Mixed Final Superlatives: Recognizing The Role Players

A look at most impactful players whose contributions don't appear on the final scoring summary.

AMP’s Jake Butrica. Photo: Sam Hotaling — UltiPhotos.com

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As expected, Philadelphia AMP‘s Anna Thompson and San Francisco Mischief‘s Cody Kirkland were straight dealing from the handler space over the course of Nationals, racking up assists for their respective clubs. And for four days, San Francisco’s Lexi Zalk and Philadelphia’s Sean Mott ate up yardage downfield for their squads on their way to the mixed division’s championship match. But it takes more than a few players with flashy throws or great layouts to get a team to a national final. Each team had a roster full of role players who stepped up to make plays, both throughout the weekend and in Sunday’s final.

This is a celebration of the players in the 2019 mixed national final who you won’t necessarily see at the top of the stats sheet. Maybe their defense is so tight that their mark never gets thrown to. Maybe they march the disc three-quarters down the field and then make a distracting upline clear so the defense will bite, and their team scores on the around.

Bottom line: in a field full of flashy players, sometimes these workhorses go unnoticed. Knowing and appreciating who makes the hard-to-measure differences for a team differentiates great teams from good teams. This weekend, some of the teams with the biggest individual names washed out early. But the teams who leaned on their grinders got by, and found themselves in the contest for a national title.

So in this sea of prom queens, here are some superlatives for your mixed finalists:

AMP’s Steve Rosso (left) and Malti McKinnon (right). Photo: Sam Hotaling — UltiPhotos.com

Player Most Likely To Completely Exhaust The Other Team’s Star: Malti McKinnon (AMP)

Maybe Malti McKinnon didn’t have a picture perfect layout block in this game, like she did in AMP’s semifinal. She did, however, play a big role in shutting down Mischief’s biggest playmaker. She repetitively matched up with Lexi Zalk, who is also one best poach defenders in the mixed division. In a game where players had to fight through several lengthy points with multiple changes of possession, this became vital for AMP. McKinnon was always moving on offense, strategically whittling down her defender’s ability to poach the lanes and get in the way. She would take Zalk behind the play, deep, under, always making sure Zalk had to respect her. When possession changed, Zalk had already been taken for a trip around the stadium once or twice, and was a little slower to take over the field.

Player Most Likely To Know When To Take A Risk And When To Reset: Caitlin Rugg (Mischief)

The final was played in some of the toughest conditions all weekend, with chilly weather, a boisterous crowd, and stadium wind. Having a player on your team who can sit with the disc for a second, assess the field, and make any kind of throw happen through the wind was vital. Caitlin Rugg was rock for Mischief, with a knack for the right kind of risk to make. Most of her throws were safe, strategic, and clean. But when she eyed an opportunity in the middle of the field, especially a little inside break, she made AMP pay with it. A versatile thrower with a good sense of risk can get you through most difficult points, and is especially valuable in the wind.

Mischief’s Jenny Wang. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

Most Likely To Cleverly Take An Advantage Of A Poach: Jenny Wang (Mischief)

Two teams who had been playing seriously tight defense this weekend took a train to poach-ville during the final. It did seem to scramble the strategy, getting in the way of Mischief’s flawless pull plays. What you need in those situations is a player who knows how to take advantage of open spaces, and move around into them, regardless of whether or not they touch the disc every other. The best at this in this game seemed to be Jenny Wang. She would start as a cutter, realized she was poached, and move into the handler space to become an every-other option. It unbuckled AMP’s poaching game. And you can’t be in this role if you aren’t reliable; Wang made huge advancements on offense for Mischief.

Most Likely to Elicit A Groan From An Opposing Handler: Max Charles (AMP)

This is an ode to those who run down on the pull like they’ve forgotten they have to play a point afterwards. The pressure Charles put on the offense starts with the pull and didn’t end throughout the whole point. Exceptionally fast, he showed off the ability to adjust to his matchup while keeping one eye on the rest of the play, an intelligent example of strong field sense. This whole game, he stayed one step ahead of the offense, squelching cuts and strings of plays before they even got a foothold.

Mischief’s Lily Steponaitis releases a forehand. Photo: Greg Pettus — UltiPhotos.com

Most Likely To Frustrate An Offensive Cutter: Lily Steponaitis (Mischief)

In big moments this year, Mischief’s defense relied on cutters backing their matches, and then beating them under. Lily Steponitis excelled at this, sending countless cutters into the lane, and then making herself too much of a presence for the thrower to feel comfortable putting it. If they did manageg to get the disc, often it would be a turnover anyway. Her pressure would make them fumble, or her mark would make them panic. She was one of the most formidible marks on the field. Her wingspan and her quick reaction time cause her offender to throw away countless disc this weekend. Though she took an injury partway through the finals and played less the second half, she was one of those players who never let her matchup gain much separation.

Most likely To Use The Break Space Well: Jake Butrica (AMP)1

It’s deep in the game and AMP is up big. The handler fakes a big flick that may have been viable, but definitely would have been risky. It’s the kind of throw that AMP takes often, and the Mischief mark knows it. He bites big, and slips. The thrower, Jake Butrica, tosses it over his downed defender into Raha Mozaffari’s arms. She’s moving laterally toward the break sideline, her defender right on her heels. She takes that momentum, turns it around, and has the perfect positioning to put up a beautiful flick huck to Natalie Bova. This isn’t the first time Butrica showed a talent for switching the field up from what Mischief expected, and it made his teammates look great.

Most Likely To Hype Up The Winning Team: Little green ball (AMP)

Oh, signature discball, you may have been a mystery to those who don’t know AMP or missed our AMP mini-documentary from last year’s Nationals. But little green ball, but everyone knows you’re important.

Discball

Best Use Of A Season’s Worth Of Ab Workouts: Patricia Anderson (Mischief)

Patricia Anderson, you’ve stunned the world.

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  1. Karoline Hart
    Karoline Hart

    Karoline Hart runs a small vegetable farm in upstate New York. That really should be enough physical activity for anyone. But with a lifelong passion for sports, she makes time in her summer to play as much ultimate as possible. She most recently played the 2018 season with Boston Snake Country and is helping form a women’s team, Rebel Rebel, in Upstate New York this summer. She hopes to spend this summer learning how to create engaging sports narratives so she can use those skills to draw attention to the unseen and underrepresented members of this sport.

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