D-III College Championships 2024: Final Preview (Men’s Div)

Breaking down the stars, x-factors, and storylines surrounding the two men's division finalists, St. Olaf and Williams, ahead of their much-anticipated final bout

Williams’ Charlie Tantum rises for the sky at the 2024 D-III College Championships. Photo: Sydney Kane – UltiPhotos.com

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After two days of play, just two teams remain in the fight for a title. #5 Williams WUFO and #1 St. Olaf Berzerkers each pushed aside all challengers thus far, setting up what should be an exciting title match. Williams had never even made semis, let alone the final, prior to this year, and the Williamstown side will find themselves in uncharted territory in the finale. St. Olaf, on the other hand, made semis in each of the last three seasons prior to 2024, including a 15-11 loss in the 2022 National Championship to Oklahoma Christian, but haven’t yet won a title. They’ll look to punctuate the Will Brandt Era, which is sadly coming to an end this weekend, with that elusive championship.

How Did They Get Here?

Williams entered the weekend as the no.5 seed overall, and the second seed in Pool D, after a second place finish at New England Regionals. They’ve yet to be truly challenged thus far in Milwaukee, winning each of their games by at least four goals and taking at least a two goal lead into halftime. Pool play in particular was a breeze for WUFO, as they only allowed single digit goals to each of their poolmates en route to a +22 point differential on Saturday.

After a strong regular season and a North Central Regional championship, St. Olaf earned the no.3 seed overall in the Nationals field and the top spot in Pool C. Their greatest test came in their opening matchup, as Bates took the ‘Zerks all the way to universe point, with St. Olaf pulling out the 15-14 victory. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing for the St. Olaf, with a trio of 15-10 wins against Franciscan (in pool play), Whitman (in quarters), and Oklahoma Christian (in semis), plus a 15-7 pool play victory over Missouri S&T.

The Superstar?

Danny Klein, Williams #41: Klein is Williams’ backfield maestro, a player who prefers to keep the whole field in front of him and in his field of vision, and he has an innate ability to see the open space on the field before the defense (and sometimes his own receivers) recognize it. He’s put up a 2G/31A/7D/23T stat line thus far, with those 31 assists putting him second in the division. Klein has found the perfect balance between taking the aggressive shots with the disc and keeping it conservative as the WUFO O-line has been near flawless on the weekend. The Donovan nominee is also one of the first players Williams will cross over to the D-line when searching for a break.

Will Brandt, St. Olaf #11: What hasn’t been said about Brandt at this point in his career? He burst onto the scene in 2021 with ROTY honors and a Second Team All-American spot, and has only gotten better since. He’s now won back to back OPOTY awards, and has been on the POTY podium in each of those years as well. This year, he entered Nationals as the clear favorite to win our POTY award, and he’s done nothing but support his candidacy thus far to the tune of 8G/23A/4D/8T. He’s also a Donovan nominee, a frequent crossover to the D-line, and the Zerks will rely on him heavily in the final. Be on the lookout for his hammer throws as well, as Brandt is unafraid to trust his receivers in the deep space.

The Supporting Cast?

It’s hard to call a player who’s already made two awards podiums a BPOTY candidate, but Charlie Tantum has grown from being a steady D-line player last year to an incredible two-way force for Williams in 2024. Tantum is primarily a D-line member, but his greatest growth since last year has been in his offensive decision making, as he’s cut his turnovers in half from last Nationals. His newfound calmness with the disc has made Williams’ D-line offense even more potent. And he’s closing in on a triple-double for the weekend, as he currently boasts a 15G/10A/9D/8T line.

WUFO speedster Reed Kendall (11G/5A/4D/2T) has picked up right where he left off last year as he continues to terrorize defenses across the division. Not only does Kendall have incredible speed but his instincts are impeccable as well, and he frequently catches discs that missed their intended target. Adam Kohn (10G/5A/1D/4T) has also been a frequent visitor to the Williams end zone, as his 10 goals are third on the team, behind only Tantum and Kendall.

St. Olaf’s Gordon Larson gets up for the two-handed catch at the 2024 D-III College Championships. Photo: Sydney Kane – UltiPhotos.com

Gordon Larson would probably be the best player on over half the other teams in the division. Unfortunately, sharing the field with Brandt means Larson is relegated to second fiddle for the Zerks, a role he’s played to perfection this weekend. The sixth year has garnered significant All-American interest with his play, and his admittedly impressive surface level numbers (15G/7A/4D/10T) don’t encompass all that Larson brings to the table for St. Olaf.

Matthew Kompelien (4G/11A/7D/3T) is the primary handler on the O-line and another frequent crossover candidate, though he finds himself performing a wide variety of roles on the field. He’ll often receive the centering pass off a pull before transitioning downfield as Brandt works his way to the backfield. Eric Crosby Lehmann (4G/4A/5D/9T) has been a bit of a do-it-all hybrid for the Berzerkers, popping up in different spots to make a crucial block or score a critical goal.

The Potential X-Factor?

Reece Overholt (6G/2A/1D) and Wade Buchheit (5G/6A/8D/4T) may have had a more muted impact thus far than what we may have expected based on their showings last year, but both are known commodities St. Olaf will have to prepare for. David Kimberly’s numbers (just a single goal thus far) may indicate he’s been a peripheral figure for WUFO, but his impact on the O-line has been huge. A tall, lanky cutter, Kimberly is an expert at positioning his body to seal out defenders before attacking the disc. His size will be especially important against a St. Olaf team filled with big, athletic defenders.

