D-I College Championships 2024: Brown Dominates SLO En Route to Title (Men’s Final Recap)

Brown won their fourth title with a wire-to-wire win over Cal Poly SLO

Brown's Oscar Low celebrates a goal en route to winning the final of the 2024 D-I men's ultimate frisbee College Championships. Photo: Brian Canniff - UltiPhotos.com
Brown’s Oscar Low celebrates a goal en route to winning the final of the 2024 D-I College Championships. Photo: Brian Canniff – UltiPhotos.com

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MADISON, Wisc. – Under sunny skies at Breese Stevens Field, #7 Brown Brownian Motion defeated #6 Cal Poly SLO SLOCORE 15-11 to win the school’s fourth national title.

This Nationals was an exercise in patience for Brown. Throwers waited until just the right cut opened up before releasing the disc. In their opening game of the tournament, they sat through two separate weather delays in a showcase game against UNC. All season long they experimented with different zone defense looks and line calling combinations, dealing with frustrating losses and growth moments as they sorted out the most effective way to play. Brown’s regular season results–and frankly their pool play performance–did not exactly scream “CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM,” and yet they did not need to. BMo steadily built all season, with a quiet confidence simmering underneath their joyful faces. By the time the most important games of the season rolled around, Brown was the most prepared, best conditioned, sharpest team in the country. “It’s rare to see a team come from the prequarters round to win the championship,” Brown captain and star Jacques Nissen said. “But I still felt in each bracket game we played, we were the fresher team.”

This was not a championship born over the course of Memorial Day weekend; it was a full year in the making. “We’re a young team and we’ll undoubtedly be better next year,” BMo captain Jacques Nissen confidently declared after last season’s double game point quarterfinal loss to UNC. Nissen along with captains Caleb Moran and Luca Duclos-Orsello, and coaches Jake Smart, Jonathan Stout, and Nate Taylor worked all school year to make that prediction become a truth.

Brown’s unique strategies require a particular approach to practice and tournament preparation. BMo spend a lot of time playing three-on-three games on wide fields to practice their small-space offense. Their season-long commitment to conditioning gave BMo’s two-way stars like Nissen the platform to play as many points as were needed to eke out close wins. Brown’s four-point margin of victory over SLO was their largest of the tournament.

The highly anticipated final started under blue skies in front of a packed crowd at Breese Stevens Field. Each team settled into the match with a hold, and Cal Poly SLO enlivened their supporters in the crowd with an early break. Leo Gordon dropped a pass and Anton Orme twirled around to escape Cal Nightingale’s box out attempt as he caught Kyle Lew’s bending backhand and kept a foot in the end zone. At the moment it felt like a sign that SLO’s depth and athleticism could carry them to a win. A few points later, it was clear that this moment of triumph was just a blip during Brown’s coronation.

Even as SLO continued to generate break chances with their intense handler pressure, Brown always found an answer. Whether sending multiple defenders to crowd under a Calvin Brown huck or a timely handblock from Emmett Young, BMo continued to do all of the small things right, and that added up to a big win.

Young became a key player for Brown only in the postseason. He was a standout rookie last year, but other commitments prevented him from traveling with BMo during the regular season, and Brown was prepared to play their season without him. He stayed engaged with the team even when he could not regularly come to practice and rejoined the team in time for the series. While there was a small snafu with his rostering process,1 having Young on the field was absolutely worth the suspensions each captain had to endure during pool play.

“Just want to shout out Emmett Young…Great job on Calvin Brown,” Low said. “And I think it started from there with his hand block early on. If we start making plays early on, then we start raising our level of confidence. And we’re able to continue to make plays…Emmett just has a massive presence to him. And from day one, when he started coming back to practice, we could feel that presence.”

Midway through the first half, BMo began to break the game open. Nissen peeled off of his mark to block Calvin Brown’s huck to James Whealan and led the counterattack to give Brown a lead they would not relinquish. Brown firmly took control of the final when they added another break to extend their lead to 7-4.

