2022 Pro Championships: Molly Brown Wins Second Straight Pro Championship (Women’s Division)

An early lapse didn't stop the Denver club from finishing off a winning weekend.

Denver Molly Brown's Claire Chastain looks for a throw against Raleigh Phoenix's Sarah Meckstroth in the 2022 USA Ultimate frisbee Pro Championship final.
Denver Molly Brown’s Claire Chastain looks for a throw against Raleigh Phoenix’s Sarah Meckstroth in the 2022 Pro Championship final. Photo: Brian Whittier

RALEIGH— Perhaps the most highly anticipated women’s division matchup of the weekend finally came to fruition Monday morning, fittingly in the final: #3 Denver Molly Brown faced off against #2 Raleigh Phoenix for the first time since both teams lost in semifinals and met in the third place game at the 2021 Club National Championships. It was a classic battle of perennial contenders versus the new kids on the block. Molly Brown, a club who is no stranger to big games, were trying to defend their 2021 Pro Champs title, and Raleigh Phoenix were trying to get their first elite level gold in their own hometown.

But it was only briefly a contest. For a few moments, it looked like Phoenix might hustle their way to a convincing win, but soon thereafter, it was a more even match, and then it wasn’t. It was all Molly Brown from then on, ending in a 15-11 win.

While both teams made it to the final after benefiting from a bye to semifinals and rolling through their respective matchups in that round, their experience in pool play was vastly different. Molly Brown went unchallenged through their pool play games, with no team finishing within four points of the Colorado powerhouse. Phoenix, on the other hand, had to grind through their matchup with Toronto 6ixers and come back from giving up three breaks to take the W, but couldn’t add another against Portland Schwa in an impeccable performance by the Oregon crew.

The final started with Molly Brown’s O-line looking to put together another clinical performance, but Austin Prucha had different plans and prevented an easy hold with a huge layout block. It was a fitting start for a team that is known for impressive athletic plays. Phoenix capitalized to start the game in the way every team dreams of: with a break. The momentum continued in the hometown’s favor through the second point, when again Phoenix gobbled up a break opportunity to put them up 2-0. Molly Brown took a well-needed timeout to collect themselves and likely remind each other that the time for rolling through competition was over and they needed to step it up another level.

And step it up they did, after a clean hold (by their D-line in fact) to get things going, and a not-so-clean hold from the Phoenix squad, the Colorado break train started and refused to stop. What should have been a routine reset pass was thrown away by Kami Groom, a mistake that became a theme of the game for Raleigh. A cross field flick blade to the end zone from Ari Nelson to Ronnie Eder locked in Molly Brown’s first break. Another quick error from Phoenix handed Colorado an opportunity and thanks to Lisa Pitcaithley getting wide open and then placing a flick to the break side perfectly, Molly Brown got the game back on serve at 4-3.

Phoenix mixed things up by putting out one of their D-lines on offence and the change-up paid dividends, as Claire Revere connected on a flick huck with a bidding Julia Zwierzynski for the score. Unfortunately for Raleigh this was the last time they touched the scoreboard for the half.

The remainder of the half was defined by relatively unforced errors by Phoenix and decisive conversions by Molly Brown. Raleigh simply struggled to get the disc from point A to point B. A turfed throw, miscues, and throwaways created a platter of break opportunities for Molly Brown and they happily feasted. The first half ended with Molly Brown up 8-4.

One has to wonder what the Phoenix leadership discussed at half when their biggest problem was what should be the simplest part of the game: throws and catches. Strategically there really wasn’t much to adjust; it’s just hard to win a game when you repeatedly hand the disc to the other team.

A quick hold by Phoenix kept hope alive at the beginning of the second half and a very messy point from both teams ended with a huck from Revere to Meckstroth to bring the deficit down to two. But Molly Brown would not give up the lead so easily. Things were pretty messy on both sides, but an absolute beast of a stand still flick huck from Valeria Cardenas to her sister Manuela reminded everyone why they’re some of the best players in the world and their presence helps make Molly Brown a formidable opponent. Valera tallied three assists, one goal, and a block in the win.

The second half – like the majority of the first – felt like Molly Brown’s game. Colorado looked smooth and sure of themselves and Phoenix looked like the moment was just a little too much. While Phoenix tried to make a run of their own near the end, getting a much needed hold and break thanks to the squad finally finding a higher level of defensive pressure and offensive execution, it proved to be too little too late. Molly Brown completed their dominating Pro Champs performance winning the final 15-11, solidifying their place among the elite of the division.

Phoenix will undoubtedly be disappointed, especially considering it really felt like they were their own worst enemies at times. But sometimes you have to fail before you can fly and Phoenix coach David Allison felt they gained a lot from this matchup and experience. “We talk about solving puzzles – each team throws different kinds of puzzles at you – and so getting to see some of the puzzles Molly has is really important to us. So we take that forward and add it how we want to respond as a team, and hopefully apply it for the next tournament,” said Allison.

While they would have loved to take home the gold, Phoenix knows this loss doesn’t define them as a team or program. “We’re at the end of the season so you can’t blow up what you’ve done,” reflected Allison. “You have to trust the things that you’ve been building and make the adjustments that you need.”

On the flipside, Molly Brown is reflecting on their win this weekend and their losses last weekend at the Bay Area Tournament as small pieces of their season puzzle. “Essentially by playing two tournaments in a row, and by not having the opportunity to play tournaments earlier in the season, we approached both of these tournaments as like a condensed season,” said Molly Brown head coach Joaquin Nagle. “So it wasn’t so much of making adjustments as it was taking the growth pattern that you normally see through a Co-Cup, US Open, Pro Champs progression, that normally takes like a month and half, but we just tried to accomplish it in 10 days.”

If this weekend is any indication, Denver Molly Brown is growing the right way. Raleigh Phoenix put up a fight and lost, but that is an important part of the process. As we know, a Phoenix only rises if there are ashes.

With the close of the regular season, it’s now time for everyone to turn their attention to the fall Series. It may feel like the end, but it’s still a long road to San Diego. Lessons learned from this weekend will no doubt aid teams in their journey to the championships.

  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 captain's a women's club team, Salty. You can follow Kelsey on Twitter - @hikelseyhayden.

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