Everything you need to know from around the country heading into the spring season.
January 26, 2017 by Simon Pollock in Preview with 11 comments
The 2017 season has just begun and there’s a lot to live up to. After arguably the best college season ever, the men’s division is prepping for the encore. And you’ve got it all in this year’s storylines: a champion with a chance to repeat, last year’s flopping favorites looking for redemption, continued growth from programs, and others fighting to hold their place despite losing their stars. On top of that, a number of last year’s Player of the Year candidates are back for another round.
January is well under way, but the cavalcade of headlining tournaments is about to begin. As the winter frost thaws off fields everywhere (fingers crossed), we hope you’ll use this 2017 primer to enjoy the best season of college men’s ultimate yet.
Stories to Watch
UMass Has to Continue Winning Ways Sans Babbitt
Before Nationals last season, yours truly wrote that #4 UMass Zoodisc had the biggest title window of any program in the men’s division. At the risk of discrediting any future analysis, that claim may have been premature.
UMass ended a particularly dominant 2016 season with a faltering, sputtering, disjointed performance in Raleigh. The all too-early loss to Minnesota that knocked them off the title path was something of a shock, not just because they lost, but because of how they lost. Defeat arrived too soon due to a disconnected offense that was too cautious at the wrong times and too aggressive at even worse ones and a defense that couldn’t seem to get on the same page. Most of all, there seemed to be a caustic attitude that left UMass with a taste in their mouths more sour than mere defeat.
Following the disappointing end to their 2016, the team suffered off the field losses in the personnel department. Three of the team’s seven universe line players from last season are gone, and only some of those departures were expected. We knew Ben Tseytlin was graduating, and while it wasn’t a certainty, we knew there was a chance Jeff Babbitt might not come back for a fifth season. Unexpected was the loss of rising senior Conor Kline, as the preposterously quick cutter has bowed off the team for academic and personal reasons.
Despite the outward appearance of decline, Zoodisc is more sleeping giant than fading power.
Anchors of the 2016 offense Tannor Johnson and Ben Sadok both return. Both enjoyed spectacular success at the club level in 2016. Zoodisc’s dynamic duo deserve heaps of praise for their play, but it would undersell UMass’s wealth of talent to paint the team as a two-man show. Much of the offense is back and features unheralded names like Solomon McMahan and Will Thornton, who showed the potential to be key contributors last season.
It’s worth pointing out that at Easterns, Massachusetts’s best tournament last season, none of Tseytlin, Babbitt, or Kline were playing on offense. What UMass’s offense lacked in sheer star power it made up for in chemistry, and bringing the core of that line back can go a long way towards papering over the gaps left by big name departures.
Defense could be another story. It’s impossible to quantify how much losing Babbitt hurts this team because so much of what he provided doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. His intimidating presence led to turnovers all over the field that he wasn’t ostensibly responsible for, and the gravity he exerted after the turn pulled defenders towards him in the deep space, creating easy offense for his teammates underneath. It suffices to say that Babbitt’s departure reduces the ceiling of UMass’s potential and will likely force the team to play a more conventional defense.
The good news is that they should have the horses to succeed in doing just that. Brett Gramann, the 2015 ROTY, never seemed totally comfortable last season in a shifting role underneath Babbitt and Tseytlin on the D-line. Look for him to bounce back this year with more responsibility in a settled role. In addition to Gramann, Chris Bartoli, and Giancarlo Cincotta all return to add punch to the D-line and are capable offensive players that will likely play both ways at points this season.
And of course, the captain is still at the helm of the ship as Tiina Booth returns for another year. After taking the reins of the team in 2014, Booth has revitalized the program and developed players up and down the roster. The depth of this team is no accident. Certainly, questions will remain about the team’s collapse last season and her role in failing to prevent it. But this season she has the opportunity to put that all behind her as she and co-coach Russell Wallack look to flex the depth they have been cultivating, and show that the Zoodisc program is bigger than any one name that has left the team.
– Patrick Stegomoeller
John Stubbs Carrying Harvard
It’s not entirely out of the question that, deep in the bracket of the 2016 College Championships, John Stubbs got his hands on the recipe for Mike’s Secret Stuff, slugged down 24oz himself, and kept it flowing on the sidelines for his teammates. He motored into iconic performances against Georgia and North Carolina. Mark Vandenberg kept the disc moving, and the rest of the bench came up big, but Stubbs was downright remarkable.
He kept right on going into the summer, joining the unstoppable men’s team at the World Championships for a gold medal run and helped light up Rockford with the most talented version of Boston Ironside in team history.
Stubbs is a bonafide star, but #18 Harvard Red Line is a system team.
The men of Cambridge seem to be born with serviceable around backhands, just the sort of deadly fundamental weapon that can pick apart other competitors with less composure and pedigree. They have a playbook full of well-oiled defenses and the discipline to execute.
