The event hasn’t even started yet, and already the weather is affecting things. The facility closed several of their grass fields, thanks to some heavy rain over the last several days, which means most games at the D-III College Championships will be played on turf. And in advance of what is forecast to be some severe weather on Saturday afternoon, the schedules were also tweaked. The longer mid-day break originally built into the game schedules is gone, to make sure as many games as possible get played before the weather might cause delays. But all is good. D-III teams are used to adapting to extenuating circumstances, and they’re ready to take on the best the country has to offer this weekend in College Station, Texas.
In the women’s division, we have a couple new-to-Nationals teams, as well as a couple new-to-D-III-Nationals teams. Lewis & Clark and North Georgia are both making their first trips to the big dance, while Mary Washington and Middlebury have both made appearances at the D-I College Championships but are at D-III Nationals for the first time. The breadth of experience is big, but so is the enthusiasm, which means anything can happen.
(1) Bates (8) Wesleyan (12) Lewis & Clark (13) North Georgia
Bates comes in as the overall one seed; Cold Front is making their fourth straight trip to the D-III Championships, not coincidentally in Josie Gillett’s fourth year with the team. They finally broke through the quarterfinal round last year, landing in the finals where they ran into Tulsa Douglas and St. Olaf. Bates is undefeated this year, and for the first time, won the New England Region – easily the toughest D-III women’s region in the country – by handily defeating Middlebury in the final. They will be a tough out in Texas this year. Wesleyan is also in their fourth straight appearance at the D-III Championships, and they’ve also reached the finals – the year before Bates. Wesleyan graduated both their assist leader and their top scorer last year, so they’ve had to retool a bit for the 2019 season. They’re led by a couple graduates of high school ultimate powerhouses – Lily Gould (Amherst) and Sydney Taylor-Klaus (Paideia) – as well as some younger talent downfield in the form of sophomore Sophie Lesjak. They’ll undoubtedly have the idea of an upset on their minds. The event’s two new teams round out Pool A. Lewis & Clark has come a long way in the last few years, from a team without many wins to their name to a team that earned a strength bid for the Northwest Region and is making their way to Nationals. They haven’t played many teams from outside their region this year, so it will be interesting to see how they match up against their entirely east-coast pool. North Georgia is the first women’s team not named Georgia College to qualify for the D-III College Championships out of the Southeast Region. 2019 marks only the team’s fourth season of existence, showcasing the team’s and the leadership’s dedication to developing their program. Their record this season shows a mixed bag, but they’ve also played almost exclusively D-I teams. Their close loss to fellow and perennial D-III qualifier Carleton College-Eclipse shows they definitely have some upstart potential.
(2) Truman State (7) Portland (11) Mount Holyoke (14) North Park
After a string of six straight trips to the D-III Championships, Truman State missed out in 2018. But they’re back with a vengeance in 2019. TSUnami hasn’t lost a game since February, and except one, none of those games has even been close. They made things interesting in the game-to-go to Nationals, pulling out an 8-7 win over Trinity to claim the sole South Central bid (the opposite of their result in last year’s game-to-go). Led by Jessica Tiller, Lauren Wiggins and Sarah Finley, things are looking promising for a TSUnami semifinals appearance for the first time since 2015. Portland, Mount Holyoke and North Park fill out Pool B. Maddy Otto is back from injury and leads a young Portland team; Otto is one of just five seniors on the roster. UPROAR has worked hard this year to develop their entire roster, and they’ll rely on the entire roster to hold their spot in the pool against Mount Holyoke and while trying to make waves against TSUnami. Yet again, Mount Holyoke had a strong regular season performance, but so far, coming into their fourth straight trip to the D-III Championships, they haven’t yet been able to turn that regular-season success into a breakout performance at Nationals. But they are trending up, with their best performance, by far, coming last year. They reached the quarters and finished tied for fifth place. They’ll have their work cut out for them in Texas in a pool of tough contenders. For a second straight year, North Park enters the weekend as the 14th overall seed. They got one upset in pool play last year, but that was their lone win at the D-III Championships. They’ll face a similar uphill battle this year.
