Pre-Series Record: 17-6 Series Record: 13-5
End of Season Standing: 10th at College Championships, lost 8-15 to UC-Santa Barbara in 9th Place game
2010 Tournaments :2nd at Terminus, T-3rd at Easterns, 1st at Yale Cup, 1st at West New England Sectionals, 2nd at New England Regionals, 11T at College Championships.
In 2009, a strong Middlebury team that had won Easterns and put up strong showings in Vegas and at Southerns narrowly missed Nationals when key deep threat Joe MacDonald went down with a calf injury while facing Tufts in the New England Regional Final. Those paying attention were quite upset on the Pranksters’ behalf: had they qualified, Middlebury would likely have been the four seed at Nationals, and with key players Peter Prial and Nate Blumenshine graduating, there was fear that the team had missed its window of opportunity.
Middlebury made sure that their window stayed open in 2010, making Nationals for the first time in the program’s history. Continuing with a style that emphasizes cohesion, chemistry, and opportunism, the Pranksters filled the departed players’ shoes well. On their road to Nationals, The Pranksters posted two solid wins over 2010 National Semifinalist Cornell as well as victories over Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Middlebury did not lose a game in April, defeating Tufts and Harvard at Yale Cup and winning their Section. At Regionals, the Pranksters lost to a dominant Harvard team in the Final (6-13) but beat Tufts in the Backdoor Final (11-8) to qualify for the College Championships.
At Nationals, Middlebury faced a tough pool that included top seed Oregon along with Cornell, Georgia, and California San Diego. In Madison, the team struggled with both the heat and injuries (captain Joe MacDonald battled ankle issues all year, and handler Dan Glatt injured his toe early in the tournament). After losing to Cornell for the first time in 2010 and beating only UCSD, the Pranksters dropped into the tournament’s lower bracket.
Roster Turnover and Offseason Club Experience:
Graduated from the 2010 Prankster squad are captains MacDonald and Will “Gremlin” Van Heuvelen along with Glatt and Kyle “Vader” Olsen. An integral part of the Pranksters’ approach both on and off the field, MacDonald was one of college ultimate’s most threatening deep cutters last year, and Van Heuvelen and Glatt were the foundation of a Middlebury handler corps that was dedicated to possession and high-percentage offense.
This year’s captains, Jake Herman and Charlie Roberts, lead a Middlebury team that is eager to build on last year’s appearance at Nationals. Many of Middlebury’s seniors have been playing together for some time now, and the team is hoping to offset MacDonald’s departure with a more balanced cutting unit. Middlebury also returns last year’s New England Freshman of the Year, defender Mattias Fitzpatrick.
It was not until recently that many Pranksters played club ultimate. In 2009, Herman spent the summer playing with Pike, and this past season he and Roberts played with Nationals-level mixed team Gun Totin’ Teddy Bears. Cutter Jon “Waldo” Cox gained club experience with Boston’s Sons of Liberty.
On both sides of the disc, recent Middlebury teams have relied on the chemistry of a short rotation to impose its will on opponents. While speed (of both disc movement and the length of points) is the trend in college ultimate, the Pranksters style can be described as a lazy afternoon, content to stay low risk, low reward when grinding out wins.
Offensively, Middlebury has been appropriately described as a team that relies on working the disc up the force side until running out of room on the sideline, dumping, and then repeating. Their success has come from an ability to execute this strategy patiently and with precision. At first glance, Middlebury’s handlers are not particularly active, yet they position themselves in such a way that allows for reliable resets and, more importantly, the ability to dictate a slow pace of the game.
On defense, Middlebury’s bread and butter is zone. Members of the cup move very well as a unit, and wings do a great job of knowing which throws must be cut off if the disc gets through the front wall. This can be credited both to Middlebury’s chemistry and its cerebral approach to defense.
In adjusting to its roster turnover, Middlebury points to a silver lining in last year’s Nationals injuries and the May heat: the rotation had to open up in Madison, and as a result many returning Pranksters are both experienced and motivated to return to such a high level of play. This year’s Middlebury team is likely to be deeper than those of years past.
Middlebury attended Huck a Hunk O’ Burning Pumpkin, but was unable to advance past the Quarterfinal, losing to Northeastern 14-15.
So far, Middlebury’s spring schedule includes T-Town Throwdown and Terminus. Yale Cup is likely, and the team is looking to add one more event. Noticeably absent from the Pranksters’ spring schedule is Easterns, which the team will not be able to attend because of a shift in their spring break schedule.
The New England Region is unchanged from last year, and the key players are the same. Middlebury will be strong, but so will Harvard, Tufts, and Dartmouth. With the region unlikely to acquire three more bids on top of the one that it is guaranteed, one or more of the top Northeast teams will fall short of Nationals. The cohesion that Middlebury has built and the experience that it has acquired over the past few seasons give the Pranksters an early advantage, but the question is how far that goes.