Minneapolis rode defensive momentum to historic tournament victory
September 6, 2023 by Alex Rubin in Recap with 0 comments
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When these two teams met on Sunday morning during the 8 a.m. last round of pool play, Drag’n Thrust needed a small comeback at the end of the game to pull off a narrow win characterized by patient and effective offense in a strong wind. That win gave Drag’n Thrust the top spot in their pool and a crucial bye to semis. By Monday afternoon, Drag’n Thrust had taken down #5 Madison NOISE in the semifinal and brought on reinforcements: Tanner Barcus, Emma Peaslee, and Kayla Blanek all joined the team for the last two games after being unavailable during pool play.
BFG, on the other hand, had a tougher road to the final, playing without offensive stars Sam Rodenberg and Jennifer Ricaurte for the whole weekend. Their other loss in pool play to Love Tractor set them up to play in the pre-semi round where they needed to dispatch a rangy and athletic Hybrid squad desperate to earn enough rankings points to secure a second bid for the Great Lakes region. Once BFG sent them to placement play with a 15-13 win, they needed a late comeback to take down #1 Philadelphia AMP on universe in the semifinal under the lights.
Given their easier path and fuller roster, it was no surprise to see Minnesota strike first in the final, goading Jeff Pape into launching a huck too far for Jason Yun. Though the wind was less severe in the final than it had been all weekend, there was still a distinct upwind-downwind element to the game, and players who could put the appropriate touch and edge on their throws were incredibly valuable. Going upwind, lefty Charlie Schuweiler unloaded a massive backhand huck that found a waiting Chelsea Semper and Drag’n Thrust scored the first break and the first upwinder of the game.
“We wanted to take away some unders and make them shoot it,” Minnesota’s Bryan Vohnoutka said after the game. “Obviously with the up/down wind, some of these throws down here just kept pushing a little bit long.”
Emphasizing their throwing might, Minneapolis broke again going downwind on a gorgeous flick huck from Vohnoutka to Bret Bergmeier. With the ability to score confidently both ways, Drag’n Thrust’s offensive polish looked much improved from their US Open showing last month, where they only managed two wins. With more time spent on the practice field together, Drag’n Thrust are hitting their groove at the most important point in their season.
“Our roster is very similar to last year, with just a few new pieces,” Drag’n Thrust captain Danielle Byers said. “And I think it’s easy to get bogged down in the strategy and kind of forget that you do know how to play at the end of the day. And offense does have a little bit of improv and flow that you have to read off of. And so honestly, this tournament, the best times were when we just played frisbee like no matter what [the defense] threw at us.”
Per USA Ultimate policy with the heat rising to level one, an extra timeout was given once a team reached four points. With Minnesota holding a 4-1 lead, both teams retreated to their sideline to drink some water and spend time in the shade. The Drag’n Thrust sideline was fairly raucous, feeding off of the energy of their two break run and imploring their teammates to keep their foot on the gas.
“I definitely thought there was something we definitely did not have at US Open,” Vohnoutka said. “I think we struggled at times maintaining a high level of energy and it kind of got to us in some points. We had big emotional swells and then huge valleys afterwards. So that was something we emphasized coming into this tournament no matter what’s going on…I’m glad that showed through today because that was one of the days you have a long weekend, three days in a row, playing, you come out here it’s heat level on and we’re having breaks keeping the energy up, you know, matters on the field mentally and physically.”
“Normally we give our MVPs throughout the weekend to people that have played well,” said Byers. “But this time I felt like we were giving it to the people who brought the most energy because we came into this and knew that was going to make the difference – and it did, it absolutely did.”
Dylan DeClerck was one such MVP in his first year with the team. Many players on Drag’n Thrust also played with DeClerck on the AUDL’s Minnesota Wind Chill, and the rest are familiar with him from his time on rival teams Madison NOISE and Ames The Chad Larson Experience, but all lauded his ability as a teammate to provide positive encouragement. Sarah Mondschein and Tanner Barcus also earned praise for their leadership of team cheers and songs, which kept the team energy up despite long, hot days.
