By: Preston Goulson
Sixteen teams take the field in the men’s division at the 2017 Division III College Championships starting Saturday morning, May 20, in Lexington, Ky.
(1) Bryant, (8) Davidson, (12) Portland, (13) St. John’s
Bryant Craze (1) swaggers into Lexington as the number one overall seed after running the table this season. They hosted New England Regionals and gave the people exactly what they wanted, conceding no more than seven points in any game. That’s par for the course this season; Bryant has been swatting aside challengers at every juncture. They threw down with fellow D-III Championships hopefuls four times this season and earned wins each time. The second seed in Pool A, Davidson (8) has shown all year that they can square up with the big boys. The question is if this talented, albeit thin, roster can grind it out over the course of a long, humid weekend in Lexington without experiencing too many ill effects. If they can, look for Davidson to light up the town. The Northwest Region was always going to be a tight affair this season, and the regional final bore out that prediction. After getting off to a rough start and having to slog through the backdoor bracket, Portland (12) joins the field after beating Whitman 11-10 in the final. The team’s ability to thrive under duress should serve them very well this weekend, as they will have to fight tooth and nail to upset two of the favored teams at the tournament. St. John’s (13) has been firing on all cylinders over the latter half of the season. They parlayed that form into their regional championship, defeating Carleton College GOP 12-11 in the North Central final. As with Portland, big, close-game experience should make this pool one to watch for enthusiasts of sporting drama and exciting ultimate.
(2) Franciscan, (7) Colorado College, (11) Wheaton, (14) North Carolina-Asheville
Franciscan (2) is Ohio Valley ultimate. They come into Nationals undefeated and boasting great depth, and the placid wind conditions of the Bluegrass State should be extremely favorable for thrower extraordinaire Dominic Schuster. Although they left Winston-Salem last year with a sour taste in their mouth, don’t be surprised if Franciscan Fatal puts the cherry on top of the Sunday championship match by bringing home a second title in three years. Colorado College (7) might very well have taken a look at the elite basketball athletes that call Lexington home and decided that their brand of athletic ultimate could garner some newfound support in the Horse Capital of the World. They’re probably not far off. With senior Phil Korolog leading the way, this fast and intense team will be ready to challenge. Wheaton College (11) will be looking to make amends for their lackluster performance at Nationals last year. They can be encouraged by going undefeated at regionals, and their quick-fire handler movement will be key to unlocking the well-drilled and active defenses of the other teams in this pool. North Carolina-Asheville (14) will be right up there with Colorado College as the entertainers of this tournament. They can be gunners, but the steady leadership of fifth-year players Chad Gerber and Charlie Bridger keeps those itchy trigger fingers honest. Look for their matchup with Colorado College to be one of the more entertaining encounters of the tournament.
(3) Richmond, (6) Amherst, (10) John Brown, (15) Army
Senior Henry Babcock leads his Richmond (3) charges into battle as the third overall seed for one last hurrah. And what a hurrah it might be! Richmond has been consistently excellent all season long, even pulling off a win over D-I powerhouses Harvard in the first game of the regular season. This team has the talent and the depth to be playing late into the day on Sunday. One might look at the goose egg that Amherst (6) has put up against other college championship contenders and think about writing them off, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. These losses, to regional rivals Bryant and Dartmouth, showed marked improvement from game to game. Should that upward trajectory continue, Amherst can carry on the legacy of New England teams showing up when it really matters. John Brown (10) has been looking to fifth-year player Ethan Penner for veteran leadership all year, and it paid off with a true away victory against Texas at Centex. The third seed from the South Central Region will be looking to hook their horns into what they see as vulnerable competition in this pool. Army (15) emerged unscathed from the Metro East Region, winning every game in the series up to this point. They’ll need that momentum to carry over into this tough pool if they want to make the bracket.
