Weather cut Sunday play short, but there's still tidbits to glean from Needle in a Ho-Stack's pool play
March 30, 2023 by Zack Davis in News with 0 comments
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It was poor weather this past weekend in Charlotte, NC, which unfortunately ended things early for the participants of Needle in a Ho-Stack. A lightning delay, and then finally a cancellation during the first bracket play game on Sunday means all we have to show from the eleven women’s squads is pool play results.1 I also was not at the tournament, but that’s never stopped me before. What follows will be mostly conjecture and implications rather than a true tournament recap, pieced together with information via Twitter, USAU, and some second hand accounts.
Middlebury Remain Undefeated
The Pranksters won every game they played, including the one they were playing when the tournament got cut short due to the weather (but I’ll touch on that in a moment). The Pranksters in pink seemed to be dominant on Saturday. Their closest games came from Cedarville and App State, both of which ended 13-4. According to Middlebury’s live tweeting of the event, there seemed to be a good balance of disc distribution.
Middlebury found themselves on the cusp of a comeback against St. Olaf in the tournament semifinal, up 9-8 when the rest of the games were called off due to weather. However, if allowed to play out, the game could have gone in either direction as St. Olaf were leading through the majority of the first half, up 5-3 at one point. Another factor to contend with was the suboptimal weather, which often acts as a bit of an equalizer. But since the game was past half time, it counts towards the rankings, and as a Pranksters win.
The St. Olaf game presents interesting implications for the D-III Nationals landscape. The Pranksters and Vortex faced off last year in the D-III Nationals semifinal, a game which resulted in a 15-10 Middlebury victory on their way to an eventual championship. This is a match up between two teams favored to make deep runs in Ohio this May and could likely meet again deep in bracket play. At the time of this writing, Middlebury is the top ranked D-III women’s team in the nation, both according to the USAU Frisbee Rankings algorithm and Ultiworld’s power rankings, while St. Olaf is ranked 10th by Frisbee Rankings, and #12 by Ultiworld.
I think the one conclusive thing we can say about the close, back-and-forth nature of this game is that there is a lot of parity between the top teams in D-III.
St. Olaf Strong
Just because I spent the previous two paragraphs dissecting the implications of a St. Olaf loss, doesn’t mean they played poorly this weekend; in fact, it seems to be quite the opposite. The Vortex went 4-1 in pools, losing only to D-I Tennessee. Vortex very well could have found themselves in a rematch against the Big Orange Screw in the final had the weather cooperated. With Middlebury being the odds on favorite to win Nationals for the third year in a row, the fact that St. Olaf played them so closely is inherently exciting, and should be a point of pride. Having the game cut short will surely be a motivator for them moving into the series.
Union and Berry: Who’s Top in the Southeast?
The Southeast Region has been all Union and Berry this season, and last year they were the only two teams at the regional tournament for D-III women. I was hoping we’d get to see a head to head matchup between the two squads at Needle, but they were placed in different pools, and since Sunday’s games were cut short we were robbed of the opportunity to potentially see them progress to a fifth place final matchup. That said, there was some secondary connectivity between the Jillz and the Valkyries.
Berry had a rough day on Saturday, going 0-3 with a 13-8 loss to Appalachian State, a close 8-7 loss against Tennessee-Chattanooga, and then a 13-3 loss to Middlebury. Their one win came early Sunday, 11-10 over Cedarville. I can’t give any in-depth insights into the reason for these results, but I do know that Hannah Tritschler was voted tournament MVP by her competitors, so Berry have a bright spot and something to hang their hats on. Despite the disappointing results, and the disappointing end to the weekend, hopefully the Valkyries got something valuable they can use moving into the postseason, where it looks like Union will be the only team between them and Nationals.
Union had a marginally better showing, with solid 13-1 wins over Wake Forest and Richmond, but still finished the weekend 2-3. All of their losses were near misses, with the biggest loss coming Sunday morning against Boston College, 10-7. They played Tennessee to 9-8, and St. Olaf to a 6-5 game, the same St. Olaf that was within one point of the unanimous #1 ranked team Middlebury. I know it’s thin, but if Union can manage to hang with squads like St. Olaf and Tennessee, the Jillz may have what it takes to score some wins against some of the highest ranked teams at Nationals.
To get to Nationals, however, they have to take care of business in the Southeast, and while I wasn’t able to go to Charlotte to watch games this weekend, I was able to catch up with Union captain Tori Green earlier this season. She’s incredibly aware of what team stands between her and Nationals: when asked about who the Union Jillz need to beat this year, she said, “Berry. I mean those are the people who knocked us out last time.”2
“Our pool is so small to begin with,” she reflects, “which makes it even more so Berry…and we love that team as well. They’re also a Christian college which makes it really special to play them.”
While there’s clearly mutual respect from the two squads, only one will punch their ticket to Columbus this April.
Here she’s referring to the 2022 Southeast D-III women’s Regionals where Berry beat Union 11-8. ↩