By: Tyler Karnes
Sixteen teams take the field in the women’s division at the 2017 Division III College Championships starting Saturday morning, May 20, in Lexington, Ky.
Williams (1), Wesleyan (8), Georgia College (12), Haverford (13)
Williams comes into this field as the highest-ranked team and for good reason. The most impressive thing about this Williams team is that, going into the tournament, they are 8-0 against other teams that have made Nationals. The closest a D-III team got to defeating them this year was this weekend’s number three seed, Carleton College-Eclipse. And Williams has already recorded two wins this season over the two seed, Bowdoin. Be ye ware, all who face LaWUFA. One of the teams trying to end that winning streak will be the Metro East champion, Wesleyan. They won a close game over SUNY Geneseo 14-13 to reach the D-III Championships. Wesleyan is currently undefeated this season, but they have only played two tournaments – their conference and regional championships – up to this point. They do have some firepower in Tessa Hill, who recorded the second most goals at last year’s D-III Championships. Her catching crazy fire this weekend looks to be the best chance for an upset of Williams in pool play. Georgia Southern, the Southeast regional champion comes in as the third team in this pool. They qualified for Nationals based on their regular-season ranking. As a program, they are the lone representative for the Southeast Region in the history of the D-III College Championships. They know what it’s like to win a tournament (Rip Tide), but will most likely be vying for third place in the pool with Haverford, the Ohio Valley champion. Haverford has one of our players to watch, Zoe Lewis, and will look to compete with Georgia College to make the championship bracket. One interesting note from this pool is that it is the only pool where all four teams are 2017 regional champions.
Bowdoin (2), Truman State (7), Puget Sound (11), Catholic (14)
Bowdoin comes into this tournament as the second seed in both the country and, unfortunately for them, also in the New England Region. Having only lost to Williams as far as D-III competition goes, Bowdoin is certainly an impressive team in their own right, going 8-2 against other teams in the Nationals field so far this season. Bowdoin returns to the D-III Championships after having been eliminated in the conferences championships last season by regional rival (and fellow Nationals qualifier) Bates. But in 2015, they were runners-up at Nationals. Look for them to try to take control of this pool. A team hoping to avoid that is Truman State, the South Central regional champions. Truman State had to defeat preseason hopefuls Rice and John Brown in a round robin to get to Nationals, but really, all season they had been the cream of the crop in the South Central. Team leader and veteran Emilie Willingham will hope to push this team to the top of the pool. Pool B’s third seed will prove a tricky opponent for the rest of the field. Puget Sound, the Northwest regional champions, have had their ups and downs this season. They had not beaten regional rivals Portland until they met in the regional final; Puget Sound won 11-8. Another point of interest about Puget Sound – they have also defeated the overall three seed, Carleton College Eclipse and were semifinalists at Nationals last year. This is a team with a real shot to break seed and will be a dangerous third seed in their pool. Finally, Pool B is rounded out by the Atlantic Coast champions, Catholic. Starting the season sort of off the radar and with some early losses, they proceeded to go undefeated in their conference tournament to make Nationals. This is a hot team right now that will hope to grab a win in pool play and make it into the championship bracket.
Carleton College (3), Valparaiso (6), Mount Holyoke (10), Lehigh (15)
The “C” in Pool C stands for Carleton College Eclipse. The defending national champions and current North Central regional champions are looking to top the pool and put themselves in a strong position to defend their title. Having played some tough competition throughout the year, they actually come into this tournament with a 1-3 record against other teams in the field, having lost to Williams twice and Puget Sound once. Obviously, neither of those teams are in their pool, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the weekend progresses. The first team hoping to expose potential weaknesses in the defending champs is Valparaiso, the Great Lakes regional champions. Valpo comes in having only faced Truman State of the teams in the rest of the field, but they came away with an impressive 15-4 win. They also played savage all of last year’s D-III Championships which, personally, puts the entire team in my “Do Not Mess With Them Because These People Are Tougher Than You” category. No matter how you slice it, that’s impressive. Mount Holyoke is the third team in Pool C, and I would imagine they are probably pretty excited to not have to play anyone from the New England Region in pool play. Having gone a combined 0-6 against regional rivals Williams, Bowdoin and Bates, Daisy Chain is looking to see how they stack up against the rest of the field. Finally, the tournament’s Cinderella, Lehigh, rounds out our Pool de C. The ladies from Lehigh entered their regional championship as the six seed, and here they are at Nationals! They will be hoping to channel whatever got into their men’s basketball team during the 2012 NCAA tournament (sorry Duke fans, but this Kentucky fan just couldn’t resist…) and bust some brackets at this year’s D-III Championships.
