Is the Fourpeat Dream Still Alive for the Middlebury Pranksters?

While the Pranksters were the preseason favorites, a bumpy season leaves question marks on their ceiling at Nationals this year

The Middlebury Pranksters, D-III women’s college champions in 2023. Photo: Kevin Wayner – UltiPhotos.com

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Middlebury has had a tumultuous campaign, facing their first true challenges since 2021. With a lackluster regular season highlighted by a two-win showing in Tier One of Women’s Centex and a bumpy Regionals where they just scraped by to claim the third and final bid, this is looking like the year that the Pranksters dynasty finally comes back down to Earth. While the Pranksters aren’t the only team going for the fourpeat this season1, they have the ability to cement themselves as the first true dynasty in the rather young D-III.

D-III Dynasty Status

While a large swath of people would consider the Pranksters to already have dynasty status within D-III, the truth of the matter is their three consecutive championships have come over the course of just two school years: Fall 2021, Spring 2022, and Spring 2023. In a division hit particularly hard by the pandemic, Middlebury was the cream of the crop, rising above the other three dominant programs over that time period in Portland, Carleton Eclipse, and Wellesley. With D-III primarily composed of small liberal arts schools without graduate programs, prolonged success like the Pranksters’ is hard to come by. Smaller schools have an opportunity to thrive with D-III’s enrollment cap of 7,500 students, especially if they can field a few star players to run the show.

Teams have a fleeting chance to find success since most schools lack graduate programs, experience greater turnover of leadership and coaching staff when compared to D-I, and consist of players with little to no ultimate prior experience. Past results in the division, which started in 2010, show only three total schools have won multiple championships: Middlebury (2021, 2022, 2023), Carleton Eclipse (2011, 2016, 2017), and Rice (2014, 2015). The only school to yet find success beyond the typical four-year college program is Carleton College Eclipse, with their aforementioned championships to go alongside second-place finishes in 2014 and 2023.

If Middlebury can find a way to rise to the top of the division for a fourth straight season, their dynasty status will be irrefutable, especially given the challenges this group of Pranksters faced in their path to Nationals.

The Power of a Plastic Swan

Knowledge is very institutionalized and commonly passed down from previous captains or coaches to the current team. While the movement towards more coaches has been prevalent in recent years, especially for Nationals-level D-III teams – and having coaches is definitely helpful – many teams still lack them. But teams like the Pranksters have demonstrated a coach is not required to play at a high level. Good coaching can help in a division filled with players newer to the sport, but it can only do so much when games are on the line or winds are consistently 15+ mph on the field.

For the first time since their rise to the top, Middlebury faced struggles this regular season that most D-III teams deal with on a yearly basis. Losing 11 players to graduation, including two-time POTY Claire Babbott-Bryan, is tough for any team. But when you’re a team like the Pranksters whose coach is a plastic swan named Steve, there can be big growing pains while navigating how to find success in the absence of major contributors. Said pains were seen at Middlebury’s first showing in the regular season, Women’s Centex, where they found themselves in Tier 1 for the first time. After struggling greatly in pool play, the Pranksters were able to finish the tournament with a 2-5 record. A big 8-7 win over a fellow top D-III team, Colorado College, to close out the tournament saved the weekend from being a complete bust – and made fans of the division scratch their heads for weeks.

“It’s been a big adjustment year but [we] wouldn’t call it difficult – just new and exciting in different ways,” the Pranksters leadership shared in an email. “We are constantly growing and reshaping what this program looks like at Middlebury and we are so so proud of all of our new players for how much work they’ve put in to pick up the sport so quickly…[but] it definitely took us some time to find our footing with the early season games being some of their first-ever frisbee games.”

At their second outing of the season, New England Open, Middlebury didn’t do much to ease concerns over their ability to compete with the best, with their only good win being a 7-6 win over Brandeis. While they went 4-2 on the weekend, Middlebury lost 12-1 to Connecticut and did little to help the New England region earn a fourth bid.

Never to be counted out, the plastic swan spread some true wisdom on the Pranksters and they came out swinging in the Series. With a 4-0 record at Conferences, including a 6-5 win over the top NE team going into the postseason, Bates, the Pranksters looked like they were back. Going into the final week of bid-earning tournaments2 and staring down a likely third- or fourth-seed in the Nationals pool should they make it, the Pranksters found their groove. Going 2-0 in pool play and claiming a 10-9 win over Williams in the crossover, Middlebury looked to be in control. Facing off against their regional rivals Wellesley, who they’d dominated in the previous two seasons, Middlebury finally looked like they’d realize their potential.

Well, Wellesley had other plans and saw a weak Pranksters team for the first time in years, walking away with a 10-9 win over Middlebury to knock them out of the bracket. While Wellesley would go on to win the region with rather little fanfare, Middlebury was poised for unfamiliar territory, a game-to-go against some of the region’s best, either Williams or Bates.

Was it the plastic swan, the tie dye jerseys, or just the overall energy the Pranksters brought that propelled them to a victory over Williams and a chance to defend their championship streak? We may never know the answer, but what we do know is that the Pranksters are a team to fear in May. With huge stars like Donovan nominee Keziah Wilde3 and Lucy VanNewKirk, the rest of the Nationals field needs to game plan for a Middlebury group peaking at just the right time.

“Regionals felt super good and we came away with an invite to Nationals, which was our season goal all along,” said the Pranksters leadership. “It feels great to have accomplished that using our depth as we always do, especially to come back on Sunday after losing to Wellesley. We love each other and we trust each other, and that is how we win games.”


  1. Looking at you, UNC Darkside and UNC Pleiades in D-I. 

  2. With ConfRegionals so prevalent in D-III Women’s, New England was the only region on the final weekend of Regionals. Three total bids in one single region were all that were left to be determined. 

  3. Who’s taking a train to Nationals – shoutout environmentally friendly travel options, indeed 

  1. Anna Browne
    Anna Browne

    Anna Browne is a writer for the D-III Women's Division. She has been playing competitive ultimate since 2019, spending her college years at Michigan Tech. Anna is based in Detroit, Michigan where she plays in the Women's Club Division and coaches the Michigan Tech Superior Ma's.

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