This coverage is presented by Spin Ultimate
What a great weekend in Milwaukee for the D3 Championships. It was a lot of fun interacting with all of the teams, and more importantly watching some great ultimate being played in the wind and sun. Sunday saw some of the best games of the tournament, with teams that had made the championship bracket fighting to bring the title home with them. Be on the lookout for the recap video, and film of the two championship games.
While there were several games leading up to Middlebury Pranksters vs. Puget Sound Postmen very exciting and very close finals (Claremont vs. Amherst for example), it’s important to note that two of those included the Postmen. Their first game of the day, against Harding, was a back and forth battle between the two teams. As one broke for the lead, the other would respond shortly after with a few breaks of their own – with no team taking a clear advantage, the Postmen had to play their key players a lot more than they had hoped so early on Sunday. Harding did take down the defending champion Carleton College GOP in pre-quarters late on Saturday, and put up a great fight against UPS. But UPS’s unrelenting defense proved to be too much for them, as they fell 14-13.
In the very next game, Stevens Tech gave Puget Sound another challenge. The three seed coming into the weekend, Stevens Tech hadn’t looked steady up until this game – playing without energy at times, and simply making mental mistakes that let other teams stick around during their games. This was painfully obvious during their pre-quarters game against North Park where they were up 7-1, but would only go on to win the game 15-11. Two players for the Ducks, Andrew Misthos and Marques Brownlee, led Stevens this round as they came dangerously close to taking down the Postmen. Through the first half, the Postmen looked noticeably tired, and their defense just wasn’t were it was all weekend long. After taking half 8-5 though, Stevens came out making mental mistakes that easily let the Postmen back in the game – hucks not connecting, wrong defensive positioning, etc. – and when the Postmen started clicking again on defense, they would go on to win the game 15-13 to send themselves to the championship game for the second straight year.
Meanwhile Middlebury was relatively unchallenged until the finals game for most of the weekend. Carleton College GOP played them close in pool play, but that was a long time before Sunday afternoon. I didn’t see much of their first game, quarterfinals against Lehigh (a 15-8 victory), but it seemed like Middlebury was in control on their way to a victory.
Next in semifinals, the Pranksters faced a very tired Amherst College team who was coming off of a double game point victory over Claremont Colleges. As such, Amherst started the game poorly, allowing Middlebury to go up 8-3 at half, in route to a 15-10 win. Middlebury didn’t play as strong of a second half as fatigue was starting to show. But I give a bunch of credit to Amherst – they just simply did not quit. Their defensive play picked up in the second half, and on offense they were clicking as much as they had been in route to winning pool B on Saturday. The deficit proved too much though, allowing Middlebury to advance.
Before a recap of the finals, I want to discuss an idea I was tossing around with a few people on Sunday. Seeding is a big issue in the DIII championships, only Pool A went exactly to seed (though it was dangerously close). Not that you want the tournament to go to seed, but you do want teams to play their relative talent, and you don’t want the top teams to knock each other out early. Obviously, the reason this is happening is because very few teams within DIII can play each a large amount of out of region opponents and without that, we don’t get a good picture of not only a team’s talent, but where they stand compared to teams across the country – the USAU rankings can only do so much. What if USAU started holding their own tournaments among the top DIII teams? Take the teams that finished among the highest in the rankings this year, and ship them off between tournaments across the country (probably in the southeast and west, to compete with the weather). But if USAU doesn’t want to put the events together themselves, ask the teams to, and tell teams they’ll reimburse part of the trips for them. Anything USAU you can to make sure the seeding in this tournament in both divisions is improved.
The final matchup was a great game, pitting the Pranksters and the Postmen in the stadium, and right as the wind was starting to pick up. Before the game, the Pranksters expressed some worry about the wind, but the play of senior Davis Whitehead (who got the Spin Ultimate MVP jersey for the game) changed it all. As the game began, both teams exchanged breaks and holds, with the wind proving to be a big factor. No team really established a set defense, or offense going either up or down winds.
It was after those first few points though that the fatigue of having to play two very close games just hours before was starting to show in the Postmen. Middlebury would go on a three break run, as UPS turned it on errant throws and the inability to punch it on the downwind offense. During these points, the play of Whitehead for Middlebury came out – he had a slick upwind flick break that UPS didn’t adjust to until the second half of the game. After a few lengthy points, Middlebury would go on to take half 8-5.
As they had been doing all weekend long, the Postmen came out of half ready to stage a comeback. They looked more rested, and the play of veterans Spencer Sheridan, Jonas Cole, Eric Hopfenbeck and Daniel Mozell stepped up to a point that brought them roaring back into the game – their defense and most importantly sound decisions on offense helped them put points on the board. Elliott Cohen and Sam Berkelhammer (until he went down with an injury) were also vital in the comeback. While they weren’t able to regain the lead during the second half, they were able to tie the game up several times. On the Middlebury side of the disc aside from Whitehead, Stephan Lammers, Nathan Arnosti, Will Lones and Jeff Hetzel were making plays, especially on offense late in the game on to stop more UPS breaks.
In the end, Middlebury would win after receiving downwind for double game point. They benefitted from resting key players during several defensive points. Even as their lead started to slip, they continued to rest those players on defense and in the end, they came out on top.
I’ve mentioned several times already that the Postmen looked tired compared to their play yesterday, and that was clear as the finals dragged on. But with Middlebury not facing many challenges throughout the weekend, perhaps due to their seeding, they were the more rested team and that helped push them over the edge even as they too succumbed to the same mental errors in the second half that UPS had made during the first. And in the end, the Middlebury Pranksters were the DIII Open Champions.
Sunday was full of great games and the finals were no exception. Both Middlebury College and the Puget Sound Postmen played a great game, and a big congratulation to both for their great seasons. Even though only one team came out on top this weekend, they and all of the teams competing this weekend showed that the talent level of DIII is only on the rise amongst the college scene.
Photo by Nick Lindeke – UltiPhotos.com (Full D3 Gallery)