Four Best and Four Rising D-III Programs

Viewing combined success between top women's and men's division teams in D-III and how those strong connections could pay dividends in the Series

The Williams men's division team forms a tunnel for the Williams women's division team at the 2023 D-III Ultimate Frisbee College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner - UltiPhotos.com
The Williams men’s division team forms a tunnel for the Williams women’s division team at the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2024 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.

The national conversation in college ultimate is largely split between the men’s and women’s divisions. Outside of Middlebury, North Carolina, and a few other exceptions, the results of the men’s and women’s division teams at a single school are rarely shared. But in D-III, with such small school sizes, the two teams tend to have greater connection and continuity than their D-I counterparts. This can equate to shared team formals, mixed carpools and lodging to common tournaments, or even putting together a mixed team for party tournaments. With the recent success of teams from the same college in D-I with UNC and in D-III with Middlebury, we’ll be taking a look at which teams from a single school are expected to have the best performances and which could have the most year-over-year growth in the 2024 Series.

Best Programs

Middlebury

2023 Results

  • Pranksters (M): 2nd at Nationals
  • Pranksters (W): 1st at Nationals

Highest Historical Finish

  • Pranksters (M): 1st at Nationals (2013, 2019)
  • Pranksters (W): 1st at Nationals (2021, 2022, 2023)

While this is the first year of this type of article for D-III, Middlebury would easily run away with the best program for the past three seasons. With the women’s division team three-peating and the men’s division team making it to semifinals three times and the final twice, Middlebury is truly a force to be reckoned with in D-III. The women’s team may have a tough time maintaining their throne for 2024 after graduating 11 players, including Claire Babbott-Bryan, but returning players like Keziah Wilde and Lucy VanNewkirk are hoping to keep Middlebury at the top of the D-III women’s division, even after a rocky regular season saw them lose out on a strength bid in a deep New England region.

Very similar to their women’s division counterparts, the number one D-III men’s team of the 2020 decade so far has to be the Middlebury men’s division team. With three semifinal appearances that resulted in two final berths, Middlebury’s last three years define success. The only difference from their women’s team is the lack of a championship. This may be the year of the Pranksters however, as they have a stacked squad coming off elite club experience, including Malachi Raymond, Louis Douville Beaudon, and Geir Hartl, and enter the Series at number one in USAU’s official rankings.

Middlebury’s continual success for a D-III liberal arts school may seem hard to comprehend – especially when you consider both Middlebury squads have found success without a coach guiding the way – but the two teams’ successes build off each other’s relationship. When asked about inner workings and the two program’s connections, the captains said it “materializes from just the sheer amount of time we spend together, both on and off the field.” In fact, the two teams have mixed practices all year round, something uncommon for the division. They believe the “level of talent and skill that both teams have been able to achieve over the past years comes from this high place that we see at mixed practice.” Although the Pranksters have their own separate practices and social events at other times, this deep relationship acts as a strong factor in why these two teams have shown much success on the field these last four years.

Colorado College

2023 Results:

  • Wasabi (M): 1st at Nationals
  • Zenith (W): T-5 at Nationals

Highest Historical Finish:

  • Wasabi: 1st at Nationals (2023)
  • Zenith: D-III: T-5 at Nationals (2023), D-I: T-5 (2011)

Colorado College is unique to this list as both programs did not compete in the same division until 2023. Zenith competed in D-I and were near the top of the division for several seasons, with their highest finish being T-5 in 2011. In their first year in D-III in 2023, Zenith broke onto the scene, stealing the lone South Central bid on their way to Nationals. With a national championship for the the men’s division team, Wasabi, and a T-5 finish for the women’s division team, Zenith, Colorado College looks set to continue their combined strength into 2024.

Although Wasabi graduated All-Americans Lincoln Grench and Oliver Kraft, the team consists of many rising talents that keep them high in our power rankings. Oliver van Linder could be one of the best players in the division as only a sophomore, surrounded by a core of Tanner Flagg, Will Wallace, and Leo McGaraghan. Zenith lost a few solid players to graduation, but return breakout player Casey Shaw-Merrigan along with others ready to contribute in Soumya Keefe, Sophie Roback, and Kelsey Viadro. We here at Ultiworld are predicting a rising South Central in the women’s division for the 2024 Series, buoyed by a strong Colorado College Zenith.

