Since 2006, either Wisconsin or Carleton has appeared in the finals of College Nationals (Only three teams have won a National Title from 2006-2011: Florida, Wisconsin and Carleton). With storied programs and systematic offenses, both of these teams have been able to refuel year in and year out on the way to four national championships in six years. Considering this, it seems like the North Central will be a battle between teams that rely on the abilities of their whole squad against those who rely on their top talent.
My pre-season rankings are as follows:
1. Wisconsin Hodags – What is it? Not Enough.
Last year, the College Division restructuring almost separated one of the most storied rivalries in ultimate. Thankfully, CUT and the Wisconsin Hodags were allowed to continue their hatred for one another, producing a National Final that everyone was foaming at the mouth to see. While Mother Nature robbed us of a game that would have absolutely been incredible, Wisconsin is ready to do it all again, as they showed their dominance in the Fall with tournament wins at No Wisconsequences (Hodag X vs. Y final) and Missouri Loves Company. Replacing Ben Feldman, John Bergen and Cullen Geppert is not an easy task by any means, but it seems that Coach Hector Valdivia has his boys dancing to the right tune.
Thanks in part to Valdivia, the premier team known as Madison Club has returned to Nationals for the past three years in a row, with a quarterfinals appearance this past October. Madison Club has provided a chance for many Wisconsin players to learn and play together in a highly competitive scenario, adding a deeper level of chemistry and trust to many of the top Hodags. This past year, there were 6 that suited up in red, gold and black including talents like Brian Hart, Alex Simmons and Dave Wiseman, whose size helps him make big time throws as well as dominate the skies. You’ll also find Dayu Liu and Dan Park putting up the stats as two of the main hucking options for Wisconsin. Round that out with Colin Camp, whose name is well known ever since his spectacular performance in last year’s Semi-Final against Colorado and through his time with NexGen (Stats) and Madison Club. No matter what players don the baby blue, you can be sure that they will be in tip-top shape and ready to battle for every point in every game. You’ll find Wisconsin at some of the major stops of Skyd’s College Tour as they plan on attending Warm Up, Stanford and Centex before the series.
2. Carleton CUT – New Year, New Team:
Losing players like Grant Lindsley, Patrick Roberts, Alex Kinsey, James Munson, Ben Sullender, Alex Evangelides and Christian Foster would send any other team but Carleton into a rebuilding stage. However, graduating a large amount of talent is nothing new to the defending National Champions as they showed the world how deep they were after losing Kanner and Co. at the end of 2010. Looking for another seamless transition, CUT will certainly be relying on the Sockeye experience of Julian Childs-Walker and Simon Montague, as well as the latter’s incredible stint with NexGen (Stats). However, Carleton uses the fall and regular seasons to train and groom their talent so that they are the deepest team come May, so don’t be surprised if they drop an unexpected game here or there. Besides the two fish, look for Logan Weiss to tear it up defensively as well as Nick Stuart, who is looking to stay healthy and make some noise this spring. Also worth mentioning are Ian Hollyer, Sam Keller, Mike Clark and the powerful handling duo in Jonah Herscu and Justin Norden. It seems that Carleton will be an easy team to follow, as they plan on attending three of the major tournaments in Warm Up: A Florida Affair, The Stanford Invite and College Centex.
3. Iowa IHUC – There is no I in Team
2008-2009 saw the awakening of the sleeping giant that is now known as Gleason’s Army, with 4th and 5th place finish at Central Regionals that included a legendary game against the Wisconsin Hodags (2008). For the past two years, Iowa has performed extremely well at Nationals, placing T-9th in 2010 and T-3rd in 2011, their first semi-finals appearance in team history. Where do they attribute their success over the past few years? Here’s what the current Iowa captains had to say:
“We have a saying on IHUC: that Gleason’s Army has no superstars. We have many leaders on this team and everyone is a playmaker, but we are a team above all else. We don’t nominate people for Callahan and we don’t overly value individual success. The team comes first and we take pride in team success primarily.”
