By: Sarah Judd
Coming into the 2018 national final, Dartmouth, the reigning champ, was the heavy favorite. They coasted their way through pool play on Friday and Saturday, winning each of their games seemingly uncontested. Sunday morning, they demonstrated their dominance over British Columbia in the quarterfinals and faced their first real competition Sunday night in the semifinals against Stanford’s stifling defensive looks. Even then, Dartmouth completed an astonishing 245 passes in one point against the Stanford zone, demonstrating their ability to make calm throws in high-pressure scenarios. This calm offense and their intense defense brought them to the national final for the second year in a row and an unlikely match up against Colorado Kali.
Colorado had an unexpected, and some might say much easier, path to the finals. They broke seed in pool play with a decisive win over Tufts, which carved out a pre-quarters bracket path through N.C. State. Then they bested their regional rivals, Texas, in a quarterfinals match up that pitted the two teams against each other for the third time this season. Their thriller semifinal win over Pittsburgh took Colorado Kali to their first-ever College Championships appearance in program history.
As the final got underway, Colorado Kali looked calm, cool and collected in the face of the Dartmouth squad. Dartmouth came out on offense, with Colorado playing close person defense. A big huck from Julianna Werffeli went up, and Jaclyn Verzuh tossed the disc to Caitlyn Lee for the score. Colorado returned the favor with a quick, one-possession offensive point for their score. The first turn of the game happened at 2-2, with Dartmouth misreading a deep shot, but Claire Trop got a poach block, and Dartmouth held for 3-2. On the next point, Trop forced another turn, giving Dartmouth their first chance to break, but Princess Layout fumbled the chance, and Jean Russell caught an arcing pass from Nhi Nguyen for the Kali hold.
Two more first-possession goals brought the game to 4s, before Colorado got another chance to break. In a moment of reset miscommunication, a heads-up Colorado defender swatted the disc down, but a frantic shot to the end zone resulted in a turn on one of Colorado’s few break opportunities. There ended up being two more chances during the point, but Colorado simply could not convert, and Caitlyn Lee roasted her defender under for the eventual Dartmouth hold, 5-4.
In the next point, a marathon point (although maybe not by semifinals standards), Dartmouth managed to convert their first break. Dartmouth had five chances on this one point after a hurried and seemingly flustered Colorado offense could not connect with one another. Jaclyn Verzuh put up the final toss to Julianna Werffeli for the break, but the Dartmouth squad was not error free by any means on this point, and it was Kali’s inability to connect that allowed Princess Layout enough chances to eventually convert.
In comparison to Dartmouth’s fluid, almost error-free offense against Stanford, Monday’s squad was making unforced errors. Perhaps after a semifinal that ended after 10 p.m. the night before make it difficult for the team to turn around and play a final, or perhaps Dartmouth’s win over Kali in pool play hurt their mental focus going into the final – whatever the reason, in the beginning of the women’s final, we did not see Dartmouth’s highest level of play.
But after two more holds, Dartmouth seemed to turn it on. They forced a Kali turn, and Werffeli threaded the needle over her mark to Lee for a break to take half 8-5 over Colorado.
It seemed as though Dartmouth was able to regain energy coming out of the half, and they started out on defense by showing a new poachy zone look. A run-through D from Werffeli gave Dartmouth the disc, and they were able to work it downfield to break again directly after half. After a Kali hold, two more long, multi-turn points led to two more Dartmouth breaks. Dartmouth was simply able to convert their offensive chances, while Colorado’s offense failed in high-pressure situations, leading to an 11-6 score line in Dartmouth’s favor. A high-pressure reset defense from Dartmouth led to another Kali drop, with an immediate Dartmouth score for 12-6. As Dartmouth began to pull away, they simultaneously became more ruthless, scoring with fewer turns and throws against an exhausted Colorado team.
Late in the game, a stall against Julianna Werffeli ended in Colorado’s first break for 14-9, and extending the game a bit, but they were unable to force another turn, and a throw from Trop to an open Lee in the end zone closed out the game for Dartmouth, 15-9. Lee had a fantastic game, boasting eight of Dartmouth’s 15 goals. The Colorado defense simply could not contain her speed and efficiency downfield. This is Dartmouth’s second year in a row taking the national title back to Hanover, N.H., and with a huge contingency of returning players (including Lee, Trop and Verzuh) they will be looking to continue the streak next year. For now, though, they get to take a moment to celebrate a dominant season and another national title.