2023 D-III Men’s Primer: Revisited

Did our editors' professional predictions stand the test of time?

Colorado College's Lincoln Grench. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Colorado College’s Lincoln Grench in the quarterfinal of the 2022 D-III College Championships. Wasabi enter 2023 Nationals as the overall no.1 seed. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 college ultimate season are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

Final Grades: Recapping Our Regular Season Predictions Before Nationals

A few months ago, Mike and I sat down and gave our takes on the storylines for the 2023 D-III Men’s College season. As with any early-season article, we were right about some things, wrong about some other things, and very wrong about some other, other things. With the D-III National Championships coming up this weekend, let’s take a look back at the 2023 D-III Men’s College Primer (which can be read in full here) and provide some feedback to early-February Mike and Chris. Here are the major storylines from the D-III College season, and some grades (it is the end of the semester, anyway) for how they panned out.

Can Oklahoma Christian Three-Peat?

Short answer? No, they can’t. The Oklahoma Christian Eagles missed their shot after three losses at South Central Regionals to Missouri S&T Miner Threat, Colorado College Wasabi, and John Brown Ironfist. To say this was a shock would be an understatement. The Eagles went undefeated in D-III competition during the regular season, and, appropriately, sat at the top of our power rankings since March 8th. They were the first team in D-III men’s history to go back-to-back as national champions. And, even in light of significant talent turnovers from season(s) past, had many award-winning returners that could easily make a deep run into the Nationals bracket. OC can hold their heads high from the victories of the past, but this year, we’ll have a new D-III men’s champion.

The Eagles had lots of injuries this season which were a clear factor in their regional-championship struggles. With a full, healthy roster, the outcome for the Eagles might be different and our pre-season predictions would have lived to see another tournament. But, there’s no reason to work in hypotheticals. At the start of the season we made pretty good arguments for and against the three-peat. My final conclusion was “probably not.” I’ll rank that prediction as a solid A-. While a three-peat was unlikely, few who follow the D-III division would have thought the Eagles not qualifying for Nationals would be why.

How Will the Bid Picture Shake Out, Now That We’re Back to the Algorithm?

There were two key points around bid allocation that we wanted to note at the start of the season. The first was that the regular season would matter much, much more than it did in 2022. This is because, uh…well…regular season results had no weight in the 2022 season. The second point was that the regions who benefitted, and suffered, from the size-driven strength bids would see their region return to normalcy. The South Central, arguably the strongest region in the country from 2022, only had two bids. The Ohio Valley and Metro East, two of the weaker regions in the country, each had two bids. This season, the script got flipped. Strong regions like the South Central got three bids on the backs of good regular season results, while less-strong regions like the Ohio Valley and Metro East received a bid each.

Another region to note that benefited from the algorithm was the Atlantic Coast. This year, the Atlantic Coast had two bids, compared to a single one in 2022. While the AC has been a strong region, they’ve historically had one bid because of intra-region competition that hurt their chances in the algorithm. If there were still size bids, the Atlantic Coast would be a one bid region with two top-ten teams competing for it. Arguments for fairness could be made either way, but at least this time around it looks like the process was more meritocratic than in 2022. For this prediction, I’ll give us a strong A, as the two main points from the primer stood the test of time.

Which Surprise Teams From 2022 Can Make it Back to Nationals?

There were five “surprise” teams we identified from 2022: Connecticut College Deimos, Ithaca Nawshus, Grace Lancers, Scranton Electric City Ultimate, and Navy Poseidon. Of these five teams, only Navy Poseidon will make the trip to Columbus this weekend. Admittedly, it was too early to make any bold predictions back in February as to how each of these qualifiers would fare throughout the season. We knew that the return to the algorithm would make it difficult for some teams to qualify with a second bid. So, the real test would be how well the previous qualifiers could retain talent and put together a strong showing on Regionals Sunday.

