WALLINGFORD — John Wodatch entered UConn as a newcomer to Ultimate, but earlier this month the Wallingford resident took the UConn Grind Ultimate team to the Division I national tournament and proved to be one of the better flying disc players in the country.
The UConn club team finished tied for 13th in the nation and Wodatch was named Second-Team All-American, the first in the school’s 42-year history to earn the honor.
“I was really surprised being an All-American,” Wodatch said Tuesday. “I feel I was playing as well as possible. The awards were never a goal. It’s more I just wanted to play well as I could and get us to nationals. It’s surprising and I didn’t expect it. It’s an honor to be named as one of the top 14 players in the country. It’s was a cool way to cap off my college career.”
Wodatch, 22, led the Grind to a sectional championship held at Yale to start a string of postseason success. The winning continued into regionals. For the first time in UConn history, the Grind collected the Metro East Region crown to earn a bid into the national tournament.
UConn was 5-0 in both the sectionals and regionals. There’s no question Wodatch led the way. He was named not merely to the Metro East D-I All-Region Team. He was the Metro East Player of the Year.
At the national tournament in Raleigh, N.C., the pool got deeper, but Wodatch and UConn more than held their own. Ranked 19th out of 20 teams, the Grind opened with a loss to eventual national runner-up Harvard. Then, in a must-win game, UConn pulled off a colossal upset over UNC-Wilmington, the No. 3 ranked team in the country at the time.
Wodatch was the star. The 2011 Sheehan grad accounted for 11 of UConn’s 15 points with two goals and a school record nine assists.
“They came in as the No. 3 team in the nation. We were 19th team, which seems close, but in our Metro East Region no team from that conference had won a game the last six years in nationals,” Wodatch related. “It was a pretty big upset that no one was expecting, except the people on this team. We knew we could win.”
After the win over Wilmington, the Grind suffered narrow defeats to Wisconsin (15-10) and Michigan (11-9). UConn earned a win in its final contest against Case Western Reserve of Ohio, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for bracket play. Seeded No. 19, the Grind finished 13th.
As for Wodatch, he finished with 18 assists, nine goals and six blocks in five national games. Those numbers went a long way in his All-American selection.
There were also powerful emotions at play. During nationals, Wodatch was mourning the death of his grandfather, Robert Wodatch. To honor him, John wrote his grandfather’s initials on his visor.
“I did it to keep him in my thoughts that weekend,” Wodatch said. “I know he would have loved to see me play. I take a lot of what he has shown me over the years in everything I do. I try to keep that with me.”
The Grind finished with a 25-12 overall record that included a 12-3 mark in postseason play. At one point in the regular season, the UConn club teamwas riding a 19-game winning streak.
“He’s an incredible player,” Grind coach Bryan Jones said. “He’s someone that can dominate the game athletically. He comes from a basketball background and he’s great at beating people for 50-50 discs.
“He has improved in throwing,” Jones added. “He was a downfield threat and did a great job delivering a throw, sometimes up to 70 yards.”
Wodatch, who described his position as a cutter/handler hybrid, recently graduated from UConn with a Master’s in Education.
“This was a good way to go out,” he said. “This was the best year the program has had and it’s been around for 42 years. This is the first year we ever made nationals.”
John has joined his brother Jeff on the pro ranks in the American Ultimate Disc League. John is playing for the New York Empire and Jeff is a cutter for the D.C. Breeze.
The two squads met on Saturday in New York. The Breeze won 27-26 in double OT. Jeff Wodatch, 28, was recently named AUDL Player of the Week.
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