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

St. Olaf Berzerkers win their first-ever title over Williams WUFO, 15-12

The St. Olaf Berzerkers are the 2024 D-III College Champions. Photo: Sydney Kane – UltiPhotos.com

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After three days of competition at the 2024 D-III College Championships, a victor has been crowned. Congratulations to the St. Olaf Berzerkers, who cemented the first title in program history with a 15-12 win over Williams WUFO. With the win, the Zerks avenged their demons from two years ago, when they lost in the final to Oklahoma Christian on this very same field. The win also put a cap on one of the most dominant four year stretches in D-III history; Will Brandt, Gordon Larson, Matt Kompelien, and the rest of the senior class conclude their college careers with a national championship.

Kompelien shared that the win was especially meaningful for him and Brandt. “We have played together for eight or nine years now. We lost a state championship on universe. We lost that national championship, of course. So this journey together has been truly something special,” he noted.

The title is also special for coach Luke Bleers, who played for St. Olaf at the beginning of this run. Unfortunately, Bleers tore his ACL during his final season as a player and was forced to watch his senior season from the sideline. However, he made the most of the difficult situation, taking on a coaching role that year, and Bleers continued on as a coach after graduating. Seeing the development of the team this year, as they’ve continued to sustain and grow the Zerks program, has been a meaningful experience for him, and being a part of the team that finally got over the hump has been a joy for Bleers.

The game itself lived up to its billing as every point was a hard fought affair. It was all offense in the first half, with neither side able to score a break, and each side turned the disc over just four times. St. Olaf received to start and struck first, with Brandt finding Owen Lehmkuhl at the front cone following a turn at the goal line for each team. Danny Klein responded and found Reece Overholt on a shot from midfield to the end zone for a Williams hold. The two teams traded clean holds to 5-4, when Klein would misfire on a huck to Adam Kohn.

Klein was undeterred, however, and got a quick hand block to get the disc back. This time, he successfully found Kohn for the hold. The two defenses would continue to get occasional blocks as halftime neared, but were unable to capitalize. Williams had a great chance to score a crucial break heading into half after Charlie Tantum leapt for a block in the endzone. Unfortunately for WUFO, Kjellen MacBain and Klein had a miscommunication on a reset pass which was easily intercepted by Eric Crosby Lehmann, who dished to Kompelien for the hold and the halftime lead.

After a couple of holds each way out of half, St. Olaf blinked first. A huck from Lehmkuhl sailed just too far, and Kiva Zimmerman was on hand to take the disc away. WUFO had crossed Klein and Overholt, among others, over to the D-line before the point in search of the break. A throw from Klein towards Tantum sailed just too high, but Overholt read the play perfectly and cleaned up the disc. He dumped the disc back to Klein, who floated a pass up the line for Tantum. Despite heavy pressure from Cade Ashland, Tantum leapt highest and secured the disc, earning Williams the first break of the game and giving them their first lead, 10-9.

Undeterred, St. Olaf responded immediately. They worked the disc quickly up the field, with every player getting a touch, before Crosby Lehmann hit Kompelien for the hold to level the score. On the next point, David Kimberly saw the disc go right through his hands, a costly drop that gave the Zerks the disc at midfield, looking for their first break. They found it after Larson sent an OIIO flick across the field to Grant Klebig. Klebig then found Carter Petrella in the end zone, putting St. Olaf back in front, 11-10. A pair of holds quickly followed before Williams called timeout, with the score 12-11 in favor of St. Olaf.

Unfortunately for Williams, their O-line, which had been so dominant all weekend, began to falter. After an out of bounds pull, Crosby Lehmann got a first throw hand block on Klein. Klein called a foul on the play, but the observers overruled. St. Olaf worked the disc quickly into the red zone, where they seemed to stall offensively. Jonah Geere, however, was able to get open in the back of the end zone, and Crosby Lehmann found him for a second break, opening up a 13-11 lead. Crucially, the Berzerkers were able to earn this break despite not crossing over any of Brandt, Larson, or Kompelien, and in the postgame interview, Larson cited this point as the moment he knew St. Olaf was going to win the game.

