After yesterday’s lightning delay, the tone of the crossover round was completely different. Any momentum, good or bad, was negated. Exhibit A was Air Force. When games were called yesterday afternoon, Air Force was down 0-4 against North Carolina-Asheville, a deficit it didn’t look like they were likely to come back from given how they were playing at the time. But they were a different team this morning. They tied the game at 5-5 and continued the roll to take half. They traded with UNCA through the rest of the game before breaking one last time to win 12-10. Survive and advance.
Bryant defeated Wheaton 14-12, and Knox took down John Brown 15-10, but one of the most exciting games of the weekend was the Franciscan v. Colorado College match up. The game was close throughout, but Colorado College maintained their one-break lead through 10-8. Their squirrelly handlers who seemed to never tire, Grant Mitchell and Jason Bair, kept the disc moving for Wasabi. But in true Franciscan Fatal fashion, the defending champions made their late-game run, thanks to huge contributions from Tommy Koch, Tony and JP Bort, and Dom Schuster. The mud helped a little too. Wasabi gave up a couple turnovers on contested dump throws when their handlers had trouble making their quick cuts in the mud. But the Franciscan chemistry really made the difference. Throws most people wouldn’t think about putting up were brought down by Fatal receivers; trust throws abounded. Tony Bort gathered two goals and four assists between being down 8-9 and winning 14-13, including the game-winning assist that ended up in the hands of his brother JP on double-game point. Both teams worked hard throughout, forcing turnovers more than relying on unforced errors. Franciscan moved on to a quarterfinal against Lewis & Clark.
I do still wonder what the Knox v. John Brown game would have looked like had it been played yesterday afternoon instead of this morning.
The quarterfinals were full of drama. Brandeis v. Bryant was arguably the least exciting and most familiar match up. They had just faced each other in the finals of New England D-III Regionals; Bryant won that match up 15-9. But Brandeis was a different team in Winston-Salem this weekend. TRON patiently worked against Bryant’s zone, with Max Zaslove, Elan Klane, Mike Humbert and Noah Newberger helping lead TRON down the field. They traded points until 5-4 when Brandeis got two straight breaks. They held onto those breaks throughout the game and closed it out 12-9, avenging their loss in the regional finals and moving on to the semis.
Meanwhile, Lewis & Clark was taking it to Franciscan. They got two early breaks and held them to take half at 8-5. Franciscan naturally made it interesting near the end, but they started their comeback a little too late this time. When they were down 10-13, they got a couple break back, bringing the score to 12—13 in a game to 14. The final score came on an easy look up the line into the end zone, giving Lewis & Clark the 14-12 win and eliminating the defending national champions. Ben Whitenack and Will Beck the way for Lewis & Clark. Between, they tallied seven goals and nine assists during the quarterfinal.
One field over, another battle was going on being Knox and Georgia College in a game of runs. Georgia College struck the break pool first, but up 6-4, they gave up five consecutive points, putting them in a three-point hole. But they quickly returned the favor, scoring five straight of their own and land back on top at 10-9. Finally tied at 12-12, Knox received on double-game point. Despite several chances, including a dropped goal, Knox couldn’t get it done. Fittingly, a Nathan Vickroy to Josh Bush goal won the game for Georgia College. Once again, Harper Garvey led the way for Knox with 10 assists on his team’s 12 goals. But Vickroy and Bush were the story. Six of Georgia College’s in the game came from Vickroy to Bush or vice versa, and between them, they contributed on six more – that’s all but one in the game. It would take until the semis for a team to try and implement a defense specifically to try and slow down that combination.
Speaking of the semis, Georgia College’s eventual semifinals opponent, Air Force, was taking on Carleton College GOP on the showcase field. Despite yesterday’s impressive performance, GOP couldn’t quite put out the fire Air Force had shown up with this morning. The first half was full of runs, followed by a trading-points second half. Air Force managed to hold on double-game point to earn the 11-10 win and a semifinals berth.
With the way the bracket worked out, the two more "traditional" ultimate programs – Brandeis and Lewis & Clark – and the two more "grind-it-out, athletic" teams – Air Force and Georgia College – ended up facing each other.