Last year in the D-III Men’s semifinal, many thought one of the ways Richmond could beat a more talented Wasabi team would be from the strength of their sideline, due to the Spidermonkeys’ 35-player roster. However, the Wasabi sideline dominated the airspace throughout the game, mostly with the help of Zenith cheering for their counterparts. The friendship and admiration between the two teams was apparent, and that support lasted until Wasabi won their title the next day. When talking to the Colorado College captains, the two teams agreed that many players form their closest college bonds with each other and that they “are a very tight-knit community who support one another whenever possible.”

The Colorado College women's division team forms a tunnel for the Colorado College men's division team after they won the 2023 D-III Ultimate Frisbee College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner - UltiPhotos.com
The Colorado College women’s team celebrates with the Colorado College men’s team after Wasabi won the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

“Wabenith”1 form this strong connection by attending all the same tournaments they can. They even try to share housing so the two can socialize between tournament days, once sharing two Airbnbs for a tournament. Whether it’s the support they provide on each other’s sideline or the quality reps from their mixed scrimmages, the bond between the two squads contributed to the success both found in 2023.

St. Olaf

2023 Results:

  • Berzerkers (M): T-3 at Nationals
  • Vortex (W): T-7 at Nationals

Highest Historical Finish:

  • Berzerkers: 2nd at Nationals (2022)
  • Vortex: 1st at Nationals (2018)

St. Olaf has quite the different history between its two teams, Berzerkers and Vortex. While Vortex had huge success prior to the pandemic, winning a national championship in 2018 and being a perennial contender who made semifinals consistently, they’ve struggled to find consistency post-pandemic. Vortex did make semifinals in 2022, but were unable to find the same success in 2023 following losses to graduation. 2024 looks to be Vortex’s year with experience, chemistry, and a dominant thrower in Leina Goto, and they enter the Series first in USAU’s official rankings. With such a young team already at the top of the division, Vortex seem set to make semifinals for years to come.

The Berzerkers, however, are the exact opposite. They struggled to break through a tough North Central prior to the pandemic, but since then have made the semifinals every season, buoyed by two-time and reigning OPOTY Will Brandt and other strong local Minnesota talent. The Berzerkers are lucky enough to bring back 2022 DPOTY Gordon Larson to help the D-Line, Sub Zero player Eric Crosby Lehmann, and a talented Matt Kompelien to carry them far into the bracket.

Like many other D-III teams, there’s strong camaraderie between the Berzerkers and Vortex. This forms from practicing in the indoor field house in the winter together, social events like a yearly scavenger hunt, a fall break trip, and relaxed scrimmages together on Fridays which “incentivizes getting to know everyone involved with ultimate.”

The two teams’ leadership connection acts as one of the most important aspects for Olaf ultimate. Running a 40-team fall tournament, Exit 69, together requires many hours of coordination for logistic issues between captains. Lehmann, captain of the Berzerkers, said one way their connection fosters team success is simply that “it is nice to have other leadership to lean against when things go wrong.” Leading a team with title aspirations is not an easy task, and knowing the program you’re best friends with is doing the same can be incredibly helpful. Although both programs look like semifinalist favorites, Vortex have a much younger roster than the Zerks, who will graduate most of their stars after the 2024 season. Leaning on each other in what is sure to be a stressful season will be of the utmost importance if Vortex and the Zerks want to achieve their high goals.

Williams

2023 Results:

  • WUFO (M): T-5 at Nationals
  • Nova (W): T-5 at Nationals

Highest Historical Finish:

  • WUFO: T-5 at Nationals (2023)
  • Nova: 2nd at Nationals (2011, 2013)

Our second team from an incredibly competitive New England region, Williams is more of a dark horse pick to lead D-III in comparison to the other schools. The women’s division team, Nova, has been rising for several seasons and finished T-5 at 2023 Nationals. With minimal graduating seniors, Nova look to grow on their 2023 result by relying on young stars in Skylar Yarter and Emily Stanger, among others. If Nova can comfortably back up the NE2 spot at Regionals, Williams could be buoyed to the top of this list with a strong Nationals performance.

WUFO’s team this year mirrors many of the same similarities as their women’s team counterparts. Never qualifying for D-III Nationals before 2022, WUFO have grown much as a program in the last couple of years, placing 5th at Nationals in 2023 and finishing second in USAU’s rankings heading into the Series. The squad is almost all home-grown, with only YCC player coming to the school recently. Danny Klein runs a quick-paced offense, and Charles Tantum leads a high-intensity defensive line which may shoot the disc even more than its offense. Semifinals would be a big success for WUFO’s season, but if they catch fire at the right time, they could even make a finals appearance.

