As the sixth overall seed, the Oberlin Preying Manti overcame the odds and are taking home their program’s first-ever national championship title! They defeated the heavily favored Bates Cold front in the championship final this afternoon in College Station, Texas.
Pool D ended up with three teams in the quarterfinals, but only one of them survived and advanced to the semifinals this morning. Middlebury, the top qualifier out of the pool got surprised by North Park in the quarters, just like what happened to Williams in the pre-quarters. Middlebury definitely has more star power, but Maggie Johnson and Erin Staurseth kept North Park firmly in the game, The teams largely traded points throughout, each getting one break before surrendering it. But when it really mattered, North Park came out ahead, scoring the final three points of the game, including a huge huck from Staurseth to Ellie Manderfeld to close out the historic win 14-13. North Park advanced to the semifinals.
The pool’s second qualifier, Puget Sound got one of the round’s tougher match ups in Oberlin. Puget Sound took advantage of a slightly quicker start than their opponent, tallying a couple breaks early on. There isn’t enough to be said about Emma Piorier. She had a monster game, putting her team largely on her back and trying to urge them through to the semifinals. In just one game, she scored six goals, threw an assist and got four D’s. But it wasn’t enough to outmatch Abby Cheng. The continually tight score line had Oberlin playing their stars a little more regularly than their normal rotation, but it paid off. Between Cheng, Zoe Hecht, and Helen Samuel, they accounted for six goals, 10 assists and seven assists. Add to that Lucia Mason’s five goals, and they’re a tough out for any team, even one that can match their depth. Oberlin settled back in before half and kept their poise and confidence until the end, a 15-12 win for the Preying Manti.
It took St. Olaf a few points to settle in against Truman State, but a five-goal run put them up 8-4 and essentially put the game out of reach for Truman State. St. Olaf maintained that lead all the way to a 14-10 win, securing their spot in the finals. It was a similar story for Bates against Portland, except their came at the beginning of the game. Their four-point run put them up 4-1, and they bookended it with a three-point run to close out the game, 15-11.
In the best kind of Cinderella story, no one is able to pick who it will be. That definitely happened this weekend in the women’s division. The second-time D-III Championships qualifiers, North Park Allihopa, the 14th overall seed, found themselves facing the top seeded heavy favorites from Bates in the semifinals this afternoon. Allihopa arrived in Texas with a roster of 12 people, went 1-2 in pool play, squeaking into their pool’s final spot in bracket play, and got two huge upsets in the pre-quarterfinals yesterday afternoon and the quarterfinals this morning. Running almost exclusively a zone designed to preserve their legs, they overtook third-seeded Williams in the quarterfinals and fifth-seeded Middlebury in the quarterfinals. But they finally ran into a wall they couldn’t tear down in Bates. Cold Front was too much for them to handle early, and understandably tired in their seventh game of the weekend, couldn’t find the energy they needed to put together a comeback. But they did cement themselves in the public eye. Everyone will be excited to see what they can do next year.
In the other women’s semifinal, Oberlin faced the defending national champions from St. Olaf. The first point was – long. It took 13 minutes and more than a dozen turnovers before Oberlin finally punched in the goal and the first-point break. Things got cleaner on both sides from there on out, with Oberlin adding one more break to their tally before St. Olaf tried out a zone defense. The zone did a good job of trapping Oberlin on the sideline and forcing them to take riskier looks. But those are the times when it’s helpful to have handlers like Zoe Hecht. She favors bladey looks and high-release backhands over the top of the cup, and although St. Olaf did get some turns off those tough throws, most of them worked. The zone slowed the pace and gave St. Olaf some extra break chances, but they struggled to convert them. They got a couple breaks to start the second half and keep them in the game, but it wasn’t enough to pull off a win. Oberlin closed out the game 12-9 and advanced to their first championship final.
There aren’t many compliments or accolades you could attribute to Abby Cheng that wouldn’t be warranted. In a game that Bates was “supposed” to win, no one told Oberlin or Abby Cheng.
Everyone who follows D-III women’s ultimate knows the name Josie Gillet who, after the game, was named deservedly the 2019 Donovan Award winner. Her throws and ability to open up the field with her hucks forces every opponent to game plan specifically around her. There just aren’t many teams that do it really well, especially this year. Entering this afternoon’s championship final, Bates was undefeated in 2019, and only a couple of those games were even remotely close. Them being the favorite today was understandable.
Gillet ended up with five assists, but a combination of it not being her best-ever performance and adjustments made by Oberlin – things like flattening the mark on Gillet a little and playing heads-up help defense in the deep space – was enough to lessen her typical impact on a game. Oberlin’s roster is also a little deeper, so they were better able to rotate their lines and keep players fresh in the Texas heat and humidity. Gillet played 15 of the game’s 20 points, while Oberlin really rotated their heavy hitters, players like Cheng, Zoe Hecht and Helen Samuel. Oberlin also has people like Linnea Fraser. The number of impact players on the Preying Manti roster created match-up issues for Bates. The extra attention paid to Cheng and Hecht left room for Fraser to have an impressive game and wrack up four goals and two assists.
Oberlin played a pretty clean game throughout, minimizing turnovers and converting a majority of their break chances. Overall, they made things look pretty easy, thanks in part to the work players like Cheng were consistently putting in downfield in their horizontal stack. Cheng ended up with a monster goals stat with seven, including the game winner. She made Hecht’s job that much easier as a nearly always available target. Hecht wracked up one goal, six assists and one D by the time the game was over. And as always, Samuel was a monster on defense.
Oberlin was up a few at halftime and continued to roll in the second half with efficient offense, from both the O and D lines. The second half was a 5-2 run for Oberlin, which closed out a 13-7 win and the Oberlin Preying Manti’s first-ever national championship.