2023 D-III Men’s Coaches of the Year

Celebrating the best off-field leaders of the season.

Each year, Ultiworld presents our annual College Awards. Our staff evaluates the individual performances of players from throughout the season, talking to folks around college ultimate, watching film, and look at statistics, voting upon the awards to decide those to be honored. The regular season and the college Series are both considered, with extra emphasis for performances in the competitive and high-stakes environment at Nationals.

Our final D-I award podium is for the Coaches of the Year. As so many teams have added more and more sideline-savvy consultants to their roster with less asked of a single head coach, this has essentially morphed into “Coaching Staff of the Year.” Coaches can impact the game in so many ways — tactics, motivation, communication, personnel management, program development, skill-building, etc. — and it can be hard to divine what exactly each has contributed to their team. But good coaching is something that we feel that ‘we know it when we see it.’

D-III Men’s 2023 Coaches Of The Year

Matt Graves and Keys Pattie (Richmond)

Richmond Spidermonkeys’ Matthew Graves in the high-five line at the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

Determining Coach of the Year is always a difficult task. It’s tough to decipher all of the various contributing factors to a team’s success. How much is due to the players? How much is due to the coaches? It’s an imperfect science, and one that inherently slights one party in order to praise the other. But every year, there’s a team where the impact of the coaching staff is clear. That team this year is Richmond, and the 2023 Coaches of the Year are Matt Graves and Keys Pattie.

Let’s start with the team management aspect of coaching. The Spidermonkeys had 34 players on their Nationals roster and had over 40 players at any given point during the season. While many coaches would say having numbers like that is a dream (and to be clear, participation is always a good thing), it also creates opportunities for issues. Managing playing time and keeping the entire roster engaged and bought in takes careful management. Anybody who watched or played against Richmond this year will attest to how bought in the entire roster is during every point of every game, a testament to the team building of Graves and Pattie.

On the field, the Spidermonkeys were consistently one of the most prepared and well-polished teams in the division. No matter what combination of players was on the field, the team’s offensive system was being run, a testament to the time spent building good habits in practice. Defensively, Richmond ran a plethora of looks, and it was evident in every game that scouting and preparation for each opponent had taken place.

Graves and Pattie were the perfect duo, always appearing in sync and balancing the multitude of responsibilities that come with coaching. After missing Nationals completely in 2022, the result of their efforts was Richmond not just returning to Nationals, but making it to the semifinal.

First Runner-Up

Jimmy Donnellon, Benjamin Jelinek, and Spencer Hawkins (Colorado College)

From left to right: Spencer “Legs” Hawkins, Jimmy Donnellon, and Ben Jelinek. Photo: Colorado College

Rarely do you see a team win a national championship without having strong coaching leading the way. Colorado College was led by the team of Jimmy Donnellon, Ben Jelinek, and Spencer Hawkins on their path to glory. While the Wasabi coaches did a number of things well this year, perhaps their most impressive accomplishment was finding the best roles for all of the talent on their roster. It takes guts to hand the keys of your offense to a freshman, even one as talented as Oliver van Linder. It takes trust to get the buy-in from an all-around star like Lincoln Grench to ask him to focus almost solely on offense. Choosing to put the eventual Player of the Year on D-line, maximizing that group’s efficiency and creating the best D-line in the division, was a masterstroke. Colorado College were incredibly talented, but the coaching staff put the chess pieces in all of the right places to secure a championship.

Second Runner-Up

Will Savage (Williams)

Williams WUFO with coach Will Savage (left) at the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

I left Nationals last year wildly impressed by the amount of talent on Williams WUFO, wishing they had a coach capable of harnessing and channeling the team’s youthful exuberance into a more cohesive, focused unit. Enter: Will Savage. This year’s WUFO team was night and day from last year’s. While the culture and spirit of the team were still there, the on-field product was more drilled and refined. The 2022 squad went 1-5 at Nationals and lost in prequarters, only beating a team that eventually finished in last. The 2023 squad went 4-2 at Nationals and made quarters, only losing to a semifinalist and the eventual champions. With this kind of growth trajectory, expect Savage to have Williams in semis contention in the not-so-distant future.

  1. Michael Ball
    Michael Ball

    Michael Ball is the Men's D-III College Editor for Ultiworld. You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter @mike_ball423

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