On the twelfth day of Christmas Ultiworld gave to me...reasons to get hype for the 2024 college season!
December 23, 2023 by Ultiworld 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. Over the 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. Rounding out the 12 Days of College Ultimate, our reporters present the things they’re most excited about for the 2024 season!
Is it just me or does the 2024 D-I college season seem like an opportunity for the ultimate mulligan? With so many of the top teams returning so much of their top talent – thanks in large part (though not entirely) to the COVID rule granting a sixth year of eligibility to players who otherwise would have graduated from college division play – we could see a spring where subtle changes have effects that turn the 2023 results upside-down. What’s at stake is redemption, all across the board.
So many possibilities last year went un- or under-realized. Pittsburgh, Georgia, and Colorado in the men’s divison; UC Santa Barbara, Stanford, and Yale in the women’s division all feel like they fell a little bit short of their potential. Will their returners get them back over the hump this year? Will Brownian Motion finish the game differently against UNC when it counts? Can Colorado Quandary win the championship that has eluded them over the course of two consecutive appearances in the final? Can Northeastern Huskies or UCLA Smaug make the Nationals field? Can Virginia Hydra or Georgia Athena make the bracket? All of these questions represent second chances, and some of them are going to have massively different outcomes than the first time around.
While I don’t know exactly which of those mulligans above will pay off, there is one I’m extremely excited to see that I feel pretty confident about: Will Selfridge’s second attempt at having a rookie season for Utah. Selfridge was out for his entire freshman year after sustaining an injury before it started. Since then, he’s had another fantastic AUDL season with the Salt Lake Shred and earned a coveted invite to tryouts for the prime age US National teams. Cannot wait to see what kind of damage he can do the moment he takes the field in the college division.
How High Can Superfly Fly
Stanford Superfly is the definitive college ultimate dynasty and this year they are hitting a local maximum with their top players returning and a strong incoming class. Esther Filipek, Sage McGinley-Smith, and Macy Vollbrecht will be joined by the likes of Harper Baer and Dora McCotter-Hulett. Can they beat a top ranked college team? They got awfully close last year against Colorado and played UNC closer than anyone else. Is this the year that they break through and make it back to the semis for the first time since 2018? Do they have the offensive discipline to win windy games?
One of their undoings against Colorado was their reliance on throwing away passes to covered receivers. If they can rein that in, their D-line is good enough to get turns off of any team. In their quarterfinal, Stanford had 13 turns, while UNC had 11. They also got 35 turns from Colorado in their pool play loss – Stanford had 36. In short, Stanford can get the ball, but can they put it in in one try? A rematch against UNC could be thrilling. This season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting!
Brown’s Depth Could Take Down Darkside
Since the UNC three-peat started, Brown has been the only team to consistently push Darkside. They almost knocked them out of the bracket in 2023 thanks to remarkable performances from Jacques Nissen (3G, 3A) and Leo Gordon (2G, 5A). With those two returning this year, the question becomes can their depth step up enough to lighten the load on the stars and knock off Darkside and win a championship? Enter Cam Curney, who made waves in 2022 before taking 2023 off, but who is returning for the coming season. Does he make the one point difference they need? Possibly, after his performance at CCCs where he showed to be one of the most capable cutter-defenders and block-getters on Brown. If they can build a D-line that can put in breaks without Nissen and Gordon, maybe they can go all the way.
The Next Crop of College Stars
At the end of last season, we saw a number of talented, team-defining players graduate: Clara Stewart for Northeastern, Kira Flores for Virginia, and Hazel Ostrowski for Tufts, to name just a few. That’s the nature of college ultimate; in a division where change is the only constant, every year teams are losing some of their most experienced players and leaders. But with these departures comes opportunities for new stars to step up. Who will be the next central handler for Northeastern? Who’s taking the helm for Virginia? Who’s stepping into Ostrowski’s do-it-all shoes? I’m excited to see how teams rebuild their roster, readjust their strategies, and rediscover their team identity. With Nationals (and possibly the title) on the line, these teams will have to find their footing fast before the competition passes them by.
In that same vein, I’m all about being hype for growth and young talent this season. Last season, we saw exciting rookie campaigns from Trout Weybright, Quincy Booth, Acacia Hahn, among many others in a talented class. Seasoned by a year of college play, these second-years will be looking to lead their respective programs to heights they haven’t seen in recent history. Will Fugue fight their way to the semis? How far can Georgia go? I don’t know, but I’m sure these young stars have big plans in mind.
