After not making the College Championships last year, Carleton has lived up to their seed and knocked off a determined and skilled Ohio State Fever team in the semifinals to make it to their first finals since 2004. In 2012, Carleton was playing jittery and not to lose in the game to go to the Championships – today, Carleton showed poise and resilience in the game to go to the championship, which Carleton won 15-11 over Ohio State.
While Carleton and Ohio State ostensibly played earlier in the year at Queen City Tune-Up, all three of Ohio State’s stars were absent or injured – Paige Soper, Cassie Swafford, and Nina Finley. And for Carleton, semifinals star Flannery McArdle was missing. Carleton won that game 10-7, but neither team expected it to be representative of the play today in the semifinals. The teams had similar routes to the semifinals, facing one close game and several comfortable wins – for Carleton it was a game against UBC in the second round of pool play that they eked out 15-13, while for Ohio State it was their tough quarterfinals matchup against Tufts that they won by the same score.
In this game, both teams spent the early points feeling each other out, but unlike in the previous game, the wind was not a factor. Both teams are comfortable in windy situations, with Carleton winning North Central Regionals, while Ohio State scored the most upwind goals of any team on the very windy Sunday of Centex. On the first point of the game in what was considered the upwind direction, Carleton’s Taylor Want put a disc out in front of Marley Hartman-Filson, who went up early and snatched the disc from the grasp of two deeper Ohio State defenders. Ohio State started with a forehand force, but would experiment throughout the game.
For Ohio State’s first offensive point, Carleton put out their tall cup with Brianna Rick, Marley Hartman-Filson, and Grace Quintana. Ohio State looked very smooth with Nina Finley throwing confidently out of some tight sideline situations, and after turnovers both ways, Finley would score on a huck tipped by Carleton captain Julia Snyder. That would be a theme for this game, as there were five discs caught in the endzone after defenders made great plays – four for a goal and one called back for a contested stall.
This was a game of experimentation, with both teams rapidly changing their defensive looks depending on the wind direction, game situation, and personnel on the field. Carleton played a lot of zone to man transition early on, but Ohio State moved through it comfortably behind the strength of Finley, Soper, and Caitlin Harley’s throws. Harley would have three of Ohio State’s first four assists, but she was quiet offensively after that – with no goals or assists after that fourth point. But Carleton captain Anna Reed said that they moved away from the zone defense because they felt like they had better legs after their easier quarterfinal, and they switched to playing more man defense.
Ohio State moved between a four-woman cup zone, a junky 2-3-2 zone, and man defense with a straight-up force, a forehand force, and even a little backhand force. But nothing was more effective than putting on hard man defense and tight marks and forcing Carleton’s throwers to work more for the break throws they typically find with ease. Reed attributed some early turnovers to nerves, and Ohio State capitalized and went up 6-4 after two breaks caused by strong marks and opportunistic endzone throws. But after falling behind, Carleton started to calm down, conserve the disc, and utilize their advantage playing man to man. Carleton would break back before the end of the first half behind some great dump defense on Paige Soper by Emily Buckner and a Janine Walker misthrow.
One of the big stories of the game was Carleton limiting All-American Paige Soper’s impact. Soper has struggled some this weekend against elite dump defenders, and Carleton played some great defense with Reed, Buckner, and Flannery McArdle all taking turns frustrating her. Limiting Soper’s impact as a reset and putting taller markers on her led to many of Ohio State’s late-stall dump turnovers and Soper’s huck turnovers, forcing her to worry about long arms instead of the space in front of her receiver. Soper had six turnovers, one goal, and no assists in the game, a solid endorsement of Carleton’s defense.
In the second half, Ohio State came out with more and more zone defense looks, but Snyder, Reed, Want, and freshman Kirstie Barton continued to shred the zone, going through, around, and over to their big targets downfield – Marley Hartman-Filson, Flannery McArdle, and Grace Quintana. Ohio State couldn’t stop Carleton – after their two first half breaks, Ohio State never broke again. Carleton started to work the break side again in the second half, and Barton, the freshman and another product of the Seattle youth system, was a big part of that. Barton is fearless and has incredibly smooth break throws – her two endzone inside-out break forehands to Flannery McArdle were among the prettiest throws of the game.
McArdle finished the game with eight goals, one assist, and two D’s – a big contribution from the 6’0″ cutter who, according to an Ultiworld interview, received a cortisone shot before the game. McArdle has been nursing a knee injury all tournament, and she only played two games prior to the semifinals – the pool play game against British Columbia and the quarterfinal against Washington. But McArdle was unstoppable near the endzone, and Snyder, Barton, and Quintana targeted her every time they approached the red zone. McArdle ended up scoring the game-winning goal after catching the disc on the goal line, dishing to Snyder, and then immediately getting the disc back on the open side.
Carleton closed out the game with their aggressive man defense and silky smooth zone offense, even as Ohio State attempted to fight back with Nina Finley and Cassie Swafford making big plays, including Swafford catching a Finley huck for a goal over two better-positioned Carleton defenders. But in the end, Ohio State couldn’t slow down Carleton’s red-hot offense, led by Reed, Snyder (5 assists), Want (4 assists), and McArdle. It looked like their tough quarterfinal victory against Tufts was starting to take its toll in the second half as the unforced errors mounted and Carleton’s throwers exerted more and more dominance over Fever’s marks.
Reed told me before the game that the teams philosophy was simple. “From here on out, every point we play is a gift. The more fun we have, the better we play.” Snyder, her co-captain and teammate of 11 years, added, “We’re really lucky to have the opportunity to play more games. This team is really special.” Carleton will receive at least 15 more gifts tomorrow in the finals against Oregon – and they’re going to cherish every one.