As we approach the pinnacle of the college season, I want to propose something: The North Central region has been the most dominant men’s college region for the last ten years, and, especially since the 2009 restructuring, its teams have conquered the national scene, showing off their mettle and Ultimate prowess. What is intriguing, however, is how impossible this should be. It flies in the face of reason that teams blessed with such miserable weather should be so good. Teams in the South or West should have distinct advantages being able to play outside year round. Yet whatever mild weather supplies, it does not provide the broad kind of success the NC now enjoys.
My conclusion, that the NC is the dominant region in men’s collegiate Ultimate, might be divisive, but it is not founded in conjecture. Currently, there are three teams from the North Central in the top 10 of Skyd’s end of year power rankings: Minnesota, Carleton and Wisconsin hold the first, fifth and eighth positions respectively. It may also come as a surprise that since 2006 Wisconsin’s Hodags or Carelton’s CUT have been in EVERY college championship finals and in 2011 even played each other. And they are not the only two programs in the NC to have success. Last year, Luther and Minnesota both reached the quarter-finals, and in 2011 Iowa made it all the way to the semis before losing to, you guessed it, Carleton. Having a great ultimate mind, I want to present several theories as to why the NC continues to leave other regions in its wake.
Theory 1: Unpredictable atmospheric conditions leads to better throwers.
Spring in the NC is a five course meal of snow, sleet, driving rain, gale force winds, and sometimes flooding. Every NC player worth his weight in geldings has played in some if not all of these conditions. Often as late as sectionals, the wind remains so turbulent that games hinge on a team getting a single upwind break and relying on “huck and D” to see the game out. This strategy is ugly and not very fun, but it forces NC teams to prepare their throws to be effective in any conditions. They must be in order to respond to creative zones designed to force throwers to resort to upside down throws. That’s why when NC teams get to even reasonable conditions their throws are impressive, clean and creative. Look at some of the better throwers to come out of the NC in the last few years: Brandon “Muffin” Malacek, Eric Johnson, Danny Miesen, Jacob Goldstein, Simon Montague … and so forth.
Theory 2: Conditioning regimens take the place of field time.
This theory also hinges on the unpredictable and harsh weather all these teams face. What do you do when you can’t play? You work your butt off in the gym. Teams simply cannot do much else besides workout, and workout hard. The theory is helped by the fact that gym space is a valuable and rare commodity at many colleges. When I was matriculated, we were lucky to get an hour of throwing space a week. That leaves a great deal of time for sprinting, lifting and doing team plyometrics. In the past, the Hodags have posted videos of the team doing sprints in their gym; Luther’s coach has a well established workout program; and Minnesota partakes in an acceleration program. This does not mean NC inherently works harder than other teams; it just means that for four months their focus is solely on conditioning.
Theory 3: Better competition breeds better teams.
This one is simple; in order to compete in this region, you have to find a way to raise your game. Historically, what this meant was that teams that wanted to get to nationals had to go through Wisconsin or Carleton (and in 2006 with one bid these two had to fight each other). For the most part, teams failed to dent Carleton’s and Wisconsin’s dominance, but then, when the bid allocation was updated, the NC suddenly had the most bids, and since 2009, the NC bids have been thus 2009: 4 2010: 4 2011: 4 2012: 5. No other region has had more than three since teams and allocations changed. In summary, this means that NC teams beating each other fostered a better rounded region. What is more remarkable is that the competitive nature of the NC continues to grow. This year the fourth highest rated team in the region is the University of Northern Iowa, and last year UW Milwaukee knocked off Iowa, and eventually lost a nationals spot to the University of Minnesota–Duluth.
Just so we are clear, I played in the NC, and my bias should be clear. However, it is hard to question the evidence. Since I have been paying attention to college ultimate, the NC has simply been the most consistent and dominant region in the nation. Granted, in the same period, Florida and Colorado have enjoyed similar success, both making it to the finals multiple times, but their regions are noticeably weaker. Take note, however, that I said college dominance, not club. When the weather clears up, the (dis)advantages seem to disappear for NC teams.
These are all just theories, and what we are seeing now could just be a seven year stretch that won’t be seen again. Who knows, maybe a new region will take over as the most dominant. We’ll have to wait until nationals to find out.
Bonus theory: The northerners have found felix felicis?
Feature photo of Julian Childs-Walker of Carleton (Photo by Christina Schmidt – UltiPhotos.com)