For the first time in 10 years, the women's division champion won't be Fury or Scandal. Who will claim the honor?
October 4, 2015 by Keith Raynor in Preview with 0 comments
After a decade of being denied, Seattle and Boston women’s will have their chance to bring the championship home. They’ve come so close so many times. Four times, they reached this point and still fallen short; eight of their seasons ended in the semifinals. For ten years, only San Francisco Fury and Washington D.C. Scandal have been handed USAU’s gold medals. Today, Seattle Riot and Boston Brute Squad will take the field for the title, and one team will etch their names into history, beginning a new decade of women’s ultimate.
To be clear, in the past 20 years, Seattle and Boston are the only cities besides San Francisco and D.C. to win the championship. Boston, in fact, ties Fury’s lead with seven championships in those 20 years, exclusively through the Lady Godiva dynasty. Riot, much like Scandal, snagged a pair of back to back spots atop the podium in 2004 and 2005. Boston’s last victory was 2002. But only two of these players – Shannon O’Malley, currently injured, and Dom Fontenette, then with Boston – were there for any of these championships.
Both teams are playing at the top of their game. Each has passed the tests along the way, acing their semifinals exam in complete end-to-end victories over teams that clearly asserted themselves as the next best. Their defenses carved out an early lead and the control, poise, and skill of their offenses proved too oppressive for the opposition to ever escape. It looks like each defense is in for its toughest test yet. The final is the final and we’re grading on a curve.
It isn’t hard to see why the offensive units have been so dominant. The talent and experience is nearly unmatched. Brute Squad’s traditional group of Leila Tunnell, Paula Seville, and Claudia Tajima in the backfield is complemented by Lien Hoffmann, Laura Bitterman, Becky Malinowski, and Courtney Kiesow. As you’ve probably heard, that’s three Callahan winners and a couple of finalists for good measure. Riot trots out Alyssa Weatherford, Rohre Titcomb, Gwen Ambler, with Sarah Griffith, Hana Kawai, Calise Cardenas, and Fiona McKibben, though they flex out a bit more to the likes of Julia Snyder and Dom Fontenette. Legends of the game, Team USA stars, and All-Club selections abound.
“Stopping their o-line and converting is the biggest thing,” said Riot coach Andy Lovseth. “Getting breaks on them is hard because their O-line is so good. I think we have an opportunity to hold on offense so let’s get those breaks on D.”
The wind is on neither roster, but could end up a major player. All signs point to it contributing more to Boston than to the Northwest champions. Leila Tunnell and Paula Seville set a high bar for wind throwing, particularly Tunnell’s gamechanging power and daring. Boston defeated Riot in the wind in their only two matchups of the season, including the Pro Flight Finale final, and outperformed Molly Brown in the wind in the semifinals. Those conditions make the inside breaks that Riot loves tougher and makes tighter windows that Boston’s defensive athletes can slam shut once the disc is up. Cue Kami Groom and her 11 total recorded blocks at the tournament, almost double that of anybody else on either roster.
“Even when the other team gets a couple of passes in a row, we do our best not to fall behind,” explained Brute Squad captain Emily Baecher. “Sometimes, when the D falls behind the momentum, it feels like everyone is open, but we do our best to really clamp down on all parts of the field.”
For Riot to earn their first title in 10 years, they’ll need to find a way to generate some momentum to put their offense in the driver’s seat. A hard days work lies ahead of Lauren Sadler, Angelica Boyden, Kelly Johnson, and young star Jaclyn Verzuh. They form the defensive core of Riot, and Johnson, Sadler, and Sarah Davis are some of the team’s favorite attack dogs versus opposing handlers. They frustrated Anna Nazarov and Alex Snyder throughout Riot’s battle with Fury on Saturday night and will be asked to make huge plays against an offensive group that has given up little ground and a handling unit that has rendered marks ineffective at nearly every turn. If Boston is going sideline to sideline, Riot’s defense will not last long.
Boston will be challenged with the speed and intelligence of the Riot cutting group. Sarah Griffith is looking like the player who was dominating every matchup a year and a half ago, and Cardenas, McKibben, and the versatile Kawai create matchup problems consistently. They can take into their depth for even more velocity: Fontenette, Kate Kingery, and Rachel Bradshaw have wheels as well. Having to guard these threats when exceptional break throwers are targeting them is a tall task that Groom, Becca Ludford, and Chelsea Murphy will need to be in top form to compete with. Boston’s own handler defenders – Emily Baecher, Cassie Wong, and Amber Sinicrope – are a strike force that rivals Riot’s, but have their work cut out for them against opportunistic and seasoned throwers.
With both teams playing so well and loaded with so much talent, it is hard to peg a favorite. Boston’s the #1 overall seed and 2-0 in the matchup, so it is logical to assign them to slight edge. Riot, however, began this season as the early favorite and Seattle’s roster has more experience, more finals, and more titles under their belt. When the dust settles, we’ll begin a new decade in women’s ultimate, with a new champion leading the way.