But last year, they had Vandenberg, too. He was ever the patient on-field general, orchestrating flow while Stubbs wreaked havoc on downfield defenders. Without him, big man Alexander Hem, and veteran cutter Dave Reshef, Red Line will need to trust deeply in their ability, in the fundamentals, and each other to get wins.
Stubbs has grown into downfield roles at all levels — he can be seen buzzing around the field for Ironside and the Men’s National Team — but one aspect of his game he hasn’t shown mastery of is distribution. He was on the field for every significant run for Harvard in 2016, but so was Vandenberg.
Can he handle the load, which at least on paper seems to be a whole lot more, in 2017? He’s already proved indefatigable on offense and defense downfield — will he take up the backfield mantle for Red Line, too? We’re excited to find out.
– Simon Pollock
The Carleton We’ve All Been Waiting For
“Trust the process.” For the last decade, the Philadelphia 76ers have tanked in the regular season to build up a collection of high draft picks. When anyone questioned their sacrificing wins for potential future success, they were told to “trust the process.”
Unlike the 76ers, #2 Carleton CUT has remained a competitive team since their 2011 national title, yet their seasons have ended sooner than they would like. After a 2015 low-point that saw them fail to make Nationals, 2016 was a welcome somewhat-return to form for CUT. Now, CUT enters the 2017 season as a legitimate championship contender.
What makes the 2017 season different? For that, you’ve got to look to “the process.” CUT has historically chosen to sacrifice regular season results for player and chemistry development. Combine that big-game experience with annual top-five recruiting classes, and it was bound to pay off eventually.
What was once a team of talented but raw underclassmen has blossomed into one of the most intimidating full rosters in the country. Make no mistake, CUT’s top players are game-changers, with many receiving big minutes for elite club teams over the summer. Sol Yanuck and Henry Fisher were offensive mainstays for Ring of Fire in 2016, while Eric Taylor (Sub Zero) and Tim Schoch (Dig) blossomed as lock-down defenders. But it’s CUT’s depth that is the biggest difference between previous years and the 2017 iteration. Natan Lee-Engle, Jake Ritmire, Eli Miller, and Alex Olsen are all players that, were they on a less-stacked team, would serve as an offense centerpiece. While Yanuck and Fisher will be expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting, it speaks volumes to this team’s talent that, should either be having an off game, there’s multiple players capable of stepping up.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is CUT’s rookie class. Headlined by two U20 players in Dillon Lanier and Stan Birdsong, there are a grand total of nine(!) rookies on the squad. This might seem paradoxical to the “team coming into its prime” picture I’m trying to paint, but many of these freshman will be making immediate impacts; there could be four starting by Florida Warmup.
With so many high-impact rookies, CUT’s depth is remarkable. It should give them tremendous flexibility, especially on defense. Staring down a line full of junior worlds players is unnerving by itself — add in CUT’s famous intensity and a gameplan from coach Phil Bowen and you have a recipe for shutdown defense.
The 76ers “process” has produced some excellent players, but as of yet poor results. It’s a waiting game — fans simply have to trust that someday the amount of talent stockpiled will yield excellence. A message to CUT fans: the wait is over.
– Charlie Enders
Minnesota’s Back-to-Back Opportunity
Looking back, Grey Duck’s national title seems like somewhat of an aberration. Minnesota has always had talent in spades, but their results have fluctuated wildly. Look to their flabbergasting backdoor semifinals loss at Regionals in 2013, or their semifinals meltdown against Michigan at Easterns in 2014. Grey Duck was prone to Sudden Ultimate Collapse Syndrome (SUCS).
Enter Coach Tallis Boyd.
With him came a new mindset; #8 Minnesota Grey Duck seemed to stop sweating the little things. 2015 was a noticeable improvement, but in 2016 Grey Duck seemed to almost cut out the mental collapses entirely. This, in addition to superb offensive execution, was the biggest reason for Grey Duck’s national championship: they didn’t sabotage themselves.
This year, Grey Duck is a threat to repeat. They return human-clydesdale hybrid Ben Jagt and a core of squirrely, turnover-averse handlers, while picking up several high-profile transfers. Depth is anything but an issue. The talent to win is here — there’s no questioning that. But is that 2016 mental toughness now part of the team’s identity, or was it simply a flash in the pan? With ten new players on the roster and a lackluster fall, the jury is still out. Florida Warmup, the tournament in which they asserted themselves as legitimate title contenders a year ago, will be Minnesota’s first real test.
The Strength of the Dramatic Northwest
2016 offered no shortage of regional drama in the Northwest.
#1 Oregon Ego cruised through a softer regular season schedule, taking only one gutshot in a surprise quarterfinal loss to Harvard Red Line at the Stanford Invite. The #11 Washington Sundodgers weathered a storm of injuries all season after a promising debut, recovering just in time to battle through the backdoor at Regionals to snag the second bid to Raleigh. The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds used a shockingly high top gear to stay dangerous, but couldn’t find enough consistency in performance to challenge the favorites when it mattered.
