D-III Midwestern Invite: Tournament Recap (Women’s)

A weekend defined by the wind saw Oberlin prevail in Fair Oaks.

Oberlin’s Zoe Hecht. Photo: Kevin Wayner — UltiPhotos.com

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FAIR OAKS, IN – The 2019 college season’s terrible weather was cemented this past weekend, with a wet, tornado-threatening, 20-mph-wind-gusting event at D-III Midwestern Invite. A constantly changing competitive field made for eye-raising results and unexpected matchups. Games were regularly decided on whether teams could get a single upwind break or win the flip to begin the match. In the end, #3 Oberlin Preying Manti rose triumphant over the D-III pool, and the tournament as a whole, winning the final against D-I opponent Minnesota-Duluth with a 6-4 victory.

Originally slated to host six D-III teams, the drop of Union Jillz on Friday afternoon1 resulted in a five-team pool that would cross over with a D-I pool for bracket play, starting with semifinals. With winds gusting from nearly the word “go,” players, coaches and spectators struggled to stay warm, as seasoned Midwest handlers and cutters alike struggled to control the disc’s movements. Rain in the third round only added to the misery, before the round was cut short for incoming lightning and the potential for tornados; consolation play Sunday was also cancelled. The final two rounds of pool play were completed on Sunday on the now rain-soaked fields, after which the Oberlin Preying Manti and Michigan Tech Superior Ma’s represented the D-III pool in bracket play, with Oberlin taking the (soggy, wind-battered) crown.

In all, the D-III Women’s teams persevered and will come away with a healthier respect for the power of the wind and the difference a single upwind break can make between winning a tournament and going home empty-handed.

Oberlin Ends On Top

While not playing at full strength on the weekend — the Preying Manti were missing key player and U24 US National Team member Abby Cheng, to name one such absence — Oberlin fought to keep their spot and prove their mettle as the No. 1 seed. Though Oberlin mixed in person defense at times, a majority of the games saw zones of varying sizes and successes. Senior captain Helen Samuel in particular proved a consistent source of blocks and takeaways from within the zone. Driving the Oberlin backfield was sophomore captain Zoe Hecht, with a collection of other handlers and strong disc handling skills from Anna Barron. While they consistently made better upwind progress, Oberlin was never able to score against the wind over the course of Saturday play. Their first game of the weekend was also their only loss, and a painful one at that: Missouri S&T Miner Threat took the game with the only upwind break, capitalizing off of a block by their mark on what was intended to be an Oberlin field-reset huck, that instead created a short field for S&T.

In later matches, Oberlin was one of the more consistent and consistently patient teams in their ability to painstakingly move the disc up the field against the wind, but could never march the entire length to score. The Preying Manti did hold strong in their defensive efforts, containing the upwind pushes of Michigan Tech and on Sunday against Grinnell.

Sunday proved a strange sequence of events for Oberlin; after defeating Grinnell 6-5 thanks to winning the flip, Oberlin was informed that Winona State had dropped out of the tournament. After the final round played out without Oberlin on the field, Oberlin sat tied at the top of the pool with Winona State, each with a record of 4-1. Due to the forfeiture of the Bad Monaz, Oberlin proceeded to their semifinal match against their crossover D-I opponent DePaul, who by that point had also dropped out. In the end, Oberlin ended up in the tournament final against Minnesota-Duluth, with two rounds of attempting to keep warm, paired with throwing in the windy conditions. In the final, Oberlin finally found the upwind flow they had been hunting for all weekend, going up 3-0 after punching in an upwind break on the second point driven by small, consistent handler motion and improved reading of the disc under the windy conditions. Also critical to the effort was Rosie Rudavsky, who reached double-digit hand blocks from their position in the zone.

Even without some of their star players, the Preying Manti have serious talent on their hands and can spread the wealth and production amongst many players of their roster. A team this deep, with the patience and tenacity displayed this weekend, should not be underestimated by the rest of the division.

