National Championships 2022: XIST Continue To Dominate (Mixed Quarterfinal)

New York are defying the odds as they advance into the final four.

New York XIST's Nikki Hair get a piece of a block against San Francisco Polar Bears at the 2022 USA Ultimate National Championships.
New York XIST’s Nikki Hair get a piece of a block against San Francisco Polar Bears at the 2022 USA Ultimate National Championships. Photo: Jeff Bell — UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2022 Club National Championships is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

New York XIST went from unlikely bracket threat to no-doubt semifinalists with an emphatic 15-9 win over San Francisco Polar Bears in Friday’s quarterfinal round. It was yet another performance from New York categorized by gritty play and embracing the grind to find a way to win.

One year ago, XIST’s Nationals return experience was done on day one. They finished in last place at the tournament, failing to win a single game. This season, they didn’t see much national competition and garnered little consideration as a team that could make a deep run, given their history. They continued to be overlooked until they won their pool on Thursday, going 3-0 with a win over tournament top seed Drag’n Thrust, proving that the mixed division’s wild penchant for upsets remained valid.

In their first-ever bracket game at the Big Show, they faced off against San Francisco Polar Bears, a team fresh off a win against WUCC runners-up Vancouver Red Flag and who gave reigning national champions BFG everything they could handle in a universe point pool play matchup the previous day. Much like XIST, Polar Bears had failed to advance to the bracket last year and came into this tournament with something to prove and nothing to lose.

It was New York that came out hot in this one, smoothly working the disc down the field for an opening hold before being gifted a short field turn that they immediately cashed in on with a one-throw break. San Francisco got on the board with speedy hold of their own, but the blistering pace of the game’s start would quickly dissipate.

A sloppy fourth point saw multiple blocks by each team, but also a series of calls that interrupted game play, presaging what would become a theme for the next phase of the proceedings. Foul calls, turnovers, stoppages, and equipment timeouts produced points marked by several minutes of disjointed action. On the sixth point, XIST’s Nina Finley mistimed a bid in the end zone and clattered through the legs of a Polar Bears cutter, resulting in a yellow card. Whether through the stakes of the game, the physicality of the defense being played, or just the sheer volume of stoppages, frustrations seemed to mount and once friendly no-contests after calls began resulting in longer discussions between the teams and increasingly calling observers in to mediate. Another yellow card followed a few points later, as San Francisco’s Mac Taylor skied to reel in a floating huck, but crashing through two New York defenders to do so. XIST capitalized on the turn to collect their third break of the half, then added a fourth to extend their lead to 7-3, a margin which they would carry into halftime.

The intermission was enough to cool most of the rising tensions, though it didn’t immediately improve the efficiency of either team with the disc. Despite adjusting their game to be less trigger-happy with their hucks, Polar Bears struggled to mount a meaningful comeback attempt, time and again failing to convert on the opportunities presented by XIST’s O-line. While San Francisco at one point closed the gap to within two, New York responded in kind, shutting the door and posting a four-goal run to close out the game with a dominant score line.

The Polar Bears were led by the play of Mac Taylor and Piers McNaughton, who each made big plays and helped the team stay in the game. At the same time, simple execution mistakes too frequently plagued their offense; for an O-line that has been ruthless for much of the season, it was an unfortunate time to go cold. On defense, they made some smart adjustments, forcing XIST to throw a lot of throws and cut off some of their deep looks. But the loss ultimately came down to their inability to convert. They earned plenty of chances for breaks, but they couldn’t quite find a rhythm and failed to take advantage of XIST’s mistakes.

On the flipside, XIST excelled in the same way they have all weekend, grinding out break conversions and finding ways to earn the disc back with the O-line when they gave up the disc. They proved athletic enough to win with their legs and trusted their players to come down with enough 50/50 jump balls. The New Yorkers took away some of the looks to key players on Polar Bears coming out of the second half and the adjustment worked out well for them. Throughout the game, their offense was really run by Emily Barrett, who looked very solid the entire time. Hannah Garfield also provided XIST with the energy that they needed to pull them through the latter part of the game.

“In the second half, Hannah Garfield really turned it on for us, really brought the defensive pressure, creating two turnovers indirectly, each time taking away their initial look and forcing them to go to a secondary or third look and after a couple of times, the disc is going to pop up and we’ll take care of it,” said New York coach Izzy Bryant when talking about the defining moment in the game.

Take care of it, they did. Through the tournament’s first two days, New York have done a better job than pretty much anyone at capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes and making the most of their opportunities. Whatever the external impression coming into the weekend, XIST had confidence in themselves and knew that they could succeed. Now they’re semifinalists, and they’re not going to be overlooked any longer.

Looking ahead to the semifinal, New York will take on Seattle Mixtape, the favorites to win. They will have to remain able to capitalize on any Mixtape mistake, but it won’t be enough to just wait for them to turn. They might need to amp up their defensive pressure in order to have even a chance at winning. XIST have flashed the ability to keep their game relatively clean, but they’ll only truly see success if they can limit their turnovers. No, they are not close to being favored to win this matchup, but, as we all know by now, the mixed division is crazy and riddled with upsets. You just never know.

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