WUL Winter Cup 2021: Day One Recap

New rules, new rosters, and new regional powers on the rise made for an exciting Saturday at the WUL's first-ever major competitive event.

San Francisco Falcons vs. Utah Wild at the Western Ultimate League's Winter Cup in 2021. Photo: William "Brody" Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
San Francisco Falcons vs. Utah Wild at the Western Ultimate League’s Winter Cup in 2021. Photo: William “Brody” Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

After a canceled 2020 season, a one-game showcase event in July, and lots of anticipation, the six teams of the Western Ultimate League made their on-field debut at the 2021 Winter Cup in San Diego, CA. The event was a round robin in which each team played two games and an overall winner was determined through a combination of win-loss record, stat performance, and fan participation. Read our preview to learn more about the Winter Cup and each team’s approach to the weekend.

Day One Recap | Day Two Recap

Astra’s Star Power Overwhelms Tenacious Sidewinders

In the opening game of the Winter Cup, the Arizona Sidewinders and the Los Angeles Astra became the first two WUL teams to match up against each other. Los Angeles came out on offense, and once some early jitters settled, exhibited patience at the goal line in order to score the first hold — caught by none other than WUL commissioner Felicia Yang, who also plays in the league.

The Sidewinders struggled to find their offensive flow in the first few points, with miscues and drops opening the way for the Astra to take a 3-0 lead. But a few well-placed hucks put the Sidewinders on the board before the Astra’s Dena Elimelech made one of her signature picture-perfect layout grabs to seal in a 5-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Displaying the grit and confidence that distinguished Arizona this club season, the Sidewinders came out firing in the second quarter, with quick disc movement that kept Astra chasing after them as the Sidewinders made it 5-3. But Los Angeles’s momentum would not be stifled, as their offensive line showed no weaknesses throughout the remainder of the half. Elimelech was the preferred receiver, with trust throw after trust throw dependably paying off when lofted her way. The Sidewinders pushed on, but unforced errors only widened the gap in Astra’s favor. As the second quarter came to a close, a hard-fought point ended with another Astra goal thanks to some impressive footwork by Maggie O’Connor, followed shortly thereafter by a full-field huck that secured the half 9-4 for Los Angeles.

The second half would be more of the same. Any goal the Sidewinders scored, the Astra could score more. While Arizona continued to battle hard whenever the disc was in play, the drawn-out points (one ate nearly half the quarter) took valuable time off the clock for the Sidewinders to complete the goals that might earn them a comeback. Quick disc movement was the only effective approach to overcoming the Astra’s defensive line, but with every throw came an opportunity for a turnover. With 23 seconds left in the quarter, the Sidewinders got another goal to get within 5, but the Astra had the speed and focus ready to score again with one second left in the quarter. The WUL’s end-of-quarter rules — in which play continues after the clock expires as long as the team with the disc retains possession — meant that, even with very little time on the clock, the Sidewinders had an opportunity to punch in a hold if they could make it down the field without a turn. But a fatal drop in the end zone left them down 12-6 to LA as the game entered the final quarter.

The Sidewinders brought real energy and starmaking play to the match — in particular, Kody Lippincott and Helen Eifert were all over the field — but were ultimately outpaced by Astra’s depth as well as their top-end talent. The game wasn’t without errors for either team, but Los Angeles’s offense looked like the better-oiled machine; while they relied heavily on Elimelech, O’Connor, and Yang, they could look to everyone on the field to get open and get the disc. Arizona shouldn’t feel discouraged, though — with more time together and some small adjustments, this team has the talent, athleticism, and grit to compete at a high level. The takeaways from this matchup: be prepared to face a strong zone defense, and always value possession against high-caliber teams.

Stream replay: Los Angeles Astra vs. Arizona Sidewinders

Wild Sure Look Like They’ve Been Here Before Against Falcons

If a brand-new team in a brand-new league can look like a legacy program before they ever take the field, the San Francisco Falcons fit the bill: even with key contributors from 2021 women’s club champions San Francisco Fury scattered to other WUL rosters, the depth of women’s and mixed talent in the Bay Area is formidable, and there’s no shortage of high-profile experience in this group. By contrast, the Utah Wild felt like a less proven quantity; while there are club vets here, too, the team draws women-matching talent from across the mountain West not often seen together on a national stage, especially in split-gender play. New pro teams — even ones that draw from an established, centralized ultimate scene — often take some time figuring out their chemistry, bringing together players from disparate club and college backgrounds to create something that seems sometimes more and sometimes less than the sum of its parts. But how would a team that had literally never had its whole roster in the same place at the same time before fare against the semi-pro outfit of one of the world’s most decorated ultimate cities?

