Everything you need to know from around the country heading into the spring season.
February 3, 2017 by Hugo Sowder and Michael Ball in Preview with 1 comments
For Division I teams, January is often a big kickoff for their spring season. The larger, more competitive schools flee the cold weather states and head to long-running, early season tournaments in warmer climes. For Division III, fewer opportunities and tight resources often mean their season starts a little bit later than their larger counterparts.
Now that January has given way to February, the D-III season is beginning to ramp up, with nine our Top 25 teams in play this weekend. To help you keep up with the major stories and players that comprise the division, we’ve prepared this primer for the D-III Men’s division. Here we go!
Stories to Watch
Where Will The Connectivity Come From?
One of the most common criticisms we hear about DIII ultimate is the lack of connectivity amongst the top teams compared to their DI counterparts. While the level of connectivity has been on the rise over the past few years, this remains a valid criticism.
Last year was the most connectivity we’ve ever seen from DIII teams — but it still wasn’t great. Major tournaments like DIII Warm Up, Midwest Invite, Layout Pigout, and DIII Easterns provided multiple events that teams could commit to with the confidence they’d play a full weekend of competitive DIII ultimate. DIII Warm Up and DIII Easterns won’t be happening this spring, meaning the remaining inter-regional events like Midwest Invite and Music City Tune Up become that much more important. Other tournaments, such as University of Richmond’s EastUR, are popping up to try and fill the sizeable gap in the schedule for many teams, but it’s looking like the connectivity this year is going to come from handfuls of teams ending up at DI tournaments. We’ll be anxiously waiting to see how this affects the bid allocation this year.
What Will Georgia College’s Title Defense Look Like?
Only a few seasons ago, there were open questions of whether #1 Georgia College Disconnected — a team with almost no regional competition as recent as 2013 — deserved to compete at Nationals. Georgia College responded in kind, building on its consecutive Nationals qualifications to finally clinch a national championship, thanks in no small part to the contributions of star handler and collegiate intramural record holder Nathan Vickroy, his towering downfield target Josh Bush, and the speedy reset handler Caleb Shorthouse. With Shorthouse and Bush now graduated, Georgia College may have lost some edge but still returns a strong, deep supporting cast behind Vickroy. For a team that hasn’t finished lower than quarters since 2014, the bar for the reigning national champion remains high.
The loss of Bush and Shorthouse puts Georgia College, and particularly Nathan Vickroy, in an interesting position. While last spring Vickroy led Disconnected by operating primarily as a handler, his season with the Atlanta Hustle proved he can be just as deadly downfield as a cutter and defender. If Georgia College can find a way to fill the handler space and send Vickroy downfield, they will be a tough team to stop. Either way, Vickroy’s performance this year may well determine how well Disconnected’s title defense goes.
A lack of interconnectivity with other DIII programs has never really been a problem for Disconnected. As a team heavily favored to go to Nationals every year, they can focus on developing the kind of team they need in April and May while occasionally testing themselves against teams in the nearby Atlantic Coast region. Their approach has clearly paid off, and in a region that has yet to offer a serious contender that can unseat Georgia College, there’s been no reason to change this approach.
Will Bryant Show Up In The Regular Season?
Every spring for the last few years, teams in the New England region have been faced with the same frustrating situation: one of the top teams in the country resides in their region but doesn’t play the required ten regular season games to earn their region a bid to Nationals. Instead, #3 Bryant Craze swoops in for the Series in time to take a bid earned by another team. With another strong preseason under their belt, highlighted by a second straight tournament win at Lobster Pot, Bryant again looks like strong bet to qualify for Nationals from the New England region. The question is whether or not they will earn their own bid to get there.
It’s important to note that it isn’t entirely Bryant’s fault that they have come up short of ten games in recent years. Last year, Craze attended a round robin they thought was sanctioned but ended up being unsanctioned; plus, weather is always a factor for teams in the northern part of the country, when any given tournament can be canceled on account of rain or snow during the spring. However, other teams in their region face the same problems as Bryant, yet they find a way to get their games in.
Bryant leadership has indicated that they have a schedule that should get to ten games this season: a home tournament, New England Open, and one more tournament to be determined. They’ve stated that it’s their goal to earn a bid for the region this year; the rest of the region will certainly hope circumstances cooperate and allow them to achieve that goal.
Will The Franciscan Fatal Dynasty Continue?
