Michigan Stuns UC Santa Barbara In Prequarters Upset

Michigan Flywheel celebrating a score during their upset of UCSB in prequarters at the 2014 College Championships.
Photo by Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

The showcase field played host to a prequarterfinal — UC Santa Barbara v. Michigan — that lived up to its “showcase” billing. Urgency was palpable and intensity rose dramatically, with each team well aware that their season was on the line. The game leaned back and forth, filled with big plays. In the end, Michigan Flywheel triumphed, holding on double game point, 15-14, to earn a berth into the quarters.

The early portion of the game was a show of each team’s strengths: Michigan used flowing offense, hitting the breakside and upline dishes; Santa Barbara used isolation deep shots and relied on big throws and big grabs. Neither team was able to take away their opponent’s strength. They traded to 6-6 in short order.

It was obvious the game would not play out like their previous meeting. At Centex this season, Michigan dealt UC-Santa Barbara their worst loss of the season, a 13-6 pool play beatdown.

This time, the Burning Skirts landed the game’s first big break, capitalizing on a Michigan mistake. Noelle Neason tossed a jump ball to Lisa Pitcaithley, who easily hauled it in past Theresa Zettner, her hardworking shadow throughout the game. With Zettner out of the way, it was an easy break throw to take a 7-6 lead. On the next possession, UCSB worked it the full 70 without Neason or Pitcaithley in a single possession to break for half.

Pitcaithley had a goal and three assists in the first half, while captain Kelly Gross tallied a goal and four assists.

Flywheel made a statement coming out of the half, reeling off three in a row, including a sky by Becky Moore over Noelle Neason. After forfeiting the 9-8 lead, UCSB collected themselves for a timeout, and managed a smooth offensive point out of it to tie the game.

At this point, easy offensive points became pipe dreams; the intensity of the moment and the fatigue of the four and a half games of action shoved both teams into more mistakes than they would have liked. While the points got sloppier, each side still found ways to get the disc to the end zone.

For Michigan, that was often via the work of Meeri Chang, their center handler. The lefty tossed a bevy of breaks and deep shots through the game, and her ability to create resets that gave Michigan stronger field position was pivotal. Chang delivered eight assists in the game, including six in the second half, and UCSB rarely had an answer for her.

Chang wasn’t the only player stepping up for Michigan. Jacqueline Jarik was big, especially in the second half, ripping discs out of the air. Zettner, who is having a smash hit weekend to follow up a great season, was a critical defensive piece, taking on Pitcaithley.

“[Theresa Zettner] was just a work horse out there,” said Michigan Coach Julie Weinert after the game, “and she gets the job done over and over and over again.”

With the game tied at 12-12, Michigan received the pull and marched down the field. Nearing the red zone, the Skirts D buckled down and forced Chang to put up a forced jump ball that Kelly Gross brought in for the turn. UCSB went the other way, winding up with a lengthy red zone percentage. Pitcaithley held the disc until a high stall, looking off resets to throw a floaty high release backhand to the end zone for the goal. It was called back on a stall – much to Pitcaithley’s surprise, who looked confident she had enough time – which was upheld by the observer.

In the resulting possession, Chang hucked the disc to Becky Moore, but Dana Patterson smothered her and batted the disc away. Moore stuck with it, laid out on the second effort, hauled the disc in, and soon deposited it to a streaking teammate to take a 13-12 lead for Michigan. A pivotal break opportunity fell by UCSB’s wayside.

The next time the fifth seeded Skirts were in the red zone, Pitcaithley wouldn’t miss, extending for miles to put an around break backhand to a diving Neason for 13s. The two teams traded to set up the dramatic double season point.

After a game full of huge plays and a second half contrasted execution, the final point stood out. Michigan received the disc, nearly threw away the centering pass, and then calmly worked their way to pay dirt with fundamental unders. An upline cut from Hannah Henkin was the game winner, with Chang dropping it off for her, sending Michigan to quarterfinals.

Jarik finished the game with four goals (all in the second half), two assists, and two Ds. Gross had a pair of goals, six assists, and two Ds, while Pitcaithley had three goals and five assists in the losing effort.

“We just went back to our Flywheel game,” said Flywheel Coach Kristin Essary. “We went back to basics, we went back to what we started with. We just needed to execute.”

UC-Santa Barbara will be left to ponder their season and spend their last few days together as a team. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for a team with championship aspirations. The team’s Callahan nominee, Lisa Pitcaithley, was distraught going through the post game lineups, leaving her team to take a few minutes to herself before rejoining them.

An elated Flywheel will face Central Florida in the quarterfinals, a team they have yet to play against and who has been impressive all year. Michigan, however, isn’t looking ahead yet.

“I think that was just a beautiful game of ultimate. Every point was a hard-fought by both teams,” said Essary. “You let the emotion soak in now and later you focus on tomorrow.”

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