You know the big storylines, but these are six things that haven't gotten the attention they deserve.
December 15, 2018 by Graham Gerhart and Scott Dunham in Preview with 0 comments
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It’s time to unwrap some presents as we introduce the 12 Days of College Ultimate. Through December 21st, we will be releasing one gift per day, though don’t count on getting any partridges in pear trees: it’s all college ultimate. From highlight videos to player chatter to a giant bracket, we’ve got a little something for everyone.
For the sixth day, we went beyond the headlines and the major narratives. Our staff put their heads together to come up with the most interesting stories that people aren’t yet talking about. But we think they will be part of the college conversation 2019.
1. The Heat in Austin During Nationals
Holding the 2019 College Nationals in Texas seems like a questionable decision, as it appears to represent both a serious health hazard for the competing teams/players and a serious liability hazard (as well as a potential PR disaster) for USA Ultimate. With Austin’s typical late May dewpoint of 70 degrees, a temperature of 94 or more leads to a heat index of 100 or more. This past year, Austin met or exceeded that temperature on 11 out 16 days in the May 16-31 date range (College Station was a couple degrees cooler on average, but more humid).
It seems very hard to justify a location for College Nationals that is likely to lead to both health hazards and schedule disruptions. Fortunately, with more than five months to plan, it seems that there should still be time to either revisit the decision and relocate to a more reasonable location or at least make detailed plans to mitigate these issues.
Not only is Texas hot, but also fairly humid, and May is the most humid month of the year in Austin (average relative humidity of 76%). Summarizing late May in Austin over the past 11 years, three of the years were scorching with highs in the high 90s to 100 almost every day. Under these conditions, temperatures were above 90 with heat indices above 100 (90F/60% humidity) from noon to 8:00 pm almost every day. Five of other other years had heavy rain (2.4-8.6″ over 12 days), so the grass fields were likely unplayable and stoppages would be required for lightning (or tornadoes). The other three years were just unpleasantly hot (highs in the low 90s, heat indices above 95F), with conditions okay on the grass fields, but unsafe on the turf. A feature of the Round Rock site is that half of the fields (7 of 14, I believe) are turf. This would be a positive for the 45% of years in which there is heavy rain, but are problematic the rest of the time.
It is possible for conditions in Texas to be be acceptable for ultimate, but serious schedule disruption and/or unsafe playing conditions seem much more likely.1
2. Return of Washington Element
Seattle’s youth ultimate scene has long been heralded as the paragon of high school development. DISCNW does a fantastic job of nurturing young talent and setting the stage for some of the best college freshmen players in recent memory. Washington Element has snagged a few of these prizes recruits, but have failed to live up to the program’s history, missing Nationals for the past two seasons after a nine year run of appearances. 2019 may be the year when it all clicks back into place.
The amount of talent that has been directly injected into this team is staggering. Stephanie Phillips, Penny Nguyen, Ikky Elmi, PX Rong, and the list keeps growing from there. They join veteran cutter Kate Dusenbury and grad student Haley Lescinsky, a first team All-American in D-III at Williams last season. UW will be a young team, and may take a while to figure it all out, but if ultimate has taught us anything, talent always wins out in the end.
Expect UW to sneakily climb the rankings this season, and maybe steal a bid if their competition doesn’t show them the respect that they deserve.
3. Emergence of Northeastern
It’s been four years since the Northeastern Valkyries have qualified for the women’s division at Nationals, while the men’s side has still yet to reach that mountaintop. But the future for the Boston school looks bright as they reap the rewards of their location, with some talented players to lean on in the 2019 season.
The Huskies earned some respect with last year’s results, looking solid at Queen City Tune-Up and winning their first three games at Centex. But they never notched any major victories and wound up finishing tied for fifth at New England Regionals falling in the first place semifinal to Brown and suffering a narrow 12-11 defeat against Tufts in the backdoor bracket. They’ll be led this year by 2018 second team All-Region selection Ilya Yudkovich and athletic young defender Ben Field. The latter build a reputation for eye-popping blocks during his club season with Boston Dig, while Yudkovich refined his game with Big Wrench.
The women’s club has big names of their own. Ari Nelson is a tremendous player who’d be more well known nationally if she had gotten on any big college stages. Playing with Boston Slow White has sharpened her defensive instincts and offensive decision making. The squad loses Boston Siege’s Tracey Lum, but brings in her club teammate, Clara Stewart, a U-20 U.S. National Team selection. The Stewart-Nelson window isn’t wide, so there will be a sense of urgency. Head coach Jason Adams has shown the ability to get the most of his charges, and he’ll need to in a competitive New England region.
4. Quality of the Men’s Callahan Race
In the past decade, which men’s college season had the strongest crop of Callahan nominees? There are a lot of good answers here, but 2019 has a chance to surpass them all. And yet, despite a class of nominees that potentially include reigning Player of the Year Matt Gouchoe-Hanas, Tannor Johnson, Joe Freund, Mike Ing, Will Lohre, and Mac Hecht, there has been very little chatter about the Callahan award so far. Not a single one of those players would be considered a dark horse candidate and yet there are still too many just on that shortlist. Only five players will stand on the podium in Austin, which means that 2019 could potentially feature the biggest snub in Callahan history, too. If there’s a single player you believe deserves it the most, start campaigning now.
