To the victor go the spoils.
June 14, 2021 by Steve Sullivan in Recap with 0 comments
Playing host to a combination of club teams ramping up to a competitive summer and bands of friends gathering to play in a low-pressure early-June tournament setting, the inaugural Richmond Cup was as much a celebration of the return to play as it was a kickoff to the 2021 club season. It was about the excitement and energy of players strapping on their cleats for the first time in more than a year and a half to take on opponents in person. Fittingly, it was the team that brought the greatest energy in Sunday’s bracket that took home the crown — and the $7,500 that came with it. After the top two seeds dominated pool play, Triangle Toro flew past Philadelphia Mare of Fishtown (11-10) and Washington DC Sweet Cat (13-9) in the semifinal and final, respectively, to claim victory.
Mare of Fishtown, Sweet Cat Mop Up in Pool Play
There were few surprises through Day 1 of the tournament, as both top seeds cruised to 4-0 records on a drizzly, overcast day in Richmond.
Philadelphia Mare of Fishtown looked by far the most talented and polished team at Glover Park on Saturday, utilizing their superior depth to bury opponents quickly and efficiently and giving up just 12 goals all day. With plenty of talent in both gender matchups, they spread out playing time and got contributions from up and down the roster. As expected, the usual Philly heroes stood out in their respective roles — Linda Morse used her speed to get open downfield, Nicky Spiva commanded the backfield to keep the offense humming, Calvin Trisolini fired pinpoint deep passes (and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat in his year away from AMP), and Raha Mozaffari was a visible presence on both sides of the disc, pushing the offense down the field or generating blocks against opponents’ top threats. Rising star Liz Hart also had a big day for Mare, bossing in the end zone whether hauling in goals or skying to deny foes theirs.
Despite their dominance on Saturday, Mare still had work to do on Sunday morning to claim the pool’s top spot as they faced off against a Virginia Trippin’ squad that also went undefeated on Day 1. Any concern proved to be short-lived. The freshly arrived Sean Mott quickly reclaimed his typical role in the Philadelphia offense, dominating downfield and at times going nearly every other pass to tear through the Virginia defense. Meanwhile, the Trippin’ team that had smoothly coursed through the first day — none of their previous opponents posted more than eight goals against the Vault/Rebellion combo — were finally tripped up. Against a higher-caliber defense than they had yet seen, Virginia too frequently looked like exactly what they were: a collection of men’s and women’s players playing mixed. Frequent misthrows and miscommunications when the disc traveled between genders doomed Trippin, who fell 13-7 but still qualified for the bracket.
It was a similar story in Pool B, where Washington DC Sweet Cat barely broke a sweat in comfortably topping their competition — they too gave up just 20 goals through their five pool play games. Ashleigh Buch was absolutely everywhere for Sweet Cat and looked like the best player at the fields for most of the tournament. There wasn’t a matchup all weekend that could keep up with her as she racked up goals galore and was seemingly a lock for at least one massive layout block or catch per round — all with a big smile on her face. Sandy Jorgensen had the highlight of the day on Saturday, utterly roofing one of the men on New York Illuminati in the end zone by reaching up and over his head to pluck a disc out of the sky for a goal. Alan Kolick may not have been in peak midseason form, but his unique athleticism and throwing skills were still good for some cheeky highlights. Even if they weren’t perfectly attuned to the mixed field, Truck Stop’s David Cranston showed why he’s one of the more underrated players in the game, and Tyler Monroe appears ready to continue his ascension up the club ranks in 2021.
In the most anticipated game of Saturday, Sweet Cat stomped Toro. Despite more experience together as a team, the Triangle group never really found their rhythm. Sweet Cat’s Kelly Hyland did a great job limiting Anne Worth, who was quiet throughout; most of her teammates looked sluggish. Hucks sailed past their targets, resets swung just out of the reach of handlers, unders slipped through the hands of Toro cutters. Buch again was the one making plays, helping Sweet Cat to a 13-6 drubbing of the tournament’s overall no. 3 seed and locking up the pool win before leaving the field on Saturday afternoon.
A Tale of Two Semis
The ease with which Philly navigated pool play may have come back to haunt them in the first round of the bracket. Toro, now buttressed by some pickups arriving late to the tournament — notably Mary Rippe and Allan Laviolette, the latter fresh off a solid game for the AUDL’s Raleigh Flyers on Saturday night — came out with far more intensity than the Pool A winners and jumped out to a quick lead. The higher energy did not come with any looseness with the disc; Toro looked composed and focused as they punched in some early breaks, loudly cheering and charging the field with each score — a staple of high-level ultimate tournaments that was largely missing in Richmond.
