This weekend eight top DIII teams from the Great Lakes Region will converge on a group of soccer fields in Rockford, IL to compete for the region’s one bid to DIII Nationals. The past two years, this has been a one horse race, with North Park easily advancing, but this year anything is possible. Many teams are going through a rebuilding stage with only a handful of truly experienced players on each team. However, the field is loaded with athletic rookies and second year players, making each team believe they can compete against anyone and take home that Nationals bid.
With the terrible weather all spring in the Midwest, no team has been able to show their full talent in pristine ultimate conditions. Teams have very few results and the results they do have were in less than favorable conditions, making it very difficult to choose a clear cut favorite. Here is a overview of each team:
Olivet Nazarene University
Finish at Conference: 3rd
Mascot: Black Penguins
Key Players: Ryan London, Nick Geever, Zac Carlton, Reece Story, Matt VanDyke, John Gargiulo
Overview: The Black Penguins have a very interesting team that seems to get better year after year. They have a good mix of experienced handlers to go along with some young athletic cutters. They adapt fairly well on offense and take what the defense gives them for the most part. Watching a few of their games at the Chicago Invite, I noticed they have the tendency to take contested shots deep and hope their athletic receivers come down with the 50/50 discs. On the defensive side of things, they are much better when they play man as opposed to zone, but their zone defenses aren’t terrible. In bracket play at conference Olivet played Knox, the eventual champion, in the semifinal and stayed stride for stride with them till half, but then lost steam and ended up losing by a large amount. The Black Penguins have the talent to play with anyone, especially on a nice day, but it will come down to if they have the stamina and energy on Sunday to get to Milwaukee.
Finish at Conference: 2nd
Mascot: Strangers with Candy
Key Players: Everyone on the roster
Overview: Valparaiso is very team oriented and doesn’t rely on one or two players to get the job done, but expects every single team member to contribute in one way or another. They have a patient offense, but like many college teams are not afraid let it fly if a look is somewhat there. To quote their captains, “We are a team full of Joe Flaccos: we don’t do anything outstanding, but we don’t do anything terribly poorly and in the end it works out.” With only six upperclassmen, this team is very young, and relies on their athleticism and a few good throwers. In the Conference championship game against Rose-Hulman, Valparaiso was plagued my drops and their own mistakes en route to a 15-5 defeat. With a young team and only a handful of good throwers, this team could be in for a long weekend if there is substantial wind, but if it is a calm day, don’t be surprised if this team puts up a fight, especially if they are overlooked by their competition.
Finish at Conference: N/A
Key Players: Karl Larsen, Jon Bosma, Tyler DeNooyer, Tyler Hanna, Alex Kamp
Overview: Calvin is one of those schools that have been affected by this terrible Midwest weather this season. The team has yet to play in a tournament with a complete A team, making Calvin an unknown. The team has a few all-region nominees and seven seniors that are very experienced and have the experience at Regional’s. With not many seniors this team is very young, but uses that to their advantage, as they rely heavily on their athleticism (something they haven’t been able to do in previous years). Calvin tries their best take what the defense is giving them, but with a roster full of young, athletic, tall Dutch players, they find themselves throwing deep a bit too much. After practicing in horrible conditions all spring, they actually would prefer wind and rain, which makes their zone more affective where they are able to create quick turns. Without results to go off of, I don’t know what to expect. If they are able to reel in their deep shots and only take them when they are available, they believe they have a shot to make it to the championship, and from what I see on paper I have to agree with them. A few weeks ago at last Call IV, they played Notre Dame close, losing 9-8, which makes me excited as to what they can accomplish at Regional’s. They have been competitive year in and year out at Regional’s, so I expect nothing different this year.
Finish at Conference: 1st
Key Players: Jason McGeeney, Harper Garvey
Overview: Luckily, I was able to catch the end of the first half and the complete second half of the championship game between Knox and North Park at IL-DIII Conference, and all I have to say is wow. Knox is a team that thrives on big plays and energy. Again like almost every team in this conference they are very young, but the one thing they have that others don’t is Harper Garvey. This kid can flat out ball and it is not a stretch to say he is one of the best freshmen in the nation on any level. With a few strong throwers and a full lineup of athleticism, Knox can take advantage if it is a windy day and could be the favorites. On Sunday against North Park, they were able to use the wind to their advantage and jump out to an early lead and hold on for the win. If it isn’t as windy and teams can keep the disc away from their experienced players, it could be a disappointing finish for Knox. In years past, Knox has been a team that other teams have overlooked, but I guarantee if that is the case this year, teams will be in for a rude awakening.