Then of course, there was Brigham Young University CHI. Though their hard work was eventually nullified by USA Ultimate regulations, CHI kept the rest of the region on their toes, snagging statement wins at the Northwest Challenge, where they effectively ended their season.
Oh yeah, and Utah qualified for Nationals.
Nearly the entire cast is back in 2017. Every top contender has retained most, if not all, of their stars.
Ego’s offense will again set the pace in the Northwest. Unless other coaches and captains in the region have come up with a more effective strategy to slow down Adam Rees, Connor Matthews, and Colton Clark, expect this trio to combine for quite a few goals. When defenses try to lock down pull plays that isolate Rees and Matthews in space, Clark, will have his speedy and reliable reset man Braedon Petrus on hand, while sophomores Will Lohre and Xander Cuizon Tice work the rest of the field. There’s reason to expect a big season from Leandro Marx, who could lead the D-line in the absence of graduated ace defenders Chris Strub and Will Watkins. Freshman Colby Chuck will find a major role in the backfield somewhere.
Count on coach Alex Wells and the veteran mind of Dongyang Chen to have the Sundodgers’ roster ready to take a shot at the king. Chen rejoins his teammates Khalif El-Salaam, Steven Benaloh, Cooper Schumacher, and Tomas Delgado. Nationals was an important experience for this savvy Sundodger top line; they now know that, playing at their best, they can hang.1
With more experience, the Sundodgers should be able to show better offensive flow and more aggressive defense. The disc often stalled in El-Salaam or Benaloh’s hands during the regular season, so continuation looks should be a critical indicator of success on offense. If they can improve here, it may very well help keep them ahead of speedy Ego defenders, if and when the two meet to battle for top dog in the Northwest. On defense, Sundodger defenders further down the roster will need to step up with better marks and blocks. Washington showed a variety of looks last year that slowed the pace of the game, but weren’t enough to stop top competitors from scoring.
With Ego’s offense burning as hot as ever, and Washington fully reloaded, the two are a likely locks for Cincinnati in May. Taking a spot from either of these two will prove difficult.
In spite of their improving strength and talent, all BYU can do is register a heat check regular season loss.2 UBC needs to absorb the loss of Peter Yu,3 adjust to a new coach, and shore up their efforts on both sides of the disc. Hugh Knapp, however, seems ready to establish himself as a premier offense threat. #25 Victoria will also look to challenge the region for another bid, but they’ll be without breakout star Malcolm Bryson,4 who will instead coach the team due to roster approval issues, forcing them to find someone else to get speedy Ben Burrelle the disc.
High-Flying Cal Poly SLO In For Banner Year
#15 Cal Poly SLOCORE entered 2016 off the radar, but was looming large by season’s end. A long year of building yielded inconsistent regular season results, but culminated in a Regional final upset over a heavily-favored Stanford Bloodthirsty to win the Southwest’s lone bid to the College Championships.
This year is a different story: they enter 2017 as a regional favorite, on the strength of a Nationals appearance last year and minimal roster turnover.
SLO has the talent to get it done on the field this season. A question they will have to answer is whether or not they will let their new place in the spotlight affect them. Being an underdog comes with challenges, and last year CORE was equal to them, but can they remain as effective when a bid-hungry Southwest knows how to scout them?
The limelight has quietly intensified this preseason for SLO, and with good reason. Though they sustain three big losses — defensive handler and sparkplug Chris Cogswell and the offensive handling core of Tim Okita and Joel Anton — Cal Poly returns a core of players who are equipped to take the reins. Though this naturally reflects an elevation of roles across the depth chart, the potential for a drop off is mitigated by an influx of a strong recruiting class. Headlined by Jeremy Dolezal-Ng (the statistical leader for this summer’s U20 team), the class also features a U20 alternate in Justin Ting and an All-State YCC player, Conor Schofield.5
In addition to their new talent, SLOCORE is bringing back a few familiar stars as well. Defensive handler Ian Sweeney (1st team All-Region) returns after a club season with Polar Bears to drive the D-line offense. Downfield, the explosive Nate Pettyjohn (1st team All-Region) is back to carve up yards for the offense. Throw in Cameron Wariner and Sean Liston — two of the most athletic players in the region — and SLO has the horses to match up with the best.
The biggest reason SLO is a team to watch this year is simple: defense. Their calling card throughout last year was intense person defense, heavy on bids and overflowing with athleticism. Don’t expect that to change this year. Cal Poly plays defense the way you wish your team did — full of fearless athleticism and enough highlight-worthy blocks in one tournament that would fill another squad’s season reel. With a suffocating D-line, SLO can pressure anybody into turns and quickly climb back into any game.