Brown’s Jacques Nissen throws a backhand past trailing Cal Poly SLO defenders in the final of the 2024 D-I College Championships. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

“A swing popped over my head,” Calvin Brown recalled after the game, “but I wasn’t expecting it. They got the disc and threw up [a pass] that [Keaton Orser] was like, perfectly on track to D, and then it popped over his head perfectly into the hands of the Brown receiver. So those kinds of plays just kind of leave you frustrated, because it feels a little out of your control…the wind definitely played a big factor into those throws.”

Up until this game, the teams played all of their games at the Reddan Soccer Park. They dealt with win, rain, mud, and slop to make it to the final. Under blue skies, a large-for-ultimate crowd packed into Breese Stevens Field. UFA players might be used to the unique wind patterns that the downtown stadium atmosphere creates and the noise fans bring to a game, but these college kids were learning in real time.

“It was pretty difficult out there,” Orme said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played this stadium like this before, where it seemed like the wind was coming off the stands and like shooting up off the field. So a lot of hucks floated longer than expected….every disc in the air seemed to bounce a little bit too. We had some trouble with that. That also might have contributed to second guessing some throws and catches. It is definitely, definitely difficult.”

Brown took an 8-5 lead into the halftime break. Just 20 hours or so earlier, SLO faced a similar deficit in their semifinal game against UNC before they completed a historic comeback on the strength of positivity, belief, and unflagging effort. They knew the mountains they would have to move to engineer yet another comeback.

In addition to keeping their spirits high, SLO needed to figure out how to make their offensive points easier. “Brown, in the first half especially, did a really good job disrupting our split stack motion with help and with really tight handler defense that stymied our side to side movement,” Calvin Brown said. “They did a good job of making us a little uncomfortable or frantic, and I think everyone here and everyone on the field have shots they want back, have catches they want back, but all credit to Brown’s defense there.”

In the second half, BMo showed a series of zone and junk looks that gave SLO fits. Brown’s no-around marks played well with the slight wind, and SLO’s preferred reset options were often unavailable. While Brown had a lot of experience improvising and trusting one another to get open in the backfield somehow, someway, SLO found themselves a bit rattled by the sudden pressure at the line of scrimmage. Hammers and blades flew out of bounds in contrast to Brown’s offense which was comfortable inching the disc up a few yards at a time. “We worked incredibly hard with our legs all year,” Elliott Rosenberg said, “and we just decided that this would be a tournament where we really showed it and kept the passes down to sub 5, sub 10 yards with our legs.”

Some might call the Brown dominator offense boring, but watching all of the small movements that go into executing a series of small passes across the length of the field has a magical quality to it as well. “I remember in 2019-2020, after we won the championship,” Rosenberg said, “trying to over fit the new players into the old systems. And it honestly took a couple of years for us to really build our own identity and style around how we’re going to run our dominators.”

Each player has their own distinct style and moves. Nissen loves turning the corner while hovering his hands around an about-to-be-caught disc so he can gain positive yards with his momentum steps. Rosenberg’s step-through around backhand finds a way to get around just about every mark. Nightingale made a living this weekend juking out defenders at the front of the stack. Gordon’s signature move is the sly grin that appears on his face as he chases down a long swing and glances at the possibilities to continue upfield. “I love to play with a smile. And when that around hits, and you run through it, they are all these little small moments. It’s like a little puzzle.”

Nissen, Gordon, Rosenberg, and Nightingale get most of the credit for solving defensive puzzles and pushing the Brown dominator offense along, but midway through the second half, Young, Eli Chang, and Oscar Low weaved their way into the end zone without the help of an All-American candidate. Brown’s final break gave them an 11-7 lead and an incredible confidence that by this point in the season, they did not need Nissen or Gordon to cross over to defense in order to score. Jason Tapper, Luca Duclos-Orsello, and Nightingale did their fair share of defensive work over the course of the tournament as well, but by the end of the final, Young and Chang were leading players like Adrian Lin, Matias Lee, Andy Burris, and Zachary Kaufman, and giving SLO fits.

