Riot Holds Off Surging Traffic To Reach Final

Riot's Charlie Mercer goes for the block against Traffic's Terri Whitehead.. Photo: Jolie Lang --
Riot’s Charlie Mercer goes for the block against Traffic’s Terri Whitehead.. Photo: Jolie Lang —

In what was supposed to be the biggest mismatch of Saturday’s semifinals, Vancouver Traffic defied expectations and gave defending US Open champions Seattle Riot everything they could handle. What had the makings of a routine win for Riot turned into an absolute classic, certainly one of the best games of the weekend, as Riot squeaked past Traffic 15-14 on double game point.

After defeating Scandal to earn a berth in the semis, Traffic was not content with merely knocking off one giant atop the women’s division. They brought an intensity and resolve into their game with Riot that resonated with everyone in attendance, proving to both themselves and the world that they are capable of going round for round with the top teams.

Traffic could have collapsed after Riot took it to them early in the game, establishing a quick 5-2 lead. Jaclyn Verzuh, the 18 year old Riot phenom, was undeniable in the early going for Seattle. On the third point of the game she skied an entire pile of Traffic players for a score, and just two points later earned bookends by following up an impressive block with a layout grab for the score.

With Seattle leading by three, Traffic looked in danger of folding. They had committed several sloppy turns on offense and were unable to stop Riot’s defense from rolling downfield. After calling a timeout, Vancouver’s coach Jeff Cruickshank told his team they needed to regain their composure.

“I told them that they [Riot] were at 5, but the game is to 15 and there is a long way to go,” said Cruickshank. “At that point we bounced back, and responded very well.”

Traffic came out of the timeout and hit on a quick huck to trim the lead to two. The pressure was now on Riot’s offense to answer, but Traffic’s D-line came alive, getting two quick breaks to tie the game 5-5. In this small run, Traffic discovered the formula that led to much of their success on the day: tight handler D and aggressive deep shots off of turnovers. Riot’s offensive handling core had a lot of trouble getting open for clean resets, resulting in several turnovers.

The teams would play fairly even from 5-5 until (with Riot leading 11-9) Vancouver’s defense found another level. The shutdown handler defense from Yayuk Joffres and the rest of Traffic’s D-line continued to harass Riot’s Rohre Titcomb and Gwen Ambler in the backfield, and downfield junk looks suffocated the cutting lanes, forcing Riot to work through their blanketed handlers.

Traffic got their first break of the second half after a huge layout from Terri Whitehead, and tacked on two more in succession as Riot’s offense looked bereft of answers and struggling to contain Traffic’s deep game off of turnovers.

Suddenly, Traffic found themselves with a 12-11 lead, what would prove to be the high water mark for the Vancouver team. Given three shots at a break after more sloppy offense from Riot, Traffic just could not convert, and Riot finally scored to stop the bleeding and tie the game at 12-12. A few points later, a throwaway from Traffic lead to a Riot break when Lauren Sadler came down with a floaty huck to give Seattle a 14-13 lead.

After holding to force double game point, Traffic got a block on a Gwen Ambler huck, but were denied a chance at the win by a full extension layout from Verzuh on an in-cut. Riot would work the disc to the brink of the endzone, and Kelly Johnson found Hana Kawai with a nice around backhand that sealed a spot in the finals for Seattle.

Johnson, who ended the game with two goals and three assists, was simply heroic for Riot all afternoon, moving over from the D-line to help Riot get key holds down the stretch. She may not be the best pure thrower on Seattle’s roster, but her quickness and ability to throw on the move were vital in overcoming the tight pressure applied by Traffic’s handler covers.

It was a gut wrenching loss for Traffic, but despite the defeat, coach Cruickshank remained upbeat. “We showed our capability to beat just about anybody,” he said.

It was a tremendous contest between the two Northwest teams, and with plenty of season left there is a good chance we might get to see another thrilling game between them later in the year.

Riot will rematch with San Francisco Fury in Sunday’s final. Riot won their earlier game in pool play 15-10.

  1. Patrick Stegemoeller

    Patrick Stegemoeller is a Senior Staff Writer for Ultiworld, co-host of the Sin The Fields podcast, and also a lawyer who lives in Brooklyn.

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