One thing is for sure: Cal Poly isn’t taking anyone by surprise this year. But what they lack in surprise, they more than make up for now with codified experience and an impressive recruiting class.
Getting to Know Virginia Tech
“Hi, I’m #12 Virginia Tech, your official bandwagon team for 2017! Nice to meet you. I know it’s impolite to boast like this — especially since it’s the first time we’ve met — but let’s be honest, you’ve heard of me. I’m kind of a big deal.
“Oh gee, where to start. I guess I’ll start with my roots, seems as good a place as any. I’m from the Atlantic Coast region, a hotbed for bandwagon teams. With those big shots UNC and WIlmington at the top of the region and a scrum of mid-level teams below them, it seems that every year people are asking if someone will get a third bid for the region. I guess the region’s ‘looking for a team to anoint’ environment really just breeds bandwagon teams. There’s nothing better than finding an underdog in a potentially bid-rich region to latch your hot take cred onto.
“Why, remembering just the past few years I’m tickled by all the national hype that has been showered on so many of my fellow ACers. From my fratty but fun friend Maryland (which worked out!) to my stuffy neighbor Virginia (did not work out) to the guy who plays dubstep at 3am on a boombox outside my apartment (VCU of course; that definitely didn’t work out). And now it’s my turn to be the hot young so-and-so. How thrilling!
“Not to puff myself up too much, but my success or failure in the regular season could have a big impact this year. A third bid going to the Atlantic Coast would tip some dominoes, probably taking one away from the Northeast or the Southwest, which would set up elimination games for Harvard/UMass and Stanford/Cal Poly SLO at Regionals, which would just be terrifically exciting.
“I’m almost out of time here and I haven’t even said much about myself, just my natural aversion to braggadocios behavior I suppose. I guess I should give some explanation as to why I’m in the limelight for the moment. Well, for starters, Joe Freund plays for me. And like, have you seen him play? He’s very big and fast and can jump quite high. It’s all very impressive. Also, I came in second at CCC this fall. I’ve got my silver medal here inside my jacket and everything. It might not mean much when it comes to games in the spring, but it is certainly enough to get the folks at home chattering!
“I have to move on now, many appointments and important events to attend to as the bandwagon team of the season. I’m sure you understand. I’ll see you around later this year, and who knows what state I’ll be in at that point! Maybe I’ll be another CCC burnout who turned hype into a disappointing season. Maybe I’ll earn that bid everyone keeps talking about and then choke it away at Regionals because of a total lack of experience in big games. Like I said, who knows. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen. I’m visualizing more of a 2015 Auburn type thing, where I score a big upset at Regionals and then put together a performance at Nationals that can best be described as, ‘in attendance.’ One can dream. One sure can dream.”
North Carolina Darkside Is 2017’s Dark horse
Semifinals in a rebuilding year.
That’s the precedent that #5 North Carolina Darkside set for themselves in 2016. A killer defense and now-patented wackadoodle sideline energy spurred the 2015 champs well beyond expectations and into a thrilling semifinal, where likely anyone would’ve been run over by John Stubbs in turbo mode.
Matt Gouchoe-Hanas emerged not just as a talented player in the backfield, but as an elite defender. Fellow Darkside youngsters Nathan Kwon and Walker Matthews build out the impressive junior class.
The team faces losses in top receiver Aaron Warshauer, Vikram Sethuraman, and handler cover JD Hastings,6 but they fill them in with some significant returners.
Norman Archer and Nick Macleod, both of whom took home 2015 medals with UNC, return to the team this year to fill out the receiving group that featured Warshauer in 2016. Archer’s length and height combine to make him a major matchup problem, and Macleod brings a strong build and experience into the downfield space.7
Darkside flexed last weekend and easily won their home tournament, Carolina Kickoff. Mike Denardis returned to coach alongside protege Jonathan Nethercutt, and the bevvy of alumni that always manage to show up as advance scouts for this savvy staff. The defense was unstoppable. It feels like a very strong year.
Then again, so was 2014, the year that UNC pushed all the way to the national final and then promptly ran out of gas against Jimmy Mickle’s Mamabird. So which part will this team play in 2017? The high-profile, regular season tournament-winning men among boys from three years ago, or the sly, develop-under-the-radar team of ferocious defenders who do just enough to make sure there are at least two bids for the Atlantic Coast?
New Pitt, Same High Expectations
Roster turnover is a part of the circle of life in college sports and #13 University of Pittsburgh is no stranger to that fact. The hallmark of elite programs is their ability to reload when transcendent players move on. But how can a team — even a team like Pitt — overcome an exodus like this?
Pittsburgh moves forward without household names and matchup nightmares like 2016 Callahan winner Trent Dillon, 2015 Callahan finalist Max Thorne, and southpaw shooter Pat Earles. Massive losses, even for a blue-chip program like Pitt.
