Pro Championships 2023: Women’s Division’s Saturday in Their Own Words

San Francisco Fury’s Maggie Ruden sizes up a pancake catch at the 2023 US Open. Photo: Sam Hotaling – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 club ultimate season 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.

Pro Champs is always an exciting experience. After all, some of the best ultimate of the season happens every year over Labor Day weekend. All the players know this is the last chance to get in Nationals quality reps ahead of the postseason. And, as a result, everyone loves to talk about it. In fact I picked up a lot of chatter around the fields today mostly from players, but from some spectators as well. Here’s a look at Saturday around the women’s division as told by the people there. 

“I feel like in the last month or so it’s been our team gelling and coming together.”  – Jinny  Riedel, Phoenix.

#6 Raleigh Phoenix hadn’t seen the field since mid-July, and they were the biggest question mark in the women’s division coming into the tournament. They played pretty well at PEC-East, making it to the final and falling just short of the win with a loss to Scandal.

All those questions were answered and those losses left in the past. Phoenix came out of the gate with a statement win against #3 Boston Brute Squad in the first round in the showcase game. They walked past #14 Pittsburgh Parcha in the second round. Then in round three they put all demons to sleep, coming out ahead of #1 Washington DC Scandal in an absolute barn burner 12-11. Phoenix capped off the day with another confident win against #9 Vancouver Traffic, ending their pool play a perfect 4-0. Coming in as the seventh seed and finishing off Saturday with a bye to the semis is a pretty good demonstration of a team coming together and gelling. No other team at the tournament – all three divisions – that drew the unlucky four game Saturday won more than two games. A key to their success? Phoenix were notably active on defense. The wind was definitely the leader in blocks on day one, but Phoenix was a close second. 

“We know what we’re capable of, but we also know that there’s some pretty incredible competition here. These are all very high caliber nationals level teams.” – Becca Arbacher, Scandal

Scandal were one point away from finishing off Saturday 3-0. When any team that’s been on a hot streak finally loses, the scrutiny is a lot more intense. However, Scandal lost to a really good Phoenix side in a game that could have gone either way. Don’t count Scandal out yet, they’re far from out of the tournament, and regardless of what shakes out in the final round of pools tomorrow morning they are in the bracket. A win would secure a much easier pre-semis matchup, but Scandal are capable of beating any team here, including the very Phoenix team they’ve lost to. 

Claire Trop is a big reason for their continued success. Her ability to take over a game is undeniable. It was also clear that she was able to keep her team focused and zoned in during messy games and long marathon points. The wind was definitely a factor out on the field today and Scandal were able to both settle in on offense and secure upwind holds, and battle through sloppy back-and-forth points to win upwind breaks. 

“Yeah. We bring a fan club with us.” – Kirstin Johnson’s Dad

The way things have been going so far, it’s going to be hard for #2 San Francisco Fury to lose this tournament. Fury looked dominant today, knocking off #8 Toronto 6ixers 15-4 and #10 Seattle Riot 15-6. Then, in a reversal of last year’s national final, Fury won out over #4 Denver Molly Brown 15-12, with Molly making a number of uncharacteristic errors. Betting against Fury is always a huge risk, even when they have shown earlier in the year that they can be beaten. One major story for them is that they were missing Opi Payne on Saturday and still went perfect through three games. The defensive stalwart is supposed to be arriving tomorrow, flights from the west coast permitting. Their presence on the field will make an already complete team look unstoppable. 

The reason they were so dominant in their wins was because they were very good at limiting the amount of break chances for their opponents and even better at capitalizing on their own. Lisa Couper was constantly open in red zone situations. Irene Scazzieri was blowing past defenders. Dena Elimelech was orchestrating points in the middle of the field.  It’s also awesome in the truest meaning of the word to watch their person to person defense in action. All seven players are in sync with each other and squeeze out offenses. Every throw seems to be contested, and teams struggle to move the disc even in the reset space. Fury have a fan club watching their games, and it’s clear that they deserve it. 

“We had a lot of defensive pressure in pivotal moments…and we’re playing through our depth.” – Cassie Swafford, Denver Molly Brown

Molly Brown still have the ability to reach the heights that they hit last year and take the third Pro Champs in a row. There are multiple players on this team who are just walking highlight reels. That said, it’s clear that there is a consistency issue for the defending national champs this year. Molly Brown have struggled all season to find the same sense of identity that pushed them to their first title run. It’s still apparent in flashes and bursts. Individual points or runs make Molly look unstoppable, but then they slip into an unforced turn or put up a questionable throw. Against lower tier teams they can rely on their elite athleticism to get past teams in tight situations – that’s what happened against Riot – but faced with teams that are just as talented as they are they’re much more likely to get punished for their mistakes, and not able to make up for it in other ways. 

Molly is working through their depth and are putting up fantastic pressure on defense, especially in the clutch, but their knife just isn’t as honed as it was just a year ago. It’s worth noting that Lisa Pitcaithley is taking limited points and Stacy Gaskill is sidelined entirely due to injuries. It also seems that Molly is still tinkering with their lines, and haven’t worked out all the kinks in their system.

“We felt more confident as the day went on” – Gigi Downey, Brute Squad

The game to watch tomorrow morning in the last round of pools is definitely Brute Squad vs. Traffic. It’s the only game that will determine who is in and who is out of the bracket stage, every other game is just for seeding. It’s the classic win-and-you’re-in. No need to rely on another team to win by x amount and get in on point diff. 

Additionally, be sure to keep an eye on Phoenix as they continue to elevate and will be coming into the semis fresher than most, not needing to play any games before the pivotal game. 

Bonus Quotes

“Shout out Edi who is very good at being a really great handler defender and just an all around great person.” – Gigi Downey

“Hi Mom, Hi Dad, Hi Olivia! You guys are really cool and I’m glad that you watched our game!” – Eliana Harnage, Grit

“We love you dear, we know you’re going to do well, we’re proud of you!” – Kirstin Johnson’s Mom and Dad

“We have a big roster this year, it takes all 37 of us, everything that happened positively on this field is built on all 37 of us grinding. Shout out to our teammates.” – Val Pinillos and Josie Gillett, Riot

  1. Zack Davis
    Zack Davis

    Former D-III player for Spring Hill College, poached on the breakside.

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