By: Frank Nam
For the first time since 2010, a team other than Fury, Riot, Scandal, or Brute Squad was competing in the finals of USA Ultimate’s National Championships. The Toronto 6ixers were formed in 2016 and made Nationals for the first time in 2017.
Back in 2010, it was the Ottawa/Toronto Capitals who faced off against Fury. The team they beat in semifinals to make the finals? Seattle Riot.
Before we get carried away, a little history:
The Capitals were an amalgamation of two Canadian teams (Toronto Lotus and Ottawa Stella) that drew players from Ottawa, Toronto, and Waterloo with the focus on competing in the Triple Crown Tour of USA Ultimate. In 2016, they decided to close the program to focus on building the talent in those respective cities. In the aftermath of that decision, three teams formed: Waterloo PFF, Ottawa Stella, and Toronto 6ixers.
How appropriate that the team to break this “narrative” of a tier of untouchable teams was the 6ixers, as they took down Riot in the quarterfinals to face off against Brute Squad for the fourth time this season.
If anyone thought the pool play game between Boston and Toronto would be indicative of Sunday’s outcome, they were mistaken. At least to start.
The teams traded holds for the first four points. Boston used both a side stack to vert stack and a horizontal stack strategy to generate their offense, while Toronto used both a vert stack and a split stack to get their holds.
Toronto struck first during the fourth point when the 6ixers got a turn in Boston’s attacking end zone and marched 70 yards for the game’s first break. They had two shots at a second break on the next point but weren’t able to convert as Boston kept a tough hold to tie it at 3-3.
Toronto then ran a set play borrowed from Quebec‘s Iris. It’s akin to a German with the cutters deep and handlers back allowing a cutter to work the entire middle space by themselves. The 6ixers prepared this look to deal with force-middle defenses, but it turns into a great set piece to move the disc deep. Unfortunately, after a successful huck, Boston’s Becky Malinowski got a block, and after the teams shared turns, Boston was able to get a break back to put the game back on serve at 4-3.
It was fun to see the number of different offensive looks from both teams as they tried to keep their offenses running.
The teams were able to trade holds all the way to 7-6, with Boston in the lead. In those six points, there were only three clean holds with no turns, and the rest were incredibly messy points on both sides with multiple turnovers.
On the 14th point of the game, Toronto couldn’t take advantage of a short pull with a Beaudry turn, but Angela Zhu returned the favor by missing an open Kami Groom with a throw wide in the end zone. Boston got the disc back with great person defense forcing a Toronto punt. The 6ixers played a strong clam defense against Boston’s vertical stack, and Jordan Meron peeled off her person for the block.
After a Toronto timeout, Lauren Sadler got a block, and Brute Squad had the patience to find Claire Trop in the end zone to take half.
No one who watched the first half would’ve imagined a second half like the one we witnessed. The two teams seemed poised to recreate a classic finals battle, but what happened next was quite the shock.
The 6ixers offense hit a wall. They combined for six turns over the course of the next six points while Brute Squad only turned it once, leading to a 14-6 lead for Boston.
Some of the turns were forced by Boston’s defensive pressure, but it seemed the bigger factor was fatigue. Both mental and physical. The 6ixers offense turned the disc in the first half, but they were able to earn it back with their own fiery defense. However, in the second they could not muster enough pressure to force a turn after giving up possession.
The team from Toronto wouldn’t use this as an excuse, but they were already missing two of their top 10 players, and then they lost all-star handler Lauren Kimura (five goals, 10 assists) halfway through the semifinals. Losing Kimura hurt the most, as the handling duties then mainly fell to Beaudry. She was the only 6ixer with multiple assists in the game. Kimura provides a calm poise under intense pressure and can get the reset easily against the best defenders. She also provides amazing handler defense. What Toronto did not lose was a veteran leader and voice on their sideline. Kimura was incredibly active with sideline talk and encouragement.
Such encouragement helped Toronto get their first hold without any turns in the second half. Things looked good with a big block on a huck on the next point, but an uncharacteristic drop gave Boston the disc back and a quick give and go to Angela Zhu for the goal gave Brute Squad their third championship in five years.
In Ultiworld’s post-game press conference, the 6ixers’ Jordan Meron gave a strong response when asked about the narrative that the women’s division was held by a handful of untouchable teams. She pointed to their take-downs of Riot and Brute Squad this season and Scandal’s wins over Molly Brown and Fury and Schwa’s triumph over Molly Brown and said the narrative was fueled by an artificial storyline. When coach Ari Jackson of Brute Squad was asked to respond to about this idea of a four-team narrative, he replied, “If it was true in the past, it’s no longer true.”