Two teams who defined the women's final in the last decade face off for the first title of this one.
October 24, 2021 by Graham Gerhart in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s 2021 coverage of the club women’s division is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.
Is there ever a rematch that has felt this inescapable? From the moment it was announced that both #1 San Francisco Fury and #3 Boston Brute Squad would be playing the Series this year, their return to San Diego was already penciled in the calendar. While these teams have yet to meet on the field in 2021, the history of their rivalry will one day fill a chapter in the ultimate history books. These teams’ styles, strategies, and key players are well-known to each other and ultimate fans at large, but who comes out on top this year is anything but easy to project. One thing is certain: their performances at the tournament so far suggest they’ve found worthy opponents in each other, and that’s exactly what two teams of this caliber deserve when vying for a national title.
While both Brute Squad and Fury might have been the favorites to advance from their respective semifinals, that’s where the similarities end between their Saturday games. Brute Squad took down Denver Molly Brown handily in a game dominated by Brute’s D-line and their ruthless effectiveness on offense after the turn. Neither team played flawless points, and each side had chances to get big stops and work the disc downfield against the opposing offensive unit. But again and again, Brute Squad’s tenacity saw those opportunities through where Molly Brown faltered, and Boston took a commanding lead and didn’t give it up until the game had ended 15-9.
By contrast, the first points of Fury’s game against Raleigh Phoenix — seemingly a lopsided matchup between an overall first-seed stacked with veteran national team talent and a fourth-seed whose average age hovers just south of 25 — quickly shattered any expectations that Fury would walk to the final without a real fight. Phoenix’s speed, control of the disc, and sheer ferocity in matchups with the division’s most decorated players gave Fury their first real challenge all year in a game with all the makings of an instant classic. The teams were stingy with turns, as it was clear that any mistake would allow the other the possession that could become the game-deciding goal. Fury might have ended the game on top, but their victory was by no means assured. Their 13-12 win was every bit as thrilling as the score indicates.
Those semis performances won’t necessarily be indicative of how a final between these teams will play out, though. For that, the next place to look is another semifinal, the Saturday game from 2019 where both Fury and Brute engaged in high-stakes games of catch, daring the other to lose concentration and drop even a single throw for their defense to capitalize on. The game ended as a universe point barnburner, the only way these teams know to play against each other. You’d be bold to predict anything different this year.
But for all the history behind each of these programs, it’s the present you don’t want to miss. Over the last four years, the Brute Squad dynasty has remained strong as ever throughout numerous roster changes, and this year’s additions have been invaluable to their success at this tournament. “A lot of it is our rookies,” said Lien Hoffmann. “A lot of them are young, a lot of them haven’t been in this environment before, and they’re still out in semifinals making big plays and taking care of the disc and being super consistent and solid.” While a few of this team’s 2021 pickups stretch the definition of “rookie,” players like Sarah Judd, Laura Ospina, Sophie Knowles, and Caroline Tornquist have adapted and thrived in Brute Squad’s system, and will undoubtedly play meaningful minutes in their game against Fury.
Fury may have had a smaller rookie class this year, but the names are no less impressive. Adding Anna Thompson, Shayla Harris, and Dena Elimelech only pads Fury’s collective resume further with national titles in college and club, and these players understand what it takes to compete when the stakes are at their highest. Anna Thompson has already slotted into the offensive unit with ease, assuming the key handler position of all-time greats like Nancy Sun or Alex Snyder, and the Harris/Elimelech combo is a tremendous weapon to add to Fury’s formidable defensive unit.
As impactful as these new players may be, it’s the veterans who’ve carried their teams’ respective cultures and standards of excellence year after year, and we’re sure to see those legacies continue in this year’s final. Brute Squad still has some of the best defense in the game, while Fury’s calling card remains a disciplined offense that gives other teams little to no opportunities to generate blocks.
Seriously: it’s hard to overstate how scary this Fury offense is. We’re all familiar with the throwing prowess of Thompson, Anna Nazarov, and Jessica O’Connor, but downfield they have a wealth of options, with Maggie Ruden, Lisa Couper, and Sharon Lin among the team’s favorite targets. Fury as a whole is well-rested, too, having played the fewest points of any team across every division at the tournament so far. And as for their defense, it feels safe to say they haven’t been doing much of that grinding, and will be ready to bring full-force efforts to stop whatever Brute Squad’s offense thinks they can try.
Not that Boston’s O-line are slouches, either. The offensive unit may have seen some reconfiguration this year with the departures of key throwers like Amber Sinicrope, Claudia Tajima, and Jojo Emerson, but the combination of Lien Hoffmann, Yuge Xiao, Tulsa Douglas, and Sophie Knowles is still a lot for any team to handle. They can also bring over Kami Groom and Laura Ospina — both top-performing players at this tournament — whenever they want. This team’s offense is as good as it’s ever been, and with their defense shrinking the field with every scheme they have up their sleeve, Fury’s work is cut out for them.
Considering the lack of any obvious structural weaknesses to exploit on either side here, this game will come down to who plays better in the margins. One heads-up poach, one baited huck, one lucky handblock is all that’s needed to set up a break chance, and it’s only a matter of time before one of these teams gets the turn or two that sets one team or the other on the path to a title. Make no mistake: regardless of who wins, the real winners are the fans who get to see the best of women’s ultimate on display today.