By: Patrick Kelley
Sunday morning’s thunderstorms were not entirely unexpected. However, the schedule had the quarterfinal games slated to start at 8 a.m., so all the teams were out at the fields early on this chilly Sunday, warming up as the storms had yet to roll in. Around 7:40 a.m., already worked up into a full lather, all the teams, accompanied by their parents and fans, were forced by the storm to shelter inside at the Mercyhealth Sportscore 2 complex where there are a couple of indoor soccer fields. Some teams just cooled back down, some casually threw. But when you’re ready to go, that energy needs to go somewhere, and you just have to dance. OK, so it was mostly the women dancing, but what a scene inside at Sportscore 2! Richmond and John Brown were quick to take advantage of the indoor opportunity, playing their consolation bracket match five on five, with Richmond coming back to prevail.
When the quarterfinals finally started at 11:30 a.m. – a full three and half hours after the initial planned start time – New England region rivals Bryant and Bowdoin were matched up, with the winner taking on the winner of Carleton College v. Whitman. The powerhouse New England Region’s other representative at D-III Nationals, Middlebury faced Mary Washington. The winner of Air Force v. Georgia College would be waiting.
Middlebury wasted no time jumpstarting their quarterfinal as Kai DeLorenzo went deep right away to Connor Levesque, quickly punching in the goal. A couple breaks followed during which Zach Norrbom tried to throw deep unsuccessfully on the Prankster zone before Harper James hit Daniel Schlichtig to get Mother of George (MOG) on the board. A long point finally ended with DeLorenzo pulling down a long huck and getting it to Kevin Strenski for the score and giving Middlebury a 4-1 lead. Their zone was producing turns, but Middlebury allowed MOG to get right back into the game, inexplicably playing man. At 4-3, the Pranksters got back to business as DeLorenzo assisted on two and scored another, all wrapped around an easy forehand huck from Dylan Salzman to Zach Levitt. Just like that, it was 8-4. Middlebury cruised through the second half for an easy win.
Bryant dismissed Bowdoin quickly, and Carleton College GOP got past Whitman.
In the meantime, Air Force was in a battle with Georgia College. With Disconnected trailing 7-6, Nathan Vickroy went up with several other players from both teams and came down with the disc. Jacques Perivier found Rylan Gordon shortly after to knot the score. Afterburn answered with Matthew Moshea throwing and catching a score on each end. Vickroy and Perivier played a lot of catch, culminating in Perivier making a great read and catch on a blade forehand from Vickroy, keeping the score close at 9-8. Air Force again got back to it, working their offense after a few punts by Georgia College. Trevor Browning was monstrous on D in the second half, with Alan Villanueva steadying the offense, and Noa Chun-Moy closed it out 13-10 with a nice cross-field flick score read by Michael Delatte, a hand block and another huge D, both on game point.
The weather delay resulted in very short breaks between games, so Air Force and Middlebury were right back at it in the semifinals (watch the full game here). Afterburn played some zone early, but stayed away from it most of the game. Villanueva scored the first goal and threw two more in the first half, as did Chun-Moy. Salzman threw three scores for the Pranksters in the first half, and DeLorenzo showed his lefty backhand form for an early score to tie it at two. Afterburn took it to half when Chun-Moy made a fantastic layout grab but came down hard and had to sub out. He would be fine, and Villanueva hit Browning, who laid out big for the score. Air Force scored first after halftime, signaling a shift to the other semifinal where Bryant led Carleton College GOP 6-4. GOP’s Abe Eichner looked to hammer over the ever-present Craze zone, and Russell Smith hit Quinn Mayville for a score to cut Craze’s advantage to one, but Bryant held on a huge Justin Kunkel sky and an Alex Kenworthy score from Austin Kelson to take half. The zone made GOP work and work, but they usually could not find a continuation after some great hammers from Eichner. In addition to his huge pulls, Cameron Jack was on his game in the second half, throwing for at least three scores as Bryant sailed into the finals. Back at the other semifinal, Middlebury was not going quietly, having an opportunity to bring the game within one late. Afterburn overcame a couple turns on game point, finally putting it away, Michael Higgins to Moshea for the winner.
The final was quickly underway with Bryant employing their zone on every defensive opportunity, but drops and bad throwaways allowed Afterburn to break three times in a row for a 5-1 lead. Bryant had enough of that, though, and scored the next six points. Kelson and Jake Fontes each had some great defensive plays during the run, Jack kept backing up Air Force with stellar pulls, and the zone forced some high-risk throws. Villanueva finally found Moshea to stop the bleeding, but Air Force did not come in for a landing. They broke twice with Chun-Moy throwing both scores for 8-7. Bryant tied it right back up on a big inside-out forehand from Jack to Kenworthy, and the game was up for grabs, as time constraints dictated an 11-point ending. Villanueva to Matthew Frierson for Afterburn on a long point, Kenworthy to Kelson for Craze. Zachary Tuxbury then connected with Kelson on a low hammer for a break, followed by a Chun-Moy to Delatte score after a disputed catch call. 10-10 and double-game point for the D-III men’s title! Bryant’s William Gordenstein had to put up a high count desperation forehand that Kelson pulled down and called timeout. After the restart, Gordenstein popped up a forehand into the end zone. Tuxbury re-read it, but no Afterburn players reacted as Tuxbury reeled it in for the championship.
Puget Sound proudly won the men’s Team Spirit Award, and Mary Washington’s Zach Norrbom was awarded the second-annual Donovan Award following a moving speech by Kelly Donovan’s mom, putting a great cap on a fantastic weekend in Rockford.