The Brandeis v. Lewis & Clark game was full of good offense, smart defense and adjustments from both teams throughout. But Brandeis controlled the game from the get-go. Once again, they got a couple early break to give them a buffer. Lewis & Clark stepped up their defense, working to contest all the TRON under-cuts, and it worked – briefly. They forced several turnovers, making the TRON handlers look a little flustered, and managed to earn back a couple breaks before half. Brandeis finally managed to get the score they needed to take half, and the break seemed to work in their favor – contrary to what would happen a couple hours later. They came back in the second half dialed in – their receivers were more sure-handed, and the handlers were more patient. Lewis & Clark tried a couple new defensive sets, experimenting with junky looks around the handlers, but the Brandeis offense held. The defense caused the turnovers they needed with their all-time-mark with a wall zone, which did a good job of clogging the lanes and the field near the throwers, particularly when Bacchus landed near the sidelines. Brandeis hauled in the final score to end the game at 12-8. They were headed back to the finals for a second straight year.
The Air Force v. Georgia College game looked quite a bit different, with more players utilizing their size and athleticism to win open space, compared to the steady offenses working against zone defenses going on on the next field. Recognizing Georgia College’s go-to play after a few iterations, and realizing they might not have the right people to win those match ups, Air Force switched to a zone defense, not a super common sight from them this weekend. They used the zone especially when Georgia College was working with the wind, which had picked up to a noticeable level by the time semis started. The zone didn’t totally negate the Vickroy-Bush connection, but it seemed to slow them down a bit, at least forcing more difficult hucks over the top of the cup. With Georgia College up 10-7 and the cap approaching, Air Force needed a couple breaks, and they needed to get them quickly. Some help from a second offsides call on Georgia College, Air Force started by holding for 10-8, then set their zone again with GC going downwind. The zone gave Air Force the chance to get a couple positioning Ds they often couldn’t get while playing man, like the run-through D in the middle of the field they got and converted into the first break they needed – 10-9. They got a second break just before the cap went on, tying the score at 11 and making it a game to 13. Air Force just couldn’t quite get the final upwind break they would need to win. The teams traded the final few points, and Georgia College found themselves in the championship finals.
With three of their most promising handlers all freshmen this year, Air Force has a bright future, assuming all their new recruits stick with ultimate. With plenty of other extracurriculars to pique the cadets’ interest, it’s not always easy to keep them playing ultimate. But with any luck, this won’t be the last time Air Force is at the D-III Championships.
The good ol’ tale of two halves. Neither team was perfect in the first half, but Brandeis stuck with what they do well – their zone defense that clogs the middle of the field and prevented some of Georgia College’s standard deep looks, and confident handler-initiated play on offense. It was enough to put them up 8-6 at halftime. But in the second half, a drop here and a missed throw there seemed to snowball for Brandeis while Georgia College’s swagger was growing noticeably.
The crowd settled on the hill overlooking the finals field appeared evenly split between Disconnected and TRON early on, but as the game wore on, the TRON half of the crowd was being drowned out by the Disconnected cheering section, including an impressive cadre of parents and fans who made the trip from Georgia.
Brandeis got the first score out of halftime, putting them up 9-6, but after that, Georgia College went on a tear. They managed to string together a six-point run while the wheels were coming off for TRON. Slips on cuts, missed throws, miscommunications – they were all there for Brandeis in the second half while Georgia College was playing what might have been their most patient offense of the weekend. Despite the TRON defense earning them some additional chances, including the best overall defensive play of the tournament against Josh Bush coming from Brian Gzemski, Georgia College couldn’t be stopped. Their run put them up 12-9 before TRON got back on the board. They got back one more break before Disconnected sealed the game with an easy look from Caleb Shorthouse to none other than Josh Bush.
With the dynamic duo’s +6 and +9 championship game stats – Bush and Vickroy, respectively – leading the way, Georgia College earned their first D-III College Championships title with a 13-11 win over Brandeis TRON.