Boston Brute Squad: 2014 National Championships Preview

Boston Brute Squad is the clear #1 seed overall in the Women's Division. Can they ride it to a Championship?

Photo by Pete Guion - Ultiphotos
Photo by Pete Guion – Ultiphotos

It’s rare that a team ever lives up to the hype that the press builds in preseason. Boston seemed to light a homing beacon for women’s talent this year; their roster reads like the Callahan VIP guest list at a Team USA reunion party. Pundits persisted: they have a great lineup, but can they deliver? Or will they crumple like last year? Brute Squad has defied question time and again this year, and they seem untouchable going into the Club Championships. They steamroll legacies with patient impunity, and thus far no team has been able to make them sweat.

Brute Squad in a Nutshell

Overall Indicators:

  • Overall #1 seed at Club Championships
  • 2013 Nationals Performance: 6th place
  • #1 in Ultiworld Power Rankings
  • #1 in USAU Club Rankings

Positives:

  • They haven’t lost a game since early July in the U.S. Open, where they lost 7-10 to second seeded Seattle Riot
  • They won the Pro Flight Finale in a dominant final 15-7 against WUCC Champions Riot
  • The aforementioned Callahan guest list: Courtney Kiesow (2008 winner), Paula Seville (2012 winner), Leila Tunnell (2011 winner), Emily Baecher (2009 finalist), Claudia Tajima (2013 finalist), and Liên Hoffmann (2013 finalist)
  • They’re all about heavy pressure on handlers, forcing tricky throws and riskier late-stall bailouts

Question Marks:

  • Kami Groom moved overseas for a Fulbright, which means Brute Squad has lost a fast and experienced target downfield
  • Current core hasn’t made it past quarterfinals for three straight years, including two prequarterfinals losses in 2011 and 2012

Season Recap

Brute Squad’s one true aberration this season was a loss to QUB in pool play at the Boston Invite before they beat them in the final 15-11.
They had a rocky start to the U.S. Open, losing to Showdown 12-13 and to Riot twice. They were missing some of their biggest offensive throwers, Leila Tunnell and Dory Ziperstein, and it showed in the wind. Nevertheless, they still managed to beat defending champions Scandal, Fury, Showdown, and Traffic twice at the same tournament. They were building something great.

Since that windy weekend in early July, Brute Squad hasn’t lost again.

They stormed into the Chesapeake Invite, rolling through their pool play games like warmup drills. Indeed they didn’t meet resistance until the finals against defending champions Scandal, whom they handled 13-9 with an efficiency that had been less reliable in Minnesota. Excellence emerges from every level of their roster, but Leila Tunnell was particularly fearsome at Chesapeake, alongside newcomer Qxhna Titcomb and Emily Baecher on defense.

Their streak continued at the Pro Flight Finale where a rested Brute Squad bested every team in their path. Many questioned whether such a new roster would be able to develop chemistry in a season, but Brute’s offensive execution throughout the Pro Flight Finale proved that confidence and calm can outlast any defense. Brute Squad worked through Showdown, Capitals, and Fury before hitting a challenge in Traffic. Traffic held Brute Squad close throughout, but Brute Squad was able to pull a win, 14-12.

Brute Squad met Riot in the final for the second time this season, but neither team looked the same as the teams that met in July. Brute Squad was riding their peak, and Riot was still recuperating from the World Championships in Italy a few weeks before. The teams traded early, but heavy pressure and a string of breaks gave Brute Squad a healthy lead that would last them until the final points. Brute Squad beat not only the World Champions but also one of the few elite teams that had topped them earlier in the season.

Brute Squad handled Northeast Regionals with ease, never letting a team score more than 3 points until the final, where they defeated BENT 13-6. They will enter the USAU Club Championships ranked #1, and in the second half of the season, nobody has been able to deny them. The hype is real.

Playing Style

“Uncharacteristic mistakes.”

That’s what the top teams in the country keep making when they play Brute Squad in the finals. Rushed throws, missed connections, or unusual decisions have given Brute Squad the disc again and again.

Brute Squad plays suffocating handler defense that wears down the most composed handler sets. They can crank out plays when they need to, but they prefer to bite down on offenses until they hurt themselves instead. Close aggressive marks coupled with light-footed, quick reset defense from Claudia Tajima and Emily Baecher — who is having a remarkable season — frequently forces the thrower to look desperately for a bail or a risky inside angle that the downfield defenders can run through.

Brute Squad has occasionally thrown a unique junk defense that capitalizes on their handler defense and their speed. Handler defenders play man defense while the downfield defenders form a loose diamond, picking up cutters when they enter their zones and abandoning them once they clear out. Liên Hoffmann excels at the top of this diamond: her combination of quick reflexes, intuitive field sense, and explosive speed means that few cutters can find meaningful open real estate if she’s nearby.

When Brute Squad has the disc, they have unlimited control and trust. Leila Tunnell and newcomer Paula Seville have very similar handling styles: the former high school teammates are both tall handlers with a long reach, but even their reset patterns are similar enough that cutters know where to be no matter who has the disc. Nobody could call their style conservative after witnessing a few of Tunnell’s monster backhands, but the handlers are patient, and when they are on top of their game, they almost never waste a throw.

Their patience only exists out of trust, and it’s apparent that Brute Squad trusts each other on the field. They once worked the disc from the back of their own endzone almost a full 120 yards in Scandal’s zone, utilizing 15-20 yard passes until they scored. In the same game, Laura Bitterman yelled for the disc on the break side, and Dory Ziperstein released a break backhand to her without looking (it worked; Bitterman scored). Their cutting isn’t always textbook, but cutters give each other space, and most of them are fast enough to offer options.

Expect to see big plays from every part of the Brute Squad roster at Club Championships. They have brand-name stars like Baecher and Tunnell, but their powerhouse win against Seattle Riot at the Pro Flight Finale stemmed from the work of Sara Jacobi, Qxhna Titcomb, Chelsea Witte-Garcia, Vicky Negus, and many more. Coach Mike Zalisk is not afraid to go deep into his roster to allow him to throw fresh bodies into their hardworking sets.

Likely Ceiling

National Champions. They have handily beat every other threat at the tournament, and have done so recently.

Likely Floor

Semifinals exit. Brute Squad was also well regarded last year, but they lost the mental game and placed 6th. This is a new team, but that memory has to persist for some veterans.

Worst Match-Ups

Seattle Riot. Despite their inconsistent performance against Brute Squad at the Pro Flight Finale, Seattle Riot stands the best chance of breaking down Brute’s offense and slipping through their defense with skillful breaks. Riot is 2-1 against Brute and the battle of Riot’s handler corps vs. Brute Squad’s defensive group could be the deciding factor.

Vancouver Traffic. Another team whose handlers have the breaks to escape even the clutches of Brute Squad, Vancouver also has the downfield speed to make Boston pay on the break side. Boston was nearly knocked out in the Pro Flight Finale quarterfinals by Traffic, giving up an early lead before prevailing, 14-12.

  1. Katie Raynolds
    Avatar

    Katie Raynolds took a break from Seattle ultimate to test out the Midwestern scene, but now she's back in the Northwest to investigate this "bubble" she keeps hearing about. She played for Northwestern Gungho, two seasons with Chicago Nemesis, and now plays for Seattle Underground. Katie serves as Ultiworld's Women's D1 College Editor, and is damn proud to cover women's ultimate. You can reach her by email (katie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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