D-III Women’s College Championship Preview

USA Ultimate's DIII College Championships logo.As DIII Nationals rapidly approaches, qualified teams are prepping for their biggest tournament of the season. Given the spectrum of talent at the DIII level, some teams walked into this tournament while others surprised themselves with great play at Regionals. Similarly, a lot of teams will be using this as a learning experience, not as an opportunity to win a National title.

Although the D-III Women’s division still lacks the same across-the-board dedication we see at the D-I level (e.g. two teams passed on bids to Nationals this year), there are some star players that would be nationally known if they played on a more widely watched team. They’ll get their chance to shine at this year’s Nationals.

Ultiworld will be reporting and shooting video of the D-III College Championships all this weekend, including the biggest women’s games.

Here’s a look at the teams by pool (with their overall seed in parentheses).

POOL A

Valparaiso (1): Valparaiso Chicks Hucking Discs have been a force to be reckoned with this season. Ranked 29th overall in the country on the USAUltimate Rankings, Valpo has taken down solid D-I teams like Notre Dame, Purdue, and Michigan State. Their 19-1 record speaks to their commitment to the team motto of FAITH (focus, attitude, integrity, teamwork, heart). “FAITH helps to unify our team whether it is an important moment in a game at a tournament, or just working on skills, strategy, and conditioning at practice,” says team President Teryn Gehred.

Erin Watkins, Katelyn Niemeyer, and Gehred flow from the cutter positions, receiving the disc from handlers Steph Volz, Kate Guidera, and Erika Wagner (6th in assists at 2012 Nationals). On defense, the Chicks aren’t afraid to throw a variety of cohesive zones to frustrate opponents. Valpo will look to improve on their 5th place finish last season, but they have the big 1-seed target looming on their backs.

Truman State (8): Tsunami’s 7-12 record is not the most impressive this season. With a 16th place finish at Midwest Throwdown and a 7th place finish at Chicago Invite, they have left much to be desired in the win-loss column. However, Truman has played against top competition this season, with games against Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri State. They attended DI conferences instead of DIII conferences and finished 5th out of 12. A team heavy on rookies, TSU runs through continuation play out of a ho-stack. With Jen May and Maddy Niehaus behind the disc feeding Callie Federer and Juli Dworak downfield, Tsunami moves the disc efficiently. If Milwaukee is windy, look for this team to thrive.

Mary Washington (12): Mary Washington is looking to improve on their 11th place finish at Nationals last season. After losing big to Elon in the finals of Atlantic Coast conferences, this team handled their business against Wake Forest, winning 11-3. Mary Washington had an average season, finishing 6th and 9th at their two regular season tournaments, without a win against a team in the top 100. Still, the team has to be happy with their results. Starting the season with 9 players on the roster, the upperclassmen recruited extremely well and ended the season with a 24 person roster.

Juniors Laura Pape and Fiona Curtis are dynamic cutters who have helped Mary Washington transition from a handler-centered team to a cutter-based system. No matter the result, the team will look to build off of their play at Nationals.“Our team goal is not to win DIII Nationals but to play to the best of our ability and to learn from the experience. Overall, we are still a relatively young team this year and have a lot to learn,” said captain Devon Davis.

Philadelphia (13): In just their second season as a program, PhilaU Ultimate has taken a huge step by qualifying for Nationals. The young team has been working on developing a greater understanding and flow of the game as well as of their team. The small, 11-player squad is led by playmakers Erika Krueger, Allysha Dixon, and Kelsey Kausch. Using their athleticism and focusing on not trying to do too much on offense, Philadelphia finished 5-1 at regionals and earned a backdoor bid.

Kelly Wojtan assures that the young team will make a name for themselves at the big show: “We promised ourselves last year that we would make it to Nationals no matter what and now we have our opportunity. We are going to fight as hard as we possibly can to show the Ultimate world that our tiny squad is a team to be remembered.”

POOL B

Bowdoin (2): Chaos Theory looks retooled and ready to make a run at a National championship. After a disappointing 7th place finish at a windy Nationals in 2012, Bowdoin has spent this season honing their fundamentals. “[This] entire season, we played in a wind tunnel,” said captain Julie Bender. “This has forced us to really work on our throws, and it’s had a huge impact on our play.”

This focus on perfecting the basics has shown in their play as the team has gone 24-0, winning two regular season tournaments and outscoring opponents an astounding 333-96 (that’s an average of four points given up per game!). With Phoebe Aron controlling the disc and Bender and Ana Leon cutting downfield, the Chaos Theory offense is tough to stop. Look for Mik Cooper to make plays on the defensive side of the disc and for Bowdoin to make noise at Nationals.

