D-I College Championships 2024: Madison Madness

Why the D-I college division is in the best place it’s ever been

The crowd stormed the field after Cal Poly SLO roared back late to defeat defending champion UNC Darkside in semifinals. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

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Well that was quite the day of ultimate, wasn’t it?

After an unprecedented nearly full day of pool play at D-I Nationals, Sunday offered up a delectable set of bracket games with the prequarter, quarterfinal, and semifinal rounds all lined up back-to-back-to-back. With a score of matches across the two divisions on tap, the action was already great, but what transpired was … well, take your pick of adjectives. Here are a few of my favorites that describe what may have somehow eclipsed Saturday for the title of “Best Day of Ultimate Ever.”


Let’s get the less-good out of the way first. In an unfortunate turn, the beautiful weather from Saturday didn’t carry over into Sunday, and so teams not only had to battle against their opponents but often ugly conditions too. The on-and-off wind and heavy rain made for less-than-perfect ultimate, but it arguably better showcased the human side of the athletes playing the game.

With the constantly rising talent level in the college division, it’s easy to forget that most of the players out there this weekend are just a season or few out of high school, making the fantastic play we still saw despite the challenging conditions all the more impressive. Add in the many marathon points that teams found themselves in over the course of four rounds of action, and grueling seems an apt descriptor as any for the grind that teams had to contend with on Sunday.


One of the storylines coming into the weekend was how much parity there was in both of the divisions this season. It felt as if there was a pool of contenders nearly a mile wide who could make a legitimate case for their title chances, and after two chaotic days of pool play that storyline continued to hold up in bracket play. While yes, all eight top-seeds in the women’s division advanced to the quarterfinals, all eight also had clear pros and cons for why they would advance to the semis ahead of their opposition.

On the men’s side, say hello to the no. 10 and no. 14 seeds in quarters as Minnesota stormed to the top of Pool C and NC State stunned UMass in prequarters. Even the bottom seed of the entire tournament, the underrated, overlooked, and un-ranked Michigan MagnUM were all of three points away from claiming a shock prequarters upset over now-finalists Brown. Margins-wise, how about having 10 of the 12 quarterfinal and semifinal games decided by three goals or fewer? If that’s not parity, then I don’t know what is.


The USAU archives are notorious for their spottiness, but going back at least to 2011, never before have all of the D-I semifinals been decided by three goals or fewer as they were this season. And it’s probably safe to say that never before have two college semifinals been decided by closing 5-0 runs for comeback wins as was the case for both UNC Pleiades against Colorado Quandary and Cal Poly SLO SLOCORE against UNC Darkside. Additionally, while multiple club divisions have seen dueling universe point semifinals in recent history, a D-I college division hasn’t that pleasure since 2007, when both women’s semifinals went the distance just as they did this weekend.

Looking more at the forest than the trees, Pleiades’ comeback against Colorado kept alive their hopes for an unprecedented four-peat. Meanwhile, their men’s division counterparts, Darkside, saw those same hopes extinguished by SLOCORE’s devastating final push, and it’s Cal Poly that will be the only program left looking to earn their very first title this season. Their opponents, Brown, are trying to match Carleton for the third-most titles in the men’s division with four, and Pleiades’ title challengers Stanford would love nothing more than to end UNC’s title streak while extending their own record of national titles to an astounding nine.


This last one is a bit of a freebie because it almost doesn’t matter what adjective you want to use here. I was watching everything unfold from my home on the West Coast, and even I felt absolutely stunned when first Superfly, then Pleiades, and then SLOCORE all came back from four goal deficits in the second half to win. I can’t imagine what it was like for the fans on the ground, let alone the players on the field, to experience those sensational bouncebacks, and especially so in the case of the aforementioned 5-0 final sprints from UNC and Cal Poly.

How about some of the most spectacular playmaking that you’re likely ever to see? Dawn Culton certainly had it on offer late against Colorado as she made one of the plays of all time to win it for UNC. Or how about some of the most sickening of mistakes, as many of the best players in the division couldn’t keep their grip on the disc in the most crucial of moments? Or some of the sweetest redemption you’re likely to find with Seamus Robinson the poster child, catching one of SLO’s final break scores mere minutes after stone-cold dropping a guaranteed goal at the other end.

There are, of course, plenty more adjectives one could use to define the day that was, but regardless of which you picked I think you’d find that all of them describe a college division that is in the best place it’s ever been. Scintillating storylines, tremendous talent, amazing action — college ultimate really cannot be beat, and on Sunday it felt as if we all collectively shouted that to the heavens in full voice.

With two finals to come on Memorial Day, there’s still the potential for more grueling points to be played, more history to be made, and more hearts to be swayed. Tune in, don’t look away, and enjoy as college ultimate keeps putting its best on display.

  1. Jenna Weiner
    Jenna Weiner

    Jenna Weiner is a Senior Staff Writer, a co-host of Ultiworld's Double Overtime podcast, and considers herself a purveyor of all levels of ultimate. She's played mostly on the west coast but you're likely to find her at the nearest ultimate game available.

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