Are Carleton and North Carolina destined to meet in the final?
June 11, 2020 by Daniel Prentice in Opinion, Recap with 0 comments
The simulation engine used for this article was built by guest contributors Alex Trahey and Daniel Walton. This article would not have been possible without their effort and expertise.
The college postseason is perhaps the most exciting set of events in ultimate. A plethora of teams come together with equal opportunity to reach the same championship. While favorites make up the primary ingredient of the dish, the upsets, double game points, and comebacks add the seasoning that makes for a flavorful and satisfying meal. There’s not quite another event like it in our sport.
We didn’t want to live in a world with no college postseason, so we sat down and asked, “How could the 2020 College Series have gone down?” We took the rankings algorithm, adjusted slightly to reflect our staff’s opinion of teams, and added a pinch of randomness that comes with life, and simulated how each and every regional event could play out. There were some creative liberties and constraints applied (see “Methodology”) before we sent our writers to imagine the sets of events that could have led to our simulation’s results.
Previously, we shared the top five finishers in both the D-I men’s and D-I women’s divisions from each regional championship, along with a narrative story of how things might have played out, and every game from every regional championship. We followed up with the pool play games of the D-I College Championships and the prequarter and quarterfinal rounds.
The four pool-winners and top five seeds have reached the semifinals for some slugfests. The story since day one has been Carleton vs. North Carolina. Could Tufts and Stanford score the upset to disrupt the predicted final?
To simulate an ultimate game, we determined the outcome of successive points by flipping a weighted coin. One coin is used for when Team A starts the point on offense and a second coin (with a different weight) is used for when Team B starts the point on offense. If the coin comes up heads, Team A scores the point; if it comes up tails, Team B scores.
For simplicity, games were played hard to 15 points — no timed round constraints, no win by two.1 The probability of heads for each coin is determined by the power rating difference between the two teams. We created a model based on results from the 2019 college postseason — and some minor human input from our staff at the start of the process — to assume how likely a team is to win a game and what the expected score is based on their power rating differential with their opponent. We use this empirical relationship to translate power rating differential — teams’ power ratings are based on 2020 regular season results with some small adjustments given the shortened season — into probabilities for the weighted coins. This approach was used previously to simulate the outcome of the 2019 College Championships. For more background on how games are simulated, check out this article.
To simplify: using past postseason data, we calculated how likely a team is to win a game against an opponent with a different rating. Then we took this season’s data and rolled the dice to see which teams would win.
There are some additional elements to note:
- BYU is included because we thought that’d be more interesting.
- We tuned our model to account for how teams behave during blowouts, decreasing the likelihood of massive margins.
- Writers did not influence the simulation’s results.
- Power Rankings are from our final update of the regular season and do not reflect any simulated results since.
Sims and Carleton Defense Overtake Stanford In Semi
It took them until the second half to pull away, but Carleton topped Stanford 15-11 to advance to national title game for the sixth time in school history and first time since 2013. It was a game owned by the defenses, with 13 of the game’s 26 points goals being scored by D-lines. Carleton’s D-line, led by an outstanding performance from Nariah Sims, was more potent than Stanford’s, especially early in the second half when Carleton put the game out of reach.
It seemed as though Carleton was set to put the game away immediately. They broke on the first two points of the game, both on goals from Sims, and then again for 4-1. Stanford seemed overwhelmed in the opening period, trying to force the disc to star handler Hallie Dunham and expecting her to do everything for the offense.
After giving up the third break Stanford head coach Robin Knowler Davis called timeout to allow her team to catch its breath and settle down. It worked. They looked like a totally different team and for the rest of the half. Maiko Isagowa stepped up as a reliable target for Dunham and ended the game with four goals. She, Xinzhi Zhou, and Bridget Connor all ended the game with more secondary assists than Dunham did. Stanford also cycled into a junky zone look on defense and immediately got one of the breaks back thanks to bookends from Connor.
The zone caused Carleton more problems a few points later and Dunham got a highlight reel footblock on Kate Lanier to set up another break to tie the game up at 5-5. All it took was a timeout and a different defense and Stanford went from getting absolutely buried by Carleton to going on a 4-1 run and leveling the contest.
Carleton claimed the next strategic victory, though, by switching Sims onto Dunham. Sims locked up Dunham in the reset space, and then displayed an ESP-like read to turn her head and layout block a dump to Dunham in space at the last possible moment. Carleton converted the turnover into another break and re-opened their multiple goal lead.
The defenses continued to harass the opposing offenses through the final couple points of the half, but the two sides traded multiple turn holds into an 8-6 Carleton lead at the half.
While the first timeout of the game acted as a salve for Stanford’s early struggles, the halftime break acted as an injection of ferocity for Carleton. Carly Campana hit Alyssa Ehrhardt to complete an easy six pass hold to start the second half, and then they put up four straight breaks.
