Payback Part 1: Fury Takes Down Riot in Semifinals

Fury continued their dominance over Riot in a spectacular semifinal.

Fury v. Riot at 2014 Nationals
Photo by Jolie Lang —

This was supposed to be the year things were different.

San Francisco Fury’s stranglehold on the National Championships had ended in 2013, when Scandal had emerged victorious. Riot had gone to the World Championships with a fully-loaded roster and came out with the gold medal. And for the first time in the last seven years, Fury was not the favorite to make finals.

Facing off against the recent World Champion, Fury had many challenges, but, like they have dozens of times in the last decade, they found a way to win.

The crowd, the intensity, and the excitement throughout the tournament made the game feel like a finals matchup. That’s no surprise, since the two have been in the championship game against each other so many times.

It started with Riot receiving on offense from the north endzone. The wind was coming from the northeast, meaning it would be at their back left shoulders throughout the point.

Immediately, the pace and defensive intensity of the first half became apparent. Three quick passes were fired off without hesitation before a pressure D from Sabrina Fong forced a turn. Equally quickly, Claire Desmond made a good grab in the endzone for the first break. Riot jogged away, Fury leading 1-0.

The next point began with a Fury footblock and a great layout catch from Nazarov that had SF threatening to go up by two, but the point proved to be sloppy. Both groups wanted to score fast and it caused mistakes early. A turn gave Riot a second chance; a great huck upwind to star Sarah “Surge” Griffith was caught and, two swings later, Kate Kingery was in the upwind endzone.

Tied 1-1, Riot was forcing backhand as Fury was moving down the field. Fury was moving very fast, almost too fast for their own offense and a miscue led to a turnover. Riot also began attacking quickly and there were multiple turns on the point before Riot got their third chance and McDonald hit Mercer for a break of their own. Up 2-1 Riot was pulling, on serve.

This would be the story of the early going of the game. Up and down excitement abounded. Both teams were turning on the speed, and each was bringing furious man defense early on. The anticipation of this matchup could not be overlooked either; no doubt these rivals had the adrenaline pumping.

Fury eventually settled down and scored to tie the game. Riot scored their own O and was up 3-2 and had a chance to break when a small disaster struck. A turnover happened and shortly afterward Sarah “Surge” Griffith went down with a twist and a small scream; it appeared to be a bad knee injury. She did not return, removing one powerful weapon from their squad.

Kelly Johnson picked up the team’s emotions almost immediately after the injury timeout, however. Chasing her offender under, she landed a huge layout block. Johnson played great defense all day, and was also a powerful offensive force later in the match.

But the great block would be followed by a Stern drop and Riot failed to extend their lead; Fury tied it up 3 all.

At this point in the match, both groups had broken the ice. Things had gone back and forth, each had chances, but the game was on serve and the defensive tone was set.

Fury Coach Matty Tsang’s gameplan going in was all defensive. “Our focus against them was really defensive. We really wanted to make it hard for their handlers, who are incredibly skilled, to get the disc upfield, especially on the breakmark side,” he said.

That gameplan was well executed. Riot’s strength, especially in terms of their disc movement, is their inside break and this was taken away for much of the game.

Kelly Johnson was the most aggressive handler near the redzone, and the only one from Seattle who would consistently attack the around break. She played strong, but smart, and didn’t record a turnover on the match. She made one great around flick to find Titcomb and put Riot up 5-3.

But San Francisco punched back.

“I think the big thing was that setting a defensive focus is actually pretty nice because you can lay that as the foundation,” said Tsang after the game. San Francisco was able to use their defensive strategy to keep them confident, despite the multiple turns and the pressure.

Two huge (and very difficult) grabs by Lisa Pitcaithley allowed Fury to march up the field to score a big hold. 5-4 Riot.

Fury then continued their defensive pressure, amping up the marks and tight defense and started to push on defensive offense.

First Fury snagged the disc and Kayla Jorgenson put up a high stall break backhand to Liz Duffy for the goal. That tied the game at five.

After multiple turnovers on the ensuing point, Narayan launched a big forehand into the partial upwind direction to Fletcher for the score. San Francisco was rolling, scoring three in a row to put them up 6-5.

Riot retook the lead with two straight scores, but it was Fury that took it to half. After an offensive hold, a Riot drop led to Nazarov hitting Finney for the 8-7 lead.

The crowd was buzzing after a thrilling first half. The tempo, the defense, the atmosphere; it really did feel like a championship game. The gameplay featured several long points with big plays, and multiple lead changes.

But there was an important format consequence for the length. Soft cap was about fifteen minutes away when Fury took the lead yet again, and they were set to receive after the back. With the ten minute half, that time was rapidly approaching and Riot was powerless to stop the seconds from sliding away from them.

Fury on offense after the half almost had a stumble. Nazarov hucked it away, but Duffy would get it back and Nazarov would catch a goal from Snyder for a hold that would give Fury even more momentum.

The teams traded points to 10-9, Fury, in a game to 12.

Riot threw zone, and again it seemed Fury had no trouble. The wind was present, but not hindering them nearly enough for such an experienced handler core to make a mistake, especially when the game was on the line. Yet Seattle still came up with a chance. In the short field, after a transition to man defense, Riot’s Katy Craley came up with a big layout block near the endzone.

But in transition, with Craley streaking deep, Mercer hucked it away.

Fury responded. Daryani threw to Narayan in the endzone and it was gamepoint, 11-9, forcing Riot to need to score three straight to win.

They took care of the first point. Riot scored to make it 11-10, Cardenas finding O’Malley downwind.

Again it was within one. Again it seemed like Riot might be able to mount a comeback, even with almost no time left on the clock. But Fury’s O would finish it.

There was only one chance. Kelly Johnson, who had been a presence all game for Seattle, had what appeared to be a great footblock at midfield. But immediately a foul was called, and immediately Johnson held up her hand and said, “No contest.” It was excellent spirt on a critical point.

Fury scored shortly thereafter. Pitcaithley hit Daryani to advance to the National final.

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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