Pro Flight Finale 2015: Tournament Recap (Women’s)

Wind, wind, wind.

Brute Squad's Paula Seville. Photo: Alex Fraser --
Brute Squad’s Paula Seville. Photo: Alex Fraser —

The highly anticipated conclusion to the 2015 regular season was marred by an uninvited guest: intense and unrelenting winds. Winds big enough to be the subject of the recap’s first sentence. They warped games into something that resembled, but maybe wasn’t quite actually, ultimate on Saturday and into a more recognizable but still displeasing version on Sunday.

Despite wild conditions (including a lightning-influenced shift in schedules that sent the final round of pool play to early Sunday morning), the results still fell mostly to expectations. The top four ranked teams — the elite tier of the division — found themselves playing to win their respective pools to end pool play and crossing over with one another for the semifinals. For the second straight Finale, it was Boston Brute Squad who was definitively triumphant over Seattle Riot, after Riot was taken to the brink in their semifinal. Boston’s 13-9 victory granted them the glory, the check, and potentially the number #1 overall seed at the Club Championships.

Brute Squad looked very comfortable with the weather, relative to the other teams in the division.

“We really just focused on not being sad about the weather,” said Brute Squad captain Becky Malinowski, who pointed to the team’s mental game as a key factor. “Because of that, we were a lot more fearless in the wind.”

Their skilled handler group, anchored by Leila Tunnell, attacked the wind. Cutters were available for short continues and were capable release valves when the handlers needed it. Emily Baecher and Amber Sinicrope marshaled to the D-line to the key breaks they needed to go undefeated, including a three point run to come back against Riot in pool play for 10-9 victory.

“It was an incredible pool play game,” said Malinowski. “It really punished [Riot] to lose that, because they had to play that game in the middle before the semifinals.”

That loss shuttled Riot into yet another battle in the storied rivalry between them and Fury. The semifinal was close throughout, and this time, Riot held off a late push from their opponent, with a hold on double game point to advance back to the final. But in the final, Seattle was constantly stifled by the roaring crosswind and stubborn Boston defense. With little offensive movement – particularly for their defensive unit – to fight back against Brute Squad, Riot found themselves down 7-4 at half.

On Saturday, in the intense upwind-downwind of pool play, Riot crushed all comers. A 38-13 score differential had them looking like a favorite to win the tournament. Not far behind were fellow semifinalists, Fury and Denver Molly Brown. Fury looked strong, and came up just short. Molly Brown, in their first Pro Flight Finale, took their lumps, going 0-3 against the other semifinalists, including getting decimated by Brute Squad in the semifinals. However, the four semifinalists were undefeated against the rest of the field, with the closest margin against that group at three goals.

Scandal, looking to fight their way into that cohort, fell flat with a somewhat shortened roster. In the intense winds, missing handlers Kath Ratcliff and Allison Maddux was difficult, and they were without Coach Alex Ghesquiere. They suffered disappointing losses to Showdown and Nightlock and were summarily outplayed by teams ranked above them. The conditions make it tough to discern what their results mean, but when other elite teams are experiencing such success, it’s a bit unnerving to see Scandal scuffling, even if it’s not entirely unfamiliar.

Meanwhile, Showdown came in with perhaps more to play for than any other team, battling for a crucial second bid for the South Central. They needed close losses to teams above them and couldn’t afford to be overtaken by teams below them (Nemesis, Viva) in the USAU rankings. They came through, beating Nemesis 10-7 to open the weekend and scoring a critical 11-8 W against Scandal. Those results should secure the South Central the second bid they sorely needed.

The takeaways from this year’s Pro Flight Finale are up to interpretation. The effects of the consistently fierce winds defined the weekend. Yet that failed to produce any surprising results. The dominance of the top four ranked teams established them on a different level than the rest of the division, and that balance was rarely disturbed. By Nationals, perhaps Ozone, Showdown, Traffic, or Scandal will be able to score an upset, but there isn’t much to indicate that’s in the cards, while the evidence is strong that this year’s champion lies within the foursome at the top.

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