Still, Williams wasn’t ready to give up just yet. It took a dirty hold, as each side gave the disc away twice before Klein found Tantum for the goal, but Williams brought it back to 13-12 and readied for a crucial break chance. They loaded up the D-line, with Klein, Overholt, Wade Buchheit, and Reed Kendall all crossing over, and lined up in a very loose, junky defense, trying anything they could in order to get the disc back. St. Olaf wasn’t fazed a bit by the new look, as they were more than content to swing the disc from side to side and move the Williams cup. It took over 40 passes, but they worked the disc to the goal line and were poised to get the hold.

Buchheit, however, made an outstanding bid across the turf, knocking the disc away from Geere and giving WUFO another possession. Klein picked up and immediately looked deep for Kendall, but his pass was underthrown and easily knocked away by Kompelien. Williams went back to their zone look and seemed to stifle the Zerks offense, as Kompelien was forced into a risky space pass that Kendall read perfectly. Fortunately for St. Olaf, Kendall made the inexplicable decision to bat the disc up into the air, rather than down to the ground, and Max Sponseller was on hand to make the catch and save the possession. The zone now broken, the Zerks easily worked the disc into the end zone, with Kompelien rewarding Sponseller’s earlier actions with the goal.

With the score now 14-12, St. Olaf sent out one final superstar line, looking to capitalize on Williams’ suddenly shaky offense and get one last break to end the tournament. It didn’t take long, as Buchheit threw well short of Kohn on the fourth throw of the point, setting up the Berzerkers in the red zone. It took a few throws, but St. Olaf fittingly ended the game with a hammer into the end zone, though it wasn’t one of Brandt’s trademark tosses. Instead, it was Geere finding Grant Klebig for the championship winning score, as the rest of the St. Olaf team rushed onto the field to celebrate.

After the celebrations died down, Kompelien was quick to shoutout the St. Olaf coaching staff of Luke Bleers, Aidan Clements, Dave Truesdale, and Caleb Szydlo,1 who did tremendous job all season developing the younger players on the roster, giving the Berzerkers the type of quality depth they had been lacking in recent years. Brandt echoed this sentiment, sharing, “in previous years, we really relied on our top players in pool play, in quarters… and by the time we got to the games that really mattered, we were absolutely gassed. Today, I think, you saw the opposite… playing 20 deep in quarters and semis.”

Kompelien also wanted to highlight the strength of St. Olaf’s D-line, which gave him the confidence that the Zerks would be able to come back after going down a break early in the second half. The same D-line that struggled to convert break opportunities all throughout pool play punctuated each bracket victory with a break to win, with Klebig being the one to close out both the semifinal and final victories.

Larson (4G/1A) and Kompelien (2G/5A/1D) had the gaudiest stat lines for St. Olaf, but it was truly a team win, as ten different players recorded a goal or an assist, and the Berzerkers’ sideline was active throughout. Brandt had a quiet game by his standards, tallying just three assists, but his gravity away from the disc allowed the rest of the team to shine. Klebig’s three blocks led the team, and Max Sponseller saved his best for last, scoring three of his four goals on the weekend in the final.

For Williams, it was the usual suspects that played the biggest roles. Danny Klein may have slowed down a bit in the second half, but he still put up a 1G/9A statline. Those nine assists boosted him to 40 for the tournament, putting him second on the division-wide leaderboard. Charlie Tantum had three goals and two blocks, but what was most impressive about his performance was his person defense. Tantum almost exclusively matched up against Brandt on defense, and held Brandt to his second-lowest output of the weekend.2 Reece Overholt and Nicholas Bollman added three goals each for WUFO.

All weekend, and really all season, it’s felt like St. Olaf has been building towards this moment. A dedication to getting just a little bit better each and every day meant the Berzerkers peaked at just the right time, and that peak was high enough to dispatch all who challenged them in a thrilling run in Milwaukee. Congratulations to the St. Olaf Berzerkers, your 2024 D-III Men’s National Champions!

  1. Szydlo also received a Gatorade bath during the celebration, much to the enjoyment of the team 

  2. Brandt had just one goal in a 15-7 win over Missouri S&T, as St. Olaf used the large lead to get their younger players some reps 

  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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