On the third day of Christmas Ultiworld gave to me...staff D-III champion picks!
December 14, 2023 by Anna Browne, Bix Weissberg, Calvin Ciorba, Jacob Cowan, Matt Fazzalaro, Scott Dunham, Theresa Diffendal and Zack Davis in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2024 college season is 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.
It’s time to unwrap some presents as we introduce the 12 Days of College Ultimate. For the next 12 days, we will be releasing one gift per day, though don’t count on getting any holiday fowl: it’s all college ultimate. From highlight videos to player chatter to a season predictions, we’ve got a little something for everyone. On the third day of the 12 Days of College Ultimate, we present our way-too-early semifinal and championship picks for D-III!
There’s a reason Middlebury’s logo is a crown. This is a team that has established themselves as perennial championship contenders and has made it clear it’s not just a handful of high level players leading the charge. Three in a row is tough for any team, but to graduate 8+ seniors two years in a row and still be a favorite for the national championship speaks to a good program, not just a good team. The word “dynasty” is definitely in the back of everyone’s minds.
It’s true one of the best players in the division’s history, Claire Babbott-Bryan (2x POTY, ROTY, 3x National Champ, All-American) has graduated and left some big shoes to fill, but the team is still flush with talent. Keziah Wilde, who won POTY honors last year, will be returning alongside high impact players Sarah Rifkin, Liz Crawford, and ROTY Lucy VanNewkirk. This team will be just as hungry as any other team in the division, despite their recent string of wins. This new iteration of the Pranksters are out to prove they weren’t just Claire and the crew, but the real dynastical deal.
– Zack Davis
2023 Nationals Finish: 2nd
Overall 2023 Record: 27-7
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. St. Olaf, 1-0 vs. Williams, 1-0 vs. Mount Holyoke, 1-0 vs. Wellesley, 0-1 vs. Middlebury
With just one single loss to a D-III school in the 2023 season, 15-12 to Middlebury in the national final, Carleton College Eclipse look set to be a Nationals title contender yet again. While Carleton loses big contributors in DPOTY Alex Rowell, OPOTY Maya Kalmus, and Second Team All-American Harper Brooks-Kahn, they return strong talent including BPOTY First Runner-Up Frankie Saraniti, Rowan Dong, Sasha Monks, Liza Swanson, and Maddy Brown as well as the 2023 Coaching Staff of the Year with Cameron Barton and Emma Nicosia. Eclipse’s ability to retool and compete at the highest level after losing key players to graduating has been proven in the past. With Saranati leading the O-line and Dong leading the D-line, expect no difference this year.
Last year, we saw Eclipse travel to several tournaments, including President’s Day Invite where they challenged top D-I teams including Oregon, Colorado, and UC San Diego, and College Southerns where they allowed only two goals against throughout six games. Eclipse will have more regional competition with a rising St. Olaf Vortex. With both of these teams expected to be title contenders, the North Central looks to be a strong region with Carleton College Eclipse leading the way.
– Anna Browne
2023 Nationals Finish: T-3rd
Overall 2023 Record: 22-4
Against the Picks: 3-0 vs. Whitman, 1-0 vs. St Olaf, 1-0 vs. Williams, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Mount Holyoke
One of the most electric players in D-III ultimate, Julianna Galian, is back and ready to lead Portland UPRoar to yet another semis appearance, if not beyond. If you think “most electric” is hyperbole, watch this and tell me Galian’s celly doesn’t get you hype:
Portland is keeping it interesting with the back-to-back champs: a deep shot to Julianna Galian gets them back within one! pic.twitter.com/AquxNFov1d
— Ultiworld (@Ultiworld) May 21, 2023
Their case for a title run: UPRoar have at least reached quarters going back to 2019, haven’t lost to a D-III team during the regular season since early 2020, and their only bracket play losses at 2022 and 2023 Nationals both came to finalists. While they graduated 10 players from last year’s 20 person roster, including Second Team All-American and Donovan finalist Makaley Krueger, UPRoar return their top goal-scorer, the aforementioned Galian, and assist-thrower, Hayden Ashley.1 There were similar questions in 2023 about how Portland would rebuild after losing superstar Jaclyn Wataoka, and by all measures they passed the test with flying colors. Now only a sophomore, Ashley was slated for a breakout rookie season and more than lived up to the billing, earning ROTY second runner-up honors. Expect to see her in an even higher-usage role in 2024.
