By: Claire Jencks
The 2019 College Championships women’s division final featured reigning champions Dartmouth Womxn’s Ultimate v. a fired up California-San Diego Psychos team that had been crushing all weekend, including a 15-5 semifinals drubbing of Ohio State Fever to qualify for finals. In addition to their phenomenal play here at Nationals, the Psychos are coming off a regular season that saw them easily winning the Santa Barbara Invite, Presidents’ Day Invite and Stanford Invite. Their only hiccup this weekend was being down late in their quarterfinals game against a determined Carleton College team. But UCSD didn’t give up, capping a steady comeback with a mind-bending downwind layout catch by Elimelech for the win. Coming into this game, the Psychos brought their energy, their deep roster and strong zone play, and combined them with a swift handler core that uses the short-swing-and-dump game to their advantage.
For their part, Dartmouth entered finals with a College Championships trifecta on the line. This team also cruised through the weekend, stymied only by a modified zone in a quarterfinals battle with Western Washington. They’ve shown poise, star power and steady confidence in taking a seat at the finals table. Brace yourselves for this recap—this entire game had us on the edge of our seats.
The stands are packed, the heat is radiating off the field, and it’s windy. Really windy. Dartmouth pulls downwind to UCSD, who work it slowly up-field. Dartmouth’s Claire Trop gets a block and then heads deep into the back of the end zone, catching a pass from Caitlyn Lee to make it a quick 1-0. UCSD receives heading downwind, hucking to Dena Elimelech, but it’s batted away by Dartmouth’s Jack Verzuh. UCSD manages to punt it in for a tied game. The stands are solidly on the California bandwagon, chanting “Psyyyychoooos,” over and over again. The teams trade points, with an insane Elimelech foot block on an attempted Verzuh huck. UCSD’s Kelli Iwamoto is on fire. The game is tied at 3-3 when Dartmouth breaks upwind and begins to pull away with a three-point run.
UCSD needs to bring it back if they want a chance at this final. Dartmouth is forcing them to make big uncompleted throws rather than the short-and-sweet throws they’re adept at. Dartmouth, for their part, seem unconcerned with both the zone and person-to-person defense the Psychos are setting, with big throws over the mark by Caitlyn Lee, among others. Dartmouth’s Caroline Tornquist and Claire Trop remain dangerous across the field, but Trop especially seems to be on fire. The score is 6-3 when UCSD turns it back on, marching up-field to score three consecutively, capping the run with a sweet high-release backhand by Elimelech over Verzuh for the break to tie it up at 6-6.
At this point the crowd is going wild, chanting “MVP” for Elimelech. It’s really windy out here, and there have been plenty of turns by both teams. Pulls are barely reaching midfield. Dartmouth inches forward with a score, only to be matched by an under-pressure, back-of-the-end-zone diving catch by UCSD’s Alexandra Diaz. Dartmouth answers with a score taking half 8-7. Halftime features a UCSD team forsaking their shade tent for a choreographed full-team sidelines dance. It looks like they’re serious about enjoying every moment of this game.
In the second half, UCSD is beset by missed break opportunities. To even have a chance at the win, they absolutely need to get an upwind point, and they work it up-field more than once, only to throw it away. Dartmouth still seems calm and collected, but their significantly smaller roster size might be affecting their energy levels. By the end of this game, three of their players will have played 16 or more points. Now, however, Dartmouth quickly capitalizes on a UCSD miscue with a Verzuh to Trop score, 9-8 Dartmouth.
UCSD quickly answers back with a smooth pass from Kelli Iwamoto to a wide open Stacy Tran. It’s a tied game, 9-9. During the next point, soft cap goes on, Dartmouth scores, and it’s a game to 12. Score: 10-9 Dartmouth.
This whole match-up has been a battle, but at this point, it’s really truly game on. After some messy handler give and goes, UCSD scores on a huge huck from Iwamoto to Diaz to tie it 10-10. To win, Dartmouth needs both an upwind and a downwind score. UCSD needs two of the latter – and they’ve been struggling to convert on anything upwind all game. It’s not looking good. But after a downwind Dartmouth turn, Elimelech manages a roaring upwind huck to bring the Psychos to the goal line. This is big. Really big. They swing it back and forth trying desperately to punch it in, to no avail. A drop on the Psycho handler reset means a fast downwind score for Dartmouth, and game point. 11-10 Dartmouth. This could be the end.
But UCSD refuses to give up, and Kelli Iwamoto comes back with a superb throw under pressure, with Stacy Tran for the catch. They’ve tied it at 11-11. This is the first universe point College Championships final since 1998. Dartmouth receives, hucking it almost immediately, but getting blocked by Tran. A handler pass to Elimelech goes wide and behind her, but she manages to somehow reel it in, trapping it against her legs. The catch is contested by Verzuh, but the call is overturned by the observer. UCSD still has a chance. A throw up-field, a catch, a throw, a diving catch by Elimelech. Somewhere up there, the ultimate gods are smiling as UCSD works it up-field and upwind. Goal-line position for the Psychos, and it’s Elimelech to Kelli Iwamoto for the point and the win. Dartmouth will not be getting a three-peat this year.
UCSD rushes the field, arms raised as the grandstand stands erupt with cheers. The University of California-San Diego Psychos are your 2019 D-I Women’s Division College Champions.