Small, Young Rosters Don’t Hold Back Michigan Tech or Missouri S&T

For one of the smaller rosters at D-III Midwestern Invite, Michigan Tech Superior Ma’s put on a strong showing that highlight their potential to shake up upcoming competitions like Conference Championships. Even while missing some key cutters for the weekend, the Ma’s acquitted themselves very well for a first-year program.

In their pool play matches, Jayleen Rossi was an offensive powerhouse, finding success in stretching the field with well-placed hucks and bidding to keep the drive alive wherever possible. Leah Arnt anchored the backfield as a primary handler, working the disc bit by bit with other handlers and Rossi. On defense, Anna Schmalzel played in Michigan Tech’s zone as part of the cup, giving the Ma’s an intense defensive pressure that required handlers from other teams to look for trickier shots with lower accuracy. The Ma’s also scored upwind against Grinnell to win 10-9 despite having lost the flip, an achievement that helped put them in a place to go to bracket play after Winona State dropped from the remainder of the tournament. In their semifinal match they lost to Minnesota-Duluth after being unable to punch an upwind score in after being tantalizingly close to the goal line several times. With more room to grow and learn, watch closely for the Ma’s to make a splash at North Central Conference Championships this spring.

For #25 Missouri S&T Miner Threat, small rosters are well-trod territory. But what they lacked in numbers they made up for with well-placed plays, leveraging the talents of their entire roster to go 3-2 on the weekend. Missouri S&T’s zone positions put the right players in the right spots to make the biggest differences. Rachel Althage as the mark achieved not only the critical block needed to score upwind against Oberlin, but made a similar block against Grinnell. Madison Stiebel was a dominant deep position player, defending against downwind passes thanks to not only height, but the ability to read the disc and time jumps for the best positioning. Missouri S&T benefited from strong hands and reading skills down the field — Catherine Mittlieder in particular caught squirly passes by getting altitude and reading discs well in the air. They also successfully found the end zone multiple times when defenses got too frenzied, letting handlers put inside breaks directly into the hands of a well-positioned cutter. When the wind lulled in their match against Grinnell, Missouri S&T pounced, scoring an upwind break to win the match with the largest score disparity of all D-III games.

If Miner Threat is able to pull together a roster to play at South Central Conference Championships, and the wind is on their side, they’ll have a better edge after their experience at D-III Midwestern Invite.

The Rest of the Field

#21 Winona State Bad Monaz had a strong weekend, even if two of their five matches were decided by forfeits from another team or themselves. Against Grinnell, Winona State was knocking on the door of an upwind score off their team-wide disc reading thanks to handlers expertly using the wind to their advantage and cutters attacking the disc aggressively. In their match against Michigan Tech, handlers pulled out an arsenal of different throws, including well-put high releases over the heads of defenders for the downwind score. The Bad Monaz were definitely one of the top teams in patiently stringing passes together when going upwind; the North Central should watch out for the region’s runner-up from last year’s tournament based on the talent displayed last weekend.

For the Grinnell Grinneleanor Roosevelts, their 1-5 record is indicative of the youthfulness and growing room of the team. Despite a rough weekend across the board — they were late to the first round on Saturday due to not receiving communications on a start time change — there were still bright spots. The team collectively used resets when going downwind to tire out opponents like Missouri S&T and effectively worked in the tight handler space provided by opposing zone defenses. With more patience and practice in the wind, Grinnell will be a fun team to watch in the near future.

All-Tournament Team

  • Rosie Rudavsky (Oberlin)
  • Madison Stiebel (Missouri S&T)
  • Jayleen Rossi (Michigan Tech)
  • Helen Samuel (Oberlin)
  • Rachel Althage (Missouri S&T)
  • Zoe Hecht (Oberlin)
  • Anna Schmalzel (Michigan Tech)

  1. Per USAU guidelines related to late drops, these games were marked as forfeits by Union. 

  1. Sam Echevarria
    Sam Echevarria

    Sam Echevarria is the Women's D-III College Editor at Ultiworld. She has been playing ultimate since 2010, starting with the Centerville HS Outsiders and later the Claremont Colleges Greenshirts. Currently based in Madison, WI, you can reach her on twitter (@sechevarria27).

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