Back-to-Back-to-Back: Middlebury Cap Historic Season with Third Straight National Title

Middlebury Pranksters are your D-III Women's College Champions for the third year in a row!

Middlebury celebrate winning the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 college ultimate season is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

COLUMBUS — The Middlebury Pranksters have set up camp in the winners circle at D-III College Championships. The Pranksters defeated Carleton Eclipse 15-12 in the Obetz Fortress to become the first-ever organization to threepeat in D-III and tie Eclipse for most D-III championships.

The Pranksters started off the game slow, giving up some breaks early and falling behind 5-2.  They got the hold, then a break back, and it was off to the races. The Pranksters proceeded to score nine straight goals, taking half at 8-5 and continuing the streak until the scoreboard read 11-5. “There were moments when we could have questioned ourselves,” Claire Babbott-Bryan (2G/5A/6D in the final) said of her team. “We weren’t just saying that we’ve got this, we were so clear that we had it. The moment we got that break, that’s when everything shifted and the momentum really turned in our favor.”

Middlebury’s Niamh Carty with the clap catch to take a 14-8 lead over Carleton Eclipse in the 2023 D-III College Championship final. Middlebury Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

A key factor in the shift was Middlebury switching from person matchup to a zone defense set. The team hadn’t planned on doing it, but Niamh Carty expressed the team is very comfortable with the set. “Our zone D is a team wide favorite thing to do,” she said. “[The zone] is something that he just have a lot of trust in and have a lot of fun doing it.”

That isn’t to say the Eclipse made it easy. Carleton stalwarts Maya Kalmus, Harper Brooks-Kahn, Claire James, Alex Rowell, and Rowan Dong were as adept at moving the disc this game as they had been the entire weekend. There was just one issue: the Pranksters’ defense was as tenacious as the Carleton offense was efficient. What’s more, the Prankster’s D-line offense wasn’t missing opportunities to score their breaks. There were a few points during the Prankster’s nine point run to blow the game open that were back and forth, long marathon points, but more often than not the Pranksters needed just one turnover to break the Carleton team.

A key part of the Pranksters’ success with the disc was Keziah Wilde, who not only had total command of the disc but also of the game for the Pranksters (she notched five assists in the final to go along with a goal and three blocks). She looked just as comfortable leading the charge of handler weaves down the field as she did slinging hucks to a streaking player. The Middlebury Pranksters made sure that when Wilde had the disc she had plenty of options.

Despite being on the receiving end of such an impressive run, Carleton Eclipse were never fully out of the game. Once they’d found their footing and starting scoring points, the sideline, and frankly the crowd in the stands, rallied behind them. Each team traded clean holds to take the score to 14-8, and with their backs against the wall, Carleton found an extra gear. First they found another easy hold to make it 14-9. Then Alex Rowell did what they had been doing all weekend and snared a takeaway, then dropped a dime to Dana Fried for 14-10. Then they rinse and repeat, with another take away from Rowell; this time it was Brooks-Kahn with the goal. At this point, Maya “Troy Bolton” Kalmus (who was second at the tournament with 26 assists) came up to me and said, “We will always be ballers,” a mantra she had expressed all weekend.

The next point was a marathon, featuring an electrifying footblock from Harper Brooks-Kahn. The footblock was overshadowed only by the goal, a Tess Barton huck1 from beyond midfield to teammate Rowan Dong who managed to cookie jar two Middlebury defenders, ripping the disc down with authority.

Unfortunately for Eclipse, their rally came to an end. The Pranksters reset, locked in, and calmly worked the disc up the field. The final goal was a smooth short backhand from Claire Babbott-Bryan to Sarah Rifkin.

Middlebury’s Sarah Rifkin nabs the disc just above the Carleton defender in the final of the 2023 D-III College Championships. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

The Pranksters didn’t explode into cheers. They didn’t collapse on the ground, overwhelmed by their emotions. Rather, the entire Pranksters lineup rallied around the spot where Sarah caught the game winner and embraced. The team huddled together as one and shared a final, quiet moment together as a team.

It takes a lot to make a championship team, but it takes more to make a championship program. Middlebury have a championship program, and that’s what Claire Babbott-Bryan and Niamh Carty wanted to express the most after the game. “I think what was clear this season is that we’re a program. In 2021 and even last year in 2022, we were emerging as a program in terms of our systems and in terms of our trust for each other and our chemistry and our confidence,” Babbott-Bryan said with tears of pride in her eyes. “I think everything really solidified this game and this season for us which is a profound feeling because it means that there’s been a past and a present, but there’s also a future.”

Only a sophomore, Lucy VanNewkirk was a standout player for Middlebury at the 2023 D-III College Championships, recording 3 goals and a D in the final. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

Niamh Carty too teared up a little when speaking on the special nature of the Pranksters squad, saying, “I didn’t play ultimate before I came to Middlebury and I don’t think I would have at any other school. I just think there’s something about the Pranksters’ spirit that is unmatched anywhere else.” That Pranksters’ spirit will be carried on by players like Keziah Wilde, Liz Crawford, Sarah Rifkin, and Lucy VanNewkirk who will be looking to go on next year and try for the fourpeat, a feat that no team, across all the college divisions, has accomplished.

Two-time POTY Claire Babbott-Bryan in the 2023 D-III College Championships final. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

At the end of her very accomplished and storied career Babbott-Bryan had just this to say: “I think that D-III women’s frisbee deserves a lot more hype. The way that Carleton showed up and the plays that were made that game, but then also this whole tournament. Getting to play against really high level players … that are here to play and here to grind and are really excited to bring the competitive spirit while also bringing community and love and fun. I don’t really think there’s any other type of frisbee that’s like that or that has this spirit that D-III women’s frisbee has. That’s definitely a hill I’d die on.

“I want to bring more of a platform to this division. I honestly think that it’s the future… if that isn’t the magnet then what is? What’s the reason to play?”


  1. Tess Barton dropped dimes all weekend; check out these back-to-back shots for the score in the first round of pool play 

More from Ultiworld
Comments on "Back-to-Back-to-Back: Middlebury Cap Historic Season with Third Straight National Title"

Find us on Twitter

Recent Comments

Find us on Facebook

Subscriber Exclusives

  • Club Season Primer 2024: Men’s Division
    article with bonus content
  • Club Season Primer 2024: Mixed Division
    article with bonus content
  • Huckin’ Eh: Regionals Recaps, BC Seniors Regionals Preview
    podcast with bonus segment
  • Huckin’ Eh Subscriber Bonus: Early CUC Chatter!
    Subscriber podcast