Warmothers defy expectation, clinch conference title

Photo courtesy of Sara Brakeman ’16

Last weekend, Swarthmore’s women’s ultimate team, the Warmothers, defied both their own expectations and their 4th place seed to win the Pennsylvania D-III Conference Championship tournament held at Franklin & Marshall College. Coming out of a mixed season in which they went 7-10, the victory in the conference tournament guarantees the ’Mothers a spot in the Ohio Valley Regional Tournament to be held the weekend of April 30, 2016. Depending on their performance at Regionals, they have the potential to move forward to D-III National Championships in Winston-Salem, NC on May 21 – 22.

Warmothers captain Sara Brakeman ’16 felt that the results of the tournament were a product of the team’s dedication and improvement over the course of the past academic year, especially that of the sophomore class. Brakeman did not get to see the current sophomores play as first-years because she was abroad, but has seen them step up their game considerably this year.

“[T]he sophomores had really improved so much. They’re really the core of our team, because there’s so many of them [this year],” Brakeman said.

She explained that the overall goals of the Warmothers change year to year, depending on the general vibe of the team. This year, the team felt that they wanted to shoot for a more competitive season, which influenced their training schedule significantly.

“We had a team meeting in December, and we talked about what we wanted this spring to look like, and everybody agreed that we wanted it to be relatively competitive to see how well we could do,” she said.

In order to get more competitive, Brakeman explained that they entered into a different range of tournaments over the course of the spring semester, sometimes playing against D-I ultimate teams like Yale University, North Carolina State University, and Duke University in addition to their standard D-III competition. When they went up against the tougher competition, the ’Mothers found success.

“We beat Brown 12-4, which was like a blowout, and we lost to Cornell, which is a very good team, by one point,” Brakeman said. After the weekend of matches against Brown and Cornell, the ‘Mothers rose to the #19 D-III women’s ultimate team in the country — an admirable feat.

But going into the postseason, which is kicked off by the D-III Conference Championship tournament, the ‘Mothers had plenty of competition to go up against. Haverford College was ranked at #9 in the division, Lehigh University at #15, and Messiah College at #16, and all four of these highly-ranked teams are competing for a single bid to the National Championships. This is rather unusual for an ultimate region, because USA Ultimate, the national governing body for the sport, gives out a relative number of bids to each region depending on the amount of competition each region contains. The Ohio Valley region, which includes the Pennsylvania conference, was originally allocated three or four national bids, but has since been reduced to only one, upping the stakes of postseason play drastically. Leila Selchaif ’18 was not happy with the changes in the number of bids given to the ’Mothers’ region.

“The bidding system is really screwed up, especially for women’s teams,” Selchaif explained. “I think [it’s] because … they don’t work as hard to fix things,” referring to the USA Ultimate governing body.

Regardless of the politics surrounding postseason play, the ’Mothers went into the Conference Championships unsure of what the results might be. Before the tournament, they had only competed against Messiah College once, never played against Lehigh University, but had played against the Haverford College team frequently without good results.

In the conference tournament, Haverford defeated the ’Mothers in their first matchup. But the ’Mothers responded with wins in their next four matches over Franklin & Marshall, Messiah, Dickinson and Lehigh to earn a trip to the finals and another shot at Haverford.  

According to Brakeman, the championship was the most memorable game of the weekend. Before the game, Swarthmore, Lehigh, and Haverford were locked in a three-way tie, and counting the total number of points scored over the weekend pitted Haverford against Swarthmore for the final match of the tournament.

“It was a really good game … a bit brutal at the beginning, because we tried to sub in a lot of people [at the beginning,]” Brakeman said, explaining that the decision was made to get some less experienced players playing time on the field. Haverford gained an early 5-0 lead against the ’Mothers, but Brakeman said they “got got angry” and came back with a vengeance in the second half to win the game 10-7.

Now that it’s all over, the ’Mothers have the regional tournament to look forward to, where they will once again play their conference competitors in addition to their regional competitors from the Ohio D-III Conference.

While the ‘Mothers still have their work cut out for them, both Brakeman and Selchaif expressed their fondness for the sport and for tournament weekends like Conference Championships.

“It’s a lot, but tournaments are so much fun … over the course of two days, everybody does improve. And one of our traditions is on Sunday night, before we drive back, we sit in a circle and we compliment each other,” Brakeman said.

Selchaif agreed that while demanding, tournament weekends are a great experience.

“I got up at 5:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, hopped in the car, and drove an hour and a half over because we had a game at 9,” she said. “But we did have a hotel on Saturday night, and that was really fun. It’s kind of annoying to not go back to campus, especially because Malia Obama was here, but it’s actually so nice to get up in the morning and just chill, and also not to have the drive back home, and to sit around on a hotel room bed with your friends and do work.”

The ’Mothers have come a long way from their mixed regular season performance to become a rising star in the Ohio Valley ultimate region this season. The stellar performance at Conferences was definitely the result of an entire season dedicated to developing skills and a sense of team unity along the way. Anything is possible as the ’Mothers gear up for regionals, with hopes of a national title waiting in the distance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading