October 4, 2015 by Daniel Prentice in Analysis with 1 comments
The best rivalry in ultimate saw yet another chapter added in a final four matchup at a major tournament on Saturday. Riot and Fury have played so many incredible games over the years and the matchup is filled with so many story lines that when the two teams each won their quarterfinal games on Friday, their semifinal matchup instantly became one of the most tantalizing games of Semifinals Saturday.
In elimination games in the world’s biggest tournaments over the last decade, Fury has absolutely owned Riot (and pretty much the entire division, to be fair) but Riot has turned the tide in the series lately, posting a 2-2 record over the last two years coming into Nationals.
Riot demonstrated what it thought of the all-time series between the two powerhouses, convincingly turning the series’ history on its head in a game that it was resoundingly better in from beginning to end.
Veteran Gwen Ambler, who arguably played her best game of the tournament in the semis, said, “We were expecting a battle. Every time we play Fury it’s a game that I feel like brings out the best in both teams and so we were expecting to have to bring our A game to be in it.”
Ambler, who provides an especially intriguing perspective on the rivalry, having played on both sides of it, said that defeating Fury in an elimination game at Nationals is something she and the team have been building toward since she joined the Seattle club in 2009. In spite of the “bitter sweetness” that comes with ending the season of friends and former teammates, Ambler seemed to appreciate how big of a win and accomplishment this was for the program.
Another player with a unique emotional connection to this game was Sarah Griffith, one of the true stars of the division. Griffith has been around for a good number of the battles with Fury over the last 10 years, including the infamous 2008 Nationals final game, but more poignantly tore her ACL in the exact same game a year ago. When asked about the injury, Griffith has an interesting take on it. She was about as positive as one could be about such a serious injury, saying “one of the really bright sides of my injury was the growth the rest of my team has made.” She elaborated, “I think there were a lot of times in the past where people would defer to me, consciously or unconsciously and now it’s really just 27 weapons running around the field.”
When asked if this win meant a little extra due to the opponents, Griffith said, “I think it would be a lie to say it doesn’t.”
Though that seemed to have less to do with the previous outcomes than the intensity of the games respect of them as rivals, as she explained, “Every time we play them it is a hard game. It is a mentally and physically intense game. We know that they’re one of the best too. You have to beat them if you want to take the title.”
Ambler and Griffith were both sure to note that in spite of the win, Riot has not yet achieved its goals for the season. Anything short of a win over Brute Squad in the final would still leave the season a disappointment for a team that aspires to be the best in the division, not just better than Fury.
That said, this win, especially because of it was achieved so convincingly, has to be considered a potential marker for the future of the division.
Riot very much appears to be on the up, slowly but surely shaking a reputation for not being able to win the biggest games on the biggest stages while Fury seems to be in a state of transition. A few players that have been pillars of the team’s success over the last decade are aging and the team is now under a new coaching staff. Fury is not leaving the scene as a national powerhouse any time soon, but this is now two years of missing out on number one at Nationals and a changing of the guard could be taking place.
In the final against Brute Squad, Riot will look to take another step toward taking their place as the best team in the world.