Even if Portland’s depth needs more than a season in the oven to rise to the occasion, sometimes in D-III all you need is an elite receiver and someone to put it in their vicinity. But if 2023 COTY runners-up Elise Howell, Rebecca Perston, and Dan Young have anything to say, expect much more than a one-trick UPRoar by the time Nationals rolls around.
– Theresa Diffendal
St. Olaf Vortex
2023 Nationals Finish: T-7th
Overall 2023 Record: 24-9
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. Haverford/Bryn Mawr, 1-0 vs. Mount Holyoke, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Carleton, 0-1 vs. Portland, 0-1 vs. Wellesley, 0-1 vs. Williams
St. Olaf brought a very young team to Nationals last season, graduating just four players in 2023. In fact, a huge portion of Vortex from 2023 Nationals were first and second years. Even with that inexperience, they finished tied for seventh, winning close games against Mount Holyoke and Haverford and Bryn Mawr before falling to a very experienced Wellesley team that had eyes on the championship. Let’s not forget that earlier in the 2023 season they pushed Middlebury at Needle in a Ho-Stack, losing 9-8. Going into the 2024 season, St. Olaf brings another year of experience, chemistry, and ultimate knowledge to the field. Big impact returning players include the dynamic duo of BPOTY Leina Goto and Unni Isaksen, along with key players like Grace Milhaupt, Erica Collin, and Ellie McDonald. St. Olaf also adds YCC players Julia Mockert and Alexia Swiglo who can start making big contributions early on in their college careers. St. Olaf has yet to beat regional rivals Carleton College Eclipse since before the pandemic, but this year they look poised to challenge Eclipse for the North Central Regional crown and make a push for the national championship.
– Anna Browne
Haverford/Bryn Mawr Sneetches
2023 Nationals Finish: 9th
Overall 2023 Record: 29-6
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. Whitman, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. St. Olaf
Call me a homer (I am), but the Haverford and Bryn Mawr Sneetches look poised to claim the Ohio Valley for a second year in a row, and once they do, they’ll have a shot to finally break through to the upper echelon of D-III teams. They’ve been knocking on the door of a semis berth for two years running, and almost all their losses against D-III teams the past two years have been to Nationals-attendees. Their 2022 run at a title was stymied by an unstoppable Middlebury team in quarters, and even then they held the Pranksters to their lowest score and closest game all tournament. Their only other losses at 2022 Natties came to fellow 2024 semis picks Carleton and Portland, the latter on universe. 2023 played out similarly, with the Sneetches losing to Middlebury in pool play and then fellow picks St. Olaf on universe in prequarters. A team that hasn’t broken through to semis since 2014 might not seem like the most obvious choice to make it to the final four, but Haverford and Bryn Mawr have taken their lumps and coach Jason Oswald, now with several years with the team under his belt, is sure to have some schemes cooked up to help lead the team to their best finish in a decade.
The Sneetches will be losing some key contributors, including last year’s Donovan nominee and finalist Lindsay Hua and block leader Julia Smeltzer. But they’ve shown the ability to quickly develop their depth pieces, as they did last year after graduating Riah Newfont, 2022 Donovan finalist and OPOTY second-runner up. And returning for the Sneetches are the team’s leading goal-scorer and captain Amy Tse, +/- leader and give-go terror Zoe Costanza, and assist leader and captain Clara Morton, who was giving even club players fits at the team’s alumni tournament, Haverween, this fall. With recent experience at the division’s top level and a coaching staff with institutional knowledge, the pieces are there for the Sneetches to finally earn their stars.
