After a hard fought spring season, the teams are set for this weekend’s 2013 USAU D-3 College Nationals at the Ulhlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee, WI. The teams kickoff pool play early Saturday morning, and come 2pm Sunday, we’ll be down to two teams fighting for the title. Last year’s runner-up Puget Sound is a heavy favorite as the #1 seed of the tournament, as is the 2011 champion Claremont, and of course last year’s champion Carleton College-GOP. Can the GOP squad repeat? Or will a new team take the title in Milwaukee?
As mentioned, Puget Sound comes into the weekend heavily favored. They have a total of three losses on the season (including one forfeit), and when playing fellow D3 competition – like fellow qualifiers Rice and Claremont – they’ve won. Their biggest bout this season came from Occidental, who subsequently put up a fight against Claremont in the Southwest Regionals but fell short of qualifying.
Rice’s Cloud 9 is a strong and athletic team, whose physicality could give teams nightmares.Regional rivals John Brown said their defense immediately disrupted their offense, and were “emotionally draining and intense.” Cloud 9 has been a strong D3 team in the past, including last year’s great finish, and could give Puget Sound trouble before the 1 vs. 2 seed game against the Northeast’s Bentley. Though Rice is a 4-seed, Bentley could be in for a surprise during their first pool play game.
Lehigh is an interesting team; they’re coming in with a very veteran heavy roster, and their tough mentality and style could prove treacherous to any team this weekend that overlooks them. Watch out for Junior Nick Mathison on defense for Lehigh.
In Bentley, you have a team that finished very strongly at Regionals (more on their game against Amherst in the next pool), and was able to put up some impressive results throughout the rest of the spring season. Between these four teams, I’m unsure of how exactly they’ll finish. I have Rice and Lehigh reversed in my predictions from their seeding, but aside from Puget Sound making it on to bracket play I think the rest of the pool is up in the air.
Prediction: Puget Sound (1A), Bentley (2A), Rice (3A), Lehigh (4A)
Harding, hailing from the South Central, isn’t unfamiliar with the D3 stage, and their rocky start to the season isn’t a predictor of where they’ll land this weekend. They finished strong at Huck Finn, with close loses to Iowa and Illinois on the weekend, but that was almost a month ago. Sweeping the competition at Conference Championships though is a nice run heading into the weekend – especially when no one, including fellow qualifier John Brown, could put double digit points up on them.
Could Amherst College prove to be a challenge as the pool’s number 2 seed? In a Q&A with Bentley, they said that Amherst was able to beat them by focusing on the deep game on offense, and their confident and steady play with the disc. While D3 Warmup was full of close losses for AC, the rest of their spring season saw them only lose twice. For Brandeis and North Park, their late faceoff will most likely determine who makes it onto the championship bracket. If the long rest between hard defensive opponents hurts Harding, Brandeis and North Park need to jump on that opportunity if they’d not like the last pool game to decide their fate. Brandeis has had an up and down spring season, and were beaten fairly soundly by the other two qualifiers from the New England region during Regionals. And lastly the North Park Lost Boys, who while undefeated at Regionals, did drop some early games to lesser opponents. If they can build off of the strength they showed during their last tournament, and perhaps remember how well they played last spring in Appleton, they could prove my predictions very wrong.
Prediction: Amherst (1B), Harding (2B), Brandeis (3B), North Park (4B)
Only playing tournaments for the past two months may come to help the Metro East’s Stevens Tech. They were able to qualify for Milwaukee over fellow-favorites SUNY-Fredonia and SUNY-Geneseo in the highly contested region, and post a solid record of only one loss on the entire regular season. (Note: They also sport a player whose name closely resembles Skyd’s own Zack Smith… will update if the same person.) The fact that they end up with last year’s champion, Carleton GOP, might spell trouble.
They may have picked up a few losses at Conference Championships, but GOP turned it on for Regionals to secure their shot at repeating as champions. Last year, they were able to outlast most other teams by starting with their strong fundamentals – I expect that to continue yet again this year.
The Middlebury Pranksters are the team that jokes a lot (and sings some great songs after games), but only come into the weekend with victories over Brandeis – leaving big questions if they can keep up with Stevens Tech and GOP. We all know that GOP and Middlebury have been stoked since the seeding came out to play each other this week, but you have to think they’ll take their bout pretty seriously as the loser could potentially face the 2nd place finisher from Pool B (Amherst in seeding, Harding in my predictions). To finish third in the pool could be an easy death sentence for any team in the pool.
Georgia College isn’t forgotten about either, and even with several losses to B teams littering their Score Report page, they’ll be looking to have fun and compete hard throughout the entire weekend. While I like the chances of Stevens Tech to make quarterfinals this weekend, I think GOP’s big-game experience could help push them over the edge when the two meet in the final pool play game. This leaves GOP undefeated in my book, Stevens with one loss, and while Georgia College will fight to gain entry into bracket-play, I think Middlebury will advance.
Prediction: Carleton College-GOP (1C), Stevens Tech (2C), Middlebury (3C), Georgia College (4C)
While some D3 teams have spent their spring season playing fellow-D3 squads in order to prepare themselves for this weekend, Wake Forest played a large amount of D1 squads. By my count, 5 teams that have been mentioned as strong contenders in their region at least. While they only beat one of those teams (Georgetown at Hellfish Bonanza, 11-10), this competition should have prepared the team well for pool play this weekend. The matchup everyone is fixating over is probably their bout with Claremont; this game will no doubt be an important game in deciding how the pool finishes.
But where does John Brown (the second team out of the South Central) or Wesleyan (the second team out of the Metro East) stand? The young and team-focused John Brown will be coming into Milwaukee with the legs, and will, to beat any and all competition. Playmaker Andrew Goode excels in their system on both sides of the disc, and with a comeback in their game against Rice fresh on their minds from Regionals, don’t count them out of anything.
Wesleyan is an enigma in my mind. I saw and played against them, but the shortened squad I competed against has to have added numbers and improved from the New England Open. Their close game against Stevens Tech in the game for 1st at Metro East Regionals only confuses their status going into the weekend. If they’re able to continue that fire into this weekend against Claremont and Wake Forest, they could prove to be on the winning side of the games.
While two non-series tournaments Claremont attended didn’t end as they would’ve liked, Claremont should not be ignored as a contender for the championship this weekend. Like Pool A, I am truly not sure of how to predict the finish of the pool. Claremont’s recent victory at this tournament gives them an edge into the Championship bracket for sure, but a strong Saturday by John Brown or Wesleyan could disrupt where each team finishes fairly easily.
Prediction: Claremont (1D), Wake Forest (2D), John Brown (3D), Wesleyan (4D)
The first round of the Championship Bracket, pre-quarters, also starts on Saturday. These late games could prove difficult for the second place finishers in virtually all of the pools, especially Pool A. While I’m predicting relatively few upsets going into this round, I think this will be where all of the action starts. It should make an interesting recap heading into Sunday morning to say the least.
Be sure to check back on Skyd for updates all weekend long, and follow me on Twitter (@Skyd_JLeppert) for live score updates. I’ll be doing my best to follow the action.
Photo by Brandon Wu – UltiPhotos.com