So what are the results? The now two-bid Atlantic Coast meant that Navy, likely, had the best path to qualifying out of all the surprise teams. That would prove to be true, as they took the second bid and are heading back to Nationals as second-time qualifiers. Connecticut College Deimos, who took the backdoor bracket bid in the Metro East, were without a second bid this season and did not win out of the region. Ithaca Nawshus lost to Deimos in quarterfinals, so they, too, were knocked out of contention. In the Ohio Valley, Kenyon SERF took the sole bid from the region after an impressive run through Regionals, and a two-point win over Scranton Electric City Ultimate in the finals. The Grace Lancers did not make the game to go out of the Great Lakes, and Butler Big Dog, despite losing to Grace in pool play, avoided the Lancers in the bracket to take that region’s single bid in a reversal of their 2022 loss to Grace.

I’ll be critical of the pre-season coverage here and give myself a “credit” grading on the credit/no credit scale. While there was too much up in the air to make any substantive conclusions in February, I failed to factor in all the unknowns from the 2022 season that would make it hard for surprise teams to get back to the dance.

How Will the North Central Hierarchy Play Out?

The St. Olaf Berzerkers are second seed at Nationals this year, and there was little doubt they’d put together a dominant regular season performance. The real question for 2023 was whether the Grinnell Grinnellephants were just a circumstantial qualifier with Carleton CHOP withdrawing from Regionals in 2022, or were they a legitimate second team out of the North Central. This year, we found it to be the latter. CHOP failed to make the game-to-go at Regionals, which left the door open for the Grinnellephants to make a run through the backdoor bracket after a large loss to the Berzerkers in the regional final. They won the second-place game 14-10 over Carthage Blitz, who defeated CHOP on universe point the game before.

Grinnell's Jacob Cowan. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Grinnell’s Jacob Cowan. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

It looks like the hierarchy in the North Central is pretty well determined at this point. St. Olaf and Grinnell have been the top two teams out of this region for two seasons now. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Jacob Cowan leaves the Grinnellephants, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to string together another run to prequarters or quarters in Columbus. We said that we’ll be looking at “the furthest thing from a straightforward regional tournament at the end of the season.” Looking at the results, it ended up as a pretty straightforward regional tournament; I’ll give this take a B-.

Has the South Central Taken New England’s Crown?

At the start of the season Mike and I went back-and-forth about whether the South Central was the new New England. Mike argued: yes, Chris, it’s the stronger region. Even if they lack the top-end talent that New England has, they are exceptionally deep and can produce an exciting regional finish. I more or less agreed with Mike’s take on the depth of the region, but said it was a bit too early to hand over the crown. New England was, and is still good, at playing out-of-region teams. Insofar as we stick to the bid algorithm, this rewards New England. The metric I used was teams at Nationals, and New England always seemed to be at the top. There are clear merits to both of these arguments, but which would stand the test of time? I know when I’m wrong and I will yield; Mike, let’s pass the crown to the South Central.

The Middlebury Pranksters are still one of the top teams in the country. They are a legitimate title contender in 2023. But, the South Central has both the top talent, in the first-seeded Colorado College Wasabi, and the depth, with Missouri S&T Miner Threat and Colorado Mines Entropy to demonstrate they’re the stronger region. In fact, going into regionals there were five legitimate teams out of the South Central that could have qualified for Nationals. And, the region was deep enough that even the first-ranked Oklahoma Christian Eagles lost in multiple games-to-go. That’s a fact that just can’t be ignored. And with that in mind, I’ll give two final grades for two takes. For Mike, he gets an A+. Bravo. For me, I get a C-. Hopefully, I can improve next semester.

  1. Chris Cassella
    Chris Cassella

    Chris Cassella is from Orange, Connecticut, and started playing pick-up at the age of 11. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, where he played four years with the Richmond Spidermonkeys. While at Richmond, Chris won a national championship (2017), two High Tide titles (2019, 2020), and the “worst decisions award” four years in a row. He is a current graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he played for one season. You can follow him on Twitter (@nerdyboypolis) to see his daily takes about zone defense, political science, and I-35 traffic jams.

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