Owning the Deep: The Game Plan That Brought Oberlin A Title

On both offense and defense, the Preying Manti dominated a Bates deep game that had previously looked untouchable.

Rosie Rudavsky played a big role in Oberlin’s plan to slow down Josie Gillett. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

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, TX – The 2019 D-III Women’s Championship belongs to the Oberlin Preying Manti, after a dominating 13-7 win over top seed and heavily favored Bates Cold Front. In a game that featured explosive offensive, relentless defense, and battles in the air — all under the blazing sun and on the parched turf field — Oberlin played the best possible version of their game.

Oberlin played both sides of the deep game with aplomb, and the strategy kept them in the game long enough to run away with their first National title. Oberlin demonstrated in the final they could contain and defend the Cold Front deep looks, a strategy the Bates team used successfully throughout the season, throwing dime hucks. The Preying Manti also leveraged the deep space on offense to shorten the length of the field and score quickly, reducing the time spent under the unrelenting sun and energizing the already vibrant Oberlin sideline.

Defensive Game Plan

Oberlin neutralized Bates’ deep looks by putting clamps on Josie Gillett, senior handler and offensive engine for the Cold Front line. Early in the game Oberlin matched senior Rosie Rudavsky one-on-one with Gillett, giving the 5’8” Rudavsky the task of utilizing her wingspan to keep Josie contained. All season Rudavsky has been a marking boon for Oberlin, and the final was no different. The defender flew down to cover Gillett with the kind of speed and active energy you see on day one in cool weather, not 95 degrees on turf in the last game of a long weekend. Rudavsky arrived at the scene of each mark going flat against Gillett, never resting as Bates’ big thrower looked to send hucks to her downfield line, but with little success.

Rudavsky mark

For the hucks that Gillett did sneak beyond Rudavsky, Oberlin’s downfield defenders were ready and able to make the save. Whether it was Helen Samuel reading the disc and boxing out her matchup by taking and holding the space below the disc, or Zoe Hecht using her legs to beat the receiver on the break side and maneuver into preferrable positioning, the downfield Oberlin players used their eyes, bodies and field positioning to always hunt for the disc.

When an Oberlin defender lost position, heads up teammates peeled off unengaged Bates players to help, making the catch that much harder for under-pressure Cold Front receivers. Seniors Abby Cheng and Helen Samuel popped up all over the field — helping out deep, coming down hard on the mark, getting up in the air — and made big plays to get the disc back for another Oberlin break chance, even as the game wore on.

Cheng endzone block

Deep D

All of the Oberlin pressure and containment tactics wore down the Bates throwers, in particular Gillett; nearly two-thirds of the handler’s turnovers came from deep look execution errors or defended receptions which provided break opportunities the Preying Manti offense relished. Cold Front looked to get Gillett involved in different ways with the disc to shake up the defensive needs, like starting the star handler in the stack to set up sequences and develop motion before looking for the big throw. Even as Bates adjusted to Oberlin’s efforts in the second half and found more deep opportunities, they struggled with execution; deep looks turned into punts by overshooting offensive targets, unable to reduce the widening gap on the scoreboard. Gillett did capitalize nicely on a fast break opportunity in the second half — catching Oberlin’s defense out of position with the quick change of possession that allowed her to hit a sprinting cutter in-step, a feat that Bates had struggled to execute correctly repeatedly throughout the game— but that would be the final point Bates scored in the entire game.

Offensive Chemistry

The Preying Manti used their own deep game to capitalize on the many break opportunities their defense generated. The surety of the upline-strike-open-side-huck from various Oberlin player combinations appeared effortless, as players executed well-worn sequences from an entire season of experience. Handler Hecht’s ability to find targets like Linnea Fraser, Cheng, and others with her outside-in flick had a practiced nature to it; the Preying Manti were playing with a season’s worth of confidence and chemistry built up between teammates.

Hecht huck

Hecht’s flicks had a shape and height that would fly over defenders, up and ahead into the hands of the waiting Manti receivers. Cold Front couldn’t intervene in the game of catch Oberlin was playing.

Hucks came from handlers and cutters alike, including Lucia Mason, Cheng, Fraser, and Samuel. They came from a variety of points on the field, whether Oberlin had set up in a horizontal or vertical stack for the point, coming out with a pull play or cycling in during a point. Oberlin knew how to leverage positioning in any offensive set to find the corners of the end zone and make a break for it, with a particular familiarity with the back open-side corner. Cheng’s ability to blast off to the back corner, or make a clear-as-day under and then bust behind her defender, or simply escape from the eyeline of her defender to make a break for it, were fun to watch.

The final point encapsulates the speed and grace with which Oberlin could run their deep game to its full potential: a massive huck from Cheng found Seeger on the open side of the field, and a speeding Cheng then found the end zone for an OI flick that took the game.

Cheng give-go

Oberlin played at the top of their game in the final, and it showed in nearly every facet of their game. Containing the Bates offense and Gillett threat allowed Oberlin to earn break opportunities; their own ability to maneuver in the deep space and reel in hucks converted those opportunities into points. They made their deep game look effortless, despite the heat, humidity, and the stakes. They played their game, their way, right to a National title.

  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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