Florida Winter Classic 2019: Tournament Recap (Women’s)

The women's division season opening event closed with a tremendous final!

Ohio State's Sadie Jezierski (left) and Dartmouth's Jack Verzuh (right).

Ohio State’s Sadie Jezierski (left) and Dartmouth’s Jack Verzuh (right). Photos: Rodney Chen and Billy Dzwonkowski — UltiPhotos.com

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GAINESVILLE, FL — Titans clashed in the final of Florida Winter Classic. When the dust cleared, #1 Dartmouth Princess Layout walked away with a 14-13 victory over #5 Ohio State Fever. It was a spectacular game that, in retrospect, relegated every other noteworthy moment from the tournament to undercard status.

A Heavyweight Clash

Ohio State had looked like the better team throughout the weekend, particularly in dismantling Southeast hopefuls Georgia and Florida in the Saturday crossover and semifinal, respectively. Fever is a team’s team. They lean heavily on sideline energy and on-field trust, and they get major contributions in any given game from up and down the roster. None of those contributions came as a surprise to long-time coach Deanna Ball. “People we expected to step up showed that they will,” she said, referring to at least a dozen players. The support system at Ohio State is strong enough that everyone feels confident enough to make a big play.

Which is not to say that the team doesn’t have bona fide stars. Sadie Jezierski looked dialed in, shooting brilliantly from any point on the field and taking her trademark athleticism to another level. She might be the most talented player in the division. Annelise Peters ran the offense beautifully from the center handler position, breaking the mark and sending touch throws to space with ease. Cara Sieber and Emily Barrett both have the kind of strong all-around game that leads regularly to takeover points on either offense or defense. Stacy Lu’s matchup defense seems like it was distilled out of a cutter’s nightmare.

Fever took a little while to get out of what Ball calls “practice mode” on Saturday during pool play, letting themselves be challenged in admittedly strong games from Georgia Tech and Florida. But even so, it’s clear that they are a legitimate title contender this year.

Princess Layout, on the other hand, looked a little shaky on Saturday. Victories of 13-8 over UNC Wilmington and 11-7 over Georgia from the two-time defending champion, while not so close that either game was in doubt, were an odd look. Even the 10-3 line over Florida State is a little misleading: FSU broke to start the game, and their zone gave Dartmouth fits the entire first half. Stars Jack Verzuh, Caitlyn Lee, and Claire Trop made a lot of great plays — Lee looked particularly dangerous — but they also threw a ton of turnovers. Lauded freshman Caroline Tornquist showed off impeccable fundamentals and a fine understanding of the game, but she was more like a steady roleplayer than another whetted arrow in Dartmouth’s quiver. It’s true that Dartmouth was using the weekend to incorporate rookies into the system; it’s true that they de-emphasized their big three somewhat in calling lines and running plays; it’s true that the nuances of the quarter system at Dartmouth College leave the team shorthanded in the early portion of every spring season — and it’s true that throughout pool play, as well as in a semifinal match against Georgia, the champs were vulnerable.

And then the final began.

Dartmouth shed their earlier struggles and played with confidence as soon as the opening pull went up, marching the disc up the field with a dozen perfect throws against a tight Fever defense before Tornquist found Lee for the game’s first point. The dominance carried over into their next two defensive points, both times resulting in breaks. Ohio State couldn’t find a window to move the disc much farther than the brick, particularly with the a gusty crosswind buttressing Dartmouth’s iron resolve. Fever managed a clean hold on their third try, but two points later Princess Layout held a 5-1 lead. The way they were playing — unfazed by the wind, with the whole roster working as a unit and the big three looking close to untouchable — the four point advantage seemed likely to stand up.

Ohio State turned it over again on their next point without managing to take a shot on goal, and it felt like the makings of another break for Princess Layout. Sieber, bidding with abandon all weekend long, flew in to try to get a hand on a pass to Trop — she was an inch short of the block, but the effort energized Fever. Trop’s deep shot turned over in the wind just enough to sail out of Tornquist’s reach, and a battle began for the game’s seventh point. Neither defense willingly gave up so much as a simple reset. Barrett and Trop switched on to each other, making for one of the best matchups of the tournament. They traded blocks as their teams exchanged gritty possessions. Eventually, Sieber tracked down a goal, but OSU still trailed by two breaks.

Dartmouth’s lead lasted exactly three more points. Jezierski sent jaws all over the complex plummeting to the ground with an incredible play. Finally shaking free of a stingy Verzuh on her fourth cut, she launched an OI backhand to the endzone from the low side to a receiver beginning her run at midfield on the high side. Somehow — somehow — the throw traveled 55 yards out of bounds, but held its edge to curve back into the end zone against the wind and hung up long enough for her receiver, who sprinted at least as far as the throw traveled, to run it down. A shaken Dartmouth made early mistakes on each of the next two offensive points, both scores for Barrett.

The game remained essentially tied from then on. Ohio State sophomore Kat Sandstrom, whose great performance this weekend was almost camouflaged against Fever’s teamwide excellence, made a huge play to bring in a goal just before half. Claire Trop, typically dominant as a cutter, diced up Ohio State’s zones with a dazzling complement of penetrating forehands. Cara Sieber hit back with a few devastating crossfield backhands, a hallmark of her game. Caitlyn Lee and Annelise Peters both took turns in the spotlight as every-other field generals. Jack Verzuh changed the shape of the game every point they played with their intelligence and determination at least as much as their imposing stature and complete arsenal of polished throws. They made heads-up switches on defense at a moment’s notice and freed up big cutting spaces for their teammates.

