D-III College Championships 2021: Oklahoma Christian Announces a New Era in Win Over Richmond (Men’s Semifinal Recap)

Is the age of the D-III superteam upon us?

Richmond Spidermonkeys vs. Oklahoma Christian Eagles in men's semifinals at the 2021 D-III College Championships. Photo: Rodney Chen -- UltiPhotos.com
Richmond Spidermonkeys vs. Oklahoma Christian Eagles in men’s semifinals at the 2021 D-III College Championships. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

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Top seeds ruled the weekend across the D-III tournament, and whatever upsets or collapses seemed possible at one point, a semifinal matchup between the overall first and fourth seeds has looked increasingly inevitable. For #1 Richmond, a game like this was an expected stop on the way to a hoped-for title. “When you go into an event like this as one of the top four seeds, the goal is always to win a national championship,” said Richmond coach Ty Englert. “We knew any semifinal matchup with one of these teams was going to be a fight to the death.”

It’s rarer that the fourth seed looks like a potential juggernaut in the way #3 Oklahoma Christian does. Now that the Eagles had gotten deep enough in the bracket to face a team that might really challenge them, there were questions about what their performance would say about the success of their recruiting program and what that might mean for the future of the team, the division, and college ultimate at large.

Richmond received to start the game, and converted an immediate break following an Oklahoma Christian miscue as an Elliott Moore look to Kyle Henke came in too low for Henke. After some offensive work, Emmett Rice found Chris Cassella for an upline goal. Any connection issues between Moore and Henke would quickly be resolved, however, as they recovered to hold with a first-throw huck on the following possession.

That huck would begin a quick run for Oklahoma Christian. The two breaks that followed — one via some crafty Henke throwing in the backfield, another on a huck to Moore, who escaped deep after corralling a block on a Richmond huck attempt — established the Eagles as a team that could control a game with ease, and one that wasn’t afraid to use its stars to do it.

Richmond wouldn’t be counted out yet, notching in a goal under pressure as Harris Cannon threw to Emmett Rice up the line to score. Their offensive success wouldn’t last for long, though: after giving up another hold, Oklahoma Christian’s Emmanuel Kameri garnered a point block that gave Oklahoma Christian the disc just outside of their red zone. After a timeout, the Eagles would convert the break, with Samuel Roberts hitting Jonathan Costello for the goal to grow their lead to 5-2.

From there, Richmond struggled to get an efficient offense going. The following point would be a marathon, with turnovers in each direction before Richmond finally punched one in. Players were visibly taxed by the end of it all, gasping for relief with their hands on their knees. Demoralizingly for Richmond, Oklahoma Christian would respond with an early-possession deep shot to Henke that forced the Richmond offense right back onto the field.

Oklahoma Christian would capitalize on Richmond’s fatigue, piling on two quick breaks to finish the half 8-3. Once again, it was Moore’s heroics that spelled bad news for Richmond, with an amazing layout block on the Richmond end zone line to reclaim possession. After a huck to Costello, a throw-and-go from Costello to Moore saw Costello reel in the goal that sent the game into halftime.

Throughout the first half, the story had to be the superstars of Oklahoma Christian. They crossed over to their D-line in a way we hadn’t seen yet this weekend, and from there, they were able to dominate the game. Richmond had to fight for every yard they claimed, while the Eagles marched on tirelessly. To open the second half, Oklahoma Christian notched another break when the Richmond offense overthrow an upline continuation that would give the Eagles the disc. Henke moved upline with ease, then flipped the disc to Daniel Griffin. Their lead was now 9-3, a seemingly uncloseable gap.

But the Spidermonkeys weren’t quite done yet. After the teams traded points to reach 10-5, a Richmond run commenced that reopened the possibility of a competitive game. Their sideline volume overwhelmed the atmosphere at the field, and they seemed to find new energy despite the discouraging start. Cassella, Cannon, and Xavier McCormick led a Richmond push that brought the score to a much closer 10-8 Oklahoma Christian. Despite their best efforts, however, Richmond never quite looked in position to complete the comeback. In the end, Oklahoma Christian ran back ahead to a 12-8 lead before wrapping up the game at 14-11.

For Richmond, who brought a full line of seven alumni and many players from their 2019 College Championships run, this year’s Nationals was an opportunity to write another chapter after losing in that year’s semis — hence the team shorts printed “REVENGE TOUR” on one front leg.

“This was an opportunity to get back out there and redeem ourselves from that 2019 Nationals,” said Englert. “A lot of these guys, they were out at High Tide during that first wave of COVID, so this is a last time to play with that iteration of the team. This tournament is also a testament for how much this program has grown over the past five years.”

Looking to the present and beyond, however, Oklahoma Christian’s performance left little doubt that the D-III superteam era is here. Superstars powered them through the game: Henke put on a show, piling up 6 goals and 3 assists, often looking like an altogether different species of player than anyone else on the field. Moore and Costello did plenty of heavy lifting as well, as did Samuel Roberts. Now, they advance to the final to face a team whose history, style, and general demeanor on and off the field couldn’t be more different: the Middlebury Pranksters.

  1. Zakk Mabrey
    Zakk Mabrey

    I helped start my HS intramural ultimate club as a junior at North Central HS in Indianapolis. At Indiana Wesleyan, I served as club president for three years, and was a captain. Now graduated, I live in Indianapolis, run D-III Midwestern Invite, and help with various other tournaments and ultimate projects within the state, while writing for Ultiworld. Catch me on Twitter @tnlzmabrey

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