By: Frank Nam
Scandal v. Phoenix
Many prognosticators had picked a very high ceiling for Phoenix, but the team from Raleigh had not owned such hopes. Until today.
On a beautiful Friday morning, they faced off against Scandal for the second time this season. The first time was early during the Pro-Elite Challenge where Phoenix went down 9-13. Phoenix leadership described that they had just started playing new lines during that tournament and that they were without their U-24 stars. They struck a note of optimism, and that optimism played out well.
Phoenix went down a break early but was able to get it back right away. Phoenix took half 8-6 and broke to start the second half. While Scandal was able to get as close as 13-12, they weren’t able to get back that last break and got broken for the Phoenix win at 15-12.
Scandal did not have an answer for Jenny Wei. Wei had five goals, three assists and a block to lead her team to the upset.
Phoenix’s prize for winning in the pre-quarters came in the form of Boston Brute Squad.
Nemesis v. 6ixers
The Chicago squad looked for an upset of their own in the early morning game but were not able to capitalize on their break chances. While Nemesis played gritty defense, they were not able to holster the energy on a turn. Two of their star handlers combined for 13 turnovers in the game as Toronto took an easy game and headed to the quarters with a 15-9 win.
One fascinating aspect of Nemesis’ game was the use of a brand new offensive formation. They had two handlers back with three cutters in a vert stack and a cutter each on the sidelines. They used this pattern to take away defenders from the middle and were able to throw big hucks down the middle of the field quite well. While the look had its moments, it wasn’t enough to convert much-needed breaks after a turn.
The 6ixers would get a chance at Riot in quarters later in the day.
Wildfire v. Nightlock
When Wildfire scored two breaks in a row to jump out to a 6-2 lead, it looked like they would get sweet Southwest Regionals revenge on the team from Oakland. While many players seem a bit shocked, veteran leader Manisha Daryani demonstrated poise and a belief in the system. That belief paid off as Nightlock brought the score closer by halftime, with San Diego up 8-6. In the second half, Wildfire lost their edge; they didn’t record another break and got broken twice. Nightlock took their first lead of the day at 11-10 with soft cap on, and they were able to hold after Wildfire did the same for the double-game point win. The Shayla Harris to Audrey Lyman combo was deadly as the pair combined for three goals in the game.
Nightlock was rewarded with a matchup against Fury in the quarterfinals. There were a few laughs and guffaws as they realized they had played Wildfire and Fury in this exact scenario at Southwest Regionals…in California!
Schwa v. Traffic
The Wildfire v. Nightlock pre-quarterfinal wasn’t the only regional rematch on day two as Schwa and Traffic took their Northwest Regional battle further down south. At that tournament, Traffic’s offensive line played a nearly perfect game, and Schwa couldn’t put their pieces together. This time around, the tables turned, and Schwa easily walked away with a 15-9 victory. Kimber Coles is having an amazing season for the Portland squad. She is currently tied for third in the women’s division with 11 goals. She had four goals and an assist in the Traffic match and has looked poised this entire weekend.
Schwa earned a meeting with Molly Brown in the quarterfinal round.
Nightlock v. Fury
The last time these two teams played was at Southwest Regionals, a game that ended as a 13-9 Fury win. Nightlock felt confident about their game plan but were concerned about their legs after such a close game against Wildfire. Unfortunately, neither their game plan nor their legs were enough to stymie their fellow San Francisco squad. Fury took half 8-2. To Nightlock’s credit, they were able to right the ship in the second half and even earned a break to get as close as 12-7. Fury finished the game with a break and the 15-8 victory.
Brute Squad v. Phoenix
Phoenix was fresh off their upset of Scandal and had visions of their 14-13 loss to Brute Squad at the Pro Championships as a motivator for this quarters matchup. The visions looked good when Phoenix got a break back to make it 3-2, on serve, but quickly turned into a mirage as Brute Squad put together one of their best defensive efforts of the season. Brute Squad broke three times in a row en route to an 8-5 halftime score. In the second half, they mirrored that effort with another three-break run to bring the score to 14-6. While Phoenix persisted with a break of their own, it was too little, too late, and Brute Squad held to win 15-8.
