Blaine, Minn. (Aug. 3, 2019) – Day two of the International Club Championships division at the 2019 U.S. Open Club Championships was all bracket play. Starting out with the quarterfinals in the day’s first round and finishing with the semifinals, there was never a dull moment.
Of all the mixed division quarterfinals, Space Heater v. Drag’n Thrust stayed the closest for the longest. Space Heater is a different team than they were when they made the finals at the National Championships last year, but they’re still a very strong team with lots of experience at the game’s highest levels. Drag’n Thrust is maybe the most consistent team in the division over the last seven or eight years, and they always show up at the U.S. Open – particularly when it’s in their home state. And in true Drag’n Thrust fashion, they just kept chipping away from start to finish. Playing their game, Drag’n Thrust got themselves up a couple by halftime and kept at it in the second half, using the strength of their D line and the consistency of their O line – the ideal combination. Space Heater’s women are nearly unmatched in the mixed division, and it showed in this game, against a team that also has a very strong female roster. Georgia Bosscher, Jenny Fey and Kelly Hyland all made big contributions. But on the other side, there was Becca Ludford, who blew up for Drag’n Thrust in the game, tallying four goals and two assists. Drag’n Thrust kept inching away until they found themselves with another win, 15-10.
The rest of the division’s quarterfinal match ups felt much more in hand by the eventual winner much earlier in the round. It took a little time for Mixtape to pull away from their Seattle neighbors in BFG, but after Mixtape broke to go up 4-3, they were well on their way. Julia Bladin did all she could behind the disc for BFG, and was balanced by Alissa Soo doing her thing, hunting blocks, on the D line alongside Tommy Li, but Mixtape’s explosiveness was ultimately too much. Mixtape earned yet another semis berth at the U.S. Open 15-10 over BFG. Just across the way, Snake Country was running away from Australia’s Ellipsis. Despite a very high talent level, Ellipsis struggled with some unforced errors early on. The grass was very wet at the National Sports Center this morning, and the sun took its time coming out, which meant the grass stayed wet for a while. The slippery disc definitely could have played a role in some of the drops and missed throws that plagued the early goings in the quarterfinal round, and for teams like Ellipsis. Cat Philips and Tom Tulett played great, as always, but the deeper, and often taller, Snake Country roster got the better outcome this morning. Snake Country ran away with the game to the tune of 15-9.
In what was maybe the most surprising game of the round, Mischief was all over the defending national champions from the get go. AMP is dealing with a few pretty significant personnel changes this season (Carolyn Normile going to Scandal, Nicky Spiva back to Truck Stop, Yuge Xiao to Brute Squad), but they are still a very good team. So seeing a score line where they are down 7-3 isn’t usually the expectation, even when they’re playing another solid team like Mischief. Mischief picked up several really helpful additions this offseason, including goal-scoring machine Lexi Zalk, and O-line quarterback Ben Feng, among others. They both had good games, along with people like Robin Meyers, who did a great job of leading the defensive offense, helping them take advantage of AMP turns and building a lead. AMP made a run, scoring four straight to close the gap, but they couldn’t maintain that momentum. Mischief followed it up with a scoring run of their own, closing out the game with an 8-3 run to comfortably move onto the semifinals.
The evening’s first mixed semifinal was a matchup of the initial two and seven seeds, Mixtape and Mischief. The game’s first five points were, for the most part, more than a little messy. After a relatively easy initial hold for Mischief, a marathon second point set a slightly more realistic tone for what everyone should expect in the early goings. Where Mischief had been connecting on seemingly everything against AMP, in the semifinals, they faced a number of unforced errors: turfed throws; miscommunications, particularly in the dump set; and throws that popped up enough for Mixtape defenders to pick them off. For Mixtape, their high-risk, high-reward can, obviously, go either way, but against Mischief, it was working for them. Mixtape broke twice early and was in front 3-2 when the game was delayed by lightning. When the storm system finally dispersed, an hour and a half had gone by, but Mixtape picked up right where they left off. They held and got another break when Evan Klein came away with a huck that was originally meant for Jen Cogburn. Throughout the game, Mischief got plenty of opportunities to make up their early deficit, both on good defensive plays and from unforced Mixtape turns – often on throws trying to do just a little too much. But Mischief struggled to convert, in part because Mixtape is very capable of getting the disc back after turns. Kieran Kelly and Dominic Cavalero both had big games for Mixtape, often throwing goals to each other. Cogburn also played a big role, particularly in the deep space. And in the end, Mischief ran out of time to reel things back in. Mixtape walked away with a 14-10 win and another championship event finals berth.
After the earlier game’s lightning delay, the Drag’n Thrust v. Snake Country semifinal got off to a late start. The first pull went up shortly before 9:30 p.m. CT, but the local crowd hung around to support the home team, and the atmosphere was impressively good considering the late hour. From start to finish, the game was high-octane excitement. It was a pretty clean game overall, with both teams maintaining a high level throughout. But they also have pretty different styles of play and very different histories. Drag’n Thrust is basically the model mixed team – the program that is focused on proving the value and competitiveness of mixed ultimate – and a second-year team that originated as a Middlebury reunion team before “going pro” last year. Drag’n Thrust has some really talented players that they sprinkle across their O and D lines, and they are very good at evaluating their opponent and taking advantage of whatever might be their strength in that particular game. Tonight, one of those strengths was undoubtedly the way they integrate their women into the game. On offense, Holly Denecour was relentless in opening up spaces on both sides of the field, breaking the mark as she saw fit. Meanwhile, Kathryn Ritzmann and Becca Ludford tore up the downfield space with their speed. On defense, Drag’n Thrust has two of the mixed division’s most respected women in Erica Baken and Sarah Meckstroth. They are both very capable of generating blocks, but after the turn, there isn’t much they can’t do with the disc in their hands. That was very clear tonight. And that’s all without mentioning the contributions of people like Brian Schoenrock, who had the task of containing Brian Garcia all night and Caleb Denecour, who seemed to just be taking whatever he wanted on offense.
For Snake Country, most (and sometimes all) of the offense flowed through former Ironside teammates Brian Garcia and Jacob Taylor. Throw in Piers MacNaughton and some occasional help from Chelsea Murphy and Peter Prial, and you have yourself an offense. Nearly every Snake Country O point started by trying to isolate Taylor, so Garcia could find him off the centering pass. But the long arms of Schoenrock often made that throw more difficult than it might have otherwise been.
The game was close throughout, but Drag’n Thrust broke first and are stingy enough on offense that they don’t easily cede those advantages. Out of halftime, a beauty of a put from Erica Baken to Brett Sullivan kept things on track for Drag’n Thrust and made the score 9-5 in their favor. Snake Country got a break back shortly thereafter on a pass from Davis Whitehead to Chelsea Murphy for 9-7 and one more after a high-stall-count punt turned into 11-10. But that was all Snake Country could piece together on the break front. Drag’n Thrust ended up winning it on defense. Snake Country threw into a poach in the open-side lane and Neal Hanke found Claire Thallon for the winning goal. Drag’n Thrust is in the finals in their hometown one more time – and facing Mixtape – once again.
It’s a familiar match up for people who follow ultimate, and the mixed division in particular, but it’s also not a match up that ever gets boring. Tune into the mixed final between Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust and Seattle Mixtape tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. CT on ESPN3 and watchespn.com. It’s sure to be another great installment of what has become a classic rivalry.