A look at the sport's history, format, and contenders heading into the 2016-2017 slate
September 24, 2016 by Baker Helton in Preview with 0 comments
As this season’s professional tours wind down, many fans are looking for a way to get their competitive disc golf fix. Look no further, as Ultiworld Disc Golf will have extensive coverage of the 2016-2017 College Disc Golf season.
For those of you new to following the collegiate side of the sport, we’ll give you a crash course on everything you need to know before the qualifier season gets underway this weekend at the Great Lakes Collegiate Open in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
From format changes to the number of teams, college disc golf has been growing and changing since its inception roughly a decade ago. In that time, the National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship, which takes place each April, has grown immensely, due in large part to its propensity to adapt, according to NCDGC General Manager John Baker.
“The beautiful thing about our organization is that we are not scared to change and we are willing to go to whatever measure it takes to grow with the sport,” Baker said.
Case in point: The NCDGC has evolved from an event that started out with teams being able to compete “if they could make it there” into one in which there are multiple flights to accommodate demand. These additional flights allow for schools with newly-developed disc golf programs to garner competitive experience and take in the pomp and circumstance of a large event. The collegiate side has also grown the point in which top schools – including Iowa’s Indian Hills Community College and Michigan’s Ferris State University – are awarding scholarships to their players.
The changing landscape is having an impact on the talent coming into the sport.
“Some kids base their decision on where they are going to college based on the success of their disc golf team,” Baker said.
While the men’s side of the game is booming, more growth is needed on that of college women. The first women’s championship was held in 2012, but there are far fewer women’s teams than men, with only four teams competing in the 2016 championship. Baker said increasing that number in upcoming years is a priority.
“One of my main goals is to grow the women’s side,” Baker said. “I want to see the women’s event grow to where their national championship field is just as big as the men’s field.”
The 2016-2017 college disc golf qualifier season will run from this weekend until the NCDGC from April 12-15 at the Hippodrome Disc Golf Complex in North Augusta, South Carolina. The 2017 championship flight of the NCDGC will include 64 teams, comprised of the top 14 finishers from the 2016 NCDGC and 48 from this season’s qualifiers. These qualifiers are a tournament, or series of events, that will award one or two NCDGC berths. The final two spots will be awarded via a rankings system.
The qualifying tournaments and the NCDGC includes both singles and doubles play for teams. In the past, four players would play singles, with the best three scores counting toward the team total. In 2017, though, this will change, with all singles scores counting toward the total as a way to encourage building deeper squads.
The 2016 NCDGC champions, Augusta University, will look to become the first men’s repeat champion since the University of Georgia in 2007 and 2008. While the experienced team rode the strong play of individual champion Dustin Perry and an all-American performance from Clint Kuglar to take home the 2016 title, Augusta faces some uncertainty headed into the 2016-2017 season. Perry is nearing touring professional status and will not be able to compete in 2017, and other key contributors have graduated.
Indian Hills will look to build on its runner-up performance in the 2016 NCDGC, but its stature as a two-year community college presents its own challenges.
“We only have a few years to develop players versus four or five years for the larger schools,” Indian Hills head coach Victor Streeby said. “So we really have to maximize the effectiveness of our teams within about half the time of most other schools.”
In 2016, Indian Hills was able to do that behind two All-Americans, Ryan Anderson and Brock Dowell, who both return the 2016-2017 season. Indian Hills did lose other key players, though, and will have to look for new comers to fill those roles. Still, Streeby expressed confidence in the team’s prospects and its ability to build on the foundation set last season.
“We’re really excited about last year’s finish,” Streeby said. “We’ve been riding that excitement since April, and it’s time to get focused on this year, and we hope that we can be competitive as ever.”
Indian Hills will kick off its season by hosting the Heartland Collegiate Disc Golf Championship on October 1st and 2nd.
Ferris State University won its first national title in 2015 and has finished in the Top 10 each of the past four years. The school will look to continue that success in the 2016-2017 season by bringing back three players – including Ryan Brothy ad Alex Waters, who helped lead FSU to victory in the First Flight each of the past two years – who will be in their fourth year of collegiate disc golf competition. Sam Mrdeza and Anthony Lewis, who were both part of the 2015 national championship team, also return.
Dr. Leonard Johnson, who serves as the team’s coach, says that this experience will be a contributor to its success.
“Being familiar with the course, being familiar with the format, helps to give one an edge,” Johnson said.
Ferris State did, however, lose the 2014 individual national champion in Bryan Murphy. The team’s season will start by hosting the Great Lakes Collegiate Open today and tomorrow.
Other contenders could include North Carolina State; Western Michigan; Wisconsin-Stout; Liberty University; Southwestern Oklahoma State; East Tennessee State; and Minnesota, who all finished in the Top 10 in 2016. California State University-Monterey Bay, a two time men’s champion, will look to bounce back from a disappointing 25th place finish in 2016, while its women’s squad looks to become a three-peat champion after winning it all the past two years.
As collegiate disc golf continues to grow, Ultiworld Disc Golf will be covering it every step of the way, with news and recaps through the 2016-2017 season. Stay tuned.