2015 was the dream season for #6 Franciscan Fatal. Led by Ultiworld’s FOTY Dominic Schuster, Fatal were absolutely dominant in going undefeated on their way to a national championship. Expectations were understandably high going into 2016, but an inconsistent roster resulted in a roller coast regular season. However, a dominant performance to end the regular season at DIII Easterns put Franciscan at the top of Ultiworld’s power rankings going into the Series. They blew through Conferences and Regionals before a disappointing finish at Nationals saw them finish in a tie for fifth.
It says a lot about your program when a fifth place finish at Nationals is considered a disappointment; however, anyone who has seen Fatal play at their best understands why a national championship is their standard. Roster turnover and a steadily improving region around them is going to make a third run at the title more difficult than either of the past two seasons.
While Schuster’s name gets the headlines, it was Tommy Koch who shouldered the biggest load for Fatal last season. Koch played on both sides of the disc, taking the toughest matchup defensively and doing the dirty work to move the disc on offense. Beyond these two, Franciscan has plenty of talent remaining on their 2017 roster. Guys like JP Bort, Jay Rataczak, and Stephen Babcock would be stars on other teams, but have filled a role the last two seasons; all three will need to step up in order for Franciscan to have a third year as a championship favorite.
Over the last three years, the Atlantic Coast has grown to be one of the most competitive regions on the east coast. In 2016, Regionals was very much the bloodbath it was expected to be, with six teams in Ultiworld’s Top 25 gunning for two bids. While #4 Richmond mostly cruised through the tournament, #12 UNC Asheville battled their way through a tough game-to-go against #14 Davidson to secure the second bid. Neither qualifier performed to expectations in Winston-Salem, and the memory of those losses continues to fuel both programs in 2017. With plenty of players capable of entering into the Player of the Year conversation come the postseason, the Atlantic Coast is shaping up to be just as competitive and exciting as last season. A two bid region since 2014, the deep list of contenders will be hoping this is the season they can finally land multiple strength bids.
By all accounts, Richmond is still the team to beat and has arguably the best offensive player in the region with Henry Babcock. Richmond’s system and depth were hard to match for other teams in the Atlantic Coast in the fall and that doesn’t seem likely to change during the spring.
The race for a second bid will again likely come down to UNC Asheville and Davidson, as both teams prepare to reload for April. UNC Asheville looks very different without offensive handler Clint McSherry but returns a strong sophomore and junior class. Jacob Warshauer was an explosive cutter for the Bulldogs during his freshman and sophomore seasons, with an ability to catch just about anything under any conditions. Fifth years Chad Gerber and Charlie Bridger are extremely versatile players behind the disc and downfield. Davidson matches the Bulldogs with a strong returning cast; veteran cutters Phillip Bader and Henry Siebentritt return alongside a strong backfield and rookie class featuring DC YCC freshman and WUGC Team Portugal handler Andrew Roy. The big question surrounding Davidson’s success revolves around the health of senior leader Chris Johnson; a series of injuries have left his status for this season up in the air. Both UNC Asheville and Davidson will also have the benefit of strong coaching from Atlantic Coast Coach of the Year Kyle Silva and Ken Porter respectively.
While their regular season performance in 2016 was dominant, a three-bid Great Lakes region could be a thing of the past.
The story of both #21 Indiana Wesleyan and quarterfinalist Knox College this year is the departure of their respective stars, Travis Carpenter and Harper Garvey. The loss of Carpenter for IWU is a heavy blow considering the huge impact he had on the program from the moment he stepped on the field. Garvey put up a superhuman performance to carry Knox at Nationals last year, throwing 41 out of his team’s 71 assists despite being hounded and harassed by everything their opponents had to offer defensively. Without their talismans, both teams enter 2017 with slightly lowered prospects.
The other Great Lakes bid-earner from a season ago, #10 Wheaton College, had a solid regular season but could not quite land the wins they needed against elite programs at Nationals with losses to Georgia College, Franciscan, and Bryant. They may inherit the label of regional favorite this spring, but still have work to do to reach the upper echelons of the division. It’s important to remember that the third bid earner for the Great Lakes, Valparaiso, was unable to defend their bid at Regionals in 2016. Led by star handler Jesus Osorio, Deus Vult will be fired up to not only earn a bid again, but also keep it this time.
A weakened Great Lakes region should certainly have other regions excited for a chance to reclaim those two strength bids. That is, of course, if the Great Lakes fails to perform this year.
Everybody knows the jokes about DI Metro East; the sad thing is that those same jokes applied equally to DIII last season. The highest ranked team from the region last year according to the USAU algorithm was Connecticut College at #31, but that ranking was inflated tremendously by their mere attendance at Nationals. No team was close to finishing the regular season in the top 16, and Regionals were a toss-up. The second seed, Colgate, didn’t even qualify for bracket play, and SUNY-Cortland, the eighth seed, was one point away from upsetting #1 Hamilton in the semifinals. Connecticut College’s showing in Winston-Salem was reflective of the region’s lack of strength; they finished their three games of pool play with a point differential of -22.