Cade Ashland (9G/3A/3T) may seem like he’s been a constant presence all weekend, but seven of those goals came in St. Olaf’s opener against Bates. If that version of Ashland shows up for the final, he’ll be the X-factor. If not, he looks more like a player who will be more of a footnote on the final. Instead, Jonas Geere has all the makings of someone whose play will have a large impact on the result of the final. Geere has been one of St. Olaf’s best defenders this weekend, often taking on the toughest matchups, whether that be against a handler or a cutter. He’s also largely been quarterbacking the D-line on the turn, which struggled to convert breaks on Saturday but found much more success in that regard on Sunday. Whichever version of the D-line offense shows up against Williams could make the key difference.

The Big Storyline?

Williams’ journey over the last three years has been a story of continuous growth. The 2022 version of Williams had the ability to play tight games against some of the best teams in the division (losing on universe to no.4 seed Colorado College), but their youth and inconsistency also left them susceptible to being upset by teams they should have no trouble beating (barely defeating no.16 seed Connecticut College).1 The result was a team that finished twelfth at Nationals, as a much younger Danny Klein turned the disc over 41 times that weekend against 18 assists.

In came coach Will Savage, who helped refine and reshape WUFO into a more consistent team, one that had no problem dispatching their lesser-talented opposition, and one that played to a system that highlighted their strengths and masked their weaknesses. With a new coach in place, the 2023 version of Williams jumped all the way up to a tie for fifth place finish at Nationals. That version had no problem knocking out their lower seeded foes, but still struggled against the very best the division had to offer. A slightly more seasoned Danny Klein put up an even 28 assists to 28 turns last year in Ohio.

Another year of growth later, and Williams find themselves one game away from the pinnacle of D-III Ultimate. They’ve again had no problem with the lesser teams (big wins over Claremont and Carleton-CHOP) but this time around, they’ve excelled against some of the best teams in the division (a 15-8 win over #4 Whitman in pool play and a 15-11 win over #6 Richmond in semis). That growth we’ve been talking about has also been literal, as Williams is as deep and talented as any team in program history. And Danny Klein, now a veteran of the People’s Division, has thrown 31 assists thus far, against just 23 turns (and he’s also scored two goals!).

Whereas Williams has been a story of growth, St. Olaf has been a story of tinkering around the edges, trying to find the perfect mix in pursuit of glory. The first year of the Brandt Era was the first appearance at Nationals in six years for the Zerks, but they didn’t look at all out of place. St. Olaf finished tied for third at the 2021 Fall Nationals in Norco, losing in heart-breaking fashion to Middlebury on universe point in semis. Drew Otterlei, the POTY first runner up, and Benji Kellor, the DPOTY second runner up, were Brandt’s main sidekicks for that first run.

Five months later, Brandt and St. Olaf were the top seeded team heading into the 2022 National Championships in Milwaukee. With Donovan finalist Ben Fjetland-Souza, Second Team All-American Luke Bleers, and DPOTY Gordon Larson supporting Brandt, the Berzerkers passed every test with flying colors, setting up a much anticipated matchup with Oklahoma Christian in the final. St. Olaf, however, was no match for the Eagles, who kept Fjetland-Souza, Bleers, and Larson quiet en route to a 15-11 win.

Another year passed, and St. Olaf entered the 2023 Nationals among the top contenders, but not the favorite. Bleers was still around, but Larson missed out through injury and Fjetland-Souza graduated. Brandt did his best, but the Zerks fell in semis again to Middlebury, 15-11. Now in 2024, Larson is back, Bleers has joined the coaching staff, and a new wave of talent has risen through the ranks. Kompelien, Crosby Lehmann, Geere, Ashland and company make up arguably the most talented supporting cast Will Brandt has had in Northfield. Back at the scene of their closest chance yet at a title, St. Olaf avenged their loss from 2022 with their semifinal win over OC, giving the Eagles their first ever loss at Nationals. The Zerks are now just one win away from capping off Brandt’s career, one of the most dominant we’ve ever seen in the D-III Men’s Division, with a title.

Final Thoughts

This matchup is too close to call. Williams have a clear identity the team has fully bought into, regardless of which line or what personnel is on the field. On defense, they play a tight, smothering, almost suffocating system. Each player is alert to what’s going on elsewhere on the field and ready to poach off at a moment’s notice to help out. Buoyed by the knowledge that their defense will get the disc back, they’re unafraid to take risks on offense, and their O-line has been maybe the best in the division this weekend.

St. Olaf plays to the strengths of Brandt, but they are so much more than a one man team. The defense excels at baiting opposing offenses into bad decisions, and they often look to quickly capitalize in transition off the turn. They’re also armed with some of the best deep throwers and receivers in the country, which lends itself to a high-flying, viewer-friendly style. The Zerks have shaken off some early tournament issues and seem to be rounding into form at just the right time. The 2024 season has been as entertaining as any, with twists and turns at every corner, and it’s only fitting the year is capped off with such a tantalizing affair.

  1. Shoutout to former D-III Men’s editor Mike Ball for that note 

  1. Josh Katz
    Josh Katz

    Josh Katz first experienced playing ultimate at summer camp in 2012. He graduated with a degree in mathematics from Kenyon College in 2022, where he played for 4 years with Kenyon SERF and developed a love for the People’s Division. You can find him on Twitter at @josh_katz22

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