They came, they frisbeed, they conquered: Middlebury Pranksters take Nationals

By BENJY RENTON

The Middlebury Pranksters women’s frisbee team placed fifth at the national tournament.

Driven, unique and fun. Capping a spectacular season this spring with players across class years and ability levels, the Middlebury Pranksters ultimate frisbee team achieved impressive results at this year’s D-III College Championships, with the men’s team snatching the national championship title and the women’s team placing fifth.

The teams faced tough competition on the way to the championship weekend, capping historic seasons. Both teams started their seasons at College Southerns down in Georgia over spring break. The men’s team went 6-1 in their games while the women won all six. “It was the first time testing our strength as a team and we took on top-ranked D-I teams like UNC-Wilmington’s SeaWeed and Carleton Eclipse,” co-captain Allegra Molkenthin ’19.5 said. In the post-season, the men won all of their regional matches, qualifying for the national tournament for the third time (they previously advanced in 2015 and 2018). The women’s team was on a winning streak throughout the first day of the regional championship, beating Brandeis and Wellesley 11-4 and 10-4 respectively, continuing to defeat Williams 10-8. Despite two losses to Williams and Bates on the final day of the regional tournament, the team finished third in the region and punched their ticket to the national tournament in hot and sunny Texas.

The journey to Nationals had its share flight delays and cancellations, as the women’s team entered the tournament with nine of their players on the way from Orlando. Despite the lack of sleep, the team was ready to go. “The sleep deprivation and desire to play well for our teammates who had not arrived yet really helped us push through to take every point,” Molkenthin said. The women advanced to the second round with a 15-0 win against Mary Washington, with 9 of their 24-person roster having not yet arrived in Texas. Competing against 2018 D-III National Champions St. Olaf’s Vortex and still missing players, the team lost on universe point, or sudden death, 10-11. With the team now reunited, the Pranksters faced fourth-seed Puget Sound as the score creeped up one point at a time. In the end, the team came out on top in another university point with a final score of 9-8. After three games in one day, the team then won their pool and received a bye to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinal round, the heat turned up and the competition did as well. The morning game consisted of a 13-14 universe point loss against North Park in 90-degree weather. Although the Pranksters were unable to obtain a place in the championship bracket, they scored a 13-8 win against Portland. With a fifth-place win in the national championship, the Pranksters achieved impressive results in their first national tournament since 2015.

The men’s team’s road to the national title started with a 11-10 win against Franciscan, a 12-10 win against Hamilton and a 14-9 win against Michigan Tech. Seeded first going into the tournament, the Pranksters played defending champions Bryant in the quarterfinals. Despite a hard-fought second half in which Bryant tied Middlebury 6-6 in points scored, Middlebury’s 8-3 lead in the first half brought the team to a 15-9 victory. The semifinal round saw one of the mist exciting games of the tournament. After Kai DeLorenzo ’20.5 sat out through most of the first half due to a heel injury, his return in the second half brought the team to a close 12-11 win against Richmond. Assists by Kevin Strenski ’21 and Zach Levitt ’20 were key to the team punching a ticket to the championship.

Air Force faced Middlebury in the championship game, having scored a 15-13 victory against Carleton College in the second semifinal. Trading holds all the way to halftime, Middlebury led the first half 7-6. Strenski became a star of the game with three goals in the second half. Tied at 12-12, the game would then be played to 14. Strenski received an inside flick and brought the Pranksters to a 13-12 lead. While Air Force received one more break, the team scored two more goals for a final score of 15-12. The team finished their season with a 31-3 record.

Junior Van Lundsgaard caught the winning disc. “I didn’t really realize that I was going to score the game winning point,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure we didn’t turn it or lose our momentum.” Lundsgaard attributes his success to a loving community he finds in the team. “It was as much the team’s goal as it was mine,” he said.

For captain Dylan Salzman ’19, the team’s championship win represents a special moment in the history of the program for both teams. “It speaks to the way in which Middlebury frisbee has shifted away from being just a social group to being real, well­ developed frisbee teams,” he said. “We won by sheer willpower, and winning the finals felt cathartic­­. It’s such a validation of everything that we had been working on, and such a testament to the team that we put together.” 

Molkenthin enjoyed having both the men and women compete at the same tournament. “It’s very cool to feel like we are both incredibly talented teams and yet we do not take ourselves too seriously, and we value our friendship and sportsmanship immensely,” she said. “We support one another on and off the field whether it’s on the Middlebury men’s soccer turf where we occasionally practiced, at the Spring Symposium for academic presentations, or at the National Championship.” Despite the heat, for many members of the team, being at Nationals was an incredible experience. “The environment was electric – with incredible athletes from all around the country gathered together to celebrate excellence in a unique sport,” Molkenthin said.

For both teams, a lack of institutional support from the college (as compared to other club teams) presents challenges. Since both the men’s and the women’s teams do not have coaches, captains serve in this role, running practices and organizing logistics for the team to travel to tournaments. For Molkenthin, she enjoys being in a position to lead this community on campus. “To be a captain of this team is to feel loved, to be honored with tough decision-making and last-minute logistical juggling, and to be supported by an incredible community that you know has your back the whole way,” she said. Salzman pointed to the dynamic of a “player-coach” where he has to assert authority over his peers. In addition, the inability for the team to reserve field space on campus or have access to athlete trainers present barriers to the team’s sustained success. “It means that we, as captains and players, have to battle for every inch of turf time we get in the winter, and struggle to deal with all of the administrational details that come with running a nationally competitive team,” he said.

Capping off incredibly successful campaigns for both the men and women, the Pranksters feel optimistic for the future. For many players, ultimate frisbee has provided them with a supportive community and unique Middlebury experience. This year has provided them with new depth in the program, building up a new roster of players full of talent, commitment and potential. With various levels of experience and spread out across all class years, the captains strove this year to make the sport and community accessible to all. This year, the team has built on the traditions of previous years and has created a passionate and driven group. “This finish to our season is perhaps most exciting because it makes me think about the future and how much this team can do going forward,” Molkenthin said. “I will have graduated by the time next spring rolls around, but I will be waiting with anticipation to see what my Pranksters can do.”

Grace Kellogg ’22, Darya Khodakhah ’22 and Olivia Ryder ’19 celebrate after scoring a point.

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