So who’s going to arise from the scrum for the Metro East this year? It’s looking like another season of just one bid for the region. Connecticut College went winless at Lobster Pot and don’t look likely to claim the bid again. Hamilton returns an extremely talented roster, but they have to prove they can win when it matters. Programs with a history of success like SUNY-Fredonia and SUNY-Geneseo will be looking to bounce back from a down year in 2016. We’ll be anxiously waiting to see what regular season tournaments these Metro East schools go to so we can try and determine how the region might stack up this year.
The New England region has been a powerhouse of Division III ultimate for years, having placed team in the national final each of the past four seasons,1 earning titles in 2013 and 2014 with #11 Middlebury and #24 Bentley, respectively. The NE was cursed with only two bids in 2016 after Bryant failed to factor in the bid picture; #15 Brandeis and Bryant moved on as national contenders, leaving bid-earner Williams on the outside looking in after a disappointing Regionals performance.
#15 Brandeis is building a painful legacy of being the bridesmaid but never the bride, coming off two consecutive national final appearances without the title to show for it. Unfortunately for Tron, 2017 isn’t going to be easy for a squad that has lost a lot of serious fire power on both offense and defense. The strength of Brandeis, particularly in 2016, was found in their system. Brandeis had an answer for every opponent, combining excellent man defense with strong zones and a very fluid reset system. A loud and active sideline helped energize Tron and allowed them to literally win the crowd in big games in Winston-Salem. Unfortunately, Brandeis simply hasn’t brought a solid squad back to the table; Tron lost three out of four captains and their top four assist leaders from Nationals (yikes). A poor fall performance suggests a far more anemic team in 20172 and their system may not be enough to get Brandeis back to the top of the division. That’s a tough position for a team that has a legacy of performing at an elite level the past two seasons.
Bryant, on the other hand, is primed and ready for a run in 2017. Bryant’s fall performance and strong returning cast of veterans has them locked in as the #3 team in the country in the power rankings. Seniors Jacob Garfinkel and Austin Kelson are at the helm for a well-established program that has a history of Nationals qualifications to draw upon. Garfinkel in particular will be a high-profile thrower to watch this year as a sparkplug that can get the offense moving. Bryant complemented its offense with a very effective four-man cup at Lobster Pot that was well-polished compared to other teams in attendance.
If the region is to return to its four-bid dominance of two years ago, New England will need its middle class of teams to step up and earn the extra bids. #19 Williams had an excellent regular season in 2016 and earned the region a bid, but they fell apart at Regionals and failed to reach the game-to-go. Bates had an up-and-down regular season that left them short of a bid, but they went on a tear at Regionals before flaming out in the game-to-go. #24 Bentley had a solid fall season and has the pedigree to compete on the national stage, but they’ll have to prove they belong in the national conversation after a rough 2016 season. A young #11 Middlebury team wasn’t able to be a factor in the bid conversation last year, but they peaked at Regionals and could ride U24 Worlds tryout invitee Dylan Salzman to a bid this season. Bowdoin Stoned Clown has shown a tendency to disrupt the status quo at Regionals in the past — can they cause some noise in the regular season? It’s the ability of these teams to step up in the regular season that will truly determine the extent of NE dominance we see in 2017.
The name “Carleton College” has become synonymous with success in the North Central, whether it’s CUT tearing it up in DI or GOP dominating in DIII. Since the creation of the division, #9 Carleton-GOP has been a mainstay at the top of DIII ultimate. Even when they don’t win their region, they’ve never come close to losing in the game-to-go. However, part of the assurance GOP has in going to Nationals is because there’s traditionally been a second bid in the North Central and this wasn’t the case last season. #13 St. John’s had an excellent spring that saw them contending in bid territory, but high winds at Old Capitol Open in the last weekend of the regular season saw weird results for GOP and cost them the second bid for the NC. GOP took care of business handily at Regionals, but the prospect of only one bid to Nationals meant they had no room for error.
A deep team led by Abe Eichner means that GOP will again be towards the top of DIII, but who can they count on this year to earn a strength bid for the region? St. John’s looks like the only team with a real chance of doing so. They return regional POTY and U24 Worlds tryout invitee Charlie Schuweiler, who should be enough to keep them in the conversation for a strength bid; the continued solidity of the roster around Schuweiler will determine whether they manage that second bid or not.