As impactful as that graduating class was, don’t expect the narrative of the season to be defined by those departures. Pitt gets some help with the addition New Hampshire’s Thomas Edmonds (fresh off a club championship with Ironside) to bolster the offense. Senior Jonah Wisch returns to action after a shoulder injury that kept him in tennis shoes for the series in 2016. Handler cover Kevin Tang is enrolled and will use his fifth year of eligibility, keeping most of their defensive team together from a year ago.
Losing faces of the franchise makes it easy to forget just how (frankly, uncharacteristically) deep this team was able to play at Nationals (overshadowed by the fact that Minnesota might have been the deepest team of all time) with 17 or 18 players getting scratch in semifinals. Now younger guys who were platooning a year ago will need to step in as real contributors.
The cupboard is not bare. Patient field generals like Jack Slevin and Saul Graves will methodically move the disc, while splash-play guys like Sam VanDusen and Dillon Tranquillo will try to generate blocks. The team’s top freshman last year, Mike Ing, will be tasked with winning one-on-ones. There is still plenty of talent in south Oakland.
Keep an eye on their results at Warmup next month. Pitt is blessed (this year more than ever) to play in a subpar Ohio Valley region and will unquestionably be playing in late May, but their regular season success will depend on how quickly they can fine tune their offensive system and get to a team game.
Pitt has made quarterfinals of Nationals or better every year since 2009 — including 2014, after their last major roster rebuild when the Tyler DeGirolamo and Alex Thorne campaign came to an end. This team will be different, sure, but the only thing truly new about Pitt this year may be the names in the stats columns.
The great North Carolina rivalry, pitting the boys from Chapel Hill against the crew out of Wilmington, will renew for yet another year. However, the rest of the region won’t be content to stand idly by while two powerhouse programs expected to contend for a title dominate the region.
The hot team out of the fall was aforementioned Virginia Tech. A second place finish at CCC and the rising star of Team USA U20 anchor Joe Freund are the fuel for the fire. VT has some strong tournaments on their schedule, so they’ll get the chance to not only prove themselves, but to also capture a strength bid. Add NC State to the list of teams bubbling up with upset intentions. They had a strong showing at Carolina Kickoff, going undefeated to win their pool Saturday and making it to the semifinals.
But the starpower resides with UNC and Wilmington. Jack Williams, Matt Gouchoe-Hanas, Nathan Kwon, Austin McGrayne, and a host of others make these the two teams to beat. North Carolina was dominant at Carolina Kickoff, and while #3 UNC Wilmington hasn’t debuted yet, expectations will be high for them at QCTU. Williams is expected to see significant time, with Willie Stewart being asked to continue his ascent towards elite college handler status. Grayson Sanner, Kevin Mateer, and foe-turned-friend JD Hastings will also be impact guys for a strong Seamen team.
The Great Lakes has struggled to maintain multiple strong teams over the past few seasons, and still face a high-powered #16 Michigan Magnum squad at the top and a difficult road to a second bid every other direction.
Michigan won the region last year and has plenty of ammunition from that team back in the fold. Noah Backer returns for a fifth year as a captain aand Ben Page and Andy Yu will also offer veteran leadership for the 2017 group. They will also benefit from the cutting talents of Wesley Chen and sophomore Jake Steslicki. They’re adding a few solid youth players that should help develop depth. They’ll need some punch to help replace Sam Greenwood, the team’s brightest talent over the past two seasons.
However, there seem to be few teams that can contest them in region. Illinois is facing a rebuilding year, and other solid teams like Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Chicago should be comfortably outmatched by Michigan.
Even after an inauspicious start to the season at Carolina Kickoff, UConn Grind return as the favorites to wear the Metro East’s cardboard crown in 2017. Bryan Jones is back to coach, bringing much needed consistency that should help fill the gaping hole left by John Wodatch with tested roleplayers. Gavin Clemmey and Mike Rice are very capable of taking over points themselves, even if it isn’t with Wodatch’s flair.
The same challenges that have always faced this region remain staunchly in place. As new programs across the country draw on talent and increased fluency in the sport, rough winters, limited practice space, and oft-canceled tournaments8 seem to stunt growth, even though this region hosts the birthplace of ultimate. High-profile rookies tend to head elsewhere.
Cornell Buds and Rutgers Machine have the history and program pedigree to make sure a repeat Metro East title isn’t easy, but don’t look for the winner of that tournament to make a splash bigger than UConn’s 2016 dismantling of UNC Wilmington in Raleigh.
No Babbitt? No problem.
Massachusetts Zoodisc returns as a heavy favorite to win the region, with a stable full of talent. It’ll take more than your average veteran handler cover to slow Ben Sadok and Brett Gramman, and Tannor Johnson — coming off a club championship with Slow White — will wreak havoc downfield. UMass also returns their formidable coaching duo in Hall of Famer Tiina Booth and Ironside champ Russell Wallack.