– Theresa Diffendal
Dark Horse Picks
2023 Nationals Finish: T-3rd
Overall 2023 Record: 24-3
Against the Picks: 3-0 vs. Mount Holyoke, 2-0 vs. Williams, 1-0 vs. St. Olaf, 1-0 vs. Whitman, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Carleton
The Whiptails made a deep run the last two years, falling in the final in 2022, and exiting in the semis this year. Wellesley would love to get over the hump and finally finish with a championship and have a great shot this season to do just that. Though, like many of the other teams in this division, the Whiptails lost their superstar talent in 2023 Donovan winner and POTY runner-up Tess “Roo” Dolan, the club has shown a great deal of depth since their comeback post-pandemic. Looking to step up into that role this spring will be players like Bella Steedly, Annika Wolberg, and Ella McHugh.
Steedly for her part led the team in both goals and assists at Nationals, while Wolberg was only one goal shy of Steedly and McHugh was fourth in goals and third in assists. Dolan was a high energy player for Wellesley, very involved both on and off the field. She plays with a lot of charisma and moxie. It’ll be interesting to see how the Whiptails fill in the gaps Dolan is leaving, and exciting to see this new batch of players step up and lead the team.
– Zack Davis
2023 Nationals Finish: T-5th
Overall 2023 Record: 18-10
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. St. Olaf, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Carleton, 0-1 vs. Portland, 0-2 vs. Wellesley, 0-2 vs. Mount Holyoke
The New England Region is a gauntlet in the D-III women’s division, and whoever emerges as NE22 has a good a chance as any, if not better, at a deep Nationals run. Last year the region had four bids and all four teams made quarters or better. The first team out, Bates, finished 13th in the rankings. Few teams have the luxury of playing many regular season games against elite competition, and Williams have it right in their backyard.
Undergoing said gauntlet are a bevvy of returners, quarterbacked by 2023 BPOTY second runner-up and Second Team All-American Skylar Yarter. As only a first-year Yarter led the team in assists with a whopping 25, good for third overall at Nationals. The central handler role can come with its fair share of turnovers in D-III, but Yarter was sure to get it back, leading the team in blocks as well. Williams also return Emily Stanger, their leading goal-scorer at Nationals, and Joanie Cha, who’s spent the past two offseasons playing with Northampton Starling. Experienced returners are a recipe for success in college ultimate, and if they get hot at the right time, Williams could go supernova.
– Theresa Diffendal
Mount Holyoke Daisy Chain
2023 Nationals Finish: T-6th
Overall 2023 Record: 21-9
Against the Picks: 2-0 vs. Williams, 1-0 vs. Portland, 0-1 vs. Carleton, 0-1 vs. St. Olaf, 0-3 vs. Wellesley
The argument against Mount Holyoke’s run to semis: there’s a Gigi Downey-sized hole in this Daisy Chain, and it’s hard to replace their production (team-leading 21 assists), role (center handler), or elite experience (club with Boston Slow). Mount Holyoke graduated four other seniors, including Gabbi Perry who notched a triple double (14G/10A/17B) at 2023 Nationals. Perry and Downey alone were responsible for a third of Holyoke’s offensive output.
The argument for: Daisy Chain have a bright up-and-coming star in the form of last year’s ROTY second runner-up, Charlotte Moynihan. As just a first-year Moynihan led the team in goals (15) and put up a +19 at Nationals, best on the team by a seven-point margin. If Mount Holyoke return all eligible attendees at last year’s Nationals, they’ll have 13 vets with experience on one of the division’s biggest stages. And what experience: while it had no effect on final pool standings, Daisy Chain scored the only upset among the top eight seeds at Nationals during pool play, taking down semifinalists Portland on universe. They had one of the most lopsided prequarters wins and were only stopped from going further by a well-oiled Carleton machine. Another year can do wonders for a young D-III team, and if time works its magic on Mount Holyoke, good luck breaking this chain.
– Theresa Diffendal
2023 Nationals Finish: 10th
Overall 2023 Record: 17-6
Against the Picks: 0-1 vs. Haverford/Bryn Mawr, 0-1 vs. Wellesley, 0-3 vs. Portland
Don’t count out Whitman for semis. They bring back dominant duo Gemma Munck (first in goals and G+A at 2023 Nationals) and Gabbie Campbell (first in assists), plus top contributors Ollie Fox and Josie Bygrave, and add deep threat Ingrid Noren (product of Minnesota South). They did well at OFUDG last month, beating a couple of D-I teams, a recipe for success as evidenced by Carleton Eclipse in 2022.
