This article is presented by USA Ultimate and Spin Ultimate
The teams at DIII Nationals had to rely on their fundamental disc skills to succeed in Appleton. Claremont, the 2012 Champions, did just that by demonstrating their superior field positioning, decision making, and man defense that all of the teams tried to achieve throughout the weekend.
Bracket play on Sunday brought together the dominate teams to faceoff on another windy day where tight man defense and reliable short passes were the key to success. Though the players who made it to Nationals clearly have a good grasp on catching, throwing, and cutting, the competition and wind still challenged some of the best teams. A lot of down field looks were over thrown, or cutters couldn’t read the disc in the wind. I was also surprised by how frantic some of the teams were with the disc, often losing possession by throwing to teammates who were not open. Luckily some teams figured out how to succeed in the wind by moving the disc quickly and smartly to score upwind breaks.
While Grinnell relied on their quick zone to take home a great win over Bowdoin, they were the expectation during bracket play: most of these highly skilled teams forgot about zone and turned to tight man defense. Even the teams who started the day off with zone often dissolved to man as their opponents worked the disc around the cup. From the sidelines of the quarterfinal games, coaches and sidelines from all four fields were reminding the players to force the opponent in, since handlers had a hard time completing away passes upwind. The most effective man defense came from the players who stayed right on their opponents’ side and physically got in their way from getting into the open lane on an in cut. While it seemed as though zone would be the go-to option for the conditions, man defense proved to be the successful alternative.
While pool play on Saturday showed a lot of uneven games, bracket play on Sunday brought a lot of really great matchups. The two games with the (surprisingly) closest competition in quarters were Truman State University vs. Carleton Eclipse and Valparaiso vs. Haverford. In the TSU vs. Carleton game, the first half of the round was dominated by a lot of turns on both sides. While TSU threw a traditional zone and Carleton stuck with their ever-effective man defense, neither team saw a lot of completed continuation looks downfield. Eclipse eventually calmed down and began to see better field positioning and smart throws. While TSU took half at 8-7, Eclipse came back from half with a lot of energy to tie it up at 9s, and went on to win the matchup 13-10. In a similar game on the next field over, Haverford also fought through Valpo’s zone. Haverford used their great handler movement to get the disc around the cup and find openings for deep looks down the side. Haverford also smartly hucked the disc downfield when they got trapped near Valpo’s endzone, a tactic which I think ultimately helped them take home the win.
In their semi-final game against Claremont, as well as throughout the entire weekend, Carleton Eclipse showcased the value of being patient with the disc in the wind. While Claremont started off with a zone D set, the seemingly obvious choice for the windy conditions, they soon had to revert to man as Eclipse broke through their cup. Carleton showed a great balance of small, reliable passes as well as well placed deep looks downfield when there were no other options. They also continued to use their man defense to shut down Claremont’s primary cutters. Carleton demonstrated the importance not only of field positioning but also decision making in this highly contested round.
In the final showdown between Grinnell and Claremont, both teams played a similar type of game. There were clearly great disc skills as well as powerful defensive lines on both sides, and the two teams exchanged points throughout the entire round, neither one scoring an upwind break. Since a lot of the downfield throws were carried too far by the wind, most of the completed passes were short and crisp. Claremont noticed this trend early and focused on forcing the cutters of Grinnell’s spread offense out for the deep looks. The handlers on both teams were looking for both inside and outside breaks, but Claremont completed them more consistently on the endzone line, especially the high-release backhands. Ultimately Claremont was able to secure the final downwind point of the game to take home the title of 2012 DIII National Champions.
I think everyone was surprised to see how much the seeding was mixed up at the end of Saturday’s pool play. Maybe it was the hot and windy conditions or maybe it was a lack of inter-region competition during the regular season, but it’ll be interesting to see how rankings change in the future.
While on both days I saw a lot of great man D, I wonder if it was because it really worked better or because most teams weren’t ready to throw effective zone sets. If Nationals are ever in a windy place like Appleton again, I think some teams would benefit from building stronger zones during regular season competition. That being said, the defense overall this weekend was pretty impressive. On top of shutting down open-side cuts, there were a lot of layout Ds and good reads on deep looks. This kind of defense forced a lot of teams to look off their first and second options downfield, and the teams with the strongest break throws found a lot more success when they couldn’t find any other open cuts.
Feature photo by Brandon Wu (UltiPhotos.com)
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