There’s a pretty significant dropoff after St. John’s, as teams like St. Olaf and Grinnell will be hoping to position themselves to have a chance at stealing the second bid to Nationals… should the region be fortunate enough to earn it.
None of the last three Northwest regional finals have been close — each has been decided by at least six points. In the last two, #16 Lewis & Clark has been the top qualifier from the region, after finishing second in 2014 but attending Nationals anyway when Puget Sound declined their bid. Only last year did Bacchus break through at Nationals, finishing third. So is Bacchus that good — and is their competition still that far behind?
The results from the Flat Tail Open last month suggest the gap may have closed. After losing a crossover game to Washington’s B team, Bacchus slumped to eleventh place at the tournament. Meanwhile, Portland went 5-2 in Corvallis en route to a fifth place finish, knocking off in-region DIII rivals Puget Sound and Whitworth, both of whom also finished well ahead of Lewis & Clark. All of these teams will be rooting for Lewis & Clark to do well at the Stanford Open next weekend to boost the region’s chances of landing a second bid.
Either way, don’t bet on another blowout in the regional final this time around.
Behind Franciscan, the rest of the Ohio Valley will be hoping to pull the strength bid for the region they missed out on in 2016. The second tier in the region is steadily improving, but nobody could come close to beating Franciscan last year; barring any major developments, that likely won’t change this season.
#17 Messiah lost soundly to Fatal in the regional championship last year 15-9. Built on a strong cutting core of Peter Burt and Aaron Olney, and led by renowned coach Charlie Hoppes, the Falcons will be hoping to earn their own bid this year rather than hoping to steal the automatic bid.
The Flying Horsecows from #25 Oberlin lost a thriller to Messiah in the semifinals of Regionals last year; unfortunately, they graduated all-region talents Conrad Schloer and Jason Freedman, and the remaining roster will need to prove they can step up before being a serious threat to steal a strength bid.
Last year, the South Central produced three elite programs that put on a dominant performance from start to finish. #2 Air Force blazed (or rather burned) their way all the way to the semifinals of Nationals, while Colorado College and John Brown both landed themselves in pre-quarters.
This year, all three teams look loaded again, with Air Force already putting up a dominant performance for a DIII program at Missouri Loves Company in the fall and Flat Tail Open to start the 2017 season. #5 Colorado College has plenty of skilled athletes it can call upon behind senior cutter Phil Korolog. Ethan Penner returns to #7 John Brown as a fifth year, giving their team the foundation of a very solid core of receivers.
The South Central truly earned their three bids last year, and while Air Force is already well ahead of the pack in the division, the rest of South Central bid-earners also seem primed to repeat their regular season performance from 2016. Air Force is absolutely a front-runner for a national title this year, and they will carry a target on their backs for the rest of the South Central as both Colorado College and John Brown look to also carry the region to another year of multiple strength bids.
If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man. Thus far, nobody in the Southeast has been able to come close to beating Georgia College. Since the creation of Division III ultimate, Disconnected has been the only team to represent the SE Men’s division at Nationals, and as we covered above, they’re the heavy favorites again this year. Vickroy and the rest of Disconnected have the championship pedigree and experience it takes to win on Sunday of regionals, and without feeling the pressure of needing a second bid, they’ll spend their regular season developing the roster to perform when it matters.
While Georgia College continues to dominate, the rest of the region has been making steps to close the gap and hopefully earn the region another bid. #20 Alabama-Huntsville in particular has seen remarkable growth over the past two years. Coached by Nashville Nightwatch veteran Tom Radcliffe and led by D-line captain Tannon Hedges, the Nightmares are returning 16 veterans from a team that lost in the regional championship game last year. Many teams in DIII ultimate would be thrilled to have a roster of 16, let alone a veteran class of that size.
Union Jaxx from Tennessee made steps towards becoming a contender last year. They went to DIII Easterns and took their lumps, losing by large margins to established programs like Richmond and Davidson. However, those are the growing pains you have to go through to better your program. They’ll hope to see the dividends of those efforts this season.
The last three years have looked exactly the same for the Southwest: #8 Claremont has completely dominated. That’s not hyperbole — only once in that span have they given up more than nine points to a regional opponent in the Series. So the question for their competitors is, can anybody stop the Braineasters, or step up and earn another bid for the region?
With no DIII Warm Up this year, Stanford Open may be our only chance to see how Claremont stacks up against the competition from other regions. With Air Force, Carleton, and Lewis & Clark also scheduled to be in attendance, this tournament could go a long way to determining how the top end of the rankings shake out come the Series.