Harvard Red Line is just too darn consistent a program to not to earn a bid. John Stubbs has his work cut out for him, but this team has a schedule built for connectivity and the developmental principles in place to ensure wins through extremely solid fundamentals.
Keep an eye on Brown and budding sophomore star Mac Hecht. Along with backfield mate Eli Motycka, the team has a chance to be a difference maker. They’ve even added solid freshman talent: Henry Laseter and Solomon Rueschemeyer-Bailey will offer immediate help. The Rhode Island team will also travel this season, and the right set of wins on the back of Hecht’s top-notch play could be bid-earning, or good enough to take a trip to Cincinnati in place of Harvard.
Barring an act of God, the NC is going to wind up with three bids. Carleton, Minnesota, and #6 Wisconsin should be usual members of the top ten, but which of those big three will assert themselves? Will CUT finally blossom? Can Minnesota repeat their offensive perfection? Will Wisconsin’s veteran-heavy team finally return the Hodags to the promised land? With three very strong teams, there’s perhaps no region with more question marks than the NC this year.
All the teams are packed together in the rankings, and Regionals should be an explosive affair, weather permitting. Last year’s crescendo featured Carleton beating Wisconsin twice in wind, rain, and mud, while Wisconsin felled Minnesota in the semifinal, leaving a seeding mishmash to sort through come Nationals. We had to wait until the Series to see any of these teams take one another on, but with packed elite tournament schedules and championships in their sites, perhaps we’ll see paths cross in earlier meaningful matchups.
The Northwest was the biggest surprise region of the division last year, capturing three bids and almost a fourth.9 However, despite a healthy presence in Raleigh, no Northwest team could even crack quarterfinals. With both Oregon and Washington looking like strong bets this season, the Northwest is hoping they have last year’s depth.
The pecking order at the top is well established. Oregon is the heavy favorite, with a cast featuring Colton Clark, Connor Matthews, Adam Rees, and Will Lohre providing ample firepower to claim the region again. Washington, in star Khalif El-Salaam’s final season, have a solid roster with Steven Beneloh, DY Chen, Tomas Delgado, and Cooper Schumacher all back.
But after that, like in 2016, there’s a litany of hopefuls. Victoria, led by Ben Burrelle’s activity and playmaking, look like the most likely candidate. But British Columbia continues to recruit well, Oregon State got off to a strong start with an appearance in the final at Flat Tail Open, and Western Washington is lurking. Don’t forget about Utah, who shockingly took the final spot on the train to Raleigh last season, and then there’s BYU, whose presence promises to shake things up even if their flirtation with Nationals is never consummated.
Another year, another chance for Pittsburgh to win the one bid Ohio Valley. Wait, what? They didn’t win it last year? Who did? Case Western Reservation? Is that a National Park?
All jokes aside, Case Western Reserve did deservedly earn their first regional title in the Ohio Valley in the best season in program history. But make no mistake that Pittsburgh enters the season as the favorite once more. Sure, the big names are gone, but there is plenty of depth to be had and new stars will rise in the Pitt program, as they have done before.
The rest of the region is going to be busting their butts to get a strength bid again, even if they see the top dog as vulnerable. Case Western brings back Anthony Dario, Tarik Aykuz, and Jacob Lunn, all three key members of last year’s squad. Keep an eye on #19 Cincinnati, who opens the season at the Santa Barbara Invite this weekend; it’s easy to forget they were the #12 team in the USAU algorithm last year.
The South Central has been home to transcendent young talent in recent years in Jimmy Mickle, Dalton Smith, Chase Cunningham, and Matt Bennett. With all of those marquee names graduated, who’s left to take control of the region?
#7 Colorado Mamabird, the ever-athletic and methodical Nationals-contender, sits pretty as the favorite to win this region. Five returners come battle-tested from a run to club semis with Johnny Bravo: Mark Rauls, Wesley Chow, Josh Crane, Isaac Chestler, and Erik Hotaling. It was the speedster Rauls who led the regular season attack for Mamabird while Chow and Pawal Janas recovered from injuries last year, and — in spite of his size — he made a similar splash in the club season. Mamabird made quarters in Raleigh last year, and they get the benefit of a strong system and seven fifth-year vets to turn in another formidable season.
#10 Texas TUFF will be right back in the conversation after a down year, with Joel Clutton and Dillon Larberg available to lead the charge after a successful season with HIP.10 After succumbing to the throwing prowess of Dozen’s Smith in 2016, TUF should now be able to best their in-state rivals who lack a bonafide star.
#9 Texas A&M Dozen have a tall order if they’re looking to earn a bid in the South Central, let alone return to Nationals. Their systems have revolved around unparalleled throwers in Smith and Bennett. They’ll need fresh talent to feed Carter Hollo. But reports from the fall paint a strong picture of Texas A&M’s prospects.