Up 2-0 on San Francisco two minutes into the first quarter, that’s how. The Wild received to start, and after a downfield turn, the first-point mojo was recovered in style by Rebecca “Makk” Kestin with an emphatic block and a deep downwind assist to Kendra Miller (who pulled in the hold under close defensive pressure from Shayla Harris, not the last dramatic Miller-Harris matchup of the game). A whiffed first throw from the Falcons on the next point opened the door to a quick Wild break, and Utah were off to an early lead.

The next points wouldn’t be so quick. As in the last round, both teams had some missteps on offense, but well-coordinated pressure defense from San Francisco was especially key to limiting Utah’s options both downfield and in the handler set, and would remain an important asset for the team throughout the game. Eventually, a hold-and-break pair of their own would even the score at 2-2.

But lest the Wild’s strong start look flukey — or the Falcons’ surge inevitable — the two teams stayed closely competitive with each other as the game continued. San Francisco’s offense tightened up quickly after some early false starts, while Utah seemed ready to announce a few playmakers of their own. At 3-3, a masterfully-calibrated flick huck from the Wild’s Paige Kercher just bounced off the hands of a bidding Miller in the end zone; one steady march from the Falcons later, what looked like a clean goal for San Francisco was intercepted by Miller, her energy and eye for positioning just as sharp at the opposite end of the field. Miller walked the disc to the line and wound up for a powerful huck of her own — only to be denied by a soaring foot block from Harris. The Falcons scored shortly afterward.

The rest of the quarter saw a pair of holds, then a three-point run from Utah (featuring a massive hammer assist from Kestin and a sky-high layout block from Megan Maxfield) that gave them another two-point lead, then a Falcons hold that narrowed that lead to 7-6 Utah at half. Whatever the expectations for these teams going into the weekend, there couldn’t be any doubt now: either team could win this game, and make some highlights to remember doing it. Over the third quarter, the Falcons edged their way to a 9-8 lead with seconds left on the clock. Wild received as the quarter expired, and a rolling catch from Kestin saved possession in time for her to uncork another hammer assist to tie the score 9-9.

There wouldn’t be another point that short until the end of the game, with each side battling hard for a win they knew was in their grasp. At 10-9 in Utah’s favor and the game in its last two minutes, an attempted scoober assist from Vivian Chu was deflected in a crowded end zone; after the turn, the Falcons’ defensive pressure on the Wild’s handlers prevented them from capitalizing too readily, leading to another valiant effort from Chu, who peeled off from her matchup for a diving layout block on an under throw to Cori Bigham. A foul on the play was called — pausing the clock at 0:50 per WUL rules for play stoppages near the end of a quarter — and uncontested by Chu, giving possession to Bigham for the Wild. Another deep shot from Kercher was just toed in by Sarah Staller; finally, though the Falcons kept the Wild dancing on the goal line for a few more throws, the Wild scored for one last two-point lead, 11-9 with less than half a minute left.

A last-point zone look from Utah ate a little more clock, and while Sam Applegate managed to snag another point for San Francisco before the match was over, the story was already written: just hours after their first-ever practice as a complete team, the Wild had won.

Stream replay: San Francisco Falcons vs. Utah Wild

Twists, Turns, and Triumph for Super Bloom Against Tempest

In an intense battle worthy of the Saturday prime-time slot, hometown heroes and Winter Cup hosts San Diego Super Bloom edged out Seattle Tempest 14-13, with the winning score coming on the very last possession of the game. Seattle and San Diego remained well within touching distance of each other throughout the game, as neither team managed to eke out more than a one-point lead, and the 11-11 tie on the scoreboard as the game entered its final quarter signaled a finish to remember for everyone involved.

Per the WUL ruleset, teams alternate pulls each quarter; by the fourth, it was Tempest’s turn to send the disc out to start, giving Super Bloom the classic advantage of starting on offense with an even score. The teams exchanged turns, eventually giving the disc back to San Diego, with UCSD standout and U24 US National Team veteran Kelli Iwamoto making her presence known. The Super Bloom offense worked it up the field, only for the quick seven-second stall count to creep up on Leslie Willis, who just managed to force a last-second throw to Blair Messner for an apparent San Diego score. It was not to be, though, as another WUL rule change came into effect.