Rising Programs

Michigan Tech

2023 Results

  • DiscoTech (M): 5th at North Central Regionals
  • Superior Ma’s (W): 13th at Nationals

Highest Historical Finish

  • DiscoTech: T-13 at Nationals (2019)
  • Superior Ma’s: 6th at Nationals  (2021)

The first up-and-coming set of programs, Michigan Tech plays in a competitive North Central region historically dominated by the Northfield, Minnesota schools in both divisions, Carleton and St. Olaf. While DiscoTech have been around since the start of D-III, the Superior Ma’s had their first season in 2019. With Michigan Tech in the isolated Upper Peninsula, hundreds of miles away from any mid size metropolitan area, creating institutional knowledge that exists beyond graduating captains is challenging. To combat that this season, both DiscoTech and the Ma’s have more consistent coaching outside of tournaments.2

A testament to the team’s high ceiling, the Ma’s took Carleton Eclipse to double game point in the game-to-go in their first ever season. Since then, the Ma’s have made two Nationals appearances, stealing bids from St. Olaf in 2021 and Winona State in 2023. 2024 marks the first time the Ma’s roster lacks any individuals from the 2019 founding season. But even with limited fourth years, a large section of the team has two Nationals appearances under their belt. The Ma’s succeeded in securing one of three North Central strength bids with strong performances at Midwest Throwdown and Old Capitol Open in late March, so expect to see Michigan Tech in Milwaukee in May.

On the opposite side are DiscoTech, a predominantly party team in the mid-2010s until a driven group made a push for Nationals in 2019. While DiscoTech have less success than the Ma’s post-pandemic, they return a large portion of fifth-year players who could push DiscoTech over the North Central hump. Playing in FCS D-III Tuneup tested their abilities against some of the best teams in the division, and this experience could give them a leg up on many other teams in the North Central. With a two bid region they could surprise Carleton CHOP in the game-to-go.

The Michigan Tech captains spoke to the level of collaboration between the two schools, saying, “Ma’s and Disco players know each other well and hang out regularly outside of ultimate related events.” This connection shows itself through support at tournaments, joint social events, and a cross-program group chat on Discord. The captains believe this level of connection is a differentiator: “[The connection] helps both teams motivate each other to be more involved in the sport and creates a welcoming atmosphere…[it] helps people learn more quickly, get more practice and play time, and make strong social connections.” The supportive atmosphere breeds an environment that prioritizes connection and fosters institutional success.

Davenport

2023 Results: N/A

Highest Historical Finish: N/A

Our newest team on the block and the first scholarship program following Oklahoma Christian in 2021, Davenport University is unique in providing scholarships for both their men’s and women’s programs. While we have literally no historical results for this team, Davenport entered into a historically weak D-III region, the Great Lakes, and finished as the highest ranking Great Lakes team heading into the Series. With Knox the women’s team’s biggest competition for a trip to Nationals, Davenport could find themselves competing on the biggest stage in their first season as a team.

Davenport’s men’s team finds themselves in a similar spot. The Great Lakes have historically been the weakest region in the 2020 decade, and their presence made an immediate impact, also finishing as the highest Great Lakes team in the rankings. On the National stage, however, they don’t have the same level of stars that Oklahoma Christian had in their first year like Kyle Henke and Elliot Moore. Nabbing graduate student Tyler Shanahan will help, along with Canadian star Rowan Jamieson, but they lack the elite talent to challenge for a national championship in their first year.

Davenport’s first season presents the unique opportunity to create a program and school culture from the ground up. “As two brand-new teams, right now we are spending a lot of time figuring out our separate cultures and working on intra-team bonding,” said Davenport women’s coach Jessica Creamer. Creamer hopes to allow for more commingling as time goes on, an element that was present in their college experience and they want for the Davenport teams as well.

The teams also share a connection on the logistical side of things, including “share[ing] practice space and coordinat[ing] travel to tournaments.” Creamer continued, saying several players “live together off campus and their house has been a hub for social activities.” When asked how this connection separates Davenport from other schools, Creamer focused on where the team fits within the university. Being a part of the athletics department allows the team to take a charter bus, which “allows players and coaches to arrive at tournaments with a little more energy, which we can hopefully turn into success on the field,” said Creamer.