– Scott Dunham
Middlebury is reaching dynastic levels of dominance in the D-III men’s division–they have the longest Nationals qualifying streak dating back to 2018 and have made the final the past three of four seasons.3 2024 looks as if it will be no different, and the team may have their best chance of bringing back a title to Vermont since their first in 2019.
Losing Max Hanscom is a tough blow for sure, but the Pranksters had the best rookie class in the division last year, who now all have a full season of college ultimate under their belts. Speaking of development, no other D-III team looks like they had a stronger offseason than Middlebury, who had four players on teams that made club Nationals. Reigning DPOTY Malachi Raymond played Sub Zero and Second Team All-American Ethan Lavallee played Sprocket, while Peter Mans and Louis Deauville Beaudoin practiced for Sub Zero and DiG respectively. Other standout players include First Runner-Up ROTY Geir Hartl, who played for Sprout this summer, Max Rogers, and Jorre Dahl. If that was not enough, the school consistently manages to recruit talented freshmen with plenty of YCC experience, who surely will pop up on our radars as the season begins.
Even with their funky antics on the sidelines, Middlebury always plays a disciplined game on the field, with a high offensive efficiency and a heavy defensive pressure that is hard to beat. A few too many offensive mistakes cost them in the final against Colorado College in Ohio, however, so the team leadership will need to make the necessary adjustments for later this spring. If the Pranksters can figure out how to best utilize one of their most star-studded rosters yet, they will look toward the 2024 season with nothing less than a championship in their sights.
– Calvin Ciorba
Colorado College Wasabi
2023 Nationals Finish: 1st
Overall 2023 Record: 28-5
Against the Picks: 2-0 vs. Middlebury, 1-0 vs. St. Olaf, 1-0 vs. Missouri S&T, 1-0 vs. Williams, 1-0 vs. Richmond, 1-1 vs. Oklahoma Christian
Last spring, your friendly neighborhood Ultiworld staff were put to shame for their premature dismissal of Colorado College Wasabi. This preseason, it’s time to acknowledge the strength of the Wasabi program and the potential for back-to-back rings. Accounting for the substantial loss of Oliver Kraft and Lincoln Grench, they still have one of the most impressive top-ends in the division. Helmed by ROTY Oliver Van Linder, fiery hybrid Tanner Flagg and the dominant Samuel Davis, we can trust that the O-line is in good hands. On D-line, expect Quinn Eaheart and Will Wallace to punish anything but offensive perfection, while Eliot Kirkham maintains a composed backfield on a turn. The pieces are still there for the reigning champs.
The greatest challenge facing Wasabi this year is the inevitable pressure that comes with success. The expectation is for them to emerge this spring with the same level of dominance they demonstrated at Nationals. And that could happen. It’s also possible their players need some time to adjust to new, more involved roles in the absence of Kraft and Grench. If they can focus on development and keep their title from getting to their heads, it’s hard to believe the pressure will be an issue come May.
– Bix Weissberg
St. Olaf Berzerkers
2023 Nationals Finish: T-3rd
Overall 2023 Record: 33-7
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. Williams, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Colorado College
No discussion of the D-III men’s division in 2024 is complete, or can even start for that matter, without mentioning Will Brandt. The two–time OPOTY, two–time All-American First Team member, and returning POTY first runner-up already boasts one of the most decorated careers in the division’s history, and he returns for his senior year as the unquestioned best player in the division to lead a St. Olaf team that has made the semifinals in every season Brandt has been on the team.
But don’t be fooled by Brandt’s stardom into thinking this is a one-person team. Eric Crosby Lehmann led the team in goals at Nationals last May and is coming off a season of elite-level club experience playing alongside Brandt with Minneapolis Sub Zero. Matt Kompelien is a large and skilled thrower who can pick apart opposing defenses that focus too much on Brandt. Add in players with loads of big-game experience from the past couple of years and, to top it off, a well-rehearsed coaching staff who regularly succeeds at orchestrating defensive looks which allow the team’s most important playmakers to stay on the field while conserving as much energy as possible.
