By: Alex Lee
Well, here we are. Spring tournaments are starting up; teams are starting to figure out their lines, cold winter teams are grinding out their indoor workouts, climate-endowed teams are scrimmaging outdoors, and everyone is looking to end up in Milwaukee come May. This may be the most wide open field that we have had in the past few years, so expect a lot of these predictions to be completely wrong come Nationals.
Here goes nothing. The tiers of college ultimate.
Tier 1: Tell Your Friends and Family to Buy a WatchESPN Subscription
In the past five years, no team has ever made it to the semifinals without making quarters the previous year, with the exception of 2011 when Iowa, Wisconsin and Colorado didn’t made the 2010 quarters. The 2011 tournament receives a slight asterisk because it was a complete mess with insane winds. We saw Carleton win the championship in a barnburner, 11-5 over Wisconsin. It should be no surprise that the four teams that made semi’s that year were three North Central teams who are all too familiar with adverse conditions and Colorado Mamabird who played on their home turf.
If we ignore 2011 and expect the trend to hold up, we’re looking at Colorado, UNC, UNC-W, Oregon, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Texas and Wisconsin as possible semifinalists.
University of North Carolina Darkside
UNC is a very popular preseason pick after last year’s campaign where they fell to Colorado in the finals. There is a lot to like about this team. They are arguably the most athletic and deepest team in the nation. Darkside did lose some major contributors from last year, including Callahan nominee Christian Johnson. But they’ve reloaded with an incoming batch of talented prospects: seven YCC players made their way to Chapel Hill, including six from the YCC champion Triforce team. Nethercutt and Snell will carry this team to a semifinal appearance and maybe even a national championship.
University of North Carolina-Wilmington Seamen
The Seamen had one of the toughest draws at last year’s nationals in the dreaded Pool D of Death. By the end of pool play, they had dropped to the third seed behind Oregon and a criminally under-seeded Carleton. However, the Seamen became the first team to fight all the way from pre-quarters into the semis: a gritty win over Harvard followed up with maybe the biggest upset of the year, a double-game point win over two-time defending national champion Pittsburgh. After re-watching the semifinal between UNC and UNC-W, it was pretty clear that UNC-W just ran out of steam against a fresher UNC. Maxstadt, Hancock and Williams will look to improve on last year’s results. I think this year we get another all North Carolina semifinal and we see UNC-W get revenge on UNC and knock off Darkside in semis to make the finals.
Carleton College CUT
I know, I know. I said that I was only going to consider teams that made quarters last year. But CUT had to deal with a very difficult season in 2014 after three of their teammates, James Adams, 20, Michael Goodgame, 20, and Paxton Harvieux, 21, tragically passed away in a car accident. Every year, it feels like we have the same conversation about Carleton: they’re loaded with talent. This year is no different with Bolton, Lim and Raynolds returning as upperclassmen. It’s almost unfair that CUT just picked up nine YCC freshmen, including two, Olson and Yanuck, who made the Junior World’s team. The rich keep getting richer. But, you have to imagine that there will be growing pains after losing longtime stalwarts Montague, Stuart and Norden. Making semis for any team this year will be tough because of the depth of the field, but any conversation about potential champions would be incomplete without Carleton.
University of Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur
I think it’s fair to say that Pittsburgh has joined the Mount Rushmore of Ultimate after making it to quarters in each of the past five years, including back-to-back championships. It’s clear that Coach Kaczmarek has established a system that is ruthlessly efficient and disciplined on offense and equally gritty and tough on defense. En Sabah Nur is consistently great as they fill voids by plugging and playing new talent. With Ranii-Dropcho returning for another year alongside Thorne, Earles and Dillon, expect to see a semifinals run that ends when they face a star-studded Oregon.
University of Oregon Ego
Oh Oregon. Ego has made the past three semifinals, but failed to advance to the finals each time, twice losing to the eventual champions. Last year, a heartbreaking injury to Fruchter on the first point of the game against Colorado seemed to drain the life out of Ego. This year they return Freechild and Smith, who are coming off of a very successful club run with Rhino. Look for the athletic Connor Matthews to turn into a household name through his aerial dominance. This is finally the year when all of the pieces fall into place. Look for Freechild to carry this team on a Mickle-esque run to bring home the championship.
Tier 2: Make Sure Your Memorial Day Plans are Flexible
Harvard University Redline
This team is too talented not to make it to Nationals. Their top seven is as good as any other in the nation. Stubbs will emerge as one of the best, if not the best, players in the nation. Harvard is a tempting, sneaky darkhorse pick, but we’ve seen over and over again that what separates good teams and great teams are guys 7-14. It’s up in the air as to whether Redline has the depth to make it past quarters.
