The MIT women’s ultimate team (sMITe) took second place at the New England Women’s Regionals last weekend, securing a place at the College Nationals in Boulder, CO this May 16–18.
The team was seeded fifth going into the tournament, after a third place finish at the Metro Boston Sectionals two weeks ago. In bracket play, MIT beat no. 12 Connecticut College 15-6, and no. 4 Wesleyan University 15-5, to make it into the semi-finals on Saturday. There they upset top seed Dartmouth, traditionally the best team in the region, in a close, tense game, winning 15-13.
Dartmouth took the first point, but MIT quickly caught up and the teams traded points before MIT took half 8-7. When play resumed, Dartmouth pulled ahead and the teams traded points again. MIT finally scored two in row to take the lead 14-13 as a time cap was called.
With MIT needing one more point to reach the finals, Dartmouth dug its feet in. The point lasted over fifteen minutes and had many turnovers, as both teams pushed the disc to within a few yards of the end zone, only to lose possession before scoring.
After Dartmouth lost the disc on a stall (failing to pass the disc within ten seconds of receiving it), Jennifer L. Barry G finally caught a long throw from Doris Lin G just outside the end zone and called a timeout. When sMITe set up again with an end zone play, none of the handlers were able to get open to receive, until Barry threw a backhand floater with the stall count at eight to co-captain Erika M. Swanson G who was standing by herself in the middle of the field for the score.
Swanson and the rest of the team initially didn’t realize that she was within the end zone; it was only when the observer (similar to a line referee) called her in with the game-winning point that MIT rushed the field.
“I wasn’t surprised to catch it, I actually was looking for it,” said Swanson. “I was just really surprised to be in the end zone, and almost shocked by what that meant.”
“We peaked at just the right time,” said coach and sMITe alum Darlene E. Ferranti ’06, referring to MIT’s relatively short spring season. “Dartmouth is a very talented team, but no team is unbeatable.” Ferranti spotted a weakness early on: Dartmouth was less comfortable being forced to throw backhand instead of forehand.
On Sunday morning, sMITe lost to no. 2 Northeastern University in the finals, 15-8. The loss put MIT in a rematch against Dartmouth in the backdoor game-to-go for second place and a place at Nationals. MIT regrouped to keep the game close in the first half. sMITe then took half, 8-7, and never looked back, giving up only one point in the second half to close out the final 15-8.
“This is the tournament where sMITe really came together as a team,” said coach Jin Ding. “Players were focused and aggressive — on the field and on the sidelines. Nationals is an event most teams can only dream of attending, and sMITe earned their spot.”
“They showed great composure by putting [the] loss [to Northeastern] aside to defeat Dartmouth,” wrote Kendra Frederick, regional coordinator for the tournament, in an e-mail. “I was impressed by sMITe’s athleticism and conditioning, and their solid fundamentals. Catherine Seaborn, Erika Swanson, and Doris Lin lead the team with their stellar abilities, but the real reason MIT is going to Nationals is the depth of their roster.” sMITe has 22 players, of whom 11 are new to the team this year.
MIT did not get the chance to face no. 3 Tufts University in the tournament, a team they have yet to beat this year. Tufts was upset by no. 6 Boston University in bracket play, and then lost to Dartmouth on Sunday.
“Dartmouth and Tufts have been strong teams the past couple of years, and [many] assumed they would be representing our Region again this year at Nationals,” wrote Frederick. But, she added, “MIT has had a strong team in the past,” and Northeastern “has been an up-and-coming program for a couple of years now.”