By: Frank Nam
Saturday is semifinals day at the National Championships, and this year’s edition couldn’t have really offered two more different match ups in the women’s division.
Portland Schwa v. Toronto 6ixers
The first semifinal consisted of two teams that had upset their way to this stage. Portland Schwa defeated Molly Brown, while the Toronto 6ixers got the best of Seattle Riot. During a conversation with Schwa coach Matt Melius, we learned that the team had been spending the season raising their talent level across the board with even lines at all tournaments. However, the team asked leadership to give calling tighter lines a try to see how far they could go. Against the 6ixers, we were treated to healthy doses of Julia Sherwood, Geli Boyden, Kimber Coles, Eva Popp, Laura Bitterman and Mariel Hammond. However, it seemed the 6ixers were content to play more distributed lines.
While it seemed that Schwa was pumped to be in the semifinals, it felt like the 6ixers were hungrier for something more. The Toronto squad started the game with a clean hold and then broke four times to take a 5-0 lead. Schwa finally got their first hold with their defensive line to make it 1-5, but as they faced a mounting deficit, they played their stars more and more. While a combination of Sherwood, Bitterman and Coles are tough for anyone to guard, they seemed to run out of gas as some throws popped up or hucks just didn’t quite make it. They weren’t able to force a break the entire first half.
The other story for this game was turnovers. Schwa gave the disc back 14 times compared to the stingy Toronto team who only gave up seven turns. The disparity led to quite the run from the 6ixers as Schwa tried a couple of different looks to try and stymie their tempo. Schwa went with a 3-3-1 look a couple of times, but the Toronto team was able to eat up a few yards with handler movement until they found a seam they liked and then took off. Schwa seemed to apply much more pressure with person defense, and while that did earn them two breaks in the second half, it wasn’t enough as the 6ixers took the game 15-8.
Brenna Bailey of Schwa had a great game with a goal, an assist and a block in the game. Sarah Jacobsohn and Brittney Dos Santos combined for five goals and three assists in this game for the 6ixers. Lauren Kimura pulled out of the game about halfway through, but I’m sure we will see the star handler in the finals tomorrow.
San Francisco Fury v. Boston Brute Squad
While the first semifinal was played on the cool grass of Surf Cup Sports Park, the second women’s semifinal was played on the hot turf of Mira Mesa High School’s stadium. As the teams warmed up, a strong upwind/downwind breeze also picked up steam. It would play a disruptive factor in this game as the teams struggled to figure out the swirly wind, with many multiple-turnover points.
Boston struck first with a tough upwind hold and then broke to take a two-point lead. Fury earned that break back after a hold with Nancy Sun throwing the assist. Then Fury pulled out a four-person cup that was able to generate a turn that they converted by finding Lakshmi Narayan in the back of the end zone on a safety-valve cut. Fury then worked on a hybrid zone look where they played a three-person cup in the front with person defense in the back. Caitlyn Lee of Brute Squad quickly figured this out the look and attacked downfield to take away the extra poacher/defender in the front.
Fury also played a ton of force middle against Brute Squad, but Kami Groom was able to create something out of nothing with a triple cut for the hold to make it 3-3.
The teams traded holds and breaks in the first half with lots of points with messy turnovers. However, at 7-6 Boston, Brute Squad was able to create a clean hold for the half to make it 8-6.
One of the great distinguishing factors of teams at this level is their mental make-up. In the second half, Boston took their biggest lead of the game to make it 13-10 with the game going to 14. At that moment, Fury did what they’ve done for so long. They dug deep and found a well of hope and grit to tie the game at 13’s!
The last point of the game featured Boston looking to hold for the first time since 13-10, and it did not start well. Marika Austin of Fury had a massive block on an under-cut by Claire Trop. On an ensuing huck, Tulsa Douglas went up for the block and then got trucked by Trop who was coming in from the backside to help out. Douglas had to take an injury, and Trop looked a bit fazed at what had transpired thus far.
The game started off as a battle of defensive pressure, forcing turns and mental make-up, but in the end, it came down to the efforts of one particular player. Claire Trop, who despite all the accomplishments in her young career, had never been to the finals of the USA Ultimate National Championships, took off deep for her fellow Dartmouth alum Julianna Werffelli and caught the huck just outside the end zone. After a quick dish, Trop took off just to get the disc back for the game-winning goal.
While Trop will earn honors as the player of that particular point, Boston’s Kami Groom (four goals, one assist, one turn) really turned it on for the Boston squad. Her grit and desire to win 50/50 balls and also play shut-down defense were a sight to behold.
Tomorrow, we will get to see the fourth meeting of the season between Northeast Region rivals Toronto 6ixers and Boston Brute Squad. It will be fun to see how these two teams who know each other very well will perform on the big stage!
Tune in to the women’s division final at the 2019 National Championships, live on ESPN3 and in the ESPN app, Sunday, October 27, at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.