Pranksters On The Rise: Middlebury Underclassmen Key Title Win

The future is bright for the national champs

Two of Middlebury’s myriad underclassmen contributors, Danny Grubbs-Donovan and Zack Maluccio, celebrate a goal, in the 2019 D-III College Championship final. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

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In a championship matchup brimming with elite upperclassmen who have defined the division for the past few years, it was Middlebury’s talented mob of freshmen and sophomores who made the difference in the national final, powering the Pranksters to a 15-12 win over Air Force Afterburn.

Upperclassmen matchups were expected to determine the outcome of the game. How would Noa Chun-Moy match up with Dylan Salzman in the handler space? Could Asher Lantz contain Matthew Moshea? Would Kai DeLorenzo or Alan Villanueva provide more playmaking for their respective offenses?

Instead, Middlebury’s youngsters made their impact felt on the very first point of the game, treating spectators to a preview of the division’s talented future. Freshmen Walker Frankenberg and Leo Sovell-Fernandez marshalled the backfield for the Pranksters’ D-line, and eventually Sovell-Fernandez hit Frankenberg with a huck to the red zone. A few throws later, sophomore Danny Grubbs-Donovan caught the opening goal of the game.

Frankenberg and Sovell-Fernandez stood out above the rest in this final. Both players took on a tremendous load for the Pranksters, taking and often winning tough matchups defensively and racking up touches on offense.

Frankenberg had the more impressive box score of the two, totaling four assists and four blocks in the game. The Seattle product was all over the field defensively, picking up blocks on deep shots,

Deep shots

in the backfield,

Backfield

and helping off the stack.

helping off the stack

The freshman star got in an offensive groove in the second half, throwing three of Middlebury’s final five goals, two of which were breaks. Frankenberg showed a maturity beyond his years, patiently swinging the disc at the goal line to set up open shots and calling two timeouts to set up easy goals during the run.

While Sovell-Fernandez’s performance doesn’t show up in the box score, the dynamic standout from Minnesota rose to the occasion for the Pranksters. Taking the Villanueva matchup, Sovell-Fernandez used his incredible motor to frustrate the Donovan winner all game long. Villanueva’s two goals and two assists are a testament to his talents rather than a measure of the defensive pressure he was under from Middlebury’s star freshman. Several bids from Sovell-Fernandez came inches away from a block, and many of Air Force’s turnovers came as a result of Sovell-Fernandez eliminating Villanueva as an easy reset.

Sovell-Fernandez bid

The Pranksters’ sophomore class also stepped up in the final. The trio of Kevin Strenski, Ian Hanson, and Grubbs-Donovan combined for eight goals, and all three played tireless defense in the Texas heat. The same three players had no goals in last year’s semifinal loss to Afterburn — their improvement was a major factor in the seven point swing from last year’s result.

Strenski, in particular, was a revelation. In last year’s semifinal, Air Force dominated Middlebury physically, and the development of this athletic sophomore helped Middlebury not just neutralize Air Force’s physical advantage defensively, but also allowed the Pranksters to win some of those matchups on offense.

Stenski sky

The Pranksters’ roster featured four seniors this season: Salzman, Lantz, Alex Forde, and Eli Wolfgang. These four combined for two goals and two assists in the championship game. While their impact on Middlebury’s success extended past a simple box score, the seniors were quick to praise their exceptional younger teammates.

“Our depth won us that game, and that’s a testament to how we’ve played all year,” said Salzman in the postgame interview.

The Pranksters showed complete confidence in their youth, trusting their underclassmen to close out the victory down the stretch. The line that broke for the win included two freshmen and two sophomores, and the final goal came from an unlikely connection. A hanging Frankenberg huck was cleaned up by freshman Benjamin Allen-Rahill, who dropped it in to sophomore Van Lundsgaard.

Allen-Rahill and Lundsgaard hadn’t played much up to that point, but both young players stepped up when their number was called.

Don’t expect a drop off from Middlebury any time soon, despite losing four strong seniors. The champions return twenty players next season, and this season’s leadership believes the best is yet to come.

“This wasn’t about any of our superstars,” said Salzman. “This was about the team we’ve put together.”

“The future is only going up.”

  1. Michael Ball
    Michael Ball

    Michael Ball is the Men's DIII College Editor for Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (mball2293@gmail.com) or on Twitter @mike_ball423

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