5. Ohio State’s Dual-Threat Potential
If there was any skepticism of Ohio State Leadbelly to start the fall, that all ended when they finished CCC undefeated. OK, so maybe that only involved winning three games, but those included wins over William & Mary and UMass – two Nationals qualifying teams in 2018. Leadbelly doesn’t have the pedigree that spurs early season conversation, but they’re not without exceptional talent. Sion Agami is living up to the hype he started brewing with a double-double at Club Nationals; one of only five players in the mixed division to do so2. He’s joined by his brother, Axel Agami, and Zach Braun. The three of them could prove to be quite a threat once the college season resumes.
Leadbelly is showing a lot of promise this season, but might not even be the best team on the Columbus campus. Fever’s 2018 season ended in heartbreaking fashion, losing out on making bracket play due to point differential. Despite being perhaps the best team not to make the bracket, somehow Fever never quite gets the respect they deserve to start the season. 2019 will change all of that. Apart from the loss of Corinn “Champ” Pruitt, Ohio State is returning all of their most productive players from 2018, including Sadie Jezierski, who’s returning for her fifth year. The combination of Jezierski, Annelise Peters, Cara Sieber, and Emily Barrett on any line is a compelling watch, and they have all proven they can thrive in DeAnna Ball’s system. In fact, it might be Ball’s system that has kept OSU criminally underrated throughout the fall. Fever has long operated with an “everyone eats” mentality to start their season and take a while to pick up steam.
Last season there were only five schools that sent both a women’s and a men’s team to Nationals. Ohio State’s looking to join their ranks soon.
6. Player Development Programs
Player development may be the least appealing term for what is arguably the most important aspect of college ultimate. While it’s fun to compare the All-Club talent featured across rosters or predict the impact that rookies will have at any given tournament, talking about player development is decisively less exciting. That’s probably why it never gets enough attention early in the season. Lest we forget, Pittsburgh’s development over the course of last season took both teams on deep runs at Nationals. So before we go back to speaking about the inevitability of Dartmouth and North Carolina, here are a few programs that excel at player development. The teams may start out under the radar, but use the entirety of their season to set themselves up for success.
- Colorado Kali: Yes. Kali graduated a number of their best players from last season. However, it was the completeness of Kali’s roster that took them to the final in 2018. Kali’s long been known for having juniors and seniors emerge from the woodwork and step into larger roles despite relatively quiet freshman and sophomore years. This season should prove to be no different.
- Cal Poly SLO Motion: It already seems like ancient memory, but Cal Poly was one break away from going to Nationals. The SLO Motion women started out the season on no one’s radar but continued to work and eventually beat stalwarts like UCLA and Cal for a chance to make it to the big stage. Even more impressively, the majority of SLO Motion’s top performers last year were freshmen or juniors. They might not start out high on anyone’s rankings, but they’ll be ready come April.
- Brigham Young CHI: Every year there are a handful of good teams in the Northwest. It’s already been said, but the abundance of youth talent in Seattle always bolsters the region. BYU never really reaps the rewards of the NW youth scene and yet they’re fiercely competitive when each new season rolls around. This comes on the back of their player development. Despite missing each and every Sunday of their regular season tournaments, BYU consistently helps nurture the talent and ability of their younger players. With every senior that graduates, there’s a willing junior or sophomore who’s coming into their prime. And with the youth scene in Utah rounding into elite form, more talent will move CHI’s way.
- Brigham Young CHI: The program that is the epitome this list. Apart from maybe Pittsburgh, no other team has consistently shown that they own the “next man up” mentality quite like BYU. The team is well coached, well drilled, and extremely deep. If anything, the only reason they remain overlooked is because they are almost never able to make bracket play at any tournament. That being said, BYU has a habit of using their faceless army to tear down ultimate powerhouses during pool play. Last season BYU finished as one of the top 15 teams nationwide. It’s not unfathomable that they could do even better this year.
- Northwestern NUT: In 2018, Northwestern lost seven of their first 10 games. By the end of the season, the team had both qualified for Nationals, and looked formidable on their way to bracket play. If you’re looking for an example of good player development, that’s it. NUT has already proven they have what it takes to make Nationals, but 2019 will be when they have to show everyone it wasn’t a fluke.
- Auburn Aetos: Sure, Auburn’s seen their share of the spotlight over the past few years. But their biggest star during that time was a man known more for his trombone talent than for his ultimate skills. With that in mind, it’s safe to say Auburn’s player development has fed an extremely successful ultimate program without needing a recognizable star to carry them through. That’s not to say they haven’t had stars players, but that their entire team has bought into their culture and their system in a way that will continue to generate strong players over time.
It should be noted that the Heat Index is based on shade. According to the National Weather Service: “Since heat index values were devised for shady, light wind conditions, exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15°F.” ↩
Along with Sarah Meckstroth, Peter Prial, Brad Houser, and Sam Valesano ↩