The Southwest's pecking order was clarified, while visiting Colorado and Oregon stood out.
February 25, 2022 by Graham Gerhart in Recap with 0 comments
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SAN DIEGO — The final day of action at the Presidents’ Day Invite paid off on expectations that had been set up all weekend. Despite not counting towards rankings, the teams that made the bracket were too competitive and too well-coached to allow for the standard of play to drop, leading to inarguably the best day of ultimate at the tournament. In the end, the favorites prevailed, but that doesn’t paint a full enough picture. Monday had callahans, game-saving layouts, and universe point wins, with plenty to takeaway.
UCSB Bests UCSD in a Weather-Hampered Final
As is frequently the case when two in-region rivals face off against each other, there was a lot of kinetic energy from both #4 UC Santa Barbara Burning Skirts and #8 UC San Diego Dragon Coalition before the first pull of their final matchup. These are two teams that have and will play each other multiple times this season, and are intimately familiar with each other’s playing style. With the tournament on the line, though, neither side was keeping anything in reserve to try and keep an edge for future matchups. While UCSB did eventually come away with the 8-5 win, the game was a testament to how closely matched the two teams are, rather than an emphatic assertion of Santa Barbara’s dominance.
Despite the wind and the rain doing its best to play spoiler, the game started out fairly cleanly for both teams. With each side still testing out the confidence and stability of the opponent’s throwers, it allowed for two efficient holds right off the bat. UCSD showed their hand early by relying on their handlers, whereas UCSB was at their most comfortable pushing the disc as quickly as they could, forcing San Diego’s defenders to play catchup. This was not anything new for either side, but it set the tone and made one thing very clear: it had to be defense that was going to win this game.
With both teams settling into familiar patterns, the game looked like it was going to be cut and dried, at least until Abigail Shilts went into overdrive.
Over the course of the next three points, Shilts was responsible for an assist, two blocks, and two goals – including a massive layout bid – that completely overwhelmed the Skirts and gave DCo a convincing 4-1 lead. The Shilts show was in full action, and it was made all the more impressive by how hard she was working for every point. Shilts was not the tallest player on her team, nor is she the fastest or even the best thrower, but she is undoubtedly the most explosive, and may lay claim to being the most explosive player UCSD has ever had by the time she graduates.1
From there, San Diego made their first mistake of the game: sitting Shilts. “It was encouraging to see all those breaks right off the bat,” said UCSD captain Ava Hanna. “And the only reason we didn’t get more is because we switch out lines.” Without their most dynamic player on the field disrupting UCSB’s offense, UCSD didn’t have the firepower on the field to match with Santa Barbara’s depth, and Julia Hasbrook juked one of DCo’s rookie defenders to get open upline for the goal.
That proved to be a crucial hold, as it allowed UCSB to get their defense on the field. “After those first points, we calmed down and started to trust our team,” said UCSB’s Laura Blume. “We have great athletes and great discipline. That’s what gave us an edge when we needed it.”
It did come down to the physicality and athleticism on the field in the final. Both teams are historically defensive-minded, and have multiple different options for pressuring their opponents when they’re on the field. UCSB is a fast-break nightmare, while UCSD prefers the ‘huck & play defense’ strategy, forcing teams deep into their own end zone and pressuring them into making a mistake. With UCSB getting their defense back on the field, suddenly all the pressure was on UCSD to perform.
Immediately upon hitting the field, UCSB got three straight breaks, but while San Diego had relied on individual heroics for blocks, UCSB’s were a team effort. The Burning Skirts were the deepest team at the tournament, and they sent out wave after wave of quality defenders to exhaust UCSD’s smaller roster. For Ava Hanna, it was the UCSB’s zone that was the problem. “Their deep deep and their wings caused a lot of issues,” she admitted. “Normally I have an option to throw over the top to one side or the other, but UCSB’s wings spread so wide and I have a narrow window to throw to.”
The zone forced UCSD to adjust, but also to get fatigued from all the additional effort. The home team had relied on a tight core all weekend, and when players like Ava Hanna, Lauren Hanna, and Maggie Pierce started to get tired, that’s when the façade of indomitability fell apart.