University of Colorado Mamabird
Losing a head coach is tough. Losing a class of great seniors is tougher. Losing Callahan award-winner Jimmy Mickle is tougher yet. I’m not sure if a defending champion has had as much turnover as this Mamabird team. Last year, Colorado ran an entire squad of upperclassmen and the plan paid off as Mamabird brought the championship back to Boulder. The question is whether we see the side effects of this strategy this year. Will a choice to not integrate freshman last year hurt Mamabird? Will this team have to rely too much on the returning upperclassmen? Peterson is an athletic freak who has only gotten better after his time on Bravo. Mamabird still has quality returners, but this year it’s just not enough to make a repeat run.
Texas A&M University Dozen
Texas A&M has one of the nation’s best duos in Smith and Bennett and in a region with a relatively weaker Texas and Colorado, this may be their year. The question for this team is their depth. Will they have the role players to put around Smith and Bennett to make a deep run at Nationals?
University of Wisconsin Hodags
The Hodags have made Nationals for four straight years and there’s nothing to suggest that Coach Valdivia won’t have his team ready for another run, looking to improve on their quarterfinals finish last year.
Ever since the restructuring of the regions, the numbers of teams who have returned to nationals after qualifying the previous year are: 10, 10, 13 and 12. That means we can expect, at bare minimum, 5 teams to not be returning to Milwaukee this year. So who’s in and who’s out?
Tier 3: Book Your Tickets to Milwaukee
University of Massachusetts Zoodisc
Relatively under the radar last year, this team won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around. They return Babbitt who is coming off a club season with Ironside and look for the coaching of Booth to bring this team to a new level.
Tufts University Elephant Men (E-Men)
E-Men didn’t graduate too many players from last year and it’s tough to imagine this team that’s another year wiser and stronger to not make another Nationals appearance. They will navigate a tough Northeast region and find themselves in Milwaukee.
University of Michigan MagnUM
Michigan really didn’t get much respect last year, despite beating Pittsburgh at Steel City and making it to quarters last year. People [Editor’s note: See Leppert, Jimmy.] are underestimating again. The men of Michigan come into the season with a chip on their shoulder. This team is going to prove to everyone that last year was not a fluke.
Florida State University DUF
Florida State had a great beginning to the season last year, but then seemed to peter out come Nationals time, finishing fourth in their pool. They bring back Larocque and a bevy of offensive talent. In a Southeast that’s in flux, expect Florida State to be the rock in the storm and capture the region.
University of Florida Gators
Pretty much the same song and dance for Florida. They bring back athletic talent that flourishes in their isolation-heavy offensive scheme. Ley returns and the talent on this team will see it return to Nationals.
University of Central Florida Dogs of War
The Dogs of War lose key contributors in Best and Ogren, but Coach Rocco has found a way to recruit athletes and turn them into really good ultimate players. He always gets the most out of his players. He’ll have his team ready for the series and in position to make their fourth straight Nationals appearance.
Tier 4: Welcome to the Party
Out: University of California-San Diego Air Squids
In: Stanford University Bloodthirsty
Every year the Southwest has a plethora of teams in the 20-30 portion of the rankings, but only one or two in the top 20 to grab those all important additional bids. It’s a mystery to how the Southwest is going to play out. We should have a clearer picture of the region after the Stanford Invite, but until then, lean on the pedigree of Bloodthirsty.
Out: Eastern Michigan University Fighting Hellfish
In: Northwestern University NUT
Northwestern is a very solid team from top to bottom and lost to Michigan by a point and then to Eastern Michigan in the game to go. This year they bring the Great Lakes region a second bid again and hold on to it this time around.
Out: Rutgers University Machine
In: Cornell University Buds
Someone finally did it. Someone ended the tyranny of the Buds over the Metro East. Rutgers made an incredible comeback in last year’s finals and captured the region. But Cornell is too consistent year-in and year-out, they recapture the region.
Out: University of Texas at Austin TUFF
In: University of Georgia Jojah
Every year, at least one team that made quarters fails to qualify for Nationals the next year. Texas just lost too much talent and Georgia gained too much talent to not make it. A combination of local Atlanta YCC talent and veterans who have seen some rough Southeast regionals are going to surprise some people. The Southeast is going to capture four bids this year. Mark it down.
Out: Dartmouth College Pain Train
In: University of Washington Sundodgers
It’s always been an uphill battle for any Northwest team trying to battle Oregon for a lone bid. This year the Sundodgers will secure a second bid for the Northwest and punch their ticket to Milwaukee.
[Editor’s note: Got your own predictions for the 2015 College season? Send them our way, we’re more than happy to publish them.]