By: Tyler Karnes
The first round of the USA Ultimate D-III Championships could not have kicked off under better conditions. It was decently cool – 70 degrees – without too much wind. The game of the round was definitely Carleton College-Eclipse v. Mount Holyoke in Pool C. Not too long after the first pull, it looked like Carleton was going to run away with it, going up a quick 4-0 before Mt. Holyoke clawed back to go into half 8-5, largely due to their switch to a zone defense. The zone really slowed down Carleton for a bit during the first half, until Leah Roche got a hold of the offense and started throwing over the top of the cup. Mt. Holyoke eventually chipped away at the lead, thanks to the insane work rate of Molly Morgan, who was running Mt. Holyoke’s offensive on most, if not all, possessions. The second half was a back-and-forth affair with exciting defensive plays on both ends with the score eventually reaching 10-10. In the game’s stat sheet, Carleton’s Abby Polk shows up with zeros across the board, but she came up with one of the catches of the day when she bid for a disc and came up with it after it was deflected, saving possession for Carleton. It really kept them in the game at 11-11, double-game point. Emerging with the victory from a scrappy, hard-fought final point was Carleton. While this was going on, Lehigh – the tourney Cinderella – really hung tough with Valpo and gave them a genuine scare. They were up 7-4 before Valpo ended up getting the win 11-9. Lehigh was really behind the eight ball all day in terms of personnel. They simply just were not as deep a team as some of the other schools, and eventually, it wore them down – especially in the heat.
In Pool B action, we started off the day with what looked like an upset (though maybe not when we consider action later in the day…). Bowdoin was up early on Puget Sound before Puget came back and got the 12-10 win. Also in Pool B, Truman State got up big early with a 10-5 lead before Catholic really chipped away. The game finished 11-9 in favor of Truman State and really set the tone for star player Emilie Willingham, who recorded one goal, six assists and three Ds in the game.
The second round gave us another barnburner, this one between St. Olaf and Bates. In the preview, I mentioned that I thought this was the most interesting pool as really anything could happen between the top three teams. Well, this first game confirmed my initial thoughts. Bates jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but St. Olaf adjusted and got the score back to 5-4. The game started to drag on as both teams threw out different zone looks, and points began to get really long with the midday heat also setting in. Once both teams settled, it was evident the game was about Bates’ Josie Gillet against St. Olaf’s Tulsa Douglas. Both players were absolutely standout performers all day and have been the anchors of their respective teams. Between when St. Olaf and Bates started trading points and when St. Olaf took half 8-7, Josie Gillett found new ways to throw above or around St. Olaf’s zone. Likewise, Tulsa Douglas would get the disc and march her team up the field, while simultaneously taking on the role of last back in their zone to neutralize Gillet’s deep looks threat and conserve her energy. It was an interesting chess match between these two teams and players. The game got to 10-9 with St. Olaf up and hard cap on. After what looked like a pretty serious injury and a back-and forth-point, Bates punched it in to force double-game point. The comeback was too much for them at that point, though, and St. Olaf ended up coming out on top. In the same pool, Portland, the five seed, took care of business against Claremont and won 13-4.
In Pool A, Georgia College really gave Williams, the overall one seed coming in, all they could handle in their opening game. The teams traded some runs before Williams pulled away to get the win 9-7. Additionally, Wesleyan closed out on a 5-0 run to pull away from Haverford and get the 12-9 victory.
This was the first round of the day where all of the pools were in play simultaneously. Out of Pool A, really everyone held seed as Williams beat Haverford 9-6 and Wesleyan defeated Georgia College 13-7.
In Pool B, we started to find out just how good this Puget Sound team really is, as they knocked off Truman State 12-8, never trailing in the game. The win essentially cemented their place in the quarterfinals (I’ll explain later on in the “Pre-Quarterfinals Section”) as they were already 2-0 after playing both of the top-ranked teams in their pool. Bowdoin also defeated Catholic, which basically set up an elimination game in the fourth round between Bowdoin and Truman State, with the winner going to quarterfinals and the loser going to the consolation bracket.
In pool C, Carleton and Valparaiso both punched their tickets to quarterfinals with victories over Lehigh and Mount Holyoke. That meant their upcoming pool play game against was essentially for seeding.
Finally, Pool D saw Portland jump out to an early lead on Bates and never really look back. They got the victory 12-6, and St. Olaf took care of business against Claremont, winning 13-4. Like Pool C, this meant the top two seeds, St. Olaf and Portland, were playing in the last round for seeding in the quarterfinals.
This was the round of insanity. Not only was there a game with teams’ survival already on the line, but many of the games in other pools had some unexpected results.
The game of the round, as mentioned, was Truman State and Bowdoin, with both teams playing for a spot in the quarterfinals out of Pool B. This game was essentially a slug fest all the way, with teams trading points in the early going. This was also a showcase of just how dominant Emilie Willingham was today, recording NINE ASSISTS ON TRUMAN STATE’S 10 TOTAL GOALS. That’s absolute insanity. This performance ultimately propelled her team into the quarterfinals, as Truman State knocked off Bowdoin 10-8. Another note, just to show how close that game was: the final score of 10-8 was the only time either team lead by more than one point. It was a great game to watch as a spectator and an amazing performance by both teams, but we had our first big upset of the day as second-ranked Bowdoin was knocked out of the quarters. Also in Pool B, Puget Sound locked up the pool with a win over Catholic, 12-8. That game was much closer for much of it, before Puget pulled away at the end.
Pool A gave us another interesting result as top seed Williams was defeated by Wesleyan, 9-8. Having never lost to D-III competition this year, initially this was a shock defeat in my mind, especially as Williams jumped out to a 3-0 lead and looked to be cruising. The second half was not as forgiving, however, as Wesleyan closed on a 4-0 run to win the game. Georgia College defeated Haverford 12-6 to take third in the pool and round out pool play.