Finish at Conference: N/A
Mascot: Kinetic Thunder
Key Players: Ken Kaminski, Zach Johnson, Michael Gerrelts, Erich Sawaya, Justin Gauss, Ryan Denison, Jonah Heemstra, Jesse Eisenmann
Overview: Kettering is in its third full year and is focused on improving and growing as a team. Once again, they are a very young team, with about 80% of the roster being underclassmen. The team runs both horizontal and vertical stacks (something rare in young DIII teams), and will switch to whichever one will work better against the current defense. This team plays straight man to man defense, which may give them an advantage if there are good conditions, as many of the other teams have been playing zone for most of the spring. Like Knox, Kettering relies on a few strong throwers to get the disc downfield to their young, athletic cutters. This will be Kettering’s first outdoor tournament and with the weather in Michigan not cooperating this spring, they haven’t been about to get outside to practice much. This will be a good tournament for their younger players to experience a high pressure tournament, where they have the possibility to upset a few teams above them, but don’t expect them to make a run championship.
Finish at Conference: 2nd
Mascot: Lost Boys
Key Players: Tanner Mayo, Jeffery Erickson, Andrew Fredrickson, Reese Samin, Tom Williams
Overview: For the second year in a row, North Park has had a huge turnover, losing a number of starters to graduation. This is a team with one senior and three juniors, making this one of the younger teams in the region. Being a Midwest team, the Lost Boys love playing their zone, which has been effect in years past, but it, will be interesting to see if that is still the case with many new players. They run a horizontal stack and are not afraid to let it fly and play defense if it is incomplete. One thing the Lost Boys have going for them is the experience of playing at Nationals and may be able to handle the pressure of a win or go home tournament more than the other teams. If a few of their young guns can step up and play well, they will be difficult to beat, but if they get frustrated early, they could dig themselves a hole and be ending their season earlier than they want to.
Finish at Conference: 1st
Overview: Rose-Hulman is not a very flashy team, but use their brains (after all, they do go to Rose-Hulman) and are in the thick of things year in and year out. They play solid team defense, which showed as they only lost one game at the Chicago Invite, and winning out on Sunday, finishing in 33rd out of 72 teams. I don’t know if they are a young team, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they are fighting for that bid to Milwaukee come Sunday afternoon.
Finish at Conference: N/A
Overview: With not much to go on besides history, Kalamazoo could be amazing and run away with it, or could be in a complete rebuilding stage and fizzle out after game one on Saturday. They usually have a few good players they run their offense through, but once those guys get tired, it could unravel quickly.
I have asked the teams attending Regional’s to predict how they think the final rankings will pan out, and after tallying the data, here are the team’s predictions:
T-1st: North Park
4th: Olivet Nazarene
- North Park- I am not putting them here because I am an alumni, but because they have the experience of DIII Nationals under their belt, and if they can adjust to other teams style of play early, they will advance
- Knox- Probably has the two most talented players in the conference on their team and the athleticism to run with anyone. If it is windy this team becomes my favorite, but with no wind, I don’t know if they are deep enough to make it.
- Rose-Hulman- Always a solid team, but don’t see them having the talent to compete with the likes of North Park and Knox, but don’t be surprised if they make it to the championship.
- Olivet- Handful of experienced players, but after losing to Knox and North Park at conference, it will be tough to get back to the regional championship game after being in it last year.
- Calvin- Can see them upsetting a team or two and end up in the third spot, but I don’t think their tall, Dutch cutters can take them to the championship
- Valparaiso- With this being a win or go home tournament, the pressure may be too much for some teams, but with a team that knows how to have fun, they also have the chance to finish higher than some teams may think, but their talent level isn’t as great as some of the other teams.
- Kalamazoo- Don’t know enough about them to put them higher, but could finish anywhere from 5-7.
- Kettering- Too young and not enough time outside to really vie for that spot to Nationals, but is an unknown and could steal a win or two if teams aren’t careful.
To close things out, this is a region that is more wide open than it has been in the past, with 4-5 teams with a shot to win. With seedings not out yet, I can’t predict my semi-finals and finals matchups, but I see North Park pulling it out over either Knox or Rose-Hulman in the championship and earning the regions bid to Nationals for the third year in a row.