rather than grow cobwebs on the bench at tournaments with the A team.

There’s a reason Colorado has been a super power of college ultimate for many years — the program goes deeper than a gifted year like 2014 and the team develops depth for the long-term.

UNC is catching up to that, in some ways. They also have a B team, but the program doesn’t have the same kind of longevity or history that Colorado does. I think the Triangle area youth scene, though, offers them a fast track to success. As you point out, the team relied on some of its younger players — guys like freshman Norman Archer — to play substantial minutes, even in the team’s biggest games.

Looking at the country with a wider lens, certainly we will see an increase in impact rookies. Whereas five years ago, playing ultimate in high school at all meant you had a good shot at making the squad at most schools, now you have to be more than just familiar with the game. There are so many talented players coming out of the burgeoning high school programs that we are sure to see an uptick in overall college-level skill and athleticism.

Do I think Colorado-style rookie free teams will come around very often? Definitely not. More often than not, a rookie with high school experience might be one of your team’s best players. The fact that Colorado had the luxury to bring back only returners (and actually cut some!) is something most schools can only dream of.

Really, it’s time to start paying attention to top level youth ultimate in the United States. We are already moving towards that future, and stay tuned for some exciting announcements in the next few months.

Q: If Colorado had a more successful 2013 campaign, does Jimmy Mickle become win back to back Callahans?

– Greg W.

A: In a hypothetical world where you could actually win two Callahans (it is traditional not to even be nominated again after you win — see Dylan Freechild 2014)…I still don’t think so.

Jimmy Mickle was glaringly the best player in the country this year, but I don’t think that was the case last year.

If we had given out a Player of the Year award last season, it would have been easy and obvious: Tyler Degirolamo. Don’t even have to think twice about it. I wrote a column endorsing TD for Callahan last year and wow did I take some heat. In many ways, that column foreshadowed Ultiworld creating its own award that is more focused on outstanding play and less on leadership and, in my opinion, vaguely defined spirit/sportsmanship.

A lot of the haters on TD were suddenly more quiet after Nationals, where Degirolamo obliterated every opponent. I honestly thought it was a bit embarrassing that he didn’t win, given his performance over the course of the season. Certainly, claims about his poor spirit were questionable at best and mostly focused on a general distaste a lot of teams have for Pittsburgh.

Anyway, Mickle has been one of the top five players in the country at both the club and college level now for over a year. He matured a great deal this year and meshed much better with the rest of the Mamabird squad, especially on offense. A deserved win and an unbelievable talent. What’s scary is that it seems like he can still get better. Watching Johnny Bravo this season should be fun.

Q: Looking ahead, who are your early predictions for title contenders in college open in 2015? Any chance that Mamabird repeats?

– Joanne R.

A: It’s never too early to speculate!

I like these teams:

Oregon — Rumor has it Freechild is coming back for a fifth year. Aaron Honn should be back in the fold. A very impressive crop of underclassmen will have big game experience and a summer to improve (Connor Matthews is going to be unbelievable next year!). There is no obviously more talented team next year to knock Oregon out in semis again, plus the team will be acutely aware of their need to mentally prepare better for Sunday at Nationals. Lots of good things going for Ego, a team that improved immensely from January to May just this year.

Pittsburgh — With the coaching of Nick Kaczmarek, this team is always going to be in the mix for a semis spot. They ran into the hot version of UNCW in quarters and ate some humble pie this season, but, as assistant coach Tyler Degirolamo told us on the sideline, a lot of this year’s Pitt players had never experienced a loss at Nationals. You grow a lot from that experience. The team is packed with skilled players, and Pat Earles looks poised to be one of the country’s best next year. Maybe they’ll hold off on the recruiting video on ESPNU when they’re not even in the finals though…

UNC Wilmington — My goodness this team is going to be good next year. Who honestly saw them coming this season? Their performance this year was not some fluke — they got two of the biggest wins of the year (over UNC at Regionals, over Pitt at Nationals) with stellar performances and rock solid mental game. Xavier Maxstadt was nearly awarded an Ultiworld All-America team slot and will be one of the most impressive handlers in the game next season. Previous unknowns like Jack Williams (who lit up Nationals) will become household names. Greg Vassar, Tully Beatty, and Brian Casey know they have something special on their hands next year.

Carleton — A young team this year, Carleton is poised to start to explode back towards the top of the college division over the next couple of seasons. Not only were they missing some of their key pieces, including captain John Raynolds and standout sophomore Jesse Bolton, late in the weekend, they will also be picking up another incredible rookie class headlined by Carolina Friends star and 2014 WJUC selection Sol Yanuck. As players like Natan Lee-Engel and Justin Lim grow, CUT will very soon be hard to beat.

Florida State — Chris LaRocque is rumored to be returning, and Andrew Roney and Connor Holcombe are definitely back. One of the most athletic teams in the Division in 2014, FSU will be even better next year. Are they a Championship contender? Likely not, just because of the lack of program experience. But a semis berth is absolutely not out of the question.

Who am I missing?

Q: There were quite a few technical fouls called on teams for swearing at both championships. A few times, they affected positioning on the field. What is your take on over aggressive (in my opinion) calls about swearing, especially when it was generally to pump up you own team?

– Kevin S.

A: If you ask me, it’s bullshit.

