The Middlebury Pranksters will have a chance to defend their national title in a rematch of the New England regional final against Wellesley.
May 23, 2022 by Hunter Lang in Recap with 0 comments
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MILWAUKEE, Wisc. — The #1 Middlebury Pranksters are going back to the national final, five months after winning a title in Norco, CA. In Sunday’s first semifinal, the Vermonters soundly defeated #11 St. Olaf Vortex, who won Pool D and promptly dispatched Mount Holyoke in quarters. Though they came into the tournament as the no.9 seed, Vortex certainly didn’t play like it against the defending champs, though still came up short 15-10.
The first six points of the game were all downwind holds; many of them weren’t pretty, but they all ended up in the same endzone. At 3-3 however, Middlebury went on a run that set the tone for the rest of the game. The Pranksters broke three times in a row, including two upwind, to blow the game open. That run was really all of the margin that Middlebury needed.
Once they got up a break or two, Middlebury felt comfortable sending wave after wave of young defenders onto the field, giving their top players rest and offering big-game experience to the future of their program. One young player that really stood out was Liz Crawford. The only first year on the Prankster roster, Crawford’s stat line of just one goal but no other counting stats does not tell the whole story of her play. She was a rock on the O-line, getting open almost at will. Another standout depth piece for the Pranksters in Milwaukee has been Niamh Carty, who put up three assists and a block in the semifinal, helping relieve some of the throwing burden from Middlebury’s more notable throwers. Says captain Claire Babbott-Bryan, “the magic of the Middlebury Pranksters is that everyone contributes, and our depth pieces would be stars on other teams.”
Despite their assertion that they win games because of their depth, the Pranksters were carried in this game by their star players. Babbott-Bryan was the best player on the field for the Pranksters, providing a steadying presence for every offensive point. By the end of the game, she had compiled a four goal, three assist, two block stat line. Along with CBB, Keziah Wilde was a standout for the Pranksters, racking up six assists on a number of big hucks. The two All-Americans anchored a Middlebury O-line that has only been broken once throughout the tournament. That number would not change in the semifinal against Vortex. Upwind or downwind, when Middlebury got pulled to, the result was always a Prankster score. Clearly, their offensive systems work.
For St. Olaf, Anna Mulhern did everything she could to keep her team in the game. The senior captain’s give-and-go game was borderline unstoppable, as most of the Middlebury defenders couldn’t keep up with her. She ended the game with two goals and four assists, the latter of which she now has 22, good for the fourth-best tally at the tournament. Many of Mulhern’s assists ended up in the waiting hands of Anna Clements, who was also a big piece for Vortex throughout the weekend, finishing the tournament two blocks shy of a triple-double.
Both Sunday and this whole season has been all about the grind for Vortex. “Our team loves the hard gritty points; it’s the mentality our team thrives on,” said coaches Reebs Enders and Biz Cook. Embrace the grind they did, not only in their game against the defending champs, but through the entire tournament. St. Olaf made this semifinal in no small part due to their universe point win against finalist Wellesley in pool play. It’s not often that a no.9 seed makes the national semifinals, but St. Olaf was no ordinary no.9 seed. Mulhern said that the team wasn’t too focused on seeding heading into the tournament, because they knew that seedings aren’t always accurate. The team trusted the work they had put in throughout the year much more than external people’s opinions on them. They definitely proved wrong anyone who underestimated their potential, and look poised to be in the mix for years to come. Despite losing star Mulhern, this is a young Vortex team that’s hoping to be back next year and there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t be on this stage again in 2023.
Middlebury will match up with no.4 seeded Wellesley Whiptails, in a rematch of the New England regional final. Middlebury is feeling good about their chances; they say they’ve played the Whiptails before in Williamstown, and know what their regional rivals like to do. All the Pranksters have to do now is execute. Going into the final, Babbott-Bryan says that she’ll stress that the team should be so proud of what they’ve accomplished already, but they need to keep the same energy they displayed today. If they can do that, they can top Wellesley again — over 900 miles from the site of their last meeting — and end their weekend with winners medals around their necks for the second straight season.