Riot Revenge: Seattle Claims #1 With Win Over Brute Squad

Riot exhausted Brute Squad and took care of business in the Pro-Elite final.

Photo: Ken Forman --
Photo: Ken Forman —

Seattle Riot finally got the better of Boston Brute Squad, defeating them 13-10 in the final of the Pro-Elite Challenge on Sunday. The last four meetings between the teams – including for the 2015 Club Championship and in the 2016 US Open final – had all gone to Boston. But Riot turned the tables, reclaiming the #1 ranking for the first time since the 2015 preseason.

The result followed the trends of the weekend. Riot was playing the best ultimate at the tournament, having just mopped up Phoenix and Molly Brown in succession in quarters and semis. After a rocky 13-9 win over Heist to start pool play, nobody came closer to Riot than five goal final deficits. Meanwhile, a usually dominant Brute Squad had been less efficient in their games.

The inefficiencies of the reigning champion really put them behind and Riot ensured they could never recover. Boston’s performance was littered with mechanical errors in throwing, from short-armed swings to throws behind receivers, that gave Riot defenders good looks at blocks. Their O-line handlers combined for seven throwaways.

“I think our O line was tired,” said Brute Squad star handler, Leila Tunnell, who had a pair of turnovers and no assists.1 “You could see in our execution — our O-line wasn’t firing on all cylinders like we should be.”

Riot capitalized quickly, punching in successive breaks to begin the game after unforced throwaways by Tunnell and fellow handler Claudia Tajima. Boston turned to their D-line to get the ensuing holds, one of three holds their defensive unit would be pushed into getting to keep Brute Squad afloat. Jillian Goodreau and Shellie Cohen traded great sideline scores before Boston took advantage of their first break chance to tie, 3-3.

From there, Seattle went on a 4-1 run to take the half at 7-4. That run was highlighted by a beautiful skying grab by Kirstin Gruver over Laura Bitterman for a Riot break. They also benefited from a Qxhna Titcomb footblock that protected a hold.

In the second half, Riot slowed things down a bit with some zone looks. Their space-based defenses had not been effective in the first half, with person coverage proving better at capitalizing on Brute’s misfires. But the change to a 3-3-1 with aggressive play from the middle of the second level really threw Boston off their game. Even when Seattle began to give the disc up more frequently, and Boston brought the lead down to two, they held off Boston’s comeback attempts.

“Riot always challenges us on D and that was a zone look that was different than what they’ve run against us before. It took us a while to figure out,” said Tunnell.

“The way we beat them was satisfying,” said Riot coach Andy Lovseth after the win. “We were running. That’s their thing, but that’s also our thing. We can run. So that’s gratifying.”

All of that hard running kept the short rotation of Boston from ever recovering in the thin Colorado air. Brute Squad played about 14 players in the final and had to bring over Kami Groom to the offense frequently. Groom was one of the top performers for Brute Squad, tallying four goals and two assists, including a wild catch from her stomach after she fell on a cut. Along with Cassie Wong and Amber Sinicrope, whose stat lines don’t reflect how effective they were for Boston, Groom led the way when many of the team’s stars faltered.

“Getting broken is not something that we’re used to having happen and there was a lot of that,” said Tunnell. She added that complacency was also an issue for them. “There was a lot of resting on our laurels a little bit. It’s tough being in Colorado and running a tight rotation on the O line, and we have tighter games, so we’re going to get tired faster.”

Riot’s new vertical offense looked smooth at points and bumpy at others. They were running a lot of resets from the front of the stack and got bogged down by poor cutting and a lack of comfort in that offense, particularly in the second half. But their throwers’ ability to attack the break side got them out of tight spots and also generated some very easy offensive possessions that preserved their energy. Without handler Alyssa Weatherford, Julia Snyder and Paige Soper were asked to take on more touches and responded excellently. Snyder led the team with five assists, one goal, one block, and a throwaway. Hana Kawai also added a pair of goals and assists with just one turnover, while Sarah Griffith – out with an injury during the US Open final – contributed two goals, an assist, a block, and just one throwaway.

“Their defensive prowess is in taking away two things on D. Most teams always take away one, but they are able to take away two things often,” said Riot coach Gwen Ambler. “It’s on the offense to be dynamic and [make] three things available.”

Defensively, Riot takes a lot of risks in person defense. Their defenders are constantly adjusting and constantly looking at the thrower for chances to attack. Sometimes it doesn’t work, like at 2-2, when Snyder just sat in a lane rather than staying with her check, Shellie Cohen, who soon scored on a huck. But other times, it manipulates throwing windows and cutting lanes to confuse offenses. The same skills help in their zone and junk looks.

“If we play good defense, it puts pressure on their offense,” said Lovseth. “They got out of rotation three or four times. They didn’t have their first squad D team on their all the time. That gives us different opportunities than what they want to have.”

Seattle did a great job creating an opportunity to beat Brute Squad and held them out of the game with intelligence and grit. In doing so, they demonstrated that they do have what it takes to fell the reigning National champion and thorn in their side. It’s only midseason, but Riot has to be pleased with proving they have the goods.

  1. Tunnell had four assists and one turnover in the 2016 US Open final vs. Riot 

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