A crushing first-half lead and heroic play from stars like Claire Trop nabbed Scandal the US Open win
August 9, 2023 by Edward Stephens in Recap with 0 comments
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Aurora, CO – In an action-packed US Open final, Washington DC Scandal downed San Francisco Fury 15-13. The win, their second over Fury in the tournament,1 serves as formal notice of a rumor that has been brewing for the last month: Scandal are serious contenders for a club championship this season.
Sunday’s victory is the twelfth feather in Scandal’s cap. They’re floating, not yet weighed down by any losses through two tournaments. In the beginning, it looked like so many of their others: one-sided affairs, like when a steamroller wrestles a patch of fresh asphalt. Fury’s offensive execution errors aside (for now – see below for a short treatise on their early struggles), the story of the game’s first half is the story of Scandal’s lead foot planted on the gas pedal.
Seemingly every possession of theirs ended in a shot on goal. They didn’t all work out, but the point was they never let Fury’s defense after the turn settle into any comfortable patterns. It wasn’t just noted shooters like Claire Trop and Lisa Dang – the whole crew got in on the act. The normally sensible Jessica Sourbeer tossed a completely outlandish high crossfield backhand to Kami Groom that no one saw coming. Even Sandy Jorgensen, who’s made a storied career of doing everything super-well except for throwing forehands, threw a flick huck for a completion. The entire Scandal side committed to pressing aggressively for scores. The upshot was six breaks in the first half – and a commanding 8-2 lead.
Underpinning it all was the play of Claire Trop. It is one thing to have a deep, committed, assertive team; it is another thing entirely to have that kind of team plus an unstoppable talent in the midst of transcendence. On the stat sheet, Trop’s name stands out like an orange BMW in a forest.2 Her five-goal, four-assist masterclass in the final is essentially a typical line for her 2023 season. She led the division in both goals and assists at the tournament, with 18 and 19, respectively.3 Her actual performance to the naked eye is, if anything, even more prominent in comparison with her peers than her gaudy numbers. She chases down every long throw, gives 200% effort for every contested disc, rises for 50/50 shots like an indefatigable trampolinist, and makes nano-second decisions to throw some of the most difficult shots anyone in the division would have the chutzpah to attempt. She is playing the best ultimate of her club career and the best ultimate in the division this year. Having a player like that makes everything easier for every other player on the roster.
Even with all that, Scandal wouldn’t have stormed through the first half without a significant assist from Fury’s offense, who did not start very well. The main culprit was a spate of bad throws. Bad throws of all kinds, in fact. Low throws, high throws, wide throws, long throws, throws into traffic, and throws into recently vacated empty spaces. They couldn’t stop tripping over themselves (figuratively) and they couldn’t stop throwing their fate to the wind (a bit more literally). “Unfortunately we couldn’t come out the way we wanted today,” said captain Maggie Ruden.
It must have come as a breath of fresh air, then, that they got to start the second half on defense. Right from the start of the half, the game had a new energy. Fury were no longer against the ropes, they were swinging. It began with a Scandal decision to throw to a cut under intense pressure from Julianna Werffeli (who, incidentally, was one of Fury’s top performers in the game and led Fury in plus/minus). They didn’t get the break on that turnover, but almost immediately they found a second short field opportunity and let Anna Thompson flip a high backhand near the front cone for Opi Payne. That was the first of six second half breaks for Fury.
The crowd on the berm surrounding the showcase field had been invested and boisterous as Scandal threw Fury in the dumps in the first half. It was nothing, however, to the noise they generated as Fury made play after play to chip away at the lead and drag themselves close to even. Their second break of the half came when Thompson and Amel Awadelkarim shut down dump looks, forcing a narrow front of stack reset. Skinny as the window was, it still had all the earmarks of a completion, but with the reflexes of a young cat Werffeli whipped her shoulders around, accelerated into a hard step, and found the pass to block it. What it lacked in sheer spectacle it more than made up for in the supreme skill level necessary to put together the full play.
Not that there was any lack of spectacle for the game in general. On the contrary, Scandal and Fury could not have choreographed a fireworks display with as much awe and raw excitement as they generated on the field in the second half. For Scandal? Incredible team-wide commitment to bids – Theresa Hackett, Kat Ritzmann, Maddy Boyle, and Marge Walker come to mine – delicious tosses by Walker and Dang, and a few moments of Trop’s airborne brilliance. The greatest roar was reserved for the greatest play: a two-handed Trop catch of a double-covered huck. Both Lo Guerin (playing matchup) and Carolyn Finney (dropping from the stack to help) took excellent lines to the play and went up strong. Guerin even got a grip on the disc. No one, however, has shown the ability to deny the single-minded Trop this season on a contested catch. She crab-clawed directly over head and tumbled down to the earth. Those kinds of plays are the stuff of legend – and Trop’s is being written on the field right before our eyes.
— USA Ultimate (@USAUltimate) August 7, 2023
But Fury are a legendary team, and they engineered a legendary comeback with what can only be called the best defensive performance of the year so far. Between Werffeli’s toilsome work wherever she found herself, a chest-high layout block by Opi Payne reminiscent of the the unbelievable playmaking from earlier in their career, a desperate (and successful) Thompson bid stepping away from her typically tight mark to go for a wider angle on the disc, and the suffocating matchup defense of Sharon Lin (dogged, agile, and tremendously fast), they kept giving themselves possessions. And when you have throwers like Thompson, Payne, Werffeli, Marisa Mead, and Anna Nazarov tossing to receivers like Finney, Dena Elimelech, and Kanari Imanishi, those possessions are going to turn into scores. Despite Scandal’s best efforts, Fury cut the lead from six goals – they trailed 13-7 – to just one.
“We always have that in us,” said Ruden. “Our ability to respond in those situations and not give up, that is one of our main team strengths. I’m so, so proud of how we responded.”
Trying to hold for the game at 14-13 against the Fury defense that had done nothing less than completely embody the team’s name for 17 second half points, Scandal almost coughed the disc up again. But Walker saved a low pass with a patented layout. Then Amanda Murphy, showing off the on-disc concentration that had been her specialty over the weekend,4 just managed to hang on to the next pass with her very fingertips as the wind played havoc on the disc’s flight. Dang absorbed a cannon-shot of a forehand reset from a distance of about three-and-a-half yards without losing her cool. Trop sped flatout to the sidelines to catch a full-field swing just before it went out of bounds.
And then? All of the hard work in the point set up a simple continue to Murphy, who had come from the break side of the field for the score, putting the final touch on an instant classic of a game.
Washington DC Scandal are your 2023 women’s division US Open Champions! pic.twitter.com/FU9xlYHcQH
— Ultiworld (@Ultiworld) August 6, 2023
Fury come away from the game with some notes for the future. “We came out slow both games [against Scandal],” said Ruden. “Next time we have to show that we can come out strong and put the pressure on them. We need to put the pressure on them early in the game and see how they respond.”
Scandal, meanwhile, can enjoy the satisfaction and confidence that come with a payoff: the hard work they’ve put into the season so far has been overwhelmingly evident in the on-field results. The work isn’t done yet – and won’t be until October – and there will be plenty of challenges (and challengers) to come. For now, though, they are without a doubt the best team in the land.
Scandal first defeated Fury 14-13 in a seeding crossover between pool winners ↩
The only other player to finish in the top-10 in both categories was Brute Squad’s Mangie Forero, with 11 and 10. ↩