More D-III Connectivity
After making the long flight from Oregon to North Carolina last year for FCS D-III Tune Up, Lewis and Clark Bacchus decided the Northwest Region would also like to partake in the tournament hosting fun. In early November, Bacchus and their women’s team, Artemis, sent out emails to around twenty of the top teams in the division announcing the D-III Grand Prix, an elite D-III tournament to be held in Portland on February 11–12. Eight men’s and women’s teams will play seven games in a round-robin format for the weekend. On top of that, Lewis and Clark plan to host and stream a mixed all-star game under the lights, as they try to promote mixed ultimate at the college level.
FCS has largely been the only elite tournament for the men’s D-III division, while no similar tournaments for the women’s division have existed yet.1 Hopefully, this tournament will help bring more eyes to the division, provide more clarity for the regular season, and solve bid connectivity issues that often arise.
We will see how many teams decide to make the trip out to the Northwest, though, as D-III teams are known to have smaller budgets and travel mostly in-region. However, with Ultiworld planning on filming games and with a fun program hosting, this could end up being a great weekend for the D-III division.
A D-III Coverage Boom
The addition of new writers means a whole lot more coverage for the division.
The hard truth is that most of us play ultimate for one purpose and one alone: so that we may read about ourselves and our team in the paper the following week. As a result, the overall satisfaction with Ultiworld among readers is subject not just to the quality of our coverage, but also the quantity. Can we cover every single team? Hate to break it to you, folks, but the answer this season is… yes, yes we can.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to disparage Mike Ball. Mr. Ball was a D-III men’s savant. Save for occasional contributions from Alex Rubin, Chris Cassella, and others, he single-handedly provided comprehensive coverage of D-III men’s. But he’s only one man, and even he has limits.
Ultiworld’s D-III coverage expansion has brought in four new writers for the men’s division (including yours truly) and two for the women’s division. And more writers means we can kick coverage up a notch.
- The distribution of writers across the country means region-specific coverage is more possible than ever. We’re coming to a tournament near you.
- The increase in our numbers means every contested stall, egregious bid, regional rivalry and program-wide scandal will now be thoroughly documented and analyzed.
- This will catapult the division into the college ultimate spotlight. Captains and coaches will be household names by midseason.
We will leave no stone unturned so that you, the reader, can know D-III, the people’s division, like never before.
Someone Nobody’s Ever Heard of Becoming a Household Name
College ultimate is great because more than a handful of times across a season there comes a matchup in which a team as decorated as UNC or as player as lauded and experienced as Henry Ing lines up against a team of nobodies. Of course those nobodies are actual people who put in hard work to get better at playing ultimate. But, we here at Ultiworld HQ don’t even know their names, and you definitely don’t…yet. I’m excited for the moment when Noah Robinson becomes an unguardable “Big Cat” in the National semifinal or when Matt Pindilli drags a team of kids wearing sneakers and jeans to the quarterfinals of D-III Nationals or when Christian Boxley bursts his way to stardom thanks to an improbable greatest that sends his underdog squad to their first Natties.
Unless you played on Medicine Men in 2017, you probably hadn’t heard of Box before he became the token “good player” on that Georgetown team…and now he’s the reigning Club Player of the Year! I’m excited for somebody to write the first chapters of their ultimate story (well–we’ll take care of the writing), and I’m excited that we get to come along for the ride. I’m the kind of person who will occasionally dig into the archives and reread some old Skyd or Ultiworld reactions from like 2015. Remember when Ben Jagt was an unheralded tall receiver at Minnesota? He didn’t even get a write-up as a Breakout Player of the Year runner-up that year before finishing on the POTYium in 2016 after leading Grey Duck to a title. A few AUDL MVPs and a club championship later, Jagt is one of the faces of the sport, and a true star. This spring we’ll watch the humble beginnings of somebody who will be among the stars of the sport in like 2030, and I for one am excited to figure out who that star might be.
