Three top five teams in the Ultiworld Power Rankings stuffed into one dramatic pool.
May 18, 2023 by Chris Cassella in Preview with 0 comments
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We are less than one week out from the D-III College Championships, and that means it’s pool preview time. With the first full regular season and rankings post-COVID, 16 worthy teams arrive at the campaign’s final weekend ready to crown a national champion. This season we have a men’s field THAT looks wide open after the two-time reigning national champion, Oklahoma Christian, was shockingly eliminated at Regionals. Expect a frenzy as team’s vie for their vacated spot on the throne.
We’ve got you covered for all the exciting action this weekend, but before the first pull goes up, let’s get to know the teams who will be competing in Ohio. Then follow along at ultiworld.com/live for updates and livestreams throughout the weekend!
Pool A | Pool B | Pool C | Pool D
Seeding: D1; overall no. 4
Power Ranking: #4
Path to Nationals: NW 1; beat Lewis & Clark in NW Final
Past Nationals Appearances: 2014,1 2018, 2021
Location: Walla Walla, WA
The Whitman Sweets are the first-seeded team in Pool D, and the fourth overall seed entering Columbus. They have a 11-6 regular season record, with their most notable win against the fifth-seeded Richmond Spidermonkeys at FCS D-III Tune Up. Whitman has had some challenging competition from both D-III and D-I teams this season, and were able to snatch the first of two bids out of the Northwest region from Lewis & Clark Bacchus on universe point. While their record may not be as tilted as some of the other teams at Nationals, the Sweets are a legitimate four seed and will face some tough competition in Pool D.
The Sweets earned the strength bid for the region on the backs of key contributors including Kai Kirsch, Donovan nominee Tyler Shanahan, and Leo Dungan-Seaver. If the Sweets want to remain on top of their pool and advance straight into quarters, they’ll have to beat fifth-seed Richmond, again. The weakness for Whitman will be in their depth of roster. On USAU, they have 21 players listed. This is smaller than other teams at this tournament, and all of the other teams in their pool. If Whitman are able to close out games quickly, then they should have the legs to run through pool play and bracket. However, if the games start to be long slogs of points, Whitman might start to feel the effects of the multiple-game days sooner than other teams in the pool.
Whitman made the jump from D-I to the superior D-III in 2021, and they’ll look to assure themselves of that decision this weekend. They had the toughest schedule of any team at FCS D-III Tune Up, which means they’ll be in a good place to handle the top competition from the division. But they also will have their toughest game of pool play at the end of the day against the Spidermonkeys. This is really the worst-case-scenario for Whitman, but is going to be a great game. Thankfully, this is the streamed game for Pool D, so everyone will be able to follow along and see what is likely the best game in all of pool play.
Seeding: D2; overall no. 5
Power Ranking: #2
Path to Nationals: AC 1; beat Elon in the AC Final
Past Nationals Appearances: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021
Location: Richmond, VA
The Richmond Spidermonkeys are the second team out of Pool D, and the fifth overall seed in Columbus. They enter the weekend with a 13-10 record, with many losses to top D-I programs. In 2022, the Spidermonkeys missed college Nationals after many years as the powerhouse out of the Atlantic Coast. This season was a chance to right the ship for the Spidermonkeys. They did this at Regionals, and took home the regional championship with a 14-11 win over Elon Big Fat Bomb in the final. They return to Nationals hungry to compete, and it looks like they have the tools to make some noise both in Pool D and the tournament at large.
There are a handful of key factors that will make the Spidermonkeys dangerous this weekend. The first is the return of coach Matt Graves. Graves, the 2019 Men’s D-III Coach of the Year, took a break from the Spidermonkeys in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. This year, he is back at the helm and has developed lots of talent on Richmond’s massive roster. Roster size is another advantage for the Spidermonkeys: they will have 34 players in Columbus, almost a full two lines more than Whitman and a clear advantage. Finally, Richmond has exceptional individual talent that can carry them to wins in big games. Richmond’s Donovan nominee Brett Schoppert is the engine for the O-line. He has a large arsenal of throws that allows Richmond to attack every part of the field. He’s joined on offense by Sam Gilmore, Schoppert’s initiating cutter, and Jake Seares, Richmond’s top continuation cutter. On defense, Calvin Ciorba is a lockdown cutter defender that will run the offense on a turn. He, along with Clay Rosselot, will be the block-getters for Richmond this weekend.
