Fury left no doubt on their way to their third title in four seasons.
October 26, 2021 by Graham Gerhart in Recap 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.
#1 San Francisco Fury brought the hammer down on Nationals in their final against #3 Boston Brute Squad, powering through to their most uneven victory over their East Coast rivals at this tournament since 2009. Fury was energized after coming off a sudden death victory over Raleigh Phoenix the night before, and Brute Squad was never able to match that energy, or get their defensive line on the field enough to make the game close. Instead, it was Fury’s defense that headlined this game, as the team scored seven breaks on their way to a 15-9 victory.
From the moment Fury’s first pull was launched, Boston didn’t get a second to breathe. On the very first point, their handlers were swarmed before they could get in rhythm, resulting in an early turn off a rudimentary swing pass that any Brute Squad player would have made 99 times out of 100. The short field gave Fury plenty of time to set up their endzone set, and their handlers moved the disc comfortably before the indomitable Carolyn Finney slung a huge flick to Marika Austin, getting Fury their first break and the first point of the game.
The bad times weren’t ending any time soon for Brute Squad, either. Where their offense had been unflappable all weekend, suddenly mistakes started to arise. Whether they were just due for a bad game, had an unfortunate case of the yips, or couldn’t match Fury’s defense is in question, but no matter the reason, they were flat early on in the game, an affliction that didn’t affect Fury. “We were ready for that intensity from Brute Squad,” said Carolyn Finney. “We know that they were coming with great defense on both side of the disc, so we were ready.”
Fury backed up that claim, too. For the first six points of the game, Boston didn’t have a clean offensive possession. “I think we mostly generated our own turnovers,” admitted Lien Hoffmann after the game. “Some random drops. Some random throwing errors—uncharacteristic.” During this same time, Fury made turns of their own, but they had no problem getting them back.
This throughline was evident at so many points throughout the game, especially from the players themselves. Fury’s defense was electric, and their roster was humming at a frequency where you could just tell you’d get a static charge by standing too close to them. On the third point of the game, both teams rushed a number of throws in a tug-of-war over which side was going to dictate the tempo of the game, only for Anna Nazarov to put that question to rest with a massive layout right at the sideline that gave Fury a goal and the hold they needed.
Plays like that were common for Fury, while fewer and farther between for Brute Squad. For their second hold of the game, Yuge Xiao stole the disc back for Boston with a layout block past her opponent that required incredible body awareness, but it was overshadowed by an all-star block from Fury’s Anna Thompson the point before, which had helped San Francisco take a 4-1 lead.
Even when Brute Squad was able to earn breaks of their own, it played out like they were desperately trying to claw back into the game, rather than building momentum through their defensive line, which has been their calling card for years now. Still, those breaks mattered, and it was the young veterans of Brute Squad (which would seem like a paradox unless you’ve seen them play) that helped bail out some of the water from Boston’s quickly sinking ship. Caitlyn Lee, Angela Zhu, and Claire Trop went to work off a Fury handler miscue, throwing as many passes as necessary to eventually allow Zhu to flip a short pass to Trop right at the front of the end zone. This helped Boston bring the score to 4-3, and brought back some hope around Brute Squad’s chances at building back into this game.
Fury quickly squashed those hopes. Not two points later, their defense earned another break off an instant-classic performance from Dena Elimelech. The Fury rookie isn’t exactly short on highlight reel material, but this play featured a number of mind-boggling moves from Elimelech, including a layout block and an equally impressive layout goal for the bookends and a break not a few moments later. Just like that Fury was back in control.
After this point, Brute Squad managed to flip the switch and clean up their act on offense. The teams traded up to 7-5, with no shortage of big plays from both sides along the way1 but with Fury on offense and a chance to take half up 8-5, it felt like a critical point for Brute Squad.
Clearly the team felt this way, too, as they loaded the line with their best defenders to get Fury as far out of their comfort zone as possible. Boston did do an excellent job of pressuring the handlers, especially the rock-solid Jessie O’Connor, who had been a model center handler up until this point. Still, Fury found an opening with Maggie Ruden getting the disc in the center of the field. For a split second, it seemed as if Fury made their first egregious mistake, as Ruden hucked the disc to Lisa Couper, who had two defenders on her back, but the UNC Pleiades product remained composed, and roofed her opponents before they had a chance to make a play on the disc. Moments like this were emblematic of the game itself, with Fury making stellar plays to take control of the game with Brute Squad just a step or two too far behind.
Fury may have taken half 8-5, but there was yet life still left in Brute Squad. Despite not having success in shaking Fury’s offense at the end of the first half, Boston threw out a line reminiscent of their 2019 ‘kill line’, which brought together Zhu, Hoffmann, Lee, Trop, Kami Groom, Tulsa Douglas, and Julianna Werffeli. Together, this stacked line of Boston defenders managed to pry the disc from the stingy Fury offense, as Hoffmann flew past her opponent for a layout handblock, giving Boston a chance for their first break of the half. Their offensive chemistry didn’t look rusty at all, despite many of these players now situated on separate lines this year, and Zhu eventually found Groom between three closing Fury defenders for the break.
