Grinnell’s Cinderella Story

The Grinneleanor Roosevelts stole a bid to find themselves at Nationals for the first time since 2015. Entering the tournament with a 5-7 season record, could Grinnell be the underdog that the country rallies behind?

The Grinnell Grinneleanor Roosevelts celebrate making D-III Women's College Ultimate Frisbee Nationals for the first time since 2015. Photo: Grinnell - @gsveltsfrisbee
The Grinnell Grinneleanor Roosevelts celebrate making Nationals for the first time since 2015. Photo: Grinnell – @gsveltsfrisbee

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Emerging as the fourth team from an absurdly strong but top-heavy North Central, it might be easy to dismiss Grinnell as a team who stole a bid. With only seven games played in the regular season and the most impressive win coming against Michigan Tech, questions abound: Do they truly deserve to be here? Can they even win a game before consolation? Their regular season record has few wins, but don’t count Grinnell out: the intangibles will help the Grinneleanor Roosevelts pull off some upsets.

A Brief History

Grinnell has been a strong NC team, and even a dominant D-III team, in the past. With five Nationals appearances from 2010 to 2015, including a second place finish in 2012 and a third place finish in 2010 under the moniker of the Sticky Tongue Frogs, Grinnell clearly had flashes of greatness. While the Grinneleanors struggled to find the same level of success in recent seasons, that began to change last year. The opportunities for direct coaching or YCC recruits are minimal in Iowa’s relatively isolated ultimate community, but Grinnell’s captains knew they could leverage one nationally known team, the Chad Larson Experience.

Grinnell reached out to CLX in the fall of 2022 regarding coaches to help support the team during the end of that season, and Rebecca “Bex” Crown and Nick Culver answered the call. In searching for the background behind Grinnell’s success, I reached out to Bex to get the lowdown and she provided incredibly helpful information on the Grinneleanor Roosevelts, affectionately referred to as the ‘Svelts by the team.

Back in the glory days of Grinnell, the team actually had an A team and a B team, with the A team being the Sticky Tongue Frogs and the B team the Grinneleanor Roosevelts. While Bex doesn’t know exactly when the teams combined, their merge resulted in one team, the Grinneleanor Roosevelts.

Fast forward a few years and the ‘Svelts had their own coaching crew. “We met them in the late fall and came to like one or two practices to meet the teams,” Bex shared. “We were ‘hired’ in March 2023 officially like the Thursday before Midwest Throwdown, and went with them and started coaching immediately. That year Nick was a huge part of the men’s team [Grinnell Grinnellephants] actually earning their own bid. They told us they wanted to do it but didn’t really understand how that happens. Nick really stepped in and made that vision come true.”

The 2024 season proved two heavily invested coaches can make a big impact on a team that not only didn’t have coaches in the past, but were seeking the opportunity to learn directly from knowledgeable individuals.

“Grinnell hadn’t had coaches for probably over 10 years. so definitely a new thing for both programs that took some adjustments,” Bex added. “This fall we were involved right at the get-go which was definitely beneficial to both programs. You can just see the growth that’s taken place from early spring 2023 to now. I think we’ve really found our footing with both of the Grinnell programs”.

A Focus on Team Development

As a fellow coach in the D-III Women’s North Central region, I directly experienced playing against Grinnell. Seeing the ‘Svelts’ growth from 2023 Confregionals to now has been astounding. While the team had some star players in 2023, most memorably Claire Torgelson, it was clear that the team was functioning moreso through individual skills and strengths than teamwide offensive and defensive sets.

Flash to 2024, and Grinnell looks like a well-oiled machine. Their biggest tool this season? A defensive zone that suffocates even the most comfortable handlers. What truly separates Grinnell’s zone is the active sideline chatter coming from every coach and player. The team is invested in the success of their zone, and they loudly celebrate every turn or errant forced throw. On offense, Grinnell clearly has priority looks, whether those be give and gos through Torgelson or strong unders with a dialed in continuation throw from Meredith Neid.

“I think the captains definitely deserve to be recognized as this was their dream,” Bex added, recognizing the strong captain core of Neid, Rosalie Kurtz, and Betty Lin. “They had really rallied the team to come to practices ready to work hard with the belief they could achieve a Nationals berth, while also maintaining the Svelt culture which has always been at the core of why this team continues to succeed.”

Bex also echoed the sentiment about teamwide growth with a focus on buy in. She shouted out a few additional players who have gone above and beyond in their commitment to the team, including Torgelson, Grace Kurtz, Sara Garcia, Carly St Martin-Norburg, and Lucy Leither.

Preparing for the Big Stage

In the team’s first Nationals appearance in almost a decade, it’s natural for nerves to be high. “We’ve just focused on continuing to grow both as individuals and a team,” Bex shared when asked how the team was preparing to meet the moment. “The biggest thing I’ve noticed as a coach is just how the players have been enjoying the extra time together.”

Sadly for ‘Svelt fans, Grinnell’s graduation conflicts with Nationals and will cut that time short, as captains Meredith Neid and Rosalie Kurtz, as well as St Martin-Norburg will be missing Nationals to attend their graduation. But while Grinnell will compete at Nationals with a smaller than usual roster, the broad commitment to the team’s processes and goals will clearly make the ‘Svelts a team to watch. If the wind picks up and they can use their claustrophobia-inducing zone, the ‘Svelts may just walk away with a pool play upset and a spot in the bracket.

  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.

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