International stars flexed their might and passion underneath an idyllic evening sky as the Color of Ultimate showcase provided an injection of mid-week joy.
August 15, 2022 by Charlie Lowe in Recap with 0 comments
LEBANON, OH – The Color of Ultimate is dedicated to showcasing the best players of color in the sport. The World Ultimate Club Championships is the biggest arena for the world’s best players. The synthesis of the two created a magic unlike any other. Players who had been battling all week for global dominance came together in fierce and joyous competition, skying, bidding, and celebrating to a crowd raucously cheering in the Cincinnati twilight. As the sun set, rays of purple and gold and auburn cascading over the field, a rainbow touched down over the players’ heads, one final nod of respect to the teams. The exhibition between the Movers and the Shakers was a perfect encapsulation of this WUCC, with the Shakers taking the win 13-9.
As the teams geared up to face each other, they first had to face down adversity. Rain throughout the day pushed rounds back several hours and numerous players stepped down from the game, including Khalif El-Salaam from Seattle Mixtape and Johnny Bansfield with the Brussels Mooncatchers. But as the game commenced it became clear that while these players were missed as part of the celebration, the on-field competition would be just as fiery in their stead.
The game began with fireworks. A big bid from Jalal Sylvester (USA) put the Movers up 1-0. The Shakers responded quickly, firing deep to Kya Wiya (AUS) for the 1-1 tie. A dropped pull from the Movers gave the Shakers a one-throw goal to secure a break for 2-1. On the subsequent hold attempt, big throws from AJ Merriman (USA) and Penelope Wu (USA) stood out, including the assist from Wu to Sylvester for the score and tie at 2-2.
On the march for 3-2, the Shakers supplied the cleanest hold through the first five points and potentially of the game. Smooth offense came from strong attack angles, beautiful inside throws, and was capped with a lovely around backhand from Alyne Azucena (CAN/PHL) to Elkin Albarracin (COL).
With the clean hold secured, the Shakers began the first of several runs through the contest. After an inside flick from the Movers was just too far for Cassie Brown (USA), a strong upfield break throw from Suraj Madiraju (USA) to Danielle Leung (CAN) gave her a tight window to use. Attacking swiftly, Leung found Danilo Balaguer (DOM) for the break and 4-2 lead. Immediately after, the Shakers took advantage of a block on double coverage against Devin Cox (USA) and began marching up the force side. Kasheef “Cash” Sasi (SGP) launched the deep flick huck to Jorge Delgado (VEN) for the 5-2 lead.
With the game’s first big lead escalating the pressure, players began seeking opportunities to make things happen. Multiple deep looks on the next point resulted in one of the highest turnover points of the game. The Movers adapted first, shifting to shorter yardage throws as Jason Vallee (USA) found Aakar Mehra (IND) for the 5-3 hold.
Movers followed the hold with a run of their own to tie back at 5s. Wu hit an effortless high-release flick to Roger Michael (EGY) for 5-4. On their next hold attempt, the Shakers fell victim to the zone look from the Movers, a Kaitlynne “Bunz” Roling (USA) backhand sailing just over the skying receiver. Merriman looked to Vallee in the end zone and some careful footwork secured the goal and the tie.
The teams were chock-full of talented players at every position, yet it was the handler set from the Shakers that routinely kept play moving. They rarely had difficulty working through the Movers’ zone looks, hitting short dumps and narrow windows. Their patience opened up the looks they wanted, as Kevin Izquierdo (COL) uncorked a hammer to the back corner of the end zone. Albarracin stood all alone as the disc fell into his hands for the 6-5 lead.
Building on their already stellar handler chemistry, the Shakers turned it on to take half. A Vallee miscue on a high-release flick hit the turf ahead of his receiver Laura Guerrero (DOM/COL). The Shakers went to work, pulling Alex Davis (USA) to the backfield with longtime running and roommate Madiraju. Their chemistry and comfortable handler movement let Julie Paik (KOR/USA) slip free of her defender for an easy under cut. A well placed flick from Paik to Rica Garcia (PHL) brought it to 7-5. A poachy look on the next point earned the Shakers a block, and Akifumi Muraoka’s (JAP) backhand floated around the defense for Cesar Montes Martinez (CAN/COL) and the break to take half at 8-5.
After the break, the crowd was treated to even greater swagger from the players, while the Shakers continued their dominant performance. Two memorable moments came from Balaguer and Wu: Balaguer giving a cheeky look and point after a missed bid from Merriman, and Wu walking off after an inside backhand without stopping to see if her receiver, Victor Bautista Gonzalez (MEX), secured the goal.
Momentum in their favor, the Shakers continued their march towards victory, rattling off three more points to double the Movers, 12-6. It became evident that despite strong individual performances, the Movers weren’t able to coalesce as a full team in the same manner as the Shakers. The Shakers full team offense and defense showed a quickly built yet deep chemistry, with contributions from all across the roster.
True to the spirit of a showcase, the Movers refused to go quietly into the night, blasting in their own three-point run in the second half. Continuing the trend of stellar individual performances for the Movers, Roger Michael snagged a trailing edge disc to cut the Shakers lead in half, 12-9. The Egyptian standout, and perhaps even the Breakout Player of the Game, put the community on watch with his play, which included a hand block of such ferocity it soared up and over the awestruck crowd.
On the game’s last point, both teams played to the crowd one final time. Under the rainbow, players launched themselves for every available disc, seeking to make that final highlight play to bring glory for their home teams and countries. It would be Balaguer’s elite crossfield vision that got the job done, finding Albarracin in the back corner of the end zone for the 13-9 Shakers’ win.
It’s worth noting that in a game played by the best, the driving forces behind each team were not from the United States. It was the international players who tallied the highest stat lines, made the highlight plays, and stirred the sidelines with their energy. More and more, the talent gap between the United States and the international challengers closes, making each new Worlds event more tantalizing.
In addition to providing high-level play for BIPOC athletes, the Color of Ultimate is founded upon raising awareness of the racial and socioeconomic inequities in access and visibility for ultimate players around the world. The players who took the field were not only some of the best athletes competing at WUCC, but also the embodiment of Color of Ultimate’s mission. “We are catalysts, we are activists. We belong in this community, we have a voice,” said Rica Garcia, whose words brought earnest grins to the circled players and reminded all who heard them of the joy that only a truly diverse ultimate community can share. “CoU, I see you.”