The determining factor in Richmond’s success will be how they adapt to adversity in tough games. In seasons past, Richmond has struggled to come back after being punched early on in games. While this season Richmond has been on both the winning and losing side of hard-fought battles, it will be interesting to see how they deal with pressure on the biggest stage in D-III. They’ll play Whitman in the last round of pool play. If they can use their depth of roster and keep a cool head, they have a very good chance of winning the pool and making a deep run in the bracket.
Missouri S&T Miner Threat
Seeding: D3; overall no. 9
Power Ranking: #5
Path to Nationals: SC 2; def. Rice to make it to SC Final
Past Nationals Appearances: 2018, 2019
Location: Rolla, Missouri
Missouri S&T Miner Threat enter Nationals as the ninth-overall seed, and third in Pool D. They qualified for Nationals by winning the second bid out of the South Central after dropping a game to Colorado College Wasabi in the regional final. Miner Threat were a fixture in D-III for many seasons before the COVID Pandemic, but, like the Spidermonkeys, failed to qualify for Nationals in 2022. This season they have a fresh-faced roster, and are looking to make some noise at Nationals after a very successful Regionals.
Miner Threat have always had standout players, and this year is no exception. On offense, Michael Lahmeyer is the anchor on the O-line. He has the throws necessary to carve up zones and challenge the deep space. Nick Gentry is another powerful thrower, who will look to connect with Wesley Fransen downfield. On defense, look for Sam Papin to generate blocks and give-and-go on D-line offense. S&T arealso known for their zone play, which has carried them to many wins in seasons’ past. This year, condition depending, look for their well-regimented defensive sets to frustrate offenses.
Miner Threat have a 20-10 record through the regular season. They have both some tight wins and large losses to D-III and D-I teams alike. Unlike Richmond and Whitman, however, they are facing all new teams in pool play, both a blessing and a curse for a team like S&T. It’s a blessing because teams will not have had the opportunity to play against their defensive sets. But, it’s a curse in the sense that they, too, are relying on film to scout their competition. S&T have all the pieces to upset both higher-seeded teams in Pool D. Their first game is against Whitman, so they may be able to catch the Sweets flat-footed early in the tournament and get an early victory. Regardless of the results, though, Miner Threat round out the trifecta of teams in Pool D that should make for an exciting Pool of Death.
Seeding: D4; overall no. 16
Power Ranking: #24
Path to Nationals: ME 1; def. Connecticut College in ME final
Past Nationals Appearances: 2021
Location: Rochester, NY
The Rochester Piggies are the fourth team in Pool D and the 16th overall seed at Nationals. They qualified with the single bid out of the Metro East, going undefeated at Regionals and winning the final 14-12 against Connecticut College Deimos. The regional final was easily the biggest game for the Piggies this season, and they’ll hope to carry the momentum from that game into Columbus.
The Piggies have a mix of experienced players and inexperienced freshmen. They pride themselves on being able to utilize all of these players in games. Some of the more experienced players to watch are captains Avery Girsky and Ben Kelley. Girsky is an integral part of the Piggies offense, and is fast enough to get open on unders and in the deep space. Kelly, Rochester’s Donovan nominee, is described by his teammates as the best player in the Metro East, and is a jack of all trades for the Piggies: he’s a talented handler, cutter, and defender. Some of these “inexperienced” players on the Piggies roster are still big contributors. Sophomore David Leder is an elite defender who has great body control and can box out receivers. Mitch Whisner is a physical player, who is willing to put his body on the line to get a block. Some standout freshmen include Joel Escobar, a strong handler with great break throws, and Cameron Lowe, another breakout freshman with great hops and straight-line speed.
Whether the Piggies can win a game in pool play is uncertain. They have the toughest draw out of any of the teams at Nationals, and are certainly going to have to punch up to upset one of the other teams in Pool D. One thing that may be to the Piggies’ benefit is that they have played a lot of games this season. They enter Nationals with a 21-9 record and have had lots of time to work out any kinks in their systems. Regardless of their results, however, the Piggies look like they are ready to have an energy-filled and competitive weekend in Columbus.
D-I College Championships ↩