Oberlin (7): The Preying Manti come into championships playing well, having won their last 13 games. During this time, they have notched wins against Nationals qualifiers Philadelphia (13-7) and Swarthmore (10-8). Their regular season was impressive as well, with close losses to Georgia Tech and North Texas as well as a big win over Paideia High School. Oberlin finds themselves in a tough pool with Bowdoin and St. Benedict’s but will likely be able to slip out and be playing for late on Saturday and into Sunday morning.

St. Benedict’s (11): Bad Habits (formerly, Ugly Hucklings) have achieved their season-long goal of qualifying for Nationals. This is a team that has impressed at every tournament they have attended, finishing the season 16-2. Led by captains Kelsey Peterson, Kaylee Mathews, and former USA U-19 player Erynn Schroeder, Bad Habits has worked as a unit and focused on individual strengths to better themselves as a team. Lisa Knapek and Kelsey Jacobson contribute on the offensive side of the disc, while freshman Siri Berg-Moberg works hard to generate blocks. The captains emphasized their intentions for Nationals, stating, “We are a team full of dedicated and talented players that are excited to make history for St. Benedict’s ultimate.”

SUNY Oneonta (14): Love$eat impressed at Metro East Regionals, losing only to The College of New Jersey late on Saturday. Their results on Sunday were skewed by gusty winds, but the team did enough to qualify for Nationals. Their season was short but impressive as the team went 13-4 and won their home tournament, Clover Cup Classic. The team has made great strides in only their second year as a program.

Captain and team founder Shannon “Dominator” Chrystal reflects on the experience: “From the first struggle of recruiting enough women to have a full line to teaching everyone how to set up a vertical stack, all the pieces have seemed to come together.” As a dual handler and deep-threat, the 6’ 1” Chrystal is a key component of the Love$eat attack. This is a team not afraid to put up contested hucks to Chrystal, Mary Viscio, and Rhiannon Spencer and let their athletes make plays. Erica Bornhoft and Sarah Hastings are responsible for these deep-balls. Colleen Parker elegantly adds, “We set the bar high for ourselves, and now that we’ve made it, it’s our time to prove ourselves. It’s not the size of the Love$eat; it’s how many people you can fit on it.”

POOL C

Carleton (3): Carleton-B or formally, Eclipse, have played well this season, boasting an impressive 20-6 record. It is no surprise given many offensive and defensive sets that the team runs that Eclipse has been peaking as of late. The captains explain, “We run a variety of offensive and defensive sets, which was a bit overwhelming for our younger players early in the season. Our biggest improvement has just been gaining confidence and developing chemistry in each of those looks.”

They fought through Southerns in late March, taking down Princeton in the finals and won North Central Conferences over a strong St. Benedict team. Kalli Perano and Claire Leichter use their chemistry as handlers to run the Eclipse offense, feeding Zoe Suche and Katie Claiborne downfield. Using their high Ultimate IQ to perfect various defenses, Carleton will likely be a top contender for another season.

Claremont (6): Last year’s champions, Claremont looks to defend their crown after a strong D-I conferences that saw the Greenshirts take down D-I Regional qualifiers USC and Cal Poly-SLO. The team also played a strong game against D-I National qualifier UC Santa Barbara. With the return of Julia and Catharine Raney (2nd and 9th respectively in goals at 2012 Nationals) and the addition of freshman BUDA star Marianna Heckendorn, Claremont sports a strong roster.

Greenshirt captain Tasha Arvanitis, who was instrumental in their 2012 run, has been out with an ankle injury all season and will not be playing at Nationals. However, her coaching has brought the team to the next level. An impressive win over Carleton Eclipse at the Stanford Open shows their ability to continue to play with the top DIII teams in the nation. Expect Claremont to be fighting in important games come Sunday.

Bentley (10): Bentley WoBUS Salt n Peppa had a strong and efficient season. They were able to achieve the ideal balance of using open lines to get everyone game-time experience while still winning games. Given the New England weather, the team was not able to have many outdoor practices, so during these early tournaments, the focus was on the fundamentals. As the weather has brightened up, WoBUS has been able to incorporate various offensive strategies and work on improving their deep game.

Rae Berube controls the offense with great breaks and around-throws. She works with lefty Sydney Southern to hit Christine Westgate making great plays downfield. On defense, they’re not afraid to run hard man-defense or a patented 1-3-3 zone. Unfortunately for Bentley, they will be missing their senior class on Saturday due to graduation, and in a tough pool they’ll be fighting for their lives. If they can weather the storm and get some fresh legs on Sunday, look for them to make some noise in championship play.