A big backhand from Lee looked like it was going to seal up the first half for Princess Layout. Verzuh made an enormous bid, and it looked to everyone like they caught it. They got up, however, and indicated they had bobbled the disc slightly as they hit the ground. It was a display of Spirit of the Game that should be the standard. A Jezierski huck to Barrett put Fever in range of the break, and they punched it in for a 8-7 lead at the half.

Dartmouth earned the break back right out of half. That’s around when Caroline Tornquist decided to show everyone that she could be a star almost on the level of her three vaunted teammates. If any single player made the difference in this heavyweight bout — an uncertain idea, but bear with me — it was Tornquist. She found another gear and a higher purpose as she streaked through the defense, scoring several goals for the national champions, and adding on a couple of stone-cold assists for good measure. It’s a hard enough task to contain three top-of-the-division players on defense; in Tornquist, Dartmouth may have a fourth.

Dartmouth broke decisively on the game’s 23rd point with the score tied 11-11. A booming Jezierski huck, looking for Barrett, carried two yards too long. Lee led the offense to midfield through a zone. Ohio State transitioned to a person look; huge bids from Sieber and Lu on open-side unders testified to the importance of the point, but Dartmouth remained stalwart through the pressure. Tornquist finished the job with a precise flick inside to Trop. Both teams held for the next few points until the horn sounded for hard cap, giving Dartmouth the game.

The final was college ultimate at its best, a fantastic demonstration of nervy throws, max-effort runs, improbable blocks, late-stall finds, and the joy of a game played extremely well. The stars played like stars, and the role-players played like stars. Those of us able to witness it were lucky.

The Undercard

Aside from the performance of the top two teams, the most notable story of the weekend was the first look at several contenders from the Southeast Region.

Saturday marked the beginning of the Marie Perivier era for Georgia Athena. The sky is the limit for the rangy in-state recruit.1 She doesn’t quite have the polish of Dartmouth’s Tornquist, or even of sophomore teammate Josie Veal at this tournament last year. But she showed the ability to explode for a big play at any moment, with powerful throws, dynamic footwork in small spaces, and a nose for weak points in the defense.

“We are lucky to have three players who are quite experienced, thanks to [club team] Ozone and the Atlanta ultimate community,” said first-year coach Javid Aceil about Veal, Perivier, and senior captain Alex Fairley, who reprised her role from the last two seasons as an expert in downfield spacing and relentless goal-scorer.

The team had more than just the play of those three to feel good about: putting up two respectable games against Dartmouth, overcoming a multi-break deficit against a tough Florida State squad to eke out a quarterfinal victory, and finishing third overall with an emphatic win over regional rivals, Florida. But they have some work to do, too. “We need to settle with the disc,” said Fairley bluntly. They looked less than competitive against Ohio State in the last round on Saturday, and they dropped far too many open passes on the weekend. Still, Athena did a good job mixing in their whole roster, and they have set themselves up early as the team to beat in the region.

Florida Fuel spent a significant portion of their pregame warm-ups on Saturday tracking down hucks from coach Dustin Travaglini. It was a clear announcement of their prerogatives. They sent up deep shots early and often, with receivers who were always ready to bring them down.

More often than not, Gabby Krajniak was on one end of those connections. She is a force unto herself. Personable off the field and vicious between the lines, Krajniak was the player Florida looked toward when they needed a hero. There is an aura of willpower about her that leads to her constantly bringing down discs in heavy coverage, or blasting backhands beyond the reach of the defense. In an isolation vert stack system like Florida’s, that can be enough.

Tessa Ricker and Jenn Maresca had solid weekends for Fuel, as did new handler Janina Freystaetter. “We have a lot of young players who like to rush everything. Janina’s great because she counteracts them and controls the pace of the game,” said Travaglini. Florida did not play a great game against Georgia for third place, but they made it clear enough during the rest of the tournament that they are not stepping aside in any way, despite heavy turnover from last year’s Nationals team.

Florida State, relying on a unique zone look all weekend, flustered many of their opponents into throwing heaps of turnovers. The four-person wall, featuring a flexible curl away from the disc, proved a very effective defensive set in the windy conditions, if a bit one-dimensional. The Seminole Ladies notched a significant win against Georgia Tech on Saturday and almost upset Georgia in a Sunday rematch. Courtney Read and Lindsi Allman were a handful around the disc, and freshman Cami Lamont, new to the sport as of last fall, made an excellent debut as a playmaking defender. She has a bright future.

Georgia Tech Wreck went 1-3 on Saturday, with losses to Ohio State, Florida, and Florida State by a total of four points. It was a promising performance with disappointing results. It would not have been too surprising if they had played their way into a semifinal on Sunday, but they slid to 7th place instead. Coach Lizzie Jones, wisely, is taking the long view about it, gearing the team up for a run at Regionals, by which time they could have Chupzi Lema and Sam Loop back from injuries. Junior cutter Ollie Peterson had an outstanding tournament. “She’s always going to be a gamechanger,” says Jones. They’ll have more opportunities against top teams at Queen City and Centex later this spring.

UNC Wilmington Seaweed, boasting the smallest roster of the weekend, made waves where they could. Every player on the team is a gamer, the congenitally dauntless Hannah Samuelson chief among them. It’s hard to see how this team will be able to play their way through an Atlantic Coast gauntlet to earn a spot at Nationals, given their dearth of able bodies, but they are a real threat to play spoiler. Speedster Kristen Reed had a fine couple of days as the deep in their zone and the finisher for their offense.

All-Tournament Team

Caitlyn Lee (Dartmouth)
Claire Trop (Dartmouth)
Jack Verzuh (Dartmouth)
Emily Barrett (Ohio State)
Gabby Krajniak (Florida)
Marie Perivier (Georgia)
Sadie Jezierski (Ohio State)

  1. Retraction: Perivier attended Lakeside in Decatur, GA rather than Paideia as previously reported. 

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

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