Philadelphia eventually found their footing and slowly but surely, break by break, the two-time defending national champs1 clawed their way back into the game. As the North Carolina lead narrowed, both teams for the first time seemed to recognize what was at stake and the level of play rose to the highest point of any game all weekend. Lyra Olsen was locked in on reset defense for Toro. Mozaffari saved possession with a layout grab for Mare. Triangle’s Laviolette and Liam Searles-Bohs had their throws dialed in and were picking out cutters on the breakside and in the deep space. Joe Freund was coming alive for Philadelphia with some timely grabs in the air.
Given their pedigree and the dominance they showed throughout Saturday, it felt almost inevitable that now that the switch had been flipped, Mare would complete their comeback, even as the round clock ticked toward zero. The cap went on shortly after the pull with the score at 10-9, meaning a Toro hold would be enough to send North Carolina to the final. Anne Worth streaked deep, her advantage increasing with each full-speed stride, but a huck landed just beyond the reach of her layout near the end zone. Needing a break to get back to even, Philly dialed up a full-field huck from Spiva to Freund. A few passes later, Amber Sinicrope punched it into Mott. Universe point at 10-10.
If the pressure of the moment was getting to Toro — literally thousands of dollars were on the line with this point — they didn’t show it, and their double-game-point offense stood tall. They calmly worked the disc up the force side with a series of unders. When Mozaffari just missed on a bid past Heather Zimmerman, the Toro captain turned and fired a mid-range away pass into the end zone, which Grayson Sanner tracked down and snagged with a huge layout to earn his team a berth in the final.
The same level of intensity was nowhere to be found on the other side of the bracket. Fresh off their chastening by Philadelphia a round earlier, Virginia Trippin’ barely showed up to their semifinal and were unceremoniously dumped from the tournament by a DC squad on cruise control. Sweet Cat was ready to capitalize on each Trippin’ miscue, often converting breaks within a couple throws after the turnover, nary a Virginia defender anywhere in frame when the goal was caught. Having quickly dispatched Trippin’ 13-3, DC joined the crowd forming around the end of the other semi to see who their final opponent would be.
Effort All Around from Toro in Final
After their Saturday drubbing, there were murmurs among fans on the sidelines before the final that they just hoped Toro could keep it close so the showcase game didn’t turn into a blowout. Those fears proved only half-warranted.
“We did see DC kind of celebrating a little bit after we beat [Philadelphia],” said Toro captain Tanner Barcus. “I don’t know if they were excited to get another crack at us, but we were definitely excited to get a crack at them again.”
Just as they did in the semifinal, Triangle took advantage of an opponent who wasn’t prepared for their step-up in energy level at the start of the game, and they quickly set a brisk tempo. As Toro applied fantastic defensive pressure on an early reset around midfield, Tyler Monroe overthrew a swing pass, carrying Jenny Fey out of bounds on her bid to save possession. Fey took an injury sub to catch her breath after the layout knocked the wind out of her, and Dylan Shields found Sanner shortly after to start the game with a break. The former Scandal star was back out for the next point but overthrew a huck, gifting possession back to Toro, who converted with a hammer to Toni Gomes for a second straight break.
Sweet Cat finally got a hold with Kelly Hyland finding Kees Humes for the goal. North Carolina answered right back with Sanner sending a beautiful crossfield back-shoulder flick to Dillon Lanier to regain their two-score advantage. On the ensuing point, Brian Clark popped up with a poach block in the lane for Toro before Jake McGoogan punched in yet another break, forcing DC to take a timeout down 4-1 in a hurry.
It was more of the same coming out of the timeout, with little mistakes costing Sweet Cat. Hyland missed too far inside on a swing, and while Buch earned the disc back with a block on a Toro reset, DC gave it away cheaply again, giving Triangle a short field to convert their fourth break of the half to Sanner. Buch tried a huck to Amy Zhou which hung enough to let Tyler Smith and Zimmerman sandwich Zhou and get the block. When Smith threw a little too wide on an under, Sweet Cat was able to score on their second possession of the point to Monroe.
DC finally earned their first break of the game after Sanner attempted an ambitious breakside huck into tight coverage. Going back the other direction, Buch skied Anne Worth, who no-contested a strip call on the play. A couple passes later, Hannah Boone found Alan Kolick, closing the gap to two. Worth and Buch collected goals as the teams traded holds before Toro overshot a huck and Kolick found Christian Boxley with a crossfield flick for the break to get within one at 6-5; a backhand huck to Searles-Bohs and Triangle took half at 7-5.