The break was a huge confidence booster for Boston, but not enough to faze Fury. “They’re a great team, so you have to expect to get broken,” noted Finney. “We understand that it is going to be a part of the game, so when we get broken, don’t panic. Just keep playing.” While Fury could afford to remain calm, Brute Squad needed more out of their team. Just to earn that break, Boston had sent out arguably their strongest line possible, a feat Fury knew wasn’t replicable for any long stretch.
After taking a few seconds to compose themselves, Fury’s offense stepped back out of the field and got a hold in four short passes. While it did require Beth Kaylor to make one of the most impressive layouts of the game just to grab the goal, but her body awareness to toe the line simply demonstrated the level at which Fury was able to compete.
It wasn’t just Kaylor that was stepping up with timely plays in the biggest game of the season; every Fury player was fully invested in this game, and it put pressure on Boston to match their energy. This strain was obvious no matter what Boston tried to do, and was largely why Fury landed a break of their own the very next point after Kaylor’s layout goal. Boston gave up the disc on a simple execution error that would normally be entirely out of place with this unit, were it not for the pressure they were under. After the turn, Brute Squad then had to face a line filled with Fury’s top offensive players, including O’Connor, Thompson, and Opi Payne, making it almost impossible to get the disc back. To make matters even more discouraging, O’Connor threw a picture-perfect flick blade to Payne over the head of her defender, showing a mastery of the disc last seen on Fury by only Alex Snyder. This break came with a lot of implications, not only did it give Fury a 10-6 lead, time was also not in Boston’s favor, and the players could tell.
From that point on, it was entirely the San Francisco Fury show. Brute Squad was able to piece together a few holds afterwards, but were working perilously for each of them, while Fury was calm and aggressive at all times with the disc. When Fury scored another break thanks to a Shayla Harris huck to Kaela Helton, that was the nail in the coffin.
Boston traded holds with Fury right after, but had very little left in reserve on defense to beat Fury’s clinical offense. Without a quick rule change to allow two point shots, the five breaks that they would need to win the game looked all but impossible.
Fury soon confirmed that, too. At 14-9, with the game on the line, Boston worked it all the way to the end zone before fumbling a disc that was well in hand. Once again, this was a routine catch that would never have resulted in a turn in not for the extraordinary circumstances. And speaking of extraordinary, Fury’s offense then went to work, setting up Anna Reed to fire off a huck to Payne, who continued to a well-positioned Claire Desmond, punctuating Fury’s fourth title in the past decade with a game-ending leap.
While Fury had to make some jaw-dropping plays to get there, this game was won by their unflinching offense and suffocating defense, giving them a deservingly dominant ending to the tournament as a whole. The stats back up their impressive display, specifically when it came to their ability to make plays against what many believed to be the best defense in the nation. Fury had close to perfect efficiency with the disc, despite Brute Squad’s pressure, completing 88% of their throws, or 127/144.
But even that doesn’t paint the full picture. While Fury may have turned the disc 17 times, more than half of those were on deep looks to the end zone, forcing Brute Squad to work it back up the entire length of the field and giving Fury a chance to get the disc back. In fact, only three of Fury’s turnovers were before the halfway mark of the field.
Just looking at the numbers from their offensive line makes their stats look even more impressive. The offense had an 80% efficiency rating, and were led largely by their incredible defensive effort after any turn they made. “I think we got turns,” noted Groom at the press conference. “It really was the defensive pressure that they were able to apply after their turns. I don’t think we ever settled into that.” Fury’s offensive line earned just as many blocks as their defense, which was almost entirely a cohesive effort, as no single player had more than two blocks in the game. Granted, Boston gave them the disc back many times outside of forced blocks from a player, but even those turns were the result of defensive intensity.
This was a complete game from Fury, one that we knew they were capable of from the first announcement of their roster. It was the performance that was promised by their demolition of teams at Sectionals, Regionals, and pool play games. It was the performance that was reinforced in quarters, and brought into question during semis, before being unquestionably answered against Boston.
If, in the future, this game is not highlighted among the other great finals of the past decade, it’s only because Fury did their job too well. However, while Fury should be lauded for their performance, it did feel that Brute Squad had more to give. “Our energy felt low,” said Hoffmann. “I don’t think that has to do with the score of our last game but… we went to bed really late. Trying to get back up and come from that level to sleep to then back up to that same level was a challenge for us.”
While Groom was quick to point out that it was still on them for that type of time management, the point still stands. For their game against Molly Brown, they started playing at 11:00 PM ET, and didn’t leave the fields before 1:00 AM ET, which certainly had to have some effect. Regardless, it’s impossible to have seen this game and believe that’s the best version of Brute Squad they had in 2021. The team is of a level far beyond the final score, and now will come into 2022 with a point to prove.
To bring it back to Fury, this season was the result of a few key factors at play, none the least of which is the depth of returning veterans that all cleated up for the team this year. It remains to be seen how many will return to the team next year when a full season is required, but for now they can revel in the fact that they’ve reached the summit once more, and did everything required of them to avenge their semis loss to Brute Squad in 2019 despite the two year wait for that chance. Not only were Fury the best women’s team of 2021, they won in such historic fashion that no asterisk on the season can ever take away the accomplishment of what the team did in San Diego. Fury are national champions. Whether or not it was an inevitability at the beginning of the season, it fits too perfectly after seeing what they accomplished this past weekend.
Seriously, watch the film of this game. ↩