Kidding aside, you don’t see these kinds of calls in professional sports as long as players aren’t directing nasty language at an opponent. I don’t see a particularly compelling reason to ban swearing in ultimate frisbee.

Who are we protecting? Is there a concern about players swearing during an ESPN-broadcast game? Seems like an overblown concern to me. I’ve seen plenty of NBA games with a slow-mo replay of somebody who just hit a three mouthing, “That’s fuckin’ right.” Nobody cares.

Q: With some of the rosters now hitting the web, which club teams do you see as the top contenders this year?

– Jim A.

A: It’s a little bit early to say, but I think we already have a pretty good idea of what to expect at the top ends of both the Men’s and Women’s divisions.

In the Men’s Division:

1A. Revolver.

They are as deep as ever and no team has had as much proven success as the San Francisco squad. Check out their roster. With three titles in four years despite shifting personnel, their talent goes deeper than the individual players on the roster each year.  The loss of Mac Taylor could prove to be a problem, but they picked up some of the best young stars on the West Coast in Eli Kerns and Simon Higgins. And Robbie Cahill is back. Expect to see them in the finals for a fifth straight year.

1B. Johnny Bravo

We don’t know the exact make up of Denver’s top club team for 2014, but we know enough to be sure that Bravo is going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. The team is picking up Kurt Gibson and Sean Keegan; more big names are rumored to be on the way. The team came up short against Revolver in last year’s semifinal round at the Club Championships, but with more firepower than ever, they might have what it takes to bring another 2014 National title to Colorado.

2. Ironside
3. Sockeye

The other two semifinalists from last year should be strong yet again, though both may have a bit of a different look than they did in 2013. Ironside has brought in an influx of young talent from the Boston area — Jeremy Nixon, John Stubbs, and Jeff Babbitt all join the squad this year. The team struggled to maintain defensive pressure last season and didn’t convert at the level they needed to. They will look to some younger athletes — including 2013 defensive standout Jack Hatchett — to help generate more turnovers.

Sockeye is still a bit shrouded in mystery. But after an excellent Nationals run in 2013 and the prospect of heading to Worlds, the Fish will be as deep as ever this season. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the loss of Chris Kosednar (Revolver), who was an integral part of the offense last season.

In the Women’s Division, I think you have to look at Scandal, Fury, Riot, and Brute Squad as the clear top four. Brute Squad is thick with talent this year, Scandal is in the hunt for a second consecutive title, Fury is hungry to return to the top, and Riot is finally looking healthy. PIcking up Kelly Johnson surely helps the Seattle squad, who can use a super athlete like Johnson to create matchup issues.

I think determining which of those four teams is the favorite is tricky at this point in the year — all certainly have the talent to get it done. Scandal obliterated everyone in the windy conditions last year; their opponents will need to be prepared to deal with Sandy Jorgensen deep this year.

Q: The USA Ultimate College Championship series boasts a format unlike every other college championship tournament—one day of pool play to set up a bracket-style tournament based on the pool results. The whole event is a full weekend slate of full-field hucks, layout bids, IOs and competition in its purest form—played for the love of the game.

This would not be a problem, except for schools like Campbell University of North Carolina and Brigham Young University that don’t participate in Sunday play due to religious beliefs. Before 1998, the NCAA held rules stating that if a university competing in an NCAA championship has a written policy against competition on a particular day for religious reasons, the championship schedule must be adjusted to accommodate that institution. The rules were eliminated in 1998, then put back into effect and currently held. Brigham Young University has a written policy against Sunday play. This hasn’t been an issue in the past, because neither school has had an ultimate team good enough to compete for a national title, but what if they did?

This season BYU (CHI Ultimate) posted a 19-1 record with their lone loss coming to Florida (then ranked 5th in the nation) by a score of 12-10. Finishing their season, they went to the Big Sky DI sectionals tournament and proceeded to beat every team in their pool including eventual tournament champion Whitman (Pool Play Results). Losing to BYU 13-9, even Whitman has to be wondering how close CHI Ultimate would have come to a National tournament bid. Not being able to proceed to even Regionals, BYU was not even able to provide Oregon with what would have been it’s only real test before proceeding with the only bid to nationals (perhaps even dethroning them and grabbing that bid).

They’re not going to go away either. With 16 returning A team players, the team is projected to be even better next season. We can no longer just ignore the BYU problem based on their lack of skill. The question this year is how well they would have done in the Regional tournament. Next year, they have the potential to be a top-25 team and earn an automatic bid that they can’t accept. That raises the question “How well could BYU do in the national tournament?” At the end of the season, whatever team ends up on the podium will have an asterisk on their title:

National Champions*
*BYU did not participate in the National Championship Tournament

They’ll never truly know or be able to say at the end of the season that they were the best team while teams like BYU are unable to participate.

-Bryant B.

A: OK, let’s cool the jets on the asterisk talk. BYU isn’t about to roll up to Nationals and make the semis anytime soon.

That said, I do think this poses a really tricky problem: how do you accommodate a school like BYU without making it vastly more difficult for every other school to compete?

I don’t have an easy answer. Shifting the schedule to Friday or Monday seems overly punitive (and maybe prohibitive) to every other team. Trying to cram games into Saturday seems logistically difficult, and, in some formats, impossible. Maybe games can be spread out over the course of two weekends?

You have to admit that it isn’t really fair for BYU not to have a chance to compete at Regionals just because of their school’s policy.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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