(3) Williams (6) Oberlin (10) Carleton College (15) Occidental
Sitting in Pool C’s top spot is perennial D-III contender Williams LaWUFA. Even without their experience and skill, they’d have an advantage in Texas. LaWUFA has easily the biggest roster at the event, an edge they’ll be able to use in what could be tricky conditions. Caroline Weinberg is the engine that helps Williams run and will always be match-up priority one for any opponent. She’ll exploit whatever the defense allows, using both her field awareness and impressive throws to lead her team. They have just three losses to date and played Bates as well as anyone this year. This could be the year LaWUFA breaks their streak of quarters losses. You can’t talk about Oberlin without talking about Abby Chang. Chang is one of just a couple D-III athletes to make the 2019 U-24 National Team, and it doesn’t take much time watching her play to see why. But you can’t focus too much on Chang and end up sleeping on Zoe Hecht. She’s only a sophomore, but she also got a U-24 National Team tryout. Hecht was a huge part of Oberlin’s success last year as the team’s number two assists leader, and she’s poised for a lot more this year. Like Williams, Oberlin only has three losses in 2019. Two of those came against D-I Championships qualifiers. The third was a double-game-point loss in early March. Keep an eye on that 1:15 p.m. CT matchup between the pool’s top two seeds. After winning two straight D-III titles in 2016 and 2017, Carleton College-Eclipse missed the 2018 championships. They’re back in the field this year, and although they’re sitting in the 10th spot, you can never completely count them out. Eclipse has a split record against fellow D-III qualifiers this year at 2-2, but they haven’t yet seen anyone in their pool. Senior captains Nora Brown and Kaitlin Schaible, along with their junior captain counterpart Abigail Herscovici, will try to lead this largely underclassman squad back to glory. Occidental rounds out Pool C, having qualified for the D-III College Championships straight out of the end-of-regular-season rankings. It’s just the program’s second-ever trip to Nationals, but they’ll have some work to do to try and equal their 2011 trip’s fifth-place finish.
(4) Puget Sound (5) Middlebury (9) St. Olaf (16) Mary Washington
Pool D’s top seed, Puget Sound Clearcut, is becoming a very familiar face at the D-III College Championships. They’re making a fifth consecutive appearance and are in the top four seeds for a second straight year. Then there’s their three straight semifinals appearances. Puget Sound has all the experience you could ask for. They returned Emma Piorier, who led Clearcut in scoring at the 2018 D-III Championships – as a freshman – and Bethany Llewellyn, who was second on the team in assists. They also got a boost this year in freshman Ally Constantino. Constantino was a longtime heavy hitter in the Seattle youth scene and was part of the 2016 U.S. U-20 National Team. Their roster isn’t all that big, but they certainly have all the pieces to put together a successful run in Texas. But as the lucky fourth seed, they’ll have to take on Middlebury in pool play. Which means Constantino will get to face off with one of her U-20 National Team and Seattle youth teammates in Miyo McGinn, a senior Prankster. Middlebury qualified for the D-I College Championships just a few years ago, in 2015, but this is their first appearance at D-III Nationals. They quickly moved up the ranks this spring and finished the regular season as the third-ranked team in the nation. They spent most of the early spring playing D-I teams and fared pretty well. Then they ran into their own region’s powerhouses. They lost to Bates three times: twice at their conference championship and once in the regional final. They also fell to Williams at regionals, but in a game that only mattered for seeding, since they had already qualified for the D-III Championships. The always-exciting 4 v. 5 game will be the third straight of the day for both teams, and Middlebury has a much deeper roster. We’ll see how much the travel and a smaller squad wears on Puget Sound in what will surely be an important game. Then there’s the defending champs. St. Olaf graduated the 2018 D-III Championships assist leader (a staggering 63 in all, but just one more than Bates’s Josie Gillet) in Tulsa Douglas, one of the most impactful players ever in the division. That’s a tough loss to rebound from, but they do still have the event’s goal leader. Kaitlyn Mulhern led the field in scores by a lot and is still only a junior this year. Plus there’s the other 15 returning players from last year’s squad – that’s 16 of 21 in all. “But they’re the 9-seed!” you say? Well, they won it all as the 7 seed last year. Anything is possible when it comes to Vortex. Mary Washington enters the weekend as the 16 seed after shocking Catholic in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships final. They would love to win a game or two in Texas, but they’re in a tough pool and will surely enjoy the experience no matter the outcome.
To be sure, there are plenty of exciting match ups on tap at the D-III College Championships. Games start Friday, May 18, at 8:00 a.m. CT. Follow along at collegechampionships.usaultimate.org, and get the USA Ultimate mobile app for score updates and final results.