‘CORE’s chances were just about extinguished when Gordon emphatically footblocked Orme.

SLO consistently had break chances in the second half – they are one of the few teams to generate turnovers on a Brown team that can be incredibly stingy with the disc. “We knew about their dominator,” Calvin Brown said. “I think a lot of it comes down to adjustments on the mark to try to take away those inside looks that really get those breakside opportunities. I think not over-committing on their first cuts is really big too, because they’ll slip you and they’ll get a ton of yards to kind of get a little mini fast break. I was really happy with the way our defense played, especially that second half, I think we tipped a disc or got a D on every single one of their points. And I think that’s something to be really proud of.”

Though SLO had plenty of chances, Brown’s defense stood up to the test time and time again. Displaying a team-wide commitment to conditioning and focus, Bmo’s defenders quickly got into position after a turnover and knew which spaces to fill to disrupt SLO’s preferred offensive motion. At one point, Calvin Brown picked up a disc and spotted Orme wide open deep. Those two had connected probably hundreds of times over the past few years, but this time Nissen put himself in Calvin Brown’s throwing lane and forced the huck to go wider than Calvin Brown likely intended it. Orme had plenty of open space, but just couldn’t quite run down the quickly falling inside-out throw.

Nissen’s positioning in the lane was but one example of Brown’s execution of a smart game plan and a smart way to play the game. Brown’s attention to small details like the placement of lane poaches, or the way players on the sideline rush to bring an out-of-bounds disc to the player line so the players on the field do not need to exert extra energy chasing it or the practiced impulse BMo’s defenders have to pick up turnovers as soon as possible to begin a counterattack are but a few examples of the optimization that Brown’s leadership instills in the team.

With just one point left to score, Nissen glided down the field, dribbling through whichever defenders happened to be in his way. Nobody is better at turning a small advantage into a big advantage than Nissen and he turned a sliver of space into a championship winning throw. In a perfect encapsulation of the Brown offense, Nissen powered his way past defenders and released an in-flow backhand up the sideline and into the end zone as he was slowing down from his own cut. Tapper timed his motion with Nissen’s release and kept his back foot in bounds along the side of the end zone around a defender for the final score of the college season. On one hand, it was a close play that required near-perfect execution along tight margins. On the other, well, this is Brown we’re talking about–of course they executed another pinpoint play.

With the win, Brown joins an elite tier of men’s division programs to win four or more championships.2 While this was the final college game for Nissen, Gordon, Rosenberg, and Nightingale, Brown proved this season that they are set up to create a system for anyone to thrive. The skilled leadership and collective buy-in Brown displayed this season will not simply go away overnight. It might take another generation of growth and development, but it is entirely possible that we will be talking about Chang and Young in a few years as the next wave of Brown stars. Before they get started on the hard work of building a new championship team, Brown can enjoy this one as the culmination of five years of growth after turning over their entire 2019 championship team into another winner.

Cal Poly SLO enters the offseason coming off of the best two-year run in program history. This was SLO’s first ever final appearance. With one of the strongest coaching staffs in the country and a full line of highly talented returners, ‘CORE will be right back in the championship mix again next year. “We’re really excited,” Lew said after the game. “Every year is a new iteration of what this team means. It’s always nice to go into a season knowing you have a base to build off of, but also knowing that the season that comes ahead is going to be an entirely new, different team. So even though we’re going to be returning a lot of players, if we come in with little expectations of what this team can achieve, I’m just really excited for what that ceiling holds for us.”

  1. You can read more information here, but the short story is that each captain needed to sit out one game during pool play after Young was inadvertently left off the Regionals roster but played in the tournament. 

  2. Only UC Santa Barbara (6) and UNC (5) have more. Carleton CUT also has four. 

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

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