Perhaps most interesting then, as A&M heads into what should be a rebuilding year, are the chance of #21 Colorado State Hibida. With a strong set of veterans, 2017 could be the year that Hibida either engineers a bid or steals one from the Texas teams. A good portion of the team played club together for Choice City Hops, and that should help shore up consistency. It’s tough to see Hibida dismantling a healthy Mamabird, but they could certainly fight up the regional ladder and earn a trip to Cincinnati.
If you don’t listen to Deep Look, you’ve missed out on Charlie Eisenhood’s claim that the region is destined for a one bid year. #17 Georgia Jojah looks like the most talented team in the Southeast, returning Parker Bray and Nathan Haskell. Guys like pull specialist George Summers, Mason Cary, and Sam Batson are going to be asked to make larger contributions in lieu of Sam Little and the tragically injured Sebbi Di Francesco.
Of course, there’s a lot of depth behind Georgia on the Southeast roster and the pecking order is very murky at season’s start. Perhaps more importantly, it’s unclear if any of these teams can play with enough consistency to get a bid. #20 Central Florida and Florida’s strong Carolina Kickoffs make them look like the next tier, but it’s hard to suss out a clear lineup with Georgia Tech, Auburn, Florida State, Tulane, Tennessee, and potential upstarts like LSU or Emory. One or more of these teams will have to step up if they want to prove the Editor-in-Chief wrong and get back to Nationals.
While 2016 brought the exciting upset of #14 Stanford Bloodthirsty by young guns Cal Poly-SLO, it didn’t bring two bids to this long-beleaguered region. SLO almost locked up a second spot, but rough weather at Huck Finn slowed them down.
Talk about a need for connectivity. Between the qualifier and invitational format at Santa Barbara, President’s Day, and Stanford Invite, there are more than enough opportunities for Southwest teams to travel throughout California all season long and beat up on each other. Unless these teams can snag a rare win over a visiting top competitor from another, or follow in SLO’s footsteps and head out to the Midwest, they’ll be stuck fighting for regional scraps while the top two teams look beyond the West Coast.
Players to Watch
John Stubbs (Harvard) – How can we not lead with the 2016 Player of the Year? Stubbs is the biggest name in the division, having proven himself on every imaginable stage: collegiate, club, international. His quest for the first-ever POTY repeat is as Homeric as last season’s march to the championship game. But the real question is can he carry a mediocre Harvard team to Nationals by himself?
Ben Jagt (Minnesota) – And fittingly, we are on to Stubbs’s championship foil, Ben Jagt. The most terrifying cutter in the college division, Jagt’s size-skill combo makes it tempting to use the old “unguardable” label so common on RSD. The fact is that Jagt is priority number one for teams trying to slow down Minnesota and few players have as much gravity in the division.
Jack Williams (UNC Wilmington) – It’s show time for Williams. Well, it’s always been show time for the highlight reel stuffing Wilmington cutter, whose been turning heads for his whole career. He’s a lot more than an electrifying deep threat now, likely to see plenty of backfield time for the Seamen this season. His versatility and playmaking make him a mainstay in the Player of the Year conversation.
Matt Gouchoe-Hanas (North Carolina) – While Gouchoe-Hanas claimed a spot as ROTY runner-up with his performance at Nationals two years ago, last year was his true coming out party. Along the way, we’ve gotten to watch him grow from the centering man for Jon Nethercutt to the deft leader of one of the game’s top college offenses. Heady, intense, and spirited, Gouchoe-Hanas is a true gamer.
Tannor Johnson (UMass) – That didn’t take long. Johnson was last year’s runaway ROTY and enters this college season with very lofty expectations. His club season with Slow White culminated in the team winning it’s first ever title. With a huge Babbitt-and-Kline shaped vacancy downfield for Zoodisc, Johnson’s influence will only widen. He’s a thoroughbred of a cutter with expanding disc skills and a threat to win OPOTY in only his second season.
Khalif El-Salaam (Washington) – There’s no underestimating the Sundodgers dyed-in-the-wool star. El-Salaam can do everything for his team: full field hucks (forehand and backhand), game-tying inside breaks, roofing grabs and blocks, and more. His heroism is magnificent. El-Salaam seems willing to put the team on his back at any moment. The challenge for 2017? Pick his spots. The rest of Washington’s roster is packed with maturing talent, and they need a leader who goes beyond getting it done on the field. To go from early Callahan favorite to legitimate nominee, Khalif El-Salaam needs to make the players around him better.
Parker Bray (Georgia) – The least known name on this list is probably Bray’s. Most of what you heard about him last year was that his injury would set Georgia back at Nationals.11 Bray has blossomed into a full-field game changer for Jojah, developing from speedster to well-rounded threat. He’s got the full package offensively. If his defensive game — and health — follows that track, he’ll be one of the players to know this season.
