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Whitman Claims First #1 Ranking With Win Over UCF in Stanford Final

Whitman emerges from Stanford as the team to beat.

Whitman's Alex Hardesty lays out against UCF's Shayna Brock in the Stanford Invite 2016 final. Photo: Rodney Chen -- UltiPhotos.com
Whitman’s Alex Hardesty lays out against UCF’s Shayna Brock in the Stanford Invite 2016 final. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

In a grueling battle of attrition, capping off a long tournament played under varying unpleasant conditions, Whitman was able to assert themselves over the Stanford Invite field and their fellow finalist, UCF, with a 13-10 victory in the final. The University of Central Florida — an east coast monster who has already won the Florida Winter Classic and Queen City Tune Up — squared off against a strong and deep Whitman squad. With a weekend full of wind, rain, and upsets, these two teams fought through not just the inclement weather, but the other top ranked opponents to reach the final.

On one side of the field were the Sirens of Central Florida with just a 12-person roster and a style of ultimate unseen on the west coast, or really anywhere. UCF, and their nasty zone defense, did not disappoint. On the other side we had the Whitman Sweets, stocked with the depth and skills to match up against the Sirens’ zone. UCF had earlier handed the team from Walla Walla their only loss of the weekend, in the first round on Saturday, to the tune of 10-8.

UCF jumped out to quick 4-1 lead thanks to the bag of dynamic throws from star handler Stephanie “Eli” Williams and the uncanny strength of offensive centerpiece Janina Freystaetter. This powerful duo connected frequently throughout the weekend. Complimenting their main offensive weapons, the Sirens’ three-person cup zone was living up to the reputation that had been scaring opposing teams this season and causing trouble for Whitman handlers.

To counter the duo of Freystaetter and Williams, Whitman assigned speedy sophomore Alissa Soo (#32) the responsibility of stopping Freystaetter. Soo used her quickness to slow Freystaetter, also just a sophomore, from getting open on her initiating cuts out of the Sirens’ vertical stack offense, and then swarming UCF’s small window resets. While Freystaetter was occasionally able to exploit Soo’s lack of height by taking off deep, the defense put a lot of pressure on Williams to find an open receiver downfield. Once Central Florida’s offensive rhythm was disrupted, Whitman’s offense settled in.

The Sweets went on an 7-1 run to take half up 8-5.

Whitman finally solved the Sirens’ zone as handlers Margo Heffron and Nina Finley looked calm with the disc, swinging it to open handlers and finding Claire Revere through the middle of the cup. Revere finished the game racking up five assists, maximizing on cutter to cutter connections once Whitman broke through the wall. With Freystaetter in the back of the zone eating up Finley’s deep shots, Whitman’s handlers opted to patiently move the front of the UCF zone before exploding through widening seams.

“I think the weather was much different, so their zone was a lot more hard to break in the bad weather than in the good,” said Finley after the game. “I think we also learned a lot more about how to break it. They [Sirens’ zone defense] taught us how to work together as handlers. So we took what we learned in the first game and used it in the rest of the games, including this one.”

UCF cutters Shayna Brock and Mia Griner filled in where Freystaetter was shut down. Both Brock and Griner used excellent cutting knowledge and field awareness, and had the tenacity to layout when necessary making them difficult match ups for Whitman. Griner started the game with two diving scores in the end zone.

However, Whitman’s calm demeanor on offense and ability to hit the gas pedal on defense ultimately lead them to victory. The Sweets distributed the disc across the board and relied heavily on their veteran players to maintain possessions while simultaneously leaning on their depth to win one-on-one match ups and grind out long points. They got large contributions from Marlena Sloss, Caitlin Scott, and Brenna Bailey, all tasked to harass UCF’s key offensive cogs.

What the game lacked in big momentum swing plays, it made up for in intelligence and grit. Both teams were forced to work through long slow points that spanned one side of the field to the other multiple times. When faced with Central Florida’s unique sets on both sides of the disc, Whitman made clever adjustments both from their Saturday encounter and the final itself. That allowed the Sweets to seize control of the pace and the scoreboard; they would not relinquish it.

  1. Ashley Young
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    Ashley, a native of Seattle, recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism with an emphasis in feature writing and multimedia. She played for Oregon Fugue, winning two National Championships during her career. You can follow her on Twitter @ashleyhopeyoung.

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