By: Claire Jencks
What an exciting day! Day two of 2019 USA Ultimate College Championships came complete with energy-sapping heat, gusting winds and an improbable Cinderella story. Temperatures reached the 90s with 100% humidity, and a gusting 20+ mph wind blew across the fields all day. The name of the game was to convert on every downwind point and then march slowly up-field for the upwind break. Teams with steady swings, solid upwind throws and plenty of endurance won the day. Zone defense was par for the course.
Early in the day, a deep-rostered California-San Diego Psychos matched up against Athena, a young and athletic team out of Georgia. The Psychos struggled in the wind, a surprising turn of events for the third-overall seed, and played a downwind huck-and-defend game that brought fewer conversions than hoped, bringing them to half down one. The Psychos bounced back in the second half, finishing off Athena 14-10. They then went on to lose to Tuft’s Ewo 10-13, but with a 3-1 record made it through to the next round holding as the pool’s top seed. Look for them in the quarterfinals v. Carleton College Syzygy who has been strong throughout pool play, falling only to Dartmouth.
Number 5 seed Dartmouth showed up and dominated. After a decisive 15-4 win over Cornell’s Wild Roses, whose numbers were reduced by graduation this weekend, Womxn set out to an early 3-1 lead over Texas Melee. Despite Melee’s tough defense, standout plays from their roster’s top end helped Womxn finish Texas off handily 15-4. Dartmouth faces off against sixth-seeded Western Washington tomorrow morning in the quarterfinals.
As the temperature rose to Heat Level 1, the seven seed, the California-Santa Barbara Burning Skirts, battled a scrappy Washington Element. A strong Skirts fan presence featured chanting conga lines after every point and helped keep the energy high for the entire game as the teams traded hotly contested points. Washington kept it alive led by the cool-under-pressure presence of handler Ikran Elmi, but ultimately fell 11-14 to UCSB.
Number one seed UNC Pleiades absolutely crushed it today. These players work as an outstanding unit and play a particularly cohesive and athletic brand of ultimate. After a 15-5 schooling of UCLA in the morning, they matched up against a strong Colorado Kali team and jumped out to a 4-1 lead. Even with a host of fast Colorado players, including Becky Nevin’s strong D-line performance, UNC couldn’t be stopped. Led by senior Anne Worth’s speed and Bridget Mizener’s solid throws, the deep UNC roster was able to fluidly convert both upwind and down, finishing with a swift upwind point to win 13-5. UCSB will have a tough game tomorrow against UNC in the quarterfinals.
And as for the Cinderella story…“After accomplishing our season goal of getting a strength bid, we had a team meeting and decided we didn’t want to just come to Nationals and have fun,” said Wisconsin Bella Donna Co-Captain Michelle Zaber. “We wanted to break seed and make it into the bracket.” And they pulled it off, and more, though not without a few growing pains. After polishing off Cornell’s Wild Roses 15-9, Bella Donna had a rough game v. Carleton College Syzygy. Wisconsin’s Margaret Walker was smooth under pressure, and along with a solid handler core, helped walk the disc up the field in windy conditions time and again. However, Carleton was able to capitalize on a few unlucky Bella Donna fumbles at the upwind end zone, hucking it easily downwind multiple times for a final score of 14-6, Carleton College.
But Bella Donna’s storyline doesn’t end there. In their last, must-win game of the day, 16-seed Wisconsin came out swinging against 13-seed Colorado Kali, converting the first few points easily and taking half 8-5. After the half, Kali slowly woke up and began to create some break opportunities, converting on a few and bringing it to soft cap at 10-8. Another Kali point brought it to 10-9. A Kali break makes it 10-11. The nearby Hodags’ game finishes, and the 30+ strong Wisconsin fan base, plus the team, turn their attention on this game and start chanting. Hard cap goes on after the goal. Kali gets another break to bring it to double-game point. The sidelines erupt. Game on.
Both teams fight for possession, getting achingly close to each goal line multiple times. There are so many chances to score, but each team is tired and just trying to survive. This point is really long, the fans are chanting, the sidelines are screaming. Finally, Bella gets within striking distance and calls a timeout. “We run our system – no matter what.” Says Bella co-captain Sabrina Hoffman. “We’re bringing intensity and a focus on mental toughness – every team we play, it doesn’t matter whether we’re up or down.” Bella Donna punches it into the end zone to win 12-11 and end day two of the 2019 College Championships. Look for 16-seed Bella Donna tomorrow in the quarterfinals v. second-seeded Ohio State.