Swarthmore (15): The Warmothers (get it?) have shown flashes of greatness this season. They have taken down Elon, William and Mary, and Connecticut, while also playing close with Williams, Middlebury, Philadelphia, and Oberlin. After losing big to Haverford at Conferences, the Warmothers fought back to take down the neighboring Philly rival at regionals by a score of 10-8. They are led by the strong play of captains Sachie Hopkins-Hayakawa, Emily McAfee, and Elena Kingston as well as cutters Maisie Wiltshire-Gordon and Tavi Unger. Still, their strength comes from their depth. Their personal team website lists 28 women spread fairly evenly across four class years. Swarthmore will have some work to do but shouldn’t be overlooked in Milwaukee.

POOL D

Williams (4): After a second place finish at 2011 Nationals, Williams qualified but did not attend in 2012. This season, La Wufa have continued their strong play with wins over DIII qualifiers Elon, Swarthmore, Bentley, and Oberlin. Additionally, they have played Bowdoin closer than nearly any team this season losing 9-15 and 8-13 at regionals. Williams has spent the season perfecting a horizontal offense in order to get more even distribution of the disc to a deep roster. “With Rachel Kessler leading the team as head captain, and following a strong turnout at tryouts, we became a much deeper team than we have seen in the last three or four years,” said captain Meagan Clark.

Interestingly, Williams relies on a number of varsity athletes to bolster their roster, most notably varsity volleyball captain Haley Eagon and DIII All-American basketball star Claire Baecher. The 6’3″ Baecher has great throws and is a handful in the air. I’m sure La Wufa looks forward to another shot at Chaos Theory and the rest of the field this weekend.

Georgia College (5): Georgia College Rufies have been very solid all year long. This season, the team has taken 1st at Joint Summit, 2nd at Flick’n Nuts, and 2nd at Southeast Regionals playing with anywhere from nine to ten players; at Nationals, they will only have eight. They will also be playing without one of their top players, Marissa Hicks.

Georgia College will be one of the most spirited teams at the tourney. “When we’re not doing well or feel nervous, we cheer,” said the GCSU captains. “When we’re doing extremely well, we cheer. No matter what the situation is, we cheer for ourselves and the other team. It takes the stress off of us.” Hopefully for GCSU their chemistry and familiarity with one another can make up for their lack of legs and carry them deep into the tournament.

Elon (9): With 10 graduating players, Elon knew that 2012 was their “all-in” season. The team had relative national success, finishing 11th at Championships despite dropping seed. Given the huge turnover, captains Heather Olin and Maureen Dougherty thought this season would be strictly for rebuilding. Olin explains: “Never in our wildest dreams did we think we would win Regionals…Our team is full of women who have given 110% effort at every tournament, and we couldn’t be more proud or excited to represent Elon once again in Wisconsin.”

Elon’s season is composed of a number of quality losses to teams such as Georgetown, Towson, Notre Dame, and Virginia Tech. While they haven’t been able to pull out wins in these contests, they’ve come away with vital game experience. This experience along with the leadership of Coach Brian Dobyns helped Elon cruise to a first place finish at Atlantic Coast conferences. They typically run a ho-stack with Olin, Dougherty, and Jill Padfield behind the disc distributing to a variety of cutters. Look for this highly spirited team to make a name for themselves at Nationals.

Grinnell (16): After a one point loss in the championship game last season, the Stickies, who were seeded thirteenth in 2012, look to pull more upsets out of the 16th position this year. The biggest positive for Grinnell this season was numbers. With their biggest first-year turnout in years, the team has needed to take time to develop into the “functional, in-sync” group they are today. By getting everyone playing time and making each player feel like a contributor, the Stickies have grown into a strong competitor, only losing to St. Benedict’s at Conferences. Grinnell often comes out in a ho-stack that is not afraid to attack defenses with either handler movement or down-field continuation play. Don’t be surprised to see this team pull out an upset on day one.

***

Note: Philadelphia University and Swarthmore Warmothers qualify for Nationals after the Northwest Region and Smith College declined their bids. With top DIII teams Whitman and Pacific Lutheran choosing the DI path and Puget Sound turning down the bid, the OV2, or Philadephia University was awarded the bid. Similarly, as Smith turned down their bid, it was given to Swarthmore, the OV3. The OV2 and OV3 were the next two wildcard bid allocations on USAUltimate’s final rankings.

  1. Jesse Moskowitz
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    Jesse Moskowitz is the DIII editor for Ultiworld. Born and raised in Queens, New York, he started playing Ultimate at the Bronx High School of Science in 2008. He captained Connecticut College Dasein and currently plays Mixed Club with 7 Express (NYC). You can reach him by email at jesse@movoli.com.

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