The Pranksters win their first title since 2013.
May 20, 2019 by Zakk Mabrey in News with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2019 D-III College Championships is presented by VC Ultimate, the official gear provided of the Premier Ultimate League. All opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at VC Ultimate!
COLLEGE STATION–It was a game destined to happen. Middlebury and Air Force, the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the D-III Men’s Division, battled through the bracket to reach the 2019 Championship game. Despite a strong start from Air Force, Middlebury’s poise in the second half earned them a 15-12 win and their first D-III title since 2013. They finished the season undefeated against Division III competition.
Air Force received the disc to start the game and initially looked drained from their semifinal match. Both teams had several turns before Middlebury was able to finally get on the board with a break. Almost immediately, Air Force re-established their offense, got a hold, and, after a Middlebury score, punched in back-to-back breaks on a 3-0 run, giving Air Force a 4-2 lead going into the first heat timeout of the game.1 During the run, Noa Chun-Moy once again proved himself as the playmaker he’s been throughout his collegiate career, notching a huge layout block on Dylan Salzman and a sky over the impressive rookie Leo Sovell-Fernandez.
Middlebury, though, wasn’t fazed.
“You would be surprised by how many times we have fallen down 4-2 or 5-3 throughout the year,” said Middlebury captain Dylan Salzman. “We are a good team at making adjustments, and we feel it out the first couple of points. So sometimes we get broken early, and we know that we can always clamp down late. For us, it’s about making those adjustments and trusting our depth.”
Out of the heat timeout, after several turns back and forth, Middlebury took control of the disc and held to score. They immediately followed it up with a break, as Kai Delorenzo hucked to Sean Fallon, putting the game back on serve.
Throughout the rest of the first half, the teams traded holds and highlights. Electrifying effort from the likes of Chun-Moy and Sovell-Fernandez generated some huge plays.
“[Dylan Salzman] was a matchup that I’ve been looking forward to all year,” says Air Force captain Noa Chun-Moy. “Ever since last year in semis, I played against him and I didn’t really get any blocks. When we heard yesterday that he was playing, I got excited.”
With Middlebury doing everything they could to try and take the top talents of Chun-Moy and Alan Villanueva out of the game, Air Force’s Matt Frierson of Air Force established himself as a force throughout the first half, coming up with a number of Air Force goals.
Air Force took an 8-7 lead into halftime, the game still on serve. Out of half, Air Force and Middlebury continued to trade holds, and the game rolled to 10-10. It was at that point that Middlebury finally made their run. Back-to-back breaks gave Middlebury a 12-10 lead, entering the final heat timeout of the game.
“[Going into the game] we know how they play, we know that they want to run handler give-and-go stuff through a couple of their more talented players,” said Salzman. “So we had a team defense to try to stop that, and we wanted to push their other players to the disc and force them to make plays.”
Out of the timeout, Middlebury was able to notch another break, and Air Force seemed to be fading away. Trailing 13-10, Air Force made one last push. Villanueva and Chun-Moy put the team on their backs, making big plays one after the other. Noa came up with two consecutive layout blocks on upline attempts. Alan provided a burst of offensive energy, and Air Force made the game close again, trailing 13-12 after a break.
With Air Force refinding some energy, Middlebury faced a crucial O point. Walker Frankenburg and Kevin Strenski made the big offensive plays that Middlebury needed to get a high pressure hold. With traction regained, Middlebury had shut down the comeback hopes of Air Force and broke on the following point to win the championship.
Throughout the course of the game, Middlebury ran through an offensive system in which their trust in one another was evident. Players across the board were making plays for Middlebury, and their throwers hit took the first open look they had. On a team loaded with top-tier talent in the likes of Salzman and Delorenzo, the story of the championship game ended up more focused on their depth.
“All season we have been preaching trust,” says Salzman. “Trusting all of the players on the field, all of the systems we have been implementing defensively and offensively. We try to put people in a position to succeed, and our depth won us this game. That speaks to the type of team that we’ve built and not just the strength of one or two players.”
Indeed, Middlebury had a stellar regular season, despite playing without Salzman, one of the best players in the Division and a 2019 Donovan Award finalist.
As for Air Force, their championship window may have just closed. Chun-Moy and Villanueva are graduating, and it will be difficult to replace their production. But the team had quite the run, making Nationals in all four years of their tenure and reaching the final in the last two years.
“It was really an honor to get to compete in the final,” said Chun-Moy. “It was a bit of an expectation the whole season. Most teams have the expectation to make Nationals, but ours was to win Nationals. We’ve been building, and it just didn’t work out this time.”
Due to the hot conditions, there were three minute breaks during both the first and second half. ↩