To finally grasp the title that has seemed to evade them, the Berzerkers will have to figure out how to refine their decision-making and leverage their top-end talent late in games against defenses superior to those they face in the regular season and at North Central Regionals. Should they succeed in doing so, expect yet another college trophy headed to Northfield, Minnesota, albeit this time to a school not called Carleton.
– Jacob Cowan
2023 Nationals Finish: 15th
Overall 2023 Record: 12-10
Against the Picks: 1-1 vs. Richmond, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Missouri S&T
Whitman’s season last year, if you look closely enough, can be considered a microcosm of life. They had their times of joy, times to celebrate (cue clip of Tyler Shanahan throwing a chicken wing for a score at Nationals). The Sweets enjoyed a win-filled regular season and, after coming out victorious in their region, the Sweets earned themselves the fourth seed heading into Nationals. Unfortunately, as most stories go, that’s when the tough times came. Whitman brought a smaller squad than usual to Nationals due to it coinciding with their school’s graduation. In every game they were battling both their opponents and fatigue and did not play up to the level they and others expected.
It is a well-known fact that onions, like ogres,4 have layers. The same can be said about the Whitman Sweets. Whitman boasts some very talented players in the form of Kai Kirsch and Leo Dungan-Seaver, division veterans whose impact alone can shift the momentum of an entire game. They are a team who feed off of the energy of the game, leaning into the chaos of D-III and using it to their advantage. Put simply, the more fun they have, the better they play. If Whitman can play with the energy and joy they had at Regionals (and bring a full roster to tournaments) then be ready for them to make some serious noise this May.
– Matt Fazzalaro
2023 Nationals Finish: T-5th
Overall 2023 Record: 22-7
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. Missouri S&T, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. Colorado College, 0-1 vs. St. Olaf
No team appears to be on a better trajectory right now than Wiliams. They qualified for Nationals for the first time in 2022 and placed a fair 12th. The 2023 season saw WUFO come hot into Nationals before they lost to the eventual champions Colorado College in quarterfinals. The team then fought in the backdoor bracket to place a very respectable fifth. Now, going into 2024, the Williamstown-based team has plenty of reason to believe semifinals or beyond will be their next step.
There are no notable departures on the roster, while they return all their stars from last season. The disc-slinging All-American second-teamer Danny Klein will provide most of the offensive movement along with his cooler-minded counterpart Wade Bucheit, ROTY second runner-up. Watch for Reed Kendall and Reece Overholt to haul in the majority of Klein’s crafty looks. Defensively, DPOTY second runner-up Charlie Tantum can swing the outlook of a game with his flying layout Ds.
Williams’ heavy reliance on the deep game and flashy playmaking will either propel them toward a deep bracket run or sink their ship come Nationals. If Klein’s hucks catch fire at the right time and breaks can be converted from Tantum blocks, no D-III team will want to face WUFO in the bracket. 2023 COTY second runner-up Will Savage will hope to lead this talented squad to meet their lofty expectations in Milwaukee.
– Calvin Ciorba
Missouri S&T Miner Threat
2023 Nationals Finish: T-6th
Overall 2023 Record: 23-13
Against the Picks: 1-0 vs. Whitman, 1-2 vs. Oklahoma Christian, 0-1 vs. Middlebury, 0-1 vs. St Olaf, 0-1 vs. Williams, 0-1 vs. Richmond, 0-2 vs. Colorado College
Is it crazy to think we could see three South Central teams in the semifinals next year? Missouri S&T hope to prove that such a world exists coming off a fantastic 2023 comeback season. Miner Threat arguably should have been at Nationals in 2021 and 2022, but had to suffer through two years of USAU appointing bids based on the size and strength of the region’s previous years. However, the future two-time champions Oklahoma Christian did not exist for the two years of historical data used to create the bids, so Missouri S&T found themselves the odd man out both times. After finally going back to algorithmic bids for 2023, S&T easily earned themselves a bid, and nearly upset Middlebury in the quarterfinals.
