A Regionals rematch caps off a tenacious run for Florida in their first Nationals appearance since 2014.
October 23, 2021 by Graham Gerhart in Recap with 0 comments
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SAN DIEGO – #4 Raleigh Phoenix will make their triumphant return to semifinals at Nationals after a decade-long absence after beating in-region foes #21 Florida Tabby Rosa in their quarterfinals match. While the Florida squad hung close for the first few points, once Phoenix started piling on breaks, the hill turned into a mountain for Tabby Rosa and their deficit became too great to overcome. With this win, Phoenix has announced their intention of claiming a National title is legitimate, and they’ll have a chance to show the extent of that legitimacy in their game against San Francisco Fury in semis.
The game may have ended with a lopsided score, but Phoenix wasn’t dominant from the get-go. Their very first point featured a less-than-perfect offensive effort as Tyler Smith floated a flick too high for her receiver, allowing Tabby Rosa to capitalize on their mistake for an early break. The steadiness of Phoenix’s offense was immediately put into question, and it left them with all the pressure placed firmly on their shoulders going forward. That error was more of a wake-up call than a warning sign, though, and from that point on, Tabby Rosa never broke the Phoenix offense again.
Tabby Rosa may have struggled to generate turns on Phoenix after that first point, but their offense initially held very well. The combo of Kate Travaglini, Sunny Harris, and Shayna Brock kept them in the game early on, forcing Phoenix to throw out their offensive line early and often, keeping the two teams in lockstep. Tabby Rosa was also able to generate a number of turns, but Phoenix’s own defensive effort had risen to the occasion, and they had game-planned enough to know how to make life difficult for the Floridian team.
“We played Tabby twice at Regionals, so we know what to expect from them,” said injured captain Anne Worth. “We know they have some really creative throwers and scrappy cutters that force us to mark them differently. We just decided to be ready for anything to go up at any time, and we’re going to win those in the air. So that’s what we looked for.”
It wasn’t just the 50/50 hucks that hurt Tabby Rosa, though. After Phoenix tied the game at 3-3, Tabby Rosa had an opportunity to steal an easy goal with a few short breakside throws, but a handler fumble led to them dropping the disc in such a way that they couldn’t recover in time to stop Zoe Hecht from scoring Phoenix’s first break of the game.
From there, the floodgates opened for Raleigh, and they washed through Tabby Rosa all throughout the rest of the half. Players like Maya Powell, Dawn Culton, and especially Audrey Lyman all took turns punishing Tabby Rosa for one mistake after another. Tabby Rosa was not playing particularly poorly; Phoenix was just stingy with the disc after getting the turn, allowing them to convert on break chances at every opportunity. On the final point of the first half, Lyman completely out-read an open-side throw from Harris, turning on a dime and earning the run-through block. She then earned the bookends soon after for Phoenix to take half 8-4.
Things wouldn’t get better for Tabby Rosa in the second half. While Travaglini continued to be a workhorse for the team, she was clearly injured, and Phoenix knew to target her, making her life increasingly more difficult with each throw. The pressure on Travaglini was felt by the entire team, causing high stall counts and rushed throws to occur more often than we had seen previously with Tabby Rosa. “We knew what they were going to bring and what their plays looked like,” said Florida coach Dustin Travaglini. “That’s a huge advantage for a quarters matchup. They’re a great team, though, so they were still able to make their plays, run their sets, and pressure us on defense… this is the best quarters matchup we could have drawn and came up a little short.”
It wasn’t just Phoenix that was weighing down on Florida. The field quality wasn’t up to par for the team’s expectations, and difficulty getting footing on the sodded grass did contribute to a few injuries or miscues. “Our injuries weren’t fatigue-related,” said Travaglini, “Gabby [Krajniak] had a knee injury that was entirely from the field we played on… other players couldn’t make hard cuts with the field as it was.” It’s hard to blame the field for all of the team’s woes, but Tabby Rosa wasn’t able to play with the same hard-nosed intensity that had defined them all tournament. Still, Phoenix played on the exact same field, and was able to take control despite their environment, leading to a string of successful breaks after half to go up 11-5.
With the game winding down, Phoenix could have taken their foot off the break, but instead kept the focus of a semis-caliber team, and bore down relentlessly on Tabby Rosa with every throw. Florida never had an easy goal, and even though they earned two more holds, they never had enough in the tank to challenge Phoenix’s offense in any meaningful way. “Most of our turnovers were execution errors,” said Phoenix head coach David Allison, “I think that shows we were able to play through their pressure and the turns were our fault, rather than them taking it from us.”
The turns that Phoenix did make were few, and ultimately didn’t matter, as Lyman closed out the game with a cheeky around backhand break to Austin Prucha to win the game 15-7.
To give Tabby Rosa their due, a run to quarters in the program’s first Nationals appearance in over a half-decade exceeded the expectations of many, and did a lot to highlight women’s ultimate in a state that rarely receives the national spotlight. “This is [tied for] the highest a Florida team has ever placed at Nationals,” noted Cordes, another team captain, with pride. “We’re hoping this will inspire the young talent in Florida to see that there’s a real competitive option here, and they don’t need to travel anywhere else to play at this level.” Tabby Rosa was both one of the oldest rosters and one of the smallest, but that didn’t stop them from being the largest outlier of any team we’ve seen, and their loss to Phoenix is hardly the result people will remember.
For Raleigh, this game was just a sign that they deserve to be taken seriously as a title contender, and aren’t a team that got lucky with their placement as the fourth seed overall. “Our expectation is to win the tournament,” said Worth. “Our expectations were very high this year because we have faith in our players and our system. Winning quarters is a huge accomplishment, but we’re all very focused on winning it all.” Considering the last time this team made semis was in 2011, the goals of a national title may seem lofty, but Raleigh has long been heralded as the most exciting youth scene in ultimate. Those youths are now rounding into the best players in the nation, and show no sign of slowing down. Fury will be the real test of their talent, but for now, they’ve shown they’ve got staying power.