The BFG sideline exuded a quiet confidence, but could not match the outward energy across the field. “Our team has a lot of different personalities on it,” BFG captain Kaitlynne Roling said. “BFG historically has always kind of had that quietness to it. We have confidence in ourselves because we know that we give each other our all at practice, so we can show up to these tournaments and do that. And it’s about building that confidence over the course of the season through the process, not at these tournaments.”
In spite of Drag’n’s energy, Seattle did manage a one-throw hold on a set-play huck out of that heat timeout. But it was their last score of the first half. Drag’n Thrust were bursting with energy and made life hard for a BFG offense that suddenly couldn’t get going. Jason Tschida, Rachel Johnson, and Sam Berglund got blocks in the reset space on consecutive points, Berglund’s an acrobatic callahan after his towering blade of a pull pinned BFG back in their own end zone. Drag’n Thrust took a commanding 8-2 lead into halftime.
Drag’n Thrust succeeded because of their willingness to try challenging throws in the wind and their commitment to high-energy, full-team ultimate. “They weren’t afraid to push it upwind and a lot of their throws are just very gorgeous,” Roling said. “And a lot of their time cuts deep, upwind or downwind with their throw or skill set, was really amazing to see. Half of the time I’d be like, ‘Oh, nice.’ And then, under a lot of those jump balls, they had a lot of people under them wanting it. Like there were at least three dark jerseys1 to like our one white jersey. And so it’s definitely a testament to their grit and grind that they can bring as a team in these moments.”
At this tournament last year, Drag’n Thurst met Ann Arbor Hybrid in the final and saw Hybrid take the same 8-2 lead at halftime. Minneapolis was able to mount a wild comeback, ultimately winning that game on universe point. On the other side of a large lead this year, Drag’n Thrust wanted to make sure that history would not repeat itself.
“[Coach] Carlos [Lopez] in the huddle said it very plainly that he knows personally what it feels like to be down 8-2 and coming back with a fire and a passion,” Vohnoutka said. “So obviously being in the spot last year, we knew that if we take the foot off the gas, they’re going to come back here and try and punch in a quick couple breaks and shift in momentum. So obviously, that was our focus. They did do that. But then we resettled and broke back a couple of times.”
Even when BFG did have some success, completing the upwind/downwind break pair midway through the second half, Drag’n Thrust came roaring back with a run of their own to keep the game out of reach. Though BFG have tried to add complexity to their offensive system to become less predictable, Drag’n Thrust seemed to anticipate their every move. Beyond the tactical preparation, they simply made plays. Highlights came from all over the roster. Whether it was Vohnoutka reeling in a contested huck catch while being pushed to the ground, Erica Baken stepping into the lane to poach block a huck, or Byers churning out cuts when it felt like all the other players’ legs were too tired, Drag’n Thrust always had someone who they could turn to to keep their energy high and their focus sharp. Byers, often the recipient of deep looks this weekend, flipped the script on the final point and launched the game clinching huck to Caleb Denecour.
For a Drag’n Thrust team that entered the weekend 34th in the USA Ultimate rankings and the no.10 seed out of 10 teams at the tournament, getting a win must feel sweeter than the whipped cream they squirted in each other’s mouths all weekend. They’ll enter the postseason as one of the title favorites– and with the knowledge that there is still room to improve on an impressive weekend.
“The important thing after a win is to not let it be what you think you are,” Byers said. “It’s important to let that confidence be in you and drive you, but also remember we have work to do…It wasn’t it wasn’t the best tournament we had and we got work. We all have work. Even though we won this game, it wasn’t perfect in our minds. We set ourselves to a high standard. We know that if we want to win a championship, there’s a lot we have to do.”
For BFG, losing in a second straight TCT event final has to sting, though making it this far is a testament to both their skill and mental fortitude after their up-and-down pool play performance and the need to overcome a large deficit to take down AMP in the semifinal. As they enter the USAU Series, BFG know they have something good that is worth building on and will continue to work hard and push themselves in an effort to win the program a second national title.
Drag’n Thrust wore black jerseys in this game while BFG wore white. ↩