The team had to say goodbye to fifth-years 2023 Ultiworld POTY second runner-up Michael Lahmeyr and DPOTY first runner-up Ray Mauntel, but Miner Threat has plenty of depth to back up their big losses. Junior captain Sam Papin led the Nationals field in blocks and will look to take over the handler reigns this upcoming season. Nick Gentry and Brandyss Sherman-Hall will provide Papin the necessary support in the backfield, most likely searching for Wes Fransen in the end zone to reach over every defender. Defensively, the team loves a good zone and will stay in it all the way down the field, using their patience and physical size to eventually force a turnover.
Missouri S&T also have a unique advantage in D-III, as they are one of the few public schools in a private school-dominated division. Therefore, many of their players are from the state, and many of them played meaningful reps together on the St. Louis Moonar Club team this past summer. This development and chance to build chemistry may prove vital to Miner Threat’s goals to reach their first-ever semifinal appearance next spring.
– Calvin Ciorba
Oklahoma Christian Eagles
2023 Nationals Finish: N/A
Overall 2023 Record: 21-7
Against the Picks: 2-1 vs. Missouri S&T, 1-1 vs. Colorado College
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, harking back to the 2023 regular season. Oklahoma Christian is in a league of its own, notching wins against Wisconsin and Colorado College and playing close to D-I juggernauts Carleton CUT and Tufts Emen. And then South Central Regionals happened. Nothing serves better as a wake-up call than soberly canceling flights to Columbus post-Regionals. So what does OC need to bounce back this spring?
One thing is certain: the Redeem Team is not lacking firepower. Program stalwart Emmanuel Bilolo may be gone, but the remaining roster still packs a punch. Sammy Roberts and Emmanuel Kameri return as top talent in a (particularly) deep SC region. And a taste of the college scene leaves Couper Kerns and Ryan Loui-Ying poised for successful sophomore campaigns.
Perhaps what the Eagles need is a simple reevaluation of priorities. If they plan to return to the spotlight, OC needs to keep their roster healthy and their focus on the series. How 2022 Coach of the Year Garret Taylor will go about this is an interesting question. Perhaps it means taking a larger roster? Or limiting the number of tournaments OC attends? If OC can address last season’s stumbles, expect them to come roaring back to division prominence.
– Bix Weissberg
2023 Nationals Finish: T-4th
Overall 2023 Record: 17-11
Against the Picks: 2-0 vs. Whitman, 1-0 vs. Middlebury, 1-0 vs. Missouri S&T, 0-1 vs. Colorado College
Richmond’s 2023 season was the best of times and the worst of times. After an auspicious win against Middlebury at FCS D-III Tune Up 2023, they looked poised to seriously contend for a divisional title. But tough in-season losses to Navy and Whitman, paired with a quiet exit from the Nationals bracket against Wasabi, could indicate they still have a ways to go.
So it’s challenging to put a finger on Richmond’s chances this year. But there is one statistic from Columbus that highlights the promise of this program: Richmond were the only team at Nationals on which no single player recorded more than ten goals, assists, or Ds. It doesn’t sound like much until you realize why it happened. It wasn’t due to a lack of star power: Brett Schoppert tore up any defensive set that came his way, while Henry Groves and Calvin Ciorba provided first-rate play on both sides of the disc. And it wasn’t that they weren’t winning; they went 5-1 on the weekend.
The absence of obvious superstars (statistically speaking) during Richmond’s weekend reveals something else entirely: coach Matt Graves holds the reins to a roster that is equal parts very large and very balanced. It’s a hard combination to come by in the division. The fact that they made semis and were egalitarian with the disc is a testament to their best-in-class depth and the efficacy of their systems. Many of those same players now have experience at Nationals to boot. Returning with momentum from their run in the bracket, the Spidermonkeys look poised to give the division’s best a true run for their money this year.
– Bix Weissberg
Galian was also tied for most assists on the team ↩
Let’s be honest, Middlebury will be NE1 until proven otherwise ↩
Just a little Shrek reference for those at home ↩