Pool C had another barnburner in Carleton vs. Valparaiso. On paper, Carleton would be the big favorite in this game, as Valpo has not had much competition against other D-III schools so far this year and were a little bit of a mystery, to me at least. However, they hung tough with the defending national champions and gave them all they could handle at the end of pool play. No one led by more than one at any point, and after sweating it out most of the way, Carleton came away with the 11-10 victory. Mount Holyoke defeated Lehigh 11-9 in the final game of Pool C.
Finally, in lovely Pool D, we had another one of those “upsets” based on seeding between Portland and St. Olaf. It was a game, though, where the lack of squad depth really started to hurt St. Olaf. Having already lost one of their key handlers, Samantha Peterson, to injury earlier against Bates, they also saw Tulsa Douglas succumb to injury later in this game. She had a knee injury coming into Nationals and was trying to play through it, but it was simply too much on the day. Without two of their key players, St. Olaf was simply no match for Portland who blew them away in the second half, getting their lead up to six before closing out a 14-8 victory. Bates locked up the third spot out of Pool D by defeating Claremont 10-7.
Due to imminent inclement weather in the afternoon tomorrow, USAU decided to cancel the pre-quarter crossover round and take the seeds as they stood from pool play. The quarterfinal games were played in the time slot that had initially been reserved for the pre-quarters.
The four games with teams still in play for the championship were St. Olaf v. Carleton, Truman State v. Wesleyan, Valparaiso v. Portland and Puget Sound v. Williams.
Let’s start off with St. Olaf v. Carleton. On paper, this looked to be the game of the quarterfinal round. It featured two teams that I thought were both outstanding when I watched them and potentially the best player in the competition, Tulsa Douglas. However, in reality, St. Olaf had been set back by injuries and was a very depleted squad. Tulsa Douglas was roaming the sidelines and cheering on the team in Chacos, which was not a good sign for St. Olaf. In the end, the injury bug and Eclipse’s effective offense, led to a landslide victory for Carleton, 14-6.
Valparaiso came into this tournament as a bit of a question mark, I think, but they left the first day looking like a real contender. In my mind, their quarterfinals game against Portland solidified that beyond a doubt as they made easy work of Portland, controlling the game after the early going and coming away with a 15-9 victory.
Puget Sound came in as the third-seeded team in their pool and 11th overall. They walked away at the end of the day demonstrating that they were vastly under-seeded. They controlled this game against the pre-tournament favorite, Williams, and looked incredible in their victory. They had the game in hand by half and never looked back, solidly winning 12-7.
In my opinion, the game of the quarters was Truman State v. Wesleyan – two teams with vastly different styles and one that had an incredible finish. If you watched Truman State for more than five minutes during the day, it became evident that Emilie Willingham was the engine, transmission and at least one of the wheels that makes this team go. She had played incredibly all day, and this game was no different. It was back and forth all game, but eventually Wesleyan’s team play and ability to go to multiple players for big throws and scores was too much for Truman State; Wesleyan escaped on double-game point to get the win 11-10.
Players Who Shined
First off, everyone out there really gave it their all today considering the conditions and sudden changes to the tournament format. Due to the weather situation, it was necessary to make the last game of the day (quarterfinals) the most important one, and teams were really digging deep and going to the well to put in a good performance. I genuinely tip my cap to all the ladies who played their hearts out today.
That said, there were three players who really stood out to me.
1) Emilie Willingham (Truman State) – What can you really say in addition to what I have said already? She was a beast on the field and was dropping dimes in the end zone all day. She was breaking at will anyone who marked her. She was getting Ds. Her pulls were phenomenal. Her spirit and ability to lead her team were incredible. Quite simply put, she was unstoppable today, and the only thing holding her back seemed to be the conditions. At halftime of the last game against Wesleyan, she walked out of the huddle to the side line, vomited, drank some water, then went right back into the huddle to pump her team up. Followed promptly by dropping more dimes in the second half. I have to 100 percent eat crow for not including her in my preview’s “Players to Watch” section. That was a big oversight, and I won’t make that mistake again.
2) Tulsa Douglas (St. Olaf) – Coming into the tournament, she was probably considered to be the best player and best future talent in the D-III ultimate scene. When she was healthy today, her performances certainly backed that up. She looked the part of a polished club ultimate player and just knew how to play the game at a high level. She patrolled the skies and had some pretty incredible throws across the board. With her knee healthy, she may have rivaled Willingham on the day in sheer performance. It’s still incredibly impressive to see what she was able to do on a bum knee and what she can become in the future.
3) Josie Gillett (Bates) – The first time she walked up to the disc to collect it off the ground from a pull, she immediately went high-release flick, strike cut to get the disc back and punched it into the end zone two throws later. From that point on, it was clear she was going to be the conductor of her team’s offense. Really similar game, from what I watched, to Tulsa Douglas (considering they played against each other, it was an easy comparison), but just not as polished. Which is okay, because she is just a sophomore, folks. She has a real chance to be scary good in the next two years, and her performance today backed it up.
What to Watch for Tomorrow
In the two semifinals games, we have two interesting match ups. The Wesleyan v. Valpo game on the top half of the bracket pits against each other two teams that were coming into this tournament as unproven challengers. At least one of them is going to be playing for a National Championship, and both proved to be worth challengers. The other game has Carleton and Puget Sound facing off, and this one should be exciting. It is 2016 national champion v. 2016 national semifinalist, and in my opinion, these looked like the best two teams out there today. I would look for this to be a hotly contested game, and it’s going to be interesting to see who comes out ready to go at 8:00 a.m. sharp tomorrow!