The season's biggest Division III tournament answered some questions.
March 23, 2017 by Zakk Mabrey in Recap with 0 comments
This past weekend brought several of the nation’s top D-III teams together in Fair Oaks, IN. As we head into the final stretch of the college regular season, D-III Midwestern Invite will serve as one of the primary events for connecting teams in the division from across the country in the rankings that will decide bid allocations.
After a cold and windy Saturday, a beautiful Sunday saw the dominance of the South Central region deep in bracket play, with Colorado College eventually coming out as the tournament champion.
Here are four big takeaways from the weekend:
1. The South Central is stronger than ever.
Both #3 Air Force Afterburn and #6 Colorado College Wasabi were able to cruise through pool play with little opposition. Relatively unchallenged, Air Force made it to the tournament championship after putting away Brandeis 15-9 in the semifinal. Colorado College played through Sunday in much the same way, defeating St. John’s 15-11 in the semifinal on the other side of the bracket.
The tournament championship was left as a matchup between the two South Central powerhouses and a rematch of their game just two weeks ago at Air Force’s home tournament. In that first game, Afterburn completely dominated Wasabi en route to a 13-6 victory. This time around, Colorado College came out quick and ferocious, flipping the script and beating Air Force 15-7 to avenge their previous loss.
“The loss a couple weeks ago allowed us to fix some weaknesses in our play,” said Colorado College player Grant Mitchell. “We came into the game with some extra fire and a chip on our shoulder.”
Through hard work and high energy, Colorado College was able to push through the athleticism of Air Force, and take home the D-III Midwestern Invite title.
These two South Central powerhouses were without a doubt the best two teams in Fair Oaks and the region are now almost guaranteed to end the season with a much deserved three bids to Nationals. Between Air Force, Colorado College, and #2 John Brown, don’t be shocked to find three teams from the SC in the quarterfinals in Lexington this May — the region is that strong.
2. The Great Lakes struggled to get a meaningful win.
After earning three bids last year, Great Lakes teams came into the weekend with high hopes of repeating that feat. With all three of last year’s Nationals representatives — #9 Wheaton, #20 Indiana Wesleyan, and Knox — as well as bid-earner Valparaiso in attendance, the region was hoping for some big wins to help secure multiple strength bids again for this season. They came up terribly short of this goal, struggling to pick up any significant wins on the weekend.
Despite the Great Lakes accounting for six of the 16 teams in attendance, just two teams, Wheaton and Kalamazoo, made it past prequarters. Even then, both teams lost their quarterfinal matchup. Wheaton went on to win the fifth place bracket, while Kalamazoo lost out to finish eighth.
The ninth place bracket featured a handful of matchups that help shape the outlook of the Great Lakes region heading into the postseason. Knox and IWU fought their way to the ninth place game, where the River Rats edged out a tight win over IWU. Unfortunately, none of the opponents the two teams beat in consolation will do anything to help the region’s bid situation.
The region finished with an overall record of 19-23 on the weekend, with seven of those wins coming against in-region competition. The GL region will likely end up with just a single bid this year.
3. St. John’s proved they’re ready to compete on the national stage.
After falling just short of qualifying for Nationals last year, #11 St. John’s came into the season with a chip on their shoulder. Throughout the weekend, St. John’s proved themselves to be one of the top teams in the country, despite being shorthanded.
“We were missing four players out of our twenty-man roster — and two of them were from our top seven,” captain Jeffrey McGurran said. “Luckily, Saturday was windy enough that we could run zone for most of the day, and save legs for Sunday.”
The team won their pool on Saturday, including a big win over Wheaton. Through the first rounds of bracket play, St. John’s was able to put away Xavier and Oberlin handily. But St. John’s fell short of upsetting Colorado College in the semifinals.
“Injuries and a lack of legs caught up to us, and we struggled to compete with Colorado College’s high-powered offense,” commented McGurran.
In the third place game, after a slow start, changes brought new life to the team, as they came back from an 8-4 halftime deficit, but fell just short against national runner-up, Brandeis. Despite a finish to the weekend that they’ll be disappointed in, St. John’s showed that they have the talent and depth to contend with the nation’s best.
4. Despite large roster turnover, Brandeis proved to still be a top-tier team.
Coming into this weekend facing questions about how their team would recover from losing a large chunk of their national runner-up roster, #19 Brandeis Tron knew they had a point to prove.
Picking up wins over Nationals attendees Indiana Wesleyan and Knox in pool play jump started the team’s success. A tough quarterfinal matchup with Wheaton Mastodon saw a battle that came down to the wire. Brandeis picked up a 16-14 win, and moved on to the semifinals, where they fell short against Air Force. Tron ended their weekend by picking up another nice win over St. John’s in the third place game.
“In the fall, we focused all of our energy on developing every player on the team and building chemistry,” said Junior captain Ben Rosenfeld. “We have a very solid system in place, and with the help of our new coaches, new players are able to really step up and play to their potential.”
Thanks to the development of depth and trust in a proven system, Brandeis Tron seems to be gearing up for another deep Nationals run. Brandeis only has one tournament left in the regular season, Layout Pigout in two weekends. There, they will hope to prove themselves further as one of the nation’s top teams.