(4) Air Force, (5) Dartmouth, (9) Alabama-Huntsville, (16) Occidental
Air Force (4) sure isn’t flying under anybody’s radar this season. Having put together a very good regular season, Air Force sped through South Central Regionals and racked up wins against fellow Nationals qualifiers John Brown and Colorado College. Now they’re looking to improve on last year’s semifinal run, and with a squad this talented, the sky’s the limit. Dartmouth (5) is no stranger to big occasions, traveling out to the Santa Barbara Invite earlier this season and claiming a D-I win over Washington University. But maybe that’s not as surprising as it sounds: This is Dartmouth’s first season competing at the D-III level. Their high-level experience should be very beneficial to them at this tournament. University of Alabama-Huntsville (9) has done the unprecedented, denying Georgia College a Nationals berth. And they deserve it, having gone undefeated since March and laying waste to their conference and region. Having veteran Tom Radcliffe at the helm definitely helps their cause. He has played no small part in their success this season. Occidental (16) has taken an unconventional route to Lexington via a three team round robin regional tournament. By besting Claremont and Cal Tech, Detox arrives at Nationals ready to show that this qualification unorthodoxy belies their talent and ultimate skill.
Players to Watch
Henry Babcock (Richmond)
Hank Babcock has poured his heart and soul into Richmond ultimate throughout his entire career, and it’s all shaping up for him and the team to have an excellent tournament. There won’t be any easy games for the Spidermonkeys, but Babcock has been putting the team on his back for four years now. What’s just one more tournament for the man who is about to play at his third D-III College Championship?
Ethan Penner (John Brown)
The fifth-year man’s announcement that he would be returning for another season was greeted with much rejoicing. After coming away with the 2016 Regional Player of the Year award, Ironfist was looking to Penner to replicate that success and lead them to the promised land (Lexington, Ky). He’s done that and more, stepping up as an excellent leader and mentor for the young players on his team. Fans of Ironfist can be confident that their team’s de facto player-coach will leave everything on the line this weekend, and his teammates will repay him in kind by doing the exact same thing.
Chris Johnson (Davidson)
Few players in the country are more valuable to their team than Chris Johnson is to DUFF. The senior captain didn’t play at Queen City Tune Up earlier this year, and it showed. Upon his return, the team’s form picked up, and they have become one of the surprise stories of this season. Johnson’s play earned him a nomination for the inaugural Donovan Award, and if Davidson wants to make a big splash in Lexington, they will need their leader to be firing on all cylinders.
Franciscan is one of the dominant forces at this tournament, but Pool B will be no cakewalk for them. Colorado College and North Carolina-Asheville are both exciting and vivacious teams that can make life difficult for any given team (if they’re on their game). If Franciscan can rely on their superior technical attributes, they could make quick work of this pool. But if Colorado College or UNC-Asheville can string together some big plays and swing the momentum, automatic qualification to the bracket could be up for grabs.
Davidson has a conundrum. They run with a fairly thin squad, which allows them to foster an almost unprecedented rapport and team dynamic; this also places them at significant risk should fatigue set in or injuries become a problem. This team has already comfortably won four games against Nationals qualifiers Richmond and UNC-Asheville, so it’s clear they can pack a punch. If this team can stay healthy, their chemistry alone will give them an excellent chance to claim some big wins; their prodigious talent could carry them all the way to the championship.
Games to Watch
Bryant v. Davidson
The top two seeds in Pool A, the top overall seed and your humble writer’s dark horse candidate, will square off in their last pool play game on Saturday afternoon, presumably with automatic qualification for the bracket on the line. The Bryant war machine will have quite the task on their hands with a Davidson team that has had little problem with winning big games this season.
Air Force v. Dartmouth
Dartmouth made the decision this season to hop down a division, and it’s immediately paid off with a berth at Nationals, landing them in a pool with reigning semifinalists Air Force. Both of these teams have strong résumés and traditions of excellence, and their Saturday afternoon matchup will be one to watch. Hopefully fans bring a coin because it will be a toss-up between this tussle and Bryant/Davidson for the game of pool play round three.
Richmond v. John Brown
We all know that there aren’t any easy games at the College Championships, but Richmond will get a keen reminder of that in their first pool play game on Saturday morning when they lock horns with John Brown Ironfist. Richmond is looking to go on another deep run at Nationals, but any slip-up against John Brown will be ruthlessly punished. The Spidermonkeys will need to be able to hit the ground running to keep the dream alive.