If there was one particular piece to highlight for UCSB, it would be Julia Hasbrook. The sophomore rookie played as the deep in UCSB’s zone, and was always able to contend with San Diego’s deep shots, which Ava Hanna was happy to fire off. When Hasbrook wasn’t on the field or was out of position, Yu Ishii stepped up to take the mantle, and her positioning and field awareness was equally difficult to crack. As UCSD got tired, they would almost always look for a deep bailout, which they didn’t have with Hasbrook or Ishii in the backfield. “Yu & Julia carried our team,” said the Skirts’ Alice Bentzer. “Them as a duo is awesome for us.”
Unfortunately for everyone, with the weather being as miserable as it was, and the teams starting to tire, points began to stretch on. Leading 6-5, UCSB came out in a zone, and UCSD responded with their fingers rapidly pulling the trigger on their hucks until they had run out of ammo. The strategy of forcing UCSB’s offense to reset in their own end zone every time they made a mistake was punishing, but it never gave San Diego an advantage on offense, as Santa Barbara knew exactly what the UCSD handlers were going to do, and were ready for it at every turn. With both teams whittling away at their stamina, the cap horn went off, and UCSD’s luck finally ran out. Bentzer beat her mark to the end zone, scoring a break for UCSB to go up 7-5.
With the cap horn sounding before half, UCSD had no time to rest and reset, which suited UCSB just fine. The Santa Barbara defenders ran downfield to set up their zone, and a mean handblock from Mika Leslie gave the team a short field to work with. From there, UCSB just had to run their handler reset scheme, something they had been practicing all season long. “From the start of the season we’ve been working on dump and reset drills” noted Blume. “We want everyone on our team to be comfortable in the handler space. It’s about confidence and discipline behind the disc.”
With cap on, Ishii got open off an upline cut, ending the game at 8-5, and keeping UCSB’s perfect season alive.
While this is now the second time that Santa Barbara has got the best of them this season, UCSD was fairly happy with their performance against their in-region rivals, and were quick to commend their opponents. “It was just fun to play them at full strength,” said Ava Hanna. “We haven’t been able to play them with our full roster until now and we enjoy playing them as we are meant to be.” Unlike many rivalries of yore, there’s no animosity or bad blood between the two programs, just respect. “We’re confident we know UCSB at this point,” said Ava Hanna. “We know our matchups and just enjoy playing them. It’s good for the region.”
For Santa Barbara, this win is yet another example of their legitimate shot at repeating their fall Nationals success. Despite graduating many of their most prolific players, including recently-announced Callahan winner Jasmine Childress, UCSB’s system and schemes are the backbone of their team, and that’s what has carried over into this season so well. Individual talent is important, but it’s been proven time and again that disciplined defense and good reset options are the formula for success in college ultimate. As the sports cliché goes, defense wins games, which means UCSB should be a favorite of sports dads everywhere.
UC Davis Stumbles in Semis While Oregon Celebrates
The nature of sports is a funny thing, because there can be two results that appear equal on paper but invoke two very different responses. Both Oregon and UC Davis lost in semis to UCSB and UCSD respectively, but while this is seen as a victory in context for Oregon, it’s a disappointment for UC Davis.
#5 UC Davis Rogue does not deserve the scrutiny they will get after their performance on Monday. They may have dropped a consolation game to UCLA that they weren’t taking too seriously, but otherwise the team’s only decisive loss came from being outmaneuvered by UCSD in semis thanks to the short rounds and halftime rules. By all accounts, UC Davis was playing better offense against DCo, and very clearly had the talent and the system to get them to the final, which they were quick to praise as the reason they were in the semis at all. “At a tournament like this, it’s all about working our systems,” said Davis star Jules Madigan, “It’s always us vs. us in every game.”
While that’s a strong sentiment from Davis, the first few points definitely reminded them that they weren’t alone on the field. UCSD’s Abbi Shilts terrorized them in the first few points (two blocks, two assists, and one goal in only three points), and gave the San Diegan squad a 3-1 edge to start. After that, UC Davis got their legs under them, caught up to UCSD, and played them tight the entire way through.