Sound familiar? This sense of overall humility has been expressed by two of the most successful ultimate clubs in recent history: Carleton’s CUT and Bay Area’s Revolver. For people watching IHUC, it was easy to see guys like Sean “Shark” Parker, Tyler Glenn, Jake Short, Garrett Brander and Alex Versackas dominating both sides of the disc, but accolades or shout-outs are not important to the players from Iowa. This team first attitude has created a stable program, which is now a powerhouse of the North Central, 25 solid players deep. IHUC returns successful coach Ryan Nation to the helm, and he is joined by former captain Brander and 2011 All Region Player Parker. With Jake Kersten, Jimmy Wiesbrock and Alex Rummelhart in place as captains, Iowa is looking to attend the Free State Classic, College Centex and the Chicago Invite, with the possibility of one or two more stops before the series.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Iowa runs their offense this spring, which was at times reliant on hitting their big time receivers. Last year, Iowa displayed their talents by running a system known as the German. Similar to a horizontal stack, three of the four cutters would be positioned a little deeper than normal, with the last cutter placed in the center of the field as an isolation. Glenn or Versackas would use their speed and agility to get open in the center and then attempt to hit Parker deep. With all of these players moving on, I expect to see a redefined but still very powerful Iowa. For 2012, keep an eye out for Sergei McNulty, Jake Oakley and Nick Sanchez, who were all incredibly impressive last year in Boulder.
4. Minnesota Grey Duck – Duck, Duck, Grey Duck!
After a disappointing 2011 finish, Minnesota Grey Duck has started things off right with two fall tournament finals appearances in Exit 69 Fall Classic and Missouri Loves Company, cutting through Iowa twice and CUT once. Though their losses include Eric Vandermolen, Mike Peterson, Ben Sharadin and captain Dan Hoff, Grey Duck has faith in their young roster including Stephan Mance and Austin Juds. With a less experienced team, all signs point to this being the Greg Arenson (Stats) show, with his performance late in the season determining his Minnesota’s fate.
When asked about what tournaments they would attend, Grey Duck replied: “Grey Duck chose its tournaments based on supporting Kevin Minderhout’s NexGen Network live streaming program. Minnesota’s parents rarely make it to Texas and California which is why Grey Duck is headed to Centex and Stanford Invite so they can watch at home.”
Last year, Minnesota finished the spring ranked 12th in the nation. If they can perform well with such a strong tournament schedule, Grey Duck should be able find themselves in the top 20 once again, securing another bid for this super powered region.
5. Luther LUFDA – I Believe in Eric Johnson
In front of a crowd of 300+, the boys from Decorah, Luther did the incredible by taking down the defending national champs and helping to knock them out of the running for bracket play. LUFDA returns for 2012 with some club experience under their belt and with Eric Johnson of NexGen (Stats) at the reins. While games are certainly not won by a singular player, it is pretty evident that Luther’s success is tied into how well E.J. can perform when the time comes. Also look for sophomore Josh Johnson and senior (and Captain) Ben Kofoed, both of Minneapolis Sub-Zero, to help tip the scale in LUFDA’s favor.
While their path to the series is not set in stone, it is less than likely that five North Central teams will be in the top 20. Thus, it will be important for Luther to develop their depth during the regular season in the hopes of peaking at the right time.
At No Look Scoober, we love haikus:
E.J. and LUFDA
Grey Duck and Gator Slayers
Twenty Twelve Team to Watch
Just because it’s the North Central, doesn’t mean there isn’t the possibility of teams moving up or down in the ranks. However, given the quality of the teams, the gap between the above teams and those on the edge is more like the Grand Canyon. Here are my picks for the teams on the bubble:
- Wisconsin-Eau Claire
The first three teams finished 6th-8th at the 2011 North Central Regionals tournament (unofficially), while GOP is interesting for a different reason. With their best D-1 finish being 5th place at 2010 Central Regionals (loss in game to go vs. Iowa), the Gods of Plastic were also the 2009 and 2010 D-3 national champions. With this event hopefully gaining some more steam after a successful 2011 run, the path that Carleton-GOP chooses will certainly make either the North Central Region or the Division 3 national landscape incredibly interesting.
With the 2011 success for the North Central in Boulder, CO (three out of four NC teams making Semifinals) things should be interesting for a return trip in 2012. Whoever takes the four bids (most likely); the ultimate nation can be sure of one thing:
Winter is coming.