The Opportunity for a Legacy Defining Season
One of the most enjoyable parts about being a spectator of college ultimate is watching players build their legacies. For example, I can say “The Jack Williams Game” and if you’ve spent any time catching up on college film in the past couple of years, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I want more of that! And get ready folks, because it’s coming. Thanks in part to the extended eligibility policy that USA Ultimate adopted in response to the pandemic, an incredibly talented generation of players is putting together a compelling argument that the 2024 college season has the most talent of any season we’ve ever seen (except for fall Nationals in 2021, but that is quite the extraordinary case in my eyes).
The proof for this is in the pudding (and by pudding, I mean the decisions of the national team coaches): Of the 104 men-matching players who were invited to WUC tryouts, at least 13 will be playing in college this spring. On the women-matching side (which admittedly this writer is less familiar with, so I am less certain), at least five players will be playing in the college division this spring. The last time these tryouts were held, those numbers were five and two respectively. This means that there are more star players out there who have the potential for putting together a historic run through the bracket at nationals and etching their name in the history books of college ultimate.
Complementing this increase in talent, we have an agreed upon common enemy with teams going for their fourth straight titles in three of four divisions. This sets the stakes higher and adds to the potential drama of a prime-time upset. Sure, leading your team to a championship is cool and all, but defeating a three-time reigning champion? That is next level. Picture this: the best player on the no.4 seed at Nationals drops eight assists, three goals, and four Ds in semifinals and then tops that off by playing 90% of points in the final and catching the winning goal on universe point to deny UNC their fourth-straight title. That sounds to me like a career-defining achievement, and I’m excited to watch college ultimate’s best strive for this rare level of greatness on the field this season.
The Times They Are-A-Changin
As 2023 comes to a close and 2024 begins, we turn our eyes to the much anticipated start of the next season of college ultimate. Much of it will be the same as it has been in past seasons. Both Middlebury men’s and women’s teams will most likely make the final, Jacques Nissen will throw astonishingly accurate hammers, and UNC’s teams will win again, probably. These are things we have come to expect of college ultimate, and while much of the season will be unsurprising, there will still be something new. Year after year there is something new, whether it’s big or small, the game we love changes every year.
If you reflect on the college days of ultimate legends like Beau Kittredge, Josh Ziperstein, and Georgia Bosscher, they played in an era where the deep huck was king. It made the game exhilarating, dramatic, and at times, volatile. In just 15 short years, look at how things have changed. We now live in a time where teams are adapting to a dishy, small-ball style of play that has been championed by powerhouses like UNC Darkside. Our game is one of adaptation, creativity, and ingenuity, and somewhere there is a young player practicing a new throw, a coach working out a new offensive system, and a parent developing their next best snack for the sideline. I am excited for this college season not only for the throws that will be thrown, games that will be played, and stories that will be told, but also for the changes to come.
The Promise of Spring
You’d be hard pressed to find many, if any, ultimate players who would say that winter is their favorite season when it comes to playing this silly sport of ours. Sure, there are indoor leagues and outdoor leagues, and if you’re in my neck of the woods, maybe even a beach league too. But winter is not typically a time rich with ultimate activity, certainly not on grass, and most players and teams take the time to rest up to get ready for what lies ahead.
What does lie ahead, then? Well, for each and every college team this season, what lies ahead is a season full of promise, of hope that springs eternal. You see, while it doesn’t always feel like it, each and every team that plays this college season does actually start with a clean slate. With an unblemished, undefeated record that means that nothing is yet guaranteed — not even another pair of UNC titles or a fourth straight trophy for the Middlebury women’s team.
Therefore, why shouldn’t every team and every player out there gearing up for the 2024 campaign be excited at the prospect that — with clear eyes and full hearts — they can’t possibly lose. After all, the college season is as much about a team’s success on the field as it is about the relationships that get built off it, whether you win every game2 or fall short at each and every hurdle. When you look at it that way, there’s really nothing to lose and everything to gain.
So, as we wrap up our 12 Days of College Ultimate here at Ultiworld, we hope you’ll join us in holding that promise of spring for at least a little while longer. After all, there are only four more weeks until the opening pull of the 2024 college season, when fresh cleats will fly across dew-glistened grass with joy and hope and the knowledge that, at least for a moment, at least for this season, anything is possible.
There was a chance FCS had a women’s division this year, as tournament director Mike Ball included women’s teams on the interest form. However, unfortunately, not enough bids were submitted, so the tournament will only have a men’s field again. ↩
looking at you, Pleiades ↩