National Championships 2022: Truck Stop Tops PoNY to Reach First-Ever Final (Men’s Semifinal)

The game was delayed 30 minutes after a scary collision that sent Grant Lindsley to the hospital.

Jonny Malks was unstoppable for Truck Stop in their semifinal victory over PoNY, including throwing the game winner. Photo: Kevin Leclaire - Ultiphotos.com
Jonny Malks was unstoppable for Truck Stop in their semifinal victory over PoNY, including catching the game winner. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – 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.

Early reports indicate that New York PoNY’s Grant Lindsley is in stable condition following a head-to-head collision with Washington DC Truck Stop’s Aaron Bartlett on the third point of the second men’s semifinal.

Lindsley was running at a flat-out sprint to cover the pull when Bartlett, looking the other direction at the centering pass, started his initial cut into Lindsley’s path. The impact was violent. Lindsley, who hit his head on the collision and again upon falling to the ground, appeared to lose consciousness immediately, and he remained unmoving for some two or three minutes after the accident before he became responsive. He would leave the field in an ambulance 20 minutes later as a frightened silence hung in the stadium.

Lindsley’s well-being was the central concern of both teams in the immediate aftermath of the incident and after the game.

“[PoNY coach] Bryan Jones said that [Grant] was doing okay, and that’s the most important thing here. I hope he continues to do all right,” said Truck Stop veteran David Cranston in the post-game press conference.

“I’m happy to say that Grant is doing well,” said PoNY’s Sean Keegan. “He was out for, I think, about two minutes. But when he came to, he knew where he was, he knew he was playing frisbee. He wasn’t sure exactly what happened, but he was able to move all his extremities… All reports right now are that he is doing very well overall. As scary as it was, mostly good news now.” Lindsley was kept in the hospital overnight on Saturday as a precautionary measure.

Bartlett sustained only minor injuries on the play, though he did not return to the game.

There was a long delay while Lindsley received medical attention, leaving the teams to figure out how to respond to and process the frightening episode as they tried to find a way back to a game mentality.

PoNY coach Cody Mills emphasized the way the team looked to Lindsley’s example in their huddle. “One of the first things we did was talk about the things Grant brings to our team, both to honor him and to think about what we would have to replace from the collective of the group,” he said. “I don’t think anyone had any doubt that Grant would want us to go back out on the field and work hard. So reminding ourselves that even though something terrible had happened to someone we care a lot about, that we could honor him by going back out there and replacing him as best we could.”

Keegan echoed that sentiment. “It was really hard to see somebody you love and care about and spend so much time with get hurt in such a scary way, but, like Cody said, as hard as it was after, the focus was that Grant would want nothing more than for us to go out, give it our best, and try to win,” he said. “So that’s what we did.”

“It was hard on the PoNY guys and hard for us to try and find energy after something that is seemingly random,” said Cranston. “We’ve run down on pulls a thousand times and…I’m just glad Grant’s doing okay.”

*****

Truck Stop advanced to the national final for the first time in team history with a 15-13 victory over PoNY that was by turns gritty and ingenious. Rowan McDonnell (1G, 3A, 2B) was the brightest light in the contest for an O-line that lived up to its sterling reputation with a superb effort against PoNY’s notoriously ruthless defense.

It was, however, Truck’s D-line who provided the team’s first highlight. A poorly measured Sean Keegan reset on PoNY’s opening series set up a short field for Truck. The Truck D-line’s reaction was like when the lights go out to start an F1 race: they ran like hell toward the end zone. In the chaos, Jasper Tom leapt an upline forehand to within an inch of the goal and finished the break with a dish to Codi Wood.

PoNY would not be cowed by the early deficit. If anything, they doubled down on their biggest strength to stop the slide at a single break. Harper Garvey threaded an inside-out forehand 55 yards to stitch a connection with Sam Little. That toss was the first sally of a deep-throwing attack that would get the better of Truck on numerous occasions.

The story of PoNY’s tournament heading into semis had been the story of an ironclad defense that only the day before had bullied a typically competent Chain Lightning into 18 O-line turnovers en route to a tremendous quarterfinal win. They struck fast again in the semi. Before Truck could even get into gear on their first offensive point, Antoine Davis whipped across the lane to snatch an inside continue attempt. But they could not complete the break, as McDonnell put his back against the deep receiver and lifted off to regain possession, setting up a second chance hold.

McDonnell was without peer today. Once a dominant isolation hybrid tasked with chewing up yards and launching quick-release hucks, he has adapted his game beautifully to the new offensive system. “It’s such a smaller part the play: just get the disc and keep the disc alive,” he said. He dinked, danced, and darted at the line of scrimmage as well as any of Truck’s vaunted younger handlers while folding in a level of athleticism and hand-eye coordination that turned him into the O-line’s premier option for a late-stall bailout. His role may have undergone a makeover, but he has played it with such sublime virtuosity that his 2022 performance rivals his illustrious past.

Both defenses sharpened their claws over the next several points in search of another break chance — to no avail. The determination of each offensive player on the field to grind through third or fourth options even after multiple frustrated cuts meant that every thrower held the disc in full confidence that they would never need to resort to an unappealing option. The upshot was a comprehensive exhibition of the finest throwing on offer in the men’s division. Between breadbasket away shots from Garvey, Jimmy Mickle, and Ben Jagt; a smooth eye-high Jonny Malks space forehand; or McDonnell’s comet of a bladey flick to the break side, it was as though each side were out to one-up the other.

