A taste of a new league.
August 5, 2021 by Colin Clauset in Recap with 0 comments
SEATTLE — The Seattle Tempest won the inaugural game of the Western Ultimate League in a tightly contested game 16-14 over The West, a collection of talented players from the 2020 rosters for the Utah Wild, San Diego Super Bloom, Arizona Sidewinders, and Los Angeles Astra (plus a few Seattle-area pickups). This game felt like the true culmination of the 2020 WUL season. Big plays were on display every point, as was a competitive fire which we were all missing for the past 18 months.
Tempest and the West traded points early, with both teams adjusting to the WUL rules and new field dimensions, and contending with the nerves of the first competitive WUL game. “I was a little nervous during the first quarter but I was thrilled to see that the West team was also there to compete, it didn’t feel like just a showcase game,” said Tempest’s Qxhna Titcomb. “I love that kind of energy and I think it made the rest of the game really close!”
With an extra 10 yards of deep space to cover, downfield defenders on each team had an even tougher time than usual, and the handlers took advantage of clear lanes to gain yards with almost every reset. While the West’s downfield defenders had a height advantage almost across the board, Tempest’s handler corps (including Charlie Eide, Kat Songer, and Abby Hecko) found success with quick movement underneath in the space vacated by a split-stack offense. With many speedy cutters downfield, that handler movement helped open up big gains from the cutters, creating easy goals once the disc moved past the handler defenders.
Countering Tempest’s quick movement, the West looked to their size and deep throws early and often. Bert Cherry, Lucy Williams, and Helen Eifert were the engines behind the deep game-oriented West offense. Jade McLaughlin, Kimberly Dickerson, and Cori Bigham were some of the main beneficiaries, with McLaughlin showing some game-breaking speed downfield for several deep goals, Dickerson reeling in nearly every high floaty throw in her direction, and Bigham racking up yardage underneath while threatening the Tempest defenders deep. Flexing out of an isolation-based side stack off the pull into a vertical offense further downfield, the West looked to maximize their individual matchups and keep everything else simple.
“It was a really interesting feeling going into a game against a team that you literally cannot ‘scout,’ but something struck me a few days before the game. We don’t know many of the players from the other WUL teams and that’s the whole point of the WUL – we are creating the household names of the future generation. And even though it felt weird to go into a game without really knowing the opponent, the opportunity to be a part of that storyline is pretty darn special,” said Titcomb.
Coach Rohre Titcomb added that “going into the game without much knowledge of the opponent presented a perfect opportunity to focus on our game and our performance. We knew we would have line after line of world class talent to put on the field, so as a coach I focused on messaging to players that they can rely on the work we’ve put in and the experience that got them to that game and the rest would flow from there.”
The teams played evenly for the first four points of the game, with several chances for the defenses to have an impact. Tied at 2-2, the West misfired on a deep shot and gave the Tempest defense an opportunity to show what they could do with the disc. Ari Lozano looked to take advantage of the space between the stack and the handlers and fired to the endzone. While the throw was low, it put the West offense in a tough spot, and Lozano won it back on the goal line before throwing for the first break of the game to Alex Fussell. The teams continued to trade after that first break, with a few turns coming on resets behind the disc, but no team was able to capitalize on the break opportunities.
Tempest opened the second quarter with a quick offensive hold before a long multi-turn point. With Tempest leading 6-5, we saw the first signs that players were still shaking the rust off. Both Tempest and the West had multiple blocks on throws towards the opposite side of the field, and some odd throwing choices led to some easy giveaways. Tempest also started playing more back-pocket defense in the second quarter, forcing the West to work the disc more deliberately in their handler sets and dial back the deep throws. Combined with a seven-second stall count, Tempest disrupted the West’s rhythm just enough to gain an edge, and a big huck from Lozano to Hecko earned the second break of the game.
Tempest scored their third and final break of the game to start the second half. Songer blocked an upline after chasing her mark across the field before Hecko converted a deep look to Tess Young, and the Tempest never looked back. Both teams were starting to show some fatigue throughout the second half, thanks to the combination of an 80-yard long field and players still working themselves back into peak condition. This was especially true at the end of each quarter. Each team threw multiple turnovers during the final point of the third and fourth quarters, as team offensive systems broke down and downfield cutters lost the ability to create separation. In the end, Tempest had just enough to keep the West at bay, despite a late break from Cherry to Bigham to cut the Tempest lead to one. Eide converted the hold on the next point after toeing in a quick under from Calise Cardenas, and Tempest proceeded to shut down the West’s offense and close out the 16-14 win after a layout block from Charlie Mercer in the end zone.
Coach Titcomb highlighted Tempest’s depth and experience as the keys to winning. “We focused on leveraging the full depth of our roster to ensure we always had fresh legs to apply consistent pressure,” she said. “This is the kind of pressure that results in late game opportunities for breaks where the other team shows decision-making fatigue. Also, the ability to perform on a big stage like this is something you can only learn from experience, and our team has the experience and longevity at this level to make the biggest impact.” Alyssa Kelly also made sure to call out coach AJ Beard’s experience in tight games: “She had incredible timing for providing reinforcement after we did something great on the field and for seeing when we might need to be encouraged. In a close game – where a lot of us were playing in that environment for the first time – that was pivotal for our success.”
In total, it was an excellent debut for the WUL. Despite some injuries on the Tempest side, this was an all-star game full of competitive fire, big plays, and awesome athletic displays. For a team that met each other that day, the West showed impressive consistency and chemistry. West coach Alyssa Weatherford implemented an effective offensive scheme and threw in the necessary defensive wrinkles to keep the West in the game. The interplay between Cherry and Williams was a delight to watch, setting the tone for an athletic game.
Tempest showed off a big play-focused offense, highlighting their handler chemistry to lure in defenders before isolating fast targets like Fussell, Mercer, and Rodenberg in the open spaces. When the West flooded the middle of the field with defenders and forced the disc to the sideline, versatile players like Hecko, Eide, Cardenas, and Songer attacked upfield from behind the disc to keep the offense from stalling out. Playing open lines and resisting the urge to sub for wins, the 700+ fans were treated to a thrilling showcase of ultimate.
“Getting women’s professional ultimate on the big stage on the West coast took on a lot of different forms over the years, including a women’s Cascades roster before the WUL, several mixed showcase games, and women’s players on the Cascades men’s team. For many of the women-identifying players out here, this was their first time playing in a stadium as a professional, and that’s something special. This may be the inauguration of the WUL, but we’re just getting started,” said Charlie Mercer.
Even in the stands, there was a clear sense of joy in the chance to enjoy competition again. This was a send-off to the lost year of 2020 with Tempest bringing back their original roster, and standouts from around the WUL coming to show what they were capable of. Qxhna put it best: “I’m excited for momentum to build in other cities, and I can’t wait for fans all over to get a taste of ultimate!”
Up next: the WUL Winter Cup!