First Maya Powell stalled out Zou in the shadow of their own end zone, setting up a one throw possession for the Carleton break. Stanford turned it over twice on the following point, setting up a huck from Powell to Campana to make it 11-6. Sarah Kratzer juggled and then dropped a tough pass in the end zone, which set up Carleton to work it down the entire length of the field for 12-6. And then Sims got her second block of the game and added another goal to her tally to make it 13-6.
It was an overwhelming rush from the Carleton defense, one that Stanford couldn’t solve with timeouts or different defenses. Stanford did answer with a Dunham-led run of the three straight goals, all of which scored on Dunham assists. But the sudden gap was too large to overcome, even against a Carleton offense that never really did hit its stride. Connor got her second set of bookends to keep Stanford in the game for one more point at 14-11. But when Karen Ehrhardt, who led Carleton’s shaky offense with three goals, reeled in Kate Lanier’s pass for 15-11, Carleton capped off the win.
It wasn’t the offensive display Carleton would have liked, but their defense and Sims, who had a joint-game high four goals despite playing on only one O-line point, were too much for Stanford to weather for the whole game.
The win sends Carleton to the national championship, where they’ll meet North Carolina in a highly anticipated matchup. The two have been #1 and #2 for the entire season and will finally settle who is the best.
North Carolina’s Depth and Efficiency Too Much for Tufts
One year after making their first ever semifinal appearance, North Carolina Pleiades is headed to their first ever national championship game. Once again, North Carolina’s depth was too much for their opponent, as they knocked off Tufts Ewo 15-10 to advance to the season’s final game.
It didn’t take long for North Carolina to seize the advantage. Clean holds from both teams to start the game belied how most of the first half would go. Pleiades’ D-line gave Tufts fits. They forced a huck turn from Hannah Wells on the third point of the game and turned that into a break. And then bookends from Dawn Culton earned them another for a 3-1 lead.
Tufts settled in offensively for a few points after the pair of breaks, but were broken again for 6-3 and 8-4. Carolina’s matchup defense made everything difficult for Tufts downfield, and resets often didn’t come easy either. Carolina often forced Tufts into high stall punts, as they did with Margo Urheim for the break for 6-3.
And they were relentless off of the turn as well. On both lines, really, Carolina was nearly perfect with the disc. Tufts tried a couple of different zone looks in the middle of the half to no avail. Tyler Smith and Bridget Mizener picked them apart. And when Tufts played matchup, they weren’t able to stick to all of Mizener, Anne Worth, Sydney Rehder, Dawn Culton, and Ella Juengst, all of whom spent time playing at least one point on both offense and defense in the game.
But to start the second half, Tufts did manage to find some footing on the defensive side. After a North Carolina hold to expand their lead to 9-4, Tufts notched four straight goals, thanks in large part to an individual burst from Player of the Year Urheim. Urheim went every other through the second half of the field for their hold for 9-5. Then she saved a would-be goal on a huck from Smith to Worth with a leaping interception, setting up Tufts for their first break of the game. She completed a huck to Julia Lober for the assist on the break on the next point, and scored the goal from Claire Dunn on the third break to get to within 9-8. Urheim finished the game with five combined goals and assists and three of them came in that four goal stretch.
Tufts could not complete the comeback, though, despite getting a chance to break for 9-9. Instead, North Carolina earned the disc back and fought for the hold for 10-8 and then broke to take some of that breathing room right back at 11-8. An April Weintraub foot block on the ensuing Tufts O-point injected some energy back into the Tufts sideline and ensured that underdogs were able to get the hold for 11-9 to stay in the game, but Ewo didn’t have another run left in them.
Smith, who tied Weintraub for a game-high four assists, was too assured in the UNC backfield, save for the one run of Tufts breaks. And North Carolina’s greater ability to rotate players throughout the game paid its dividends through the game’s final points. As North Carolina’s most played players were playing their 13th, 14th, and 15th points of the game, Tufts’ were playing their 15th, 16th, and 17th, or in the case of Urheim, her 18th, 19th, and 20th.
After holds were traded to 13-10, North Carolina broke two more times to close it out. Worth caught the game winner, her fourth goal of the game, as she raced past a visibly tired Urheim.
The battle back from Tufts to start the second half showed a tremendous amount of resiliency, but they simply didn’t have the legs to match North Carolina for the entire game. That’s been the case for every one of North Carolina’s opponents so far, as they have time and time again worn down their opponents this weekend, if not outright blowing past them at the start of the game.
Now there’s just one test left to face for North Carolina, and it’ll be by far their toughest yet. Next up, it’s a rematch with the only team that’s beaten them all season: Carleton, and it’s for a national championship.
Semifinal Box Scores
These simulated box scores supplement the narrative above to provide a detailed picture of events. Any unlisted players did not enter the game. These are available to our subscribers!
PP: Points Played
Thr. Yards: Throwing Yards
Rec. Yards: Receiving Yards
Tot. Yards: Total Yards
OPP: Offensive Points Played
DPP: Defensive Points Played
OPS: Offensive Points Scored
DPS: Defensive Points Scored
Bonus Content for The College Postseason Simulation 2020: D-I Nationals Semifinals & Box Scores (Women’s) is only available to Ultiworld Subscribers
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