Out of the intermission, Sanner barely misfired a flick huck, but Zhou returned the favor by putting the wrong angle on an IO attempt to Jorgensen. Worth added another to her tally for the day for the Toro hold. Desperately needing to change the momentum before they let Toro pull too far ahead, Sweet Cat instead gave up yet another break by way of a simple execution error. Christian Johnson overcooked a swing pass, giving Searles-Bohs a chance to send a huck out in front of Emma Peaselee with Fey giving chase. In perhaps the play of the game, Peaselee made a fantastic diving grab while toeing the back line, locking in the break and sending the North Carolina bench into hysterics.
“Our sideline was a lot better, a lot more intense,” said Zimmerman. “We were in it the whole game. I think yesterday we got down and we carried that momentum; today we got up and we carried that high.”
As they had been all game, Toro again stifled the DC offense by clogging the throwing lanes. Kolick took over, playing a little two-man game with Austin Bartenstein before sneaking a cheeky assist into the end zone for the hold. Tanner Barcus answered for Toro sending a big hammer to Kiron Allen for Triangle. Refusing to let up despite their cushion, North Carolina continued to apply heavy defensive pressure on every possession. Brian Clark made a huge outside-shoulder layout block attempt on Cranston, who made the catch under duress. Eventually, with the disc stuck on the sideline, Fey snuck out of bounds around the thrower before coming back in to catch a short dish in the front corner of the end zone.
Laviolette — who had been picking DC apart with his throws throughout the game — sent a gorgeous blade huck across the field, opening the defense up for Lanier to toss an assist to Allen. With things getting very late for DC to mount a comeback, a deep shot was too far for Fey on their ensuing O point. The teams traded turns before Toro’s Barcus put up another angled crossfield flick to Searles-Bohs on the far sideline for another break and getting North Carolina to within one point of victory at 12-7.
Tyler Monroe launched a huge backhand to a speeding Buch for a quick hold, but with the game being played hard to 13, Sweet Cat needed five straight breaks to come back. They got one, taking a Laviolette turnover and executing their best offensive possession of the day, marching up the field before Buch finished with an around backhand to Jorgensen. It wouldn’t be enough.
On their second attempt to close out the final, Dillon Lanier hit Heather Zimmerman with a short backhand to seal the Richmond Cup title for Toro.
It was a well-earned win for the crew from North Carolina, as they brought high-intensity effort not just throughout the final but throughout the entire bracket that helped them past two heavily-favored opponents.
“It really was just energy, from start to finish,” said Barcus. “Especially coming out of half and continuing to work hard and put the foot on the gas pedal — it was just effort all around.”
Whether or not they had any expectation of winning the tournament, the $7,500 windfall is a boon for the Toro squad. While not everyone on the roster this weekend in Richmond will be continuing on this season with the team, those that are have already committed to heading out to Colorado next month for the Pro-Elite Challenge. With a younger roster than in years past, the captains are excited to be able to reinvest some of these funds back into the program and help defray some costs as they carry this momentum throughout the season.
“We’re expecting to build on what we’ve been building the last couple of years,” said Barcus. “It doesn’t show, but at 2018 and 2019 nationals, both of those tournaments we were one point away from making prequarters. So we know we’re close, and we think we’re going to have a really, really good team this year.”
- Despite some obvious talent and one of the largest rosters at the tournament, Baltimore Fleet never really got going and slipped to a disappointing fourth place in Pool A after coming in as the tournament’s overall no. 4 seed.
- Latin Power looked like they were having more fun than maybe any other team in Richmond this weekend. It was clear that the old friends from Venezuela were ecstatic to see and spend time with each other, while also enjoying an opportunity to mesh their homegrown style with that of their American pickups. The mashup worked well, and when things were clicking for Latin Power, they looked like the best of the teams that didn’t qualify for the championship bracket.
- Legion may have something brewing in Lynchburg. Of the four regionalized Virginia mixed programs that plan on sticking around for the season — Legion, Richmond Revival, Charlottesville Spice, and Tidewater Brackish2 — Legion definitely looked like the most cohesive and competition-ready this weekend. Jonathan Mast has seemingly done a good job giving this team an identity with buy-in from up and down the roster; it remains to be seen if they can maintain that edge as the season goes along and end as the top mixed team in the state.
- Dirty & the Wizards may have won only one game in pool play, but it looked like they got the full Sadie Jezierski experience; every time I looked over, she was dialing up an ambitious huck — some of which sailed well past her intended receivers but many more that were absolute, on-the-money dimes.
- The tournament adopted the new experimental WFDF rule mandating that the gender with four players on the field had to pull. It was really refreshing and exciting to see some of the top women in the division pulling in big moments of bracket play.
- It was a successful first Richmond Cup for hosts XII Brands, with CEO Todd Curran hoping for it to become an annual event that can continue to push up the size of the prize purse and attract even more competitive teams in the future.
Well, sort of that team. ↩
But not counting the Trippin’ folks who intend to split back into Vault and Rebellion. ↩