Notre Dame Continues Dominance In Midwest Throwdown Final

An upset-filled Midwest Throwdown concluded with a matchup between surprisingly dominant Notre Dame and veteran laden Chicago, showing the Great Lakes region is not going away quietly.

Midwest ThrowdownOn Sunday, Notre Dame Womb took care of University of Chicago Supersnatch in the Midwest Throwdown final, winning decisively, 14-8. Notre Dame looked like the most dominant team in St. Louis all weekend, and their consistency earned them a banner win. With some top ranked teams in attendance, the victory was the cherry on top of an upset-filled weekend.

What does this final match up mean? Before Sunday, two Great Lakes women’s teams have never met in the final of a major tournament.* Seriously. The meteoric rise of U Chicago out of Tier II and the dominance of Notre Dame will probably not influence the bid allocations nationwide, but closer to home they could have big regional implications come April.

The teams took differing paths to the title game. University of Chicago arrived at the final after clawing their way through three grueling bracket games against Minnesota in prequarters (12-10), Northwestern in quarters (14-7), and Texas in the semifinals (15-8). That’s three programs that have been to nationals in the past three years and are top competitors in their respective regions. Notre Dame, on the other hand, had cruised through their side of the bracket, beating Wisconsin-Eau Claire 15-1 and Grinnell 15-4. Their first and strongest challenge came from Iowa State, who gave Notre Dame hell in the semifinals.

Wind had been minimal for most of the weekend, but it picked up for the final, giving both contenders a new element to work against.

Chicago scored first with an easy look from Leah Kessler (Great Lakes FOTY 2014) to captain Jesse Handler for the score. Notre Dame responded with a downwind score of their own, and the final looked, for just a moment, like it may become a classic windy quid pro quo. Both teams looked rushed, throwing to spaces not yet developed or looking for plays that weren’t there yet.

But at 2-2 Notre Dame earned the game’s first break. From there, they took over.

Womb has a solid roster of taller players who can skillfully read the disc in the air. Many of their defensive opportunities came from questionable away looks by Chicago, but the Notre Dame defenders were able to capitalize with conviction, always landing the swill. Sophomore Julia Butterfield and freshman Sarah Lipscomb were both fierce midfield defenders for Womb as well as huge deep targets for Kelsey Fink’s bombs.

Supersnatch continued to force forehands up a crowded sideline; one such punt found Chicago’s Amanda Dobbyn bidding in the upwind endzone to save the point, with Notre Dame’s Amalia Carmona close behind. Despite a foul call, Chicago couldn’t close, and Notre Dame marched back downwind, with Fink finding Mary Kate Anderson in the endzone to seal another break, 4-2.

Notre Dame continued to capitalize on Chicago’s mistakes, gaining another break upwind and another downwind, led by phenomenal play from Kelsey Fink. Fink tirelessly worked the handler resets, looking for the disc on every other throw. Her first look was always 30 yards out, but she wasn’t trigger happy. Fink struggled more to connect downfield with her receivers in this game than she had for most of the tournament, but Notre Dame adjusted, finding short range options. Much of Womb’s success came from cutters who knew what Fink wanted and when.

Chicago fought back to earn an offensive point, but they were never able to effectively work the disc upwind. This struggle stemmed from players’ fatigue: Handler, an All-Region selection last year, played 21 of the 22 points. She has undeniable raw talent: Handler can throw a full field flick from a standstill, and she is just as dangerous streaking deep. But fatigue started to show in Handler’s decisions and throws upwind during the final.

Almost every point Handler punted a flick upwind to a hopeful Chicago receiver, but very few were successful, and many of these failed away looks gave Fink the prime opportunity to boost the disc downwind again. Chicago seemed unable to grind through the many tough under cuts it would take to move possession upwind, and they struggled to keep up with the countless Notre Dame women in the deep space on every turn.

Notre Dame took half 8-4. In typical Notre Dame fashion, they spent the halftime dancing and singing while their opponents hydrated and pored over what they were doing wrong.

Chicago pulled to Notre Dame and earned a turn and a chance to score in the upwind endzone quickly. Yet Lipscomb produced an impressive low D in the endzone, and Womb went careening back downwind on a huge put to Butterfield, who found Carmona for the score to make it 9-4.

Chicago had strong moments in the second half, but they were never able to close the margin meaningfully because they couldn’t force Notre Dame to do anything Womb didn’t want to do. Notre Dame seized the opportunity and never let go. Butterfield and Mary Kate Anderson went uncontested in the deep space while Fink tuned her throws to float over their defenders’ heads.

At 11-6 Chicago threw a zone on Notre Dame, and it worked; Handler capitalized with an easy assist to Caroline Owens for the score, 11-7. After a Notre Dame hold, Supersnatch’s zone worked again, with Notre Dame going upwind, prompting the question late in the game of what the final could have looked like if Chicago had fresh legs and a more nuanced defensive strategy.

It was too late and Notre Dame was too deadly on offense. They responded downwind with an incredible grab from Butterfield, who then launched a crossfield look to a bidding Anderson for the point, 13-8.

That point showcased Notre Dame’s signature offensive style, and why it worked better than any other team’s strategy at the tournament. Consistently through the weekend, Womb had deep cutters beginning their cuts before the handlers had the disc, anticipating a play instead of reacting. Deep cuts always initiated from the opposite third, giving Notre Dame plenty of space to work with. This pattern is best practice, yet most top teams this weekend isolated their offensive movements to the same third. Notre Dame wasn’t uncovering new offensive strategies; they were executing better than everyone else.

The game was capped at 14. The day was fading, and most people had left except the Notre Dame men’s team and tournament staff. Everyone had witnessed Notre Dame’s deep game all weekend. Everyone had watched fifth year senior Kelsey Fink take over games, playing most points and hammering the deep space with hucks.

Few people had a chance to watch their final point of the weekend. But that point arguably spells more trouble for the Great Lakes than anything else Notre Dame did this weekend. For the first time all game, Fink, Handler, and Dobbyn all sat the point. Notre Dame started on defense but quickly regained possession and Chicago set a zone. Going upwind, Womb patiently worked the zone, finding cutters in open spaces with composure and skill as the wind picked up. When they found the opportunity, Womb send a beautiful cross field huck into the upwind endzone to a ready and waiting receiver to win, 14-8.

After the game, the Notre Dame men’s and women’s teams gathered into a massive, jubilant huddle around the men’s coach, Dave Hoffman.

“Everyone will know Notre Dame ultimate now. Everyone knows who Womb is,” said Hoffman. He was right.

Some of Womb’s biggest playmakers in the final were freshmen and sophomores, and they’re already playing with the chemistry of longtime veterans. Notre Dame is more than Kelsey Fink’s hucks and that should worry every team in the region.

University of Chicago should scare GL teams for a different reason: this year they have 12 seniors, including Handler, Dobbyn, Yevi Reschechtko, and Caroline Owens. They know it’s their “now or never” season, and the team looks to be the best it’s been in years. With Kessler in tow, this is not the last you’ll see of Chicago.

Even if the Great Lakes doesn’t secure another bid, the region claimed a small slice of history this weekend, and planted their flag on the college season’s landscape.

*Great Lakes women’s teams have met in the final of mostly in-region Chicago Invite, but only twice in the tournament’s 8-year history, still a shocking stat for a tournament that’s 85% GL teams.

  1. Katie Raynolds

    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 ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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