Whitman

2023 Results

  • Sweets (M): DNF3
  • Sweets (W): 10th at Nationals

Highest Historical Finish

  • Sweets (M): 2nd at Nationals (2010)
  • Sweets (W): D-III: 10th at Nationals (2023), D-I: 2nd at Nationals (2016)

Both Whitman Sweets teams had challenges at 2023 Nationals. The men’s division team was unable field a full-strength roster due to graduation lining up on the same weekend and couldn’t make it out of pool play, even as a top pool seed. The women’s division team surely suffered due to the same conflict, but were still able to place T-10 with wins against solid teams.

Looking ahead to the 2024 Series, the women’s division team returns strong players like Gemma Munck and Gabbie Campbell, two players who lit up the stat sheet at 2023 Nationals. The men’s division Sweets lose main handler Tyler Shanahan and most athletic player Kai Kirsch to graduation, proving no easy task, but Whitman has plenty of other explosive talent that will rise, such as Leo Dugan. Assuming there isn’t another scheduling conflict, Whitman could ascend these rankings and challenge Middlebury, St. Olaf, or Colorado College for the best school in 2024.

Lewis & Clark

2023 Results

  • Bacchus (M): 11th at Nationals
  • Artemis (W): 3rd at Northwest Regionals

Highest Historical Finish

  • Bacchus: T-3rd at Nationals (2016)
  • Artemis: T-9th at Nationals (2019)

The second Northwest team highlighted in this article, Lewis & Clark might have the most clear connection when it comes to going above and beyond their individual divisional programs. Bacchus broke into the Nationals scene for the first time since pre-pandemic in 2023, and by nabbing a strength bid are poised to return in 2024. Artemis on the other hand is in a strong but light-on-bids NW region. While both teams saw much more success prior to the pandemic’s onset, these two programs as a whole look to be on an upward trend for 2024. Artemis have cemented themselves as a competitor in recent years behind a dominant Portland. While they struggled to get wins at D-III Grand Prix this season, Artemis played close with high level teams and can leverage this experience moving into the Series, where they’ll hope to steal one of Whitman or Portland’s bids.

For Bacchus, a return to Nationals seems expected after their squad came out of nowhere last year, flying to FCS and winning five games, with a universe loss to eventual Nationals semifinalists Richmond. Their FCS success did not translate into Nationals success, as Bacchus exited silently in prequarters despite earning the sixth seed. Graduating Owen Heh and Topher Olson will make this season more challenging, but their D-III Grand Prix results demonstrate Bacchus still have enough talent to make it to Milwaukee, if they can hang onto their bid at Regionals.

Lewis & Clark is incredibly intentional at fostering culture and community at their school, with the captains stating, “mixed ultimate has quickly become a staple in Bacchus and Artemis’ agenda for our fall seasons.” This connection “fosters respect for each other as players, and we believe this helps expand our playing styles.” Bacchartemis, as they call their combined team, hosted sanctioned mixed 4s Regionals and played in the mixed 7s tournament Reigny Day this past fall.

“We are proud of our leadership in the region, and D-III in general, to promote mixed play through the Mixed 4s Regionals we hosted, and high level women’s play through D-III Grand Prix, which is the only D-III targeted women’s division tournament,” the captains said, emphasizing their commitment to creating meaningful social and playing opportunities.

On the social side of the connection, half of each team’s captains share a house together, allowing leadership to stay connected. The program has themed parties, an annual alumni game, and a yearly Bacchartemis party tournament team at Against the Grain which sees alumni and current students playing together.


  1. Wasabi + Zenith, as the teams call themselves 

  2. All three of the school’s coaches live at least six hours from Michigan Tech’s campus. 

  3. Made Nationals, but forfeited their final game in the 13 place round robin against Butler 

  1. Anna Browne
    Anna Browne

    Anna Browne is a writer for the D-III Women's Division. She has been playing competitive ultimate since 2019, spending her college years at Michigan Tech. Anna is based in Detroit, Michigan where she plays in the Women's Club Division and coaches the Michigan Tech Superior Ma's.

  2. Calvin Ciorba
    Calvin Ciorba

    Calvin Ciorba is a D-III Men's writer currently studying Leadership and Economics in his junior year at the University of Richmond. He started his ultimate career in St. Louis, MO playing ultimate at Ladue High School and St. Louis Storm YCC, when he also created the popular frisbee Instagram account Discmemes. Now he has sold the account and plays for the UR Spidermonkeys. You can find him on twitter @calvin_ciorba for passionate takes on the "People's Division."

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