Students, alumni, and admissions counselors alike have long touted the breadth of Ultimate Frisbee talent at Carleton College. Now they have even more proof to back up their argument.
Eclipse, Carleton’s second women’s team, won the USA Ultimate Division III Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. last weekend, using a miraculous comeback to defeat Williams College in the finals. Spanning Division I and Division III, Eclipse joins CUT, Syzygy, and GoP as the fourth Carleton team to have won a national title, a feat that no other college in the ultimate world can claim.
Eclipse’s rise to the top came as the result of a season full of unprecedented hard work. Previously regarded as primarily a B-team for Syzygy, Eclipse has now established itself as a highly competitive entity of its own, the same way GoP did by winning back-to-back D-III titles in 2009 and 2010.
After a strong performance at Regionals, Eclipse entered the national tournament as the top seed. It justified the ranking during Saturday Pool Play, cruising past St. Mary’s College (Md.), Princeton University, and Smith College by a combined score of 39-13. The dominance continued in Sunday morning’s quarterfinal, as Eclipse knocked off familiar foe St. Olaf College, 13-6.
The road finally toughened in the form of a semifinal date with Valparaiso University. The team’s traded points for much of the game, with Valpo frustrating Carleton with tough zone defense. Eclipse returned the favor, however, playing tenacious man-to-man led by second-team All-Region pick B.G. Green ’11 and Kate Trenerry ’11. With game times kept tight, the contest was capped at 11. Leading 10-9, Eclipse received the pull and promptly punched its ticket to the finals with Jill Merkle ’12 hauling in the game-winning huck.
The championship game pitted Eclipse against Williams’ La Wufa, which had steamrolled opponents all weekend, never winning by fewer than five points until the final. Early on, it appeared that Williams would continue its reign of terror, as a nervous Eclipse dropped multiple discs on its own endzone and La Wufa raced to a 5-0 lead.
In addition to their skill on the ultimate field, Carleton students are renowned for their creativity, and with adversity staring Eclipse straight in the face, the squad pulled quite the trick out of its sleeve. Thanks to some sideline wisdom shared by GoP captain Sam Tucker ’11, Eclipse employed the fabled “Havana” defense, a GoP special of bygone years designed to befuddle opponents into mistakes. In technical terms, the Carls marked Williams’ handlers no-around while the upfield defenders formed brackets around La Wufa’s stack, poaching both the under and deep cutting lanes. In layman’s terms, they confused the heck out of Williams and created a drastic mid-game momentum shift.
Swagger regained, Eclipse scored four quick points to turn around the course of the contest. After a long point, the Carls then reached the summit of the proverbial comeback mountain with Erin Heydinger ’11 providing a huge handblock before an acrobatic grab from Merkle knotted the score, 5-5. Totally flustered, Williams quickly dropped the disc and Eclipse punched it into the hands of second-team Freshman of the Year Claire Leichter to go up 6-5. Thanks to some long points and the tournament’s tight schedule, soft cap sounded after the point, putting Carleton just two points away from an improbable title.
La Wufa resolved not to roll over entirely, however, managing to penetrate Havana and tie it at 6. Another picturesque Eclipse huck gave Carleton the lead back, however, setting up game point. Williams worked the disc down, but the rookie Leichter nabbed a big-time D in the endzone, returning possession to Eclipse. Once again, the Carls turned to their deep game, as Kalli Perano ‘14 placed a forehand down the sideline for Trenerry, who beat a defender for the winning point.
With its players rushing the field for a dogpile of jubilation, Eclipse’s ascension to the top of D-III ultimate was complete. A year ago, a far different group turned down its bid to Nationals in favor of Spring Concert. This year, the team deserved a fireworks show of its own after a truly thrilling triumph. Led by captains Leigh-Anne Borkowski ’11 and Green, Eclipse transformed its self-image in 2011. Now they have the medals to prove it.