Fury and Brute Squad will meet tomorrow in one of the two semifinals, a rematch of the last two National Championships finals. As they were accustomed to, each team went to watch the Riot and Molly Brown quarterfinal games to scout their future opponents. But they may have set their sights on the wrong team…
Schwa v. Molly Brown
If you believe in portends of doom, you got one during the first point when Molly Brown’s Sara Taggart dropped the pull, allowing Schwa a quick and easy break. Schwa then capitalized on a Claire Chastain turnover to score a second break. Chastain is not fan of portends of doom or disbelief and threw an assist for Molly Brown’s first hold to make it 1-2 before Molly Brown earned a break back with a Jesse Shofner goal. After another Schwa break and holds in between, we were treated to one of the best plays of the year to make the score 7-4 Schwa. On the point’s first or second pass, Angelica “Geli” Chambers left her feet for a huge layout catch-block on a throw intended for Chastain, and Schwa earned their fourth break of the half. They went on to take half at a score of 8-5. Julia Sherwood looked dominant for Portland on the offensive side of the ball with three assists in the first half.
Whatever the Molly Brown coaches said during halftime must have worked as the Denver squad came out of the gate with five breaks in a row to take a 10-8 lead. Manuela Cárdenas had two assists in that run, and Ronnie Eder contributed two goals. A big change for Molly Brown was the use of their trap zone. The defense scheme worked a number of times, but Schwa eventually figured it out and did not allow Molly Brown to break them again. But Schwa was able to get two more breaks of their own to take a one break lead, and advantage they held with a sweet veteran combination of Julia Sherwood to Kimber Coles for the upset!
6ixers v. Riot
While one Northwest team earned an upset, another seemed poised to fend off an upstart opponent. Riot looked strong at halftime with a two break, 8-5 advantage. Julia Snyder stood out with a two assist, one goal first half. Riot was able to add another break to their tally to start the second half, but that’s when things went awry. The 6ixers traded and took a break back to make it a one-point game at 10-9, and then broke again after a Riot hold to tie up the score at 11-11. On both breaks, it was Molly Lewis to Sarah Jacobsohn with a block by Cat Phillips. Phillips finished the game with a blistering five blocks.
On Riot’s side, they were able to hold to make it 12-11, but the 6ixers got their own hold before reeling off two stunning breaks to take the game in the soft cap, 14-12.
Speaking to a few of the 6ixers players after the game, it was apparent how unfazed the team was when they were down two breaks at halftime. They all truly believed they would win the game, and their confidence and poise were remarkable.
While the Brute Squad versus v.Fury matchup is sure to be an instant classic, it is equally if not more exciting that the history books will be updated when Schwa and the 6ixers face off in the other semifinal. A team that is not Riot, Fury, Brute Squad or Scandal has not been in the finals of USA Ultimate championships since 2010. How fitting it is that that last team was the Ottawa/Toronto Capitals back in 2010! And Schwa has not been in the finals since 2000!
Tomorrow afternoon we’ll know which of those two teams will face off against a former champion for a shot to win the national title on Sunday!
Consolation Look Ahead
Molly Brown will face Riot for fifth place.
Traffic will play Phoenix tomorrow for a chance to finish in the Pro Flight.
Scandal will face Nightlock for a chance to finish in the Pro Flight.
Nemesis will face Siege for 11th place.
Wildfire will play Iris for 13th place.
Pop and Ozone will play for 15th place.
Both women’s semifinals will be streamed live from San Diego. Tune into the first semifinal, Schwa v. 6ixers, at 10 a.m. PT on the USA Ultimate YouTube page. The second semifinal, Brute Squad v. Fury, will be broadcast live from Mira Mesa High School on ESPN3 and the ESPN app at 12 p.m. PT.