A fantastic showcase to kick off Championship Monday in Milwaukee.
June 9, 2022 by Charlie Lowe in Recap with 0 comments
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MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – College Nationals presents, among many other things, an opportunity for many of the best young players across the division to measure themselves on the highest stage. What do those players do when every single one of them is a big-name player? Championship Monday’s Color of Ultimate showcase game provided an easy answer: they show out.
BIPOC All-Stars from across both the D-I and D-III college divisions faced off Monday morning, kicking off the festivities ahead of the afternoon’s championship finals. Forty Color of Ultimate participants were split into two teams, and the Ballers won out over the Scholars 15-11 in a game featuring high winds, high flyers, and highlight-reel plays.
It’s a rare opportunity for so many top-level college players to compete against one another, and each person to take the field made the most of the opportunity. Everyone had the green light. “It’s a showcase game. Everyone gets to show what they can do,” said Tracey Lo, one of the two coaches for the Scholars, on loan from her coaching role with Michigan Flywheel.
As with any all-star exhibition, the players were feeling each other out, learning the strengths of those they had not played with or against previously. At the same time, the coaches started with early combinations of players they could pair by team: the UC Davis women were often paired together, the Pitt women paired together, etc.
The stiff upwind/downwind was, as it had all weekend, a major determining factor in the outcome of the game. On an opening point featuring multiple turnovers, play-by-play commentator Adekale Ande shared a key insight: “the wind is taking no prisoners.” Throwaways and drops abounded as the players calibrated, especially attacking upwind and swinging the disc. The Ballers eventually found Austin Hegmon off a goal-line dish from Cal Poly SLO’s Kenrick Koo for the first hold, 1-0. Hegmon euro-stepped off the field, and the fans in the stands and at home were reminded of the show ahead of them. Players of color, in a game by them and for them, celebrate a little differently when spirit scores aren’t being lorded over them as a threat to their teams.
The first look at a Scholar’s O-line mirrored the first point. The Scholars worked through tight matchup defense from the Ballers D-line. Plenty of steady hands meant shots came from all over the field, but it was a deep look from NC State’s Suhas Madiraju to Michigan’s Ashwin Pothukuchi that put the Scholars on the board, 1-1.
Big players have big games on the biggest stages. Early statistical leaders jumped out as the holds continued. Thalia Ward of Cal Poly SLOmotion and Austin Hegmon of Georgia State racked up early numbers for the Ballers, while Georgia’s Marie Perivier sought to match Hegmon’s goal tally. Despite the duel between these two, who share a high school alma mater, it would be Ikran Elmi and Chackgarin Brown from the University of Washington Element and Sundodgers respectively who unlocked the game’s first break. Elmi shot deep through the headwind to find Brown. After a timeout, Brown found a streaking Allyn Suzuki of UC Davis in the upline space for a break and the 4-2 lead.
There were more breaks to be had though. In what became a theme, the Ballers team showed themselves capable of building large leads in short amounts of time. Efforts from Koo, Ward, and Texas’s Aaron Barcio pushed the Ballers to a 6-3 lead. The tone of the game took a noticeable shift at this point. Coaches and players let their IQ’s begin to dictate the strategy like a chess match. The Ballers began running lane poaches, intensifying their defensive pressure, while the Scholars tightened up their handler sets to clean up the short game and then fired downfield to extend the available space.
All the while, the stars continued jockeying to establish themselves. Madiraju found the front cone for a dish from Berry’s Collin Hill and repped the NC State women’s team Jagamonsta in an all-time great celebration. The next point, Axel Agami Contreras of Ohio State brought down an upline pass from Pittsburgh’s Jessie Sun and immediately ripped a massive backhand huck to Sul Ross State’s Javier Roman Flores-Gaytan to earn back the upwind break, 6-5.
Scholars punched in another break to get back to even at 6-6 off stellar patience from Perivier and Hill. Intensity reached a boiling point as the teams battled to take half. Soaring layout blocks from Agami Contreras and Stanford’s Simon Covington would not be enough for the Scholars, however. Cincinnati’s Jalal Sylvester countered the monumental effort of his regional rival Agami Contreras with a huge play of his own. The initial swing for the Scholars never found its target, as Sylvester struck through the lane for a poach block Callahan, and an 8-7 halftime advantage for the Ballers.
The lift from that Callahan seemed to sustain through the halftime break, as the second half belonged to the Ballers. Thalia Ward asserted herself as perhaps the player of the game; at the very least she had the upwind throw of the game, a midfield shot in perfect stride for Aaron Barcio for 9-7 out of halftime. Everything came up Ballers from then on. They burned their way to 14-8, everything going their way as what felt like every player on their roster completed a highlight play. Chackgarin Brown reached orbit off a downwind shot from Elmi. Tufts’ Lia Schwartz threw a goal with perfect touch. KJ Koo read the Scholars all the way off a reset play to punch in the Ballers second Callahan of the game, to get the Ballers a point from victory.
The Scholars regrouped and completed a successful run towards the end of the game. Contributions from Sun, Madiraju, Agami Contreras, Hill, and Minnesota’s Eugenia Garza who had easily the layout grab of the game kept the Scholars competitive. The valiant effort proved too short a ladder out of the hole they were in, and the Ballers completed the victory after a sky from Barcio and dish to Sylvester.
Handler play won the day across the board. A deeper handler rotation for the Ballers gave them more avenues pushing upwind. Elmi, Schwartz, Ward, and Koo carved through the wind with ease, and with a cutting corps of Brown, Hegmon, Barcio, and UC Davis’s Rani Shah, the strong throwers seemingly never ran out of options. On defense, the Scholars could not overcome disciplined play from the Ballers’ handler defenders, and often took forced downfield shots when swings weren’t available.
While the joy of a competitive and celebratory game carried the players all game, it’s important to remember how much this meant to those players and coaches. For many, this was their first time playing in a filmed game or showcase. For others, it was their first time appearing at Nationals at all. Win or lose, the chance to play on the big stage will have a lasting impact.
Underlying the whole event further is the importance of representation. BIPOC players are often underrepresented in their communities. Color of Ultimate provides playing opportunities for those who often never see the chances to put on for their teams and their ultimate homes. It can’t be understated the significance of the work being done, and how essential it is to see it continued. Monday’s celebration entrenched that idea further. Ultimate is a beautiful game, and even more so when every person, regardless of background, has the chance to show what they bring to the field.