It helped that they had the talent to match San Diego. Madigan, Rani Shah, Margo Donahue, and Allyn Suzuki were all more than enough to stay in lockstep with UCSD’s best. Madigan, in particular, proved to be a matchup problem for the San Diegans, as she was always able to chase down deep shots while also being lethal in the backfield.
UCSD and Davis traded holds and a few breaks right up until 7-7, where they managed to bait the Davis handlers into an ill-advised hammer that was battered down by Ava Hanna. From there, UCSD worked it to the end zone, before a miscue led to Maggie Pierce floating a backhand to no one. As she turned in frustration to play defense, Lauren Hanna flew towards the ground Mission Impossible-style, catching the disc right before it hit the grass, helping her team take half 8-7. This put UCSD in the lead at a crucial moment, as time was winding down.
Halftime is really where UCSD’s leadership can be commended for exploiting the shorter rounds by taking the full ten minutes of halftime, forcing the game into soft cap, and drawing out the first point as long as they could to go into hard cap, where they only needed to hold once the horn blew. “We knew the cap situation,” said UCSD captain Ava Hanna. “Knowing that, we knew time was on our side. Starting on O was an advantage because even if we turned it over, we knew we could trust our defense to get it back in a favorable position.”2
That’s exactly how it played out for UCSD, winning 9-7 after playing the necessary defense after turning the disc on deep shot after deep shot to eventually get their way in front of the end zone for the goal.
UC Davis lost the game largely due to time expiring on them, which has to be included as an asterisk when this loss is brought up as a black mark against them in future rankings. UCSD deserved to win, but perhaps Davis did not deserve to lose. If there is any disappointment around the team’s weekend, it’s only that they didn’t have more time to play for their spot in the final.
On the other hand, Oregon Fugue’s results are largely a celebration of their return to form as a force in the Northwest. They may have lost to Santa Barbara, but after being seeded no.8 at the tournament, making it to the semis says more about them than their subsequent loss.
It’s not as if it was a guaranteed win for UCSB, either. Oregon took the first break of the game off a dime pass from Julia Berard to Ava Jones. UCSB’s handlers weren’t able to swing the disc to the backhand side confidently with the wind swirling, leading to a number of turns that set up Oregon in prime position to take the lead. It helped that Rachel Hess played almost all the team’s points, as her throwing ability rendered the wind’s displacement to be largely void. Oregon went up 4-2, which was exactly their game plan. “We knew it was going to be windy coming into the game,” noted Fugue coach Morgan “Gunny” Zajonc. “That means the first half is basically the whole game. So we knew we had to come up strong.” If that was the game plan, Oregon followed it to the letter, although as with any windy game, nothing was settled.
In any game for UCSB, the highest priority of their offense is to get their defense back out on the field. This may seem simplistic or obvious, but Santa Barbara’s D-line carries so much momentum behind it that they can string breaks together in rapid succession. That’s exactly what happened in the semis, as UCSB defenders took to the field at 5-3 and won three straight points to give their team the lead 6-5.
UCSB often will cross over offensive players to the defense during these moments, and as all these players started in defensive roles, they keep the break train going. In this game, it was largely Elsa Winslow that terrorized Oregon. Her size and speed meant she could match up with any player, and often beat them to the disc no matter how well-placed it might be. That’s not to say Oregon wasn’t able to make plays when Winslow was on the field, but UCSB’s stars, coupled with their zone and the swirling wind, started to drain Oregon’s energy and led them to a lot of late game mistakes. “We were happy with the matchup,” said Zajonc. “We just ran out of time and energy in the end.”
Oregon dropped a few more breaks out of half and UCSB clinched the game 11-7. But Fugue played them tight the entire game, and should be excited about where they are as a program without any regular season tournaments in the past two years.
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I’m aware of your skepticism. Yes, I know Dena Elimelech exists. Watch more Shilts footage ↩
UCSD’s Abbi Shilts was quick to praise her captain after this quote for being both literate & also ‘ultimate literate.’ ↩
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