St. Olaf (4), Portland (5), Bates (9), Claremont (16)
St. Olaf comes in as the fourth overall seed in the tournament, but will have to shine in what looks to be a hotly contested Pool D. Vortex struggled a little bit early in the season before putting in a good showing at Centex, then picking it up at the end of the season to finish second in the North Central only behind Carleton College Eclipse. They actually made their way to Nationals through the backdoor, defeating Grinnell for the second North Central bid, after losing to Eclipse in the semifinals. Additionally, St. Olaf recorded a close 10-8 win over Truman State back in early March. Within their pool, Portland hopes to ride the wave into Nationals and have the keys to defeat St. Olaf for the top spot. On the season, they seemed to have an advantage over Puget Sound until they fell to them in the Northwest regional final. This is a team that will take shots, putting hucks in the end zone, and when those are connecting, a team can really feel bulletproof and play with confidence. Adding even more confusion to this pool is the third team, Bates. Bates is sort of in the same boat as Mount Holyoke in that they are a really strong team that has just been through the ringer of the New England Region this year. As of the last rankings, Bates was the sixth team in the country, and they had to knock off the fifth-ranked team, Amherst, to make it to Nationals. Based on seeding and the season’s results and rankings, they look to be the strongest three seed in a pool at the tournament. Barring a major upset, these three teams are probably going to the championship bracket, but your guess is as good as mine on the order in which they finish. Finally, the team that is hoping to prove that last statement wrong and make me look like a fool is Claremont, the lone team representing the Southwest Region. They’ll be hoping to bring some solid competition and push the other teams in their pool for a spot in the championship bracket.
Players to Watch
Tulsa Douglas (St. Olaf) – Great defender and handler. Played for Siege of Boston during the 2016 club season and is one of the top talents in the college division, regardless of class.
Josie Gillett (Bates) – Played on the U.S. U-20 Women’s National Team that took silver in Poland in 2016. Recorded the most assists at the 2016 D-III College Championships and really carries a lot of the load for this Bates team.
Zoe Lewis (Haverford) – Lockdown defender and proficient cutter. Opponents in the Ohio Valley noticed her defensive prowess during regional competition. Look for her to take the toughest matchup throughout the tournament.
Pool D is going to be a madhouse, and do not be surprised if Bates, the third seed in the pool, pulls an upset over Portland and St. Olaf. They have a superb thrower in Josie Gillett, and those skills can always keep you in a game. Also, neither Portland nor St. Olaf were champions of their region. This could be one to watch.
Pool B also looks interesting in that Puget Sound has experience in this environment with their semifinal berth last year. It will be a tall task taking the pool from Bowdoin, but I would put Truman State on upset alert as they have lost to St. Olaf, who lost to Carleton College, who lost to none other than…Puget Sound #logic
It may sound like a broken record at this point, but I feel like this could be set up for Bates to make a run. If they are able to win Pool D, the bracket is set up so that it would be unlikely that they would have to play a team from New England until the semifinals.
Games to Watch
Bowdoin v. Puget Sound (Game 1 – Pool B) – Grab your coffee on Saturday morning because these two teams open the day playing one another, and Puget Sound will be hoping to one-up their season best of defeating the third-ranked team by defeating the second-ranked team. These early games can come down to who is more focused and awake, and we just may see an upset early on.
Carleton College v. Valparaiso (Game 4 – Pool C) – Valpo came into the season ranked high and have largely been uncontested in D-III play since. They played a regional-level D-I team (Denver) incredibly close in a championship-game loss (14-13), and they could be looking to prove that they may have been underestimated. Carleton College, having a shaky record against D-III Championships-caliber teams, could be primed for a late-day shocker in this one.
Pool D – All of it. – Between St. Olaf v. Portland, Portland v. Bates and Bates v. St. Olaf, I can’t really make up my mind as to which one is most exciting. This pool could wind up having three teams with 2-1 records and one at 0-3 (sorry Claremont…) with bracket seeding being decided on head to head results or goal differential.