Perpetual Southwest bridesmaid Occidental will also be at Stanford, trying to do enough to ensure they aren’t competing in a one-bid region yet again. Last year, the Tigers flew across the country to play in DIII Easterns last year, but that opportunity won’t exist this season.
Players to Watch
Nathan Vickroy (Georgia College) – Like John Stubbs in DI, Vickroy already has a head start in the player of the year conversation, simply by merit of his previous exploits — he almost unarguably delivered the best single performance at the 2016 DIII College Championships. Vickroy is absolutely one of the most complete players in the division and his U24 Worlds tryout spot proves it. For a player who has already helped deliver a national title to his squad, 2017 will give Vickroy a chance to cement his legacy as one of the best players to have come out of the division.
Henry Babcock (Richmond) – The defending POTY for the Atlantic Coast, Babcock has been a dominant presence in DIII ultimate since he stepped on the field three years ago as a freshman. Now a senior, he’ll be looking to not only get Richmond to Nationals for the third time in his four years, but this time take them all the way to a national championship. A tall, lanky handler, Babcock has an arsenal of throws that make him near impossible to mark, and he’ll move downfield to take advantage of his height if you try to jam him in the backfield. Look for this U24 Worlds tryout invitee to defend his region POTY belt and have his team in contention for a spot in the semis of Nationals.
Ethan Penner (John Brown) – You know that guy who just always seems to find his hands on the disc? You force him under, and he beats you with consistent gainers. You take that away, and he’s burning you deep for goals. Ethan Penner is that guy. He’s been lighting up the stat sheet for the last four years for Ironfist, and unfortunately for those who have to face them, he’s back for a fifth year. His stat line at Nationals last year was incredible (19 goals, 22 assists), and it should look similar if JBU makes it back to the big dance this year. Don’t be shocked if Penner makes the the U24 Worlds team, either.
Dominic Schuster (Franciscan) – For the past two years, Schuster has been among the most elite throwers in the nation. He finished with 30 assists at Nationals last year in six games, and they came from a wide variety of high releases, upside shots, and beautiful flat hucks. Schuster has traditionally played more on the offensive side of the disc, initiating the offense downfield and hitting continuation shots. With the loss of Tommy Koch, Fatal will need Schuster to step up a little more on defense. It will be interesting to watch him display this side of his game this season.
Zach Norrbom (Mary Washington) – In terms of individual performances to watch in 2017, it is impossible not to talk about Mary Washington’s Zachary Norrbom. As a lefty handler with impeccable footwork and athleticism, Norrbom has been making trouble in the Atlantic Coast for two seasons now with Mary Washington and has commanded attention due to his high level of play and on field intensity. With a very successful season with Ambiguous Grey and a U24 Worlds tryout spot under his belt (plus several seasons with the DC Current), Norrbom will be an important player to watch at AC Regionals.
Keep Your Eye On
- Phil Korolog (Colorado College)
- Jacob Garfinkel (Bryant)
- Luke Rynbrandt (Wheaton)
- Dylan Salzman (Middlebury)
- Jesus Osorio (Valparaiso)
- Charlie Schuweiler (St. John’s)
- Abe Eichner (Carleton-GOP)
Tournaments of Note
Section is based on best current understanding and will be updated as new information becomes available.
Queen City Tune Up
Teams to Watch: Richmond, UNC-Asheville, Davidson, High Point
Big D in Little D
Teams to Watch: Colorado College, John Brown
Mid Atlantic Warm Up
Teams to Watch: Mary Washington, Williams
Morgan Hill, CA
Teams to Watch: Air Force, Claremont, Carleton-GOP, Lewis & Clark
Bryant’s Winter Tournament
Teams to Watch: Bryant, Bentley
Music City Tune Up
Teams to Watch: UNC-Asheville, Alabama-Huntsville, High Point, Oberlin
Bring the Huckus
West Windsor Township, NJ
Teams to Watch: Messiah, Williams
Air Force Invite
Colorado Springs, CO
Teams to Watch: Air Force, Colorado College
Teams to Watch: Davidson, Williams
Teams to Watch: Richmond, Middlebury, UNC-Asheville, Davidson, Messiah, Williams, Oberlin
Teams to Watch: Franciscan, High Point
|Atlantic Coast||Great Lakes||Metro East||North Central||New England||Northwest||Ohio Valley||South Central||Southeast||Southwest|
And two teams in the top five in three of the past four DIII College Championships. ↩
It’s worth noting that high winds at Lobster Pot frustrated most teams in attendance. ↩