In the WUL, timeouts can be called both by players and coaches in the midst of play, and just before the disc spun off Willis’ fingers, San Diego coach Angela Wells had signaled for a timeout. The score no longer stood, and the game remained tied for the time being. Out of the timeout, the Super Bloom were unable to convert at first, but a one-throw turnover from the Tempest gave them one more opportunity. This time they made no mistake, as Avery Jones found Theresa Zettner in the end zone to give the home team a slim 12-11 lead.

The following points saw both teams hold, with Seattle blowing through the 2-3-2 zone look San Diego had run most of the game to draw the score level again. Super Bloom found success the next point as their star players stepped up, with Alex Diaz — making big plays all game long — coming down with a throw from Iwamoto, then boosting it to Jones to regain the lead, 13-12.

A series of turns on the next Seattle offensive possession ended with the disc back in Tempest’s hands, and the visitors used a timeout to ensure they had the right line on to score. They worked it through their handler motion before Shira Stern slotted it to Lexi Garrity for the hold, evening the game at 13s with just under three minutes to play.

The final point of the game ended in spectacular fashion. After both teams had squandered opportunities to deal finishing blows, San Diego had the disc, less than 15 yards from scoring with less than 15 seconds remaining. They passed it around with frenetic energy, feeling the pressure of having to score in the waning moments of the game. What San Diego coach Wells knew, though, was that in the WUL, a team can maintain possession even after the last quarter buzzer goes off until they score or turn it over, and so she took her second and final timeout with just a few ticks left to settle her players.

The timeout worked, and Iwamoto, Jones, and company held their nerve, eventually getting the disc to Kristen Pojunis, who laid out to secure the catch and the 14-13 win for the hosts. It was a triumphant ending to a game that opened with a Super Bloom break, then saw the lead change six times before the home team took it back for good.

While the final result was disappointing for Seattle, the game also showcased four standout blocks from Qxhna Titcomb and four goals from Steph Lim. Their next game, a Sunday morning opener against the Utah Wild, looked like an especially good test of Seattle’s mettle after strong showings from both teams on Saturday. As for San Diego, they could carry the momentum of a dramatic win in front of hometown fans into their Sunday matchup against the formidable Los Angeles Astra in the weekend’s last round, setting the stage for an exciting finale at the Winter Cup.

Stream replay: San Diego Super Bloom vs. Seattle Tempest

Winter Cup Standings After Day One

The Winter Cup followed a unique scoring format in which teams were awarded points toward an overall victory based on W-L record, daily stat achievements, and fan participation. (Points from another high-scoring category, the Fan Fantasy contest, would be awarded at the end of the weekend.) These were the standings after Saturday’s games:

1. San Diego Super Bloom (30 points)

  • Game Win: 15 points
  • Point Difference: 1 point
  • Assist Leader (Avery Jones, 4A; tied): 3 points
  • Best Pull Time (5.5 second avg; tied): 3 points
  • Instagram Contest (655 likes): 8 points

2. Los Angeles Astra (25 points)

  • Game Win: 15 points
  • Point Difference: 4 points
  • Goal Leader (Dena Elimelech, 4G; tied): 3 points
  • Best Pull Time (5.5 second avg; tied): 3 points

3. Utah Wild (21 points)

  • Game Win: 15 points
  • Point Difference: 1 point
  • Block Leader (Megan Maxfield, 2D; second): 2 points
  • Assist Leader (Rebecca Kestin, 4A; tied): 3 points

4. Seattle Tempest (7 points)

  • Block Leader (Qxhna Titcomb, 4D; first): 4 points
  • Goal Leader (Steph Lim, 4G; tied): 3 points

T-5. Arizona Sidewinders and San Francisco Falcons (0 points)

  1. Kelsey Hayden
    Kelsey Hayden

    Kelsey Hayden is an Ultiworld reporter, primarily covering the Premier Ultimate League and Western Ultimate League. She is originally from Goulds, Newfoundland, and currently resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She plays on a women's club team, Salty. You can follow Kelsey on Twitter - @hikelseyhayden - but warning, she rarely tweets and hates ultimate Twitter.

  2. Mags Colvett
    Mags Colvett

    Mags Colvett is a former Associate Editor at Ultiworld, the holder of a creative writing MFA from Ohio State University and a literature MA from the University of Georgia, and a proud career B-teamer. They live in Queens and tweet at @magscolv.

  3. Jenna Weiner
    Jenna Weiner

    Jenna Weiner is a Senior Staff Writer, a co-host of Ultiworld's Double Overtime podcast, and considers herself a purveyor of all levels of ultimate. She's played mostly on the west coast but you're likely to find her at the nearest ultimate game available.

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