The pinnacle of that series was a stunning stand-still Mickle forehand. Even by his superhuman standards, it was a special throw. It sailed with pace across the hypotenuse of the field to find Garvey midway into the goal box on the opposite sideline and bring the score to 7-7. Even David Bloodgood, who had been covering Garvey and had the bulk of the field sealed away, found Mickle on the sideline to compliment him after the point.

PoNY had a chance to break for half after Malks mishandled a reset pass. Little and Jagt had crossed over for just such an opportunity. They marched to the goal line like a rising tide – but that was the limit. From just shy of the backhand sideline, Little tried a long, edgy forehand across the field to Jagt. Too much edge, as it turns out: it traveled too far and fell too fast for Jagt to have a play. McDonnell fired a brilliant forehand to a wide open Boxley in the end zone to take half on Truck’s second chance.

It would not be long before PoNY found their coveted break in the second half. PoNY defender John Randolph had done his best to harass Gus Norrbom throughout the game without anything to show for his effort except for an early yellow card. Trailing 9-8, though, he finally got an arm into the play on one of Truck’s innumerable short passes. Truck defended the goal with admirable desperation, but Evan Padget managed to keep his body in bounds as he kept the disc above the turf for the game-tying score.

One break almost turned to two. On the next point, Chris Kocher tried twice to give PoNY the lead. He gobbled up errant passes from both Tyler Monroe and Cole Jurek – neither of whom had recorded a turnover on the weekend until then. The first chance fizzled out when PoNY couldn’t execute on a backhand to a tight window in the end zone. The second exploded in a meteoric McDonnell bid to ruin what should have been a standard-issue swing pass.

Those would be PoNY’s last break chances of the game. Truck simply continued to decorate the cake: a drizzle of nifty finds over PoNY’s front-heavy endzone defensive schemes. As as been the case all year, star performances came in bunches for them. Christian Boxley, elegantly picking his spots, played a perfect game. Jurek and Monroe thundered under and long. Malks and McDonnell (who rather resemble one another in both build and style) rained brilliant passes around PoNY’s vanguard and rearguard alike.

The PoNY O-line had been outstanding since giving up the opening break. Trailing 11-10, it looked like they would prevail yet again. They endured one flying bid against the open sideline from Fred Farah; they endured another even closer flying bid by Alexandre Fall on the next pass. Those scares behind them, Mickle had a clear look at Little near the goal. And then — extraordinary though he had been in both the game, the tournament, and the season — a crack opened inside Mickle: he chose a low, near-vertical blade for the clear open side lane. It arced promptly into the ground.

Truck’s counter would foreshadow the game winner. Tom saw a pasture of artificial turf ahead of Fall and pulled the trigger on the deep shot. Fall misread the carry and went up a tick too soon – only to be bailed out by Farah’s hustle on the back side.

Mickle atoned for his error with a pair of screaming, all-caps, exclamation point backhands to Jagt and Kocher: PoNY’s 12th and 13th goals. Those throws capped a stupendous effort by the world champs, but stupendous was not enough against Truck. One wonders whether they would have been able to turn that score all the way to 15 with the healthy, dialed-in Lindsley who had been so instrumental in getting the team to that point.

Truck played the more precise game on offense. And, crucially, they may have also played the better defensive game. Cranston’s tireless, thankless, fruitless hounding of Mickle; Duncan Fitzgerald and David Bloodgood’s cagey backfield ploys; and, especially, Fall’s late-game intensity combined to squeeze just enough mistakes from PoNY to keep a margin of error for the offense. “Alexandre [Fall] is our hardest worker. He is the heart and soul of our team,” said McDonnell. “Heart of a champion.”

The best of it, though, was the toilsome play of Troy Holland to dampen Kocher’s impact to a murmur. That he demonstrated the best combination of discipline, speed, and positioning in the game is without question. It may have been the leading defensive performance of the tournament. “Troy played some of the best defense I’ve ever seen,” gushed McDonnell. “Out in the lane against Chris [Kocher] time after time just winning moments, winning one cut, winning two cuts, and you might not see it because the disc isn’t going his way.”

The game ended with a rare splurge from Truck’s frugal O-line. McDonnell got big eyes for Jurek and put up a forehand to him with too much air underneath. It gave Joshua Stevens-Stein plenty of time to find a spot and force an early jump out of Jurek. Once again, though, the back-up claimed the glory: Malks hustled behind the one-on-one to clinch victory.

Since their watershed trip to the mountaintop in 2018, PoNY have now fallen twice in semifinals and once in the final – each loss a bitter pill for a program with such keen ambition. But Keegan was philosophical about his club’s late-bracket heartbreaks. “I don’t think that we’re missing anything. I don’t think there is anything structurally or programmatically wrong with the approach we’ve taken… We’ve been on the wrong of two incredible, close, all-time games,” he said. “These are high-quality games and high-quality teams. I don’t think we’re going to look back and think we did anything wrong or we were missing something to break through.”

“The margins are super-thin at the top,” continued Keegan. “Kudos to Truck for raising the game to a new level.”

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

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