Mark Rauls (Colorado) – Thinner air at higher altitudes can send a disc sailing much farther than expected. That’s perfect for Colorado Mamabird’s speed demon Mark Rauls, who can outrun anyone on the field, easily catching up to a pass that looks overthrown. He beats bigger defenders to the spot the way Isaiah Thomas curls and double-clutches around NBA bigs. Pressure barely seems to register and, if it does, it probably just makes him better. Rauls was the focal point of Mamabird’s offense in 2016, and then proceeded to make his mark with Johnny Bravo during the club season. He’ll be carving up opposing defenses again this season.
Adam Rees (Oregon) – Oregon Ego has a history of bawdy celebrations and a shoot-to-thrill style of offense. It’s almost comic that a quiet, mild-mannered Adam Rees is at the center of it all. He’s a rangy utility player for Ego, bringing plus skills to every line he joins. Back him on a pull play, and he’ll find a streaking cutter for a two-throw score. He boosts the D-line with speed and length on high stakes points, and does it all with a humble smile. Rees is Oregon Ego’s super glue guy.
Ross Barker (Wisconsin) – While perhaps not a giant like his former teammate Craig Cox, Wisconsin’s Ross Barker is perhaps even more deadly. Barker is a strong downfield presence, the kind of cutter with a nose for open space, but he adds excellent throwing instincts. So often in 2016, an under-thrown huck would fall into Barker’s hands just outside the end zone, and he’d finish the play. A year wiser and now without fellow deep threat Aaron Speiss, Barker may carry the Hodag mantle downfield.
Keep Your Eye On
- Nate Pettyjohn (Cal Poly)
- Elliot Chartock (Stanford)
- Steven Benaloh (Washington)
- Mac Hecht (Brown)
- Ben Burrelle (Victoria)
- Nathan Haskell (Georgia)
- Leandro Marx (Oregon)
- Dillon Larberg (Texas)
- Will Lohre (Oregon)
- Henry Fisher (Carleton)
- Joe Freund (Virginia Tech)
- Thomas Edmonds (Pittsburgh)
- Norman Archer (North Carolina)
- Hugh Knapp (British Columbia)
- Carter Hollo (Texas A&M)
Tournaments of Note
Section will be updated as new information becomes available
Santa Barbara Invite
January 28-29, 2017
Santa Barbara, CA
Teams to Watch: Washington, Stanford, Cal Poly, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Victoria
Queen City Tune Up
February 4-5, 2017
Teams to Watch: UNC Wilmington, UMass, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Georgia, Harvard, NC State
Warm Up: A Florida Affair
February 17-19, 2017
Teams to Watch: Carleton, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas A&M, Texas, Pittsburgh, Central Florida
President’s Day Invite
February 18-20, 2017
La Jolla, CA
Teams to Watch: Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Cal Poly, Colorado State
March 4-5, 2017
Teams to Watch: Oregon, Carleton, Wisconsin, Colorado, Texas, Washington, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Cal Poly
Men’s College Centex
March 11-12, 2017
Teams to Watch: UMass, North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, Harvard, Colorado State
Tally Classic XII
March 11-12, 2017
Teams to Watch:
April 1-2, 2017
St. Lous, MO
Teams to Watch: Minnesota, Cincinnati, Colorado State
April 1-2, 2017
Myrtle Beach, SC
Teams to Watch: Oregon, Carleton, UNC Wilmington, UMass, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Cal Poly, Michigan, Georgia, Harvard, Central Florida
The Ohio Valley could be a two-bid region again! According to our prognostication team, the OV will be battling the Southwest and Northwest for a bid. There’s definitely skepticism about Virginia Tech or another AC team rising up to claim a third bid, but our staff is buying New England to do enough to give an alternative to going through UMass to get to Nationals. And Charlie’s Southeast bet? He’s alone on that island.
|Atlantic Coast||Great Lakes||Metro East||North Central||New England||Northwest||Ohio Valley||South Central||Southeast||Southwest|
They proved as much in a pool play barn burner in Raleigh against UMass, where El-Salaam went toe-to-toe with Jeff Babbitt and Chen was deadly efficient leading the D-line after the turn. ↩
Thank the heavily debated combo of BYU’s school policy that stops the school from competing on Sunday and the refreshed USAU competition guidelines for this. ↩
Ewing Effect, anyone?? ↩
Victoria has partnered with Camosun College, where Bryson attends, for six years to build its roster. The partnership was not approved for 2017. ↩
SLO has quietly worked the Berkeley High pipeline, scoring Dolezal-Ng, Schofield, Ian Sweeney, and Nate Pettyjohn in the last three years. ↩
Hastings is using his fifth year of eligibility at rival Wilmington. ↩
See last year’s Regionals debacle. ↩
Before BYU’s bid was moved to Southeast ↩
Larberg also snagged an AUDL championship with the Dallas Roughnecks. ↩
Considering they upset UMass off the bat and nearly made semis, you be the judge. ↩