National Championships 2023: Breathtaking Brute Squad Fillet Flipside (Women’s Quarterfinal Recap)

Boston stifle SoCal, will face Fury in semis

Boston Brute Squad celebrate against San Diego Flipside in the quarterfinal of the 2023 Club Championships. Photo: Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 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.

It was a matchup of experience versus youth, of defensive nous versus offensive firepower, of international talent versus local cohesion. It was Brute Squad versus Flipside, and it frankly wasn’t all that close.

The final margin was 15-7 in Brute Squad’s favor, but the result felt predetermined within the first few points. Brute held to open the scoring and then picked up back-to-back breaks to quickly put Flipside in an 0-3 hole. While there wasn’t any one reason why Boston rolled to such a comprehensive win, those first two Brute Squad breaks gave two clear examples.

On the second point of the game, Flipside’s offense hit the field for the first time and their strategy quickly became clear. This is a young, dynamic, and athletic SoCal team and their plan was to attack Brute Squad in the deep space, and they did just with their opening offensive possession. After a stoppage in play with the disc just past midfield, Rebeca Ellis cut to the sideline for a short up-the-line pass from Abbi Shilts and then hucked it to Kaela Helton cutting deep. The throw went long, though, and Brute Squad had their first break chance of the game.

Eight passes of classic clean Boston offense later, and Brute Squad rookie Lilli Trautmann had the disc in her hands following a pass from her German national teammate Levke Walczak. After Walczak’s breakout success with Brute Squad last year, Trautmann joined up alongside her and has been an instant success.

By the end of the game against Flipside, she had put up a total of four goals, one assist, and two blocks, including a callahan that put Boston up 10-4. On that second point, she made it nine clean passes with a gorgeous outside-in flick huck to Amy Zhou to finish off Brute’s first break, and Boston was in business.

The example that was set on that point? That Brute’s deep game was clicking and that Flipside’s was not, and that trend continued the rest of the game. Becky Malinowski was a constant thorn in SoCal’s side and her two goal statistical tally doesn’t come close to reflecting her impact on the game.

“I think we had some tougher height matchups on Brute Squad, and they really exploited the deep game and were really successful in that,” said Flipside’s defensive rock Kristen Pojunis. “As the deepest defender I was keenly aware of that, and Becky Malinowski is just an incredible receiver. It felt like she was coming down with everything and I think we really struggled with her specifically.”

On the following point, Flipside’s offense did their best to settle themselves, and did so capably until about half-field. Once there, however, Flipside floated a throw over the head of their intended receiver and gave Brute their second break chance of the game. It would have been another immediate conversion, too, had it not been for the efforts of Abbi Shilts. The current UC San Diego superstar had the unenviable proposition of guarding Brute Squad captain Tulsa Douglas on the third point of the game, and capably stood up to the challenge.

After a quick series of Boston passes following the Flipside turn, Douglas cut to the front cone looking to receive the disc from Mangie Ferero. As she lunged forward trying to get into position, Shilts bid right alongside her and earned the block. While the St. Olaf alum did call a foul, the observer ruled that it was a clean block by Shilts and Flipside had another chance to hold.

“Conservation of Greatness” is a well-worn cliche in ultimate, and for good reason, as it bit Shilts and Flipside just a few throws later. Maggie O’Connor put the disc back into play for SoCal and just got the first pass off to Helton in traffic, who then continued on to Shilts. She turned, looked for an option, and found Laura Blume cutting under, but ended up throwing directly into the path of a trailing Caitlyn Lee, who knocked down the block in traffic. Back to Brute Squad it went, and five passes later Yuge Xiao threw wide to Lee who toed in the goal. Just like that, Boston was up 3-0 within the first ten minutes of the game.

“I think this win was built on the foundation of really tight person defense,” said Brute’s Caroline Tornquist. “We had a lot of turnovers where we shut down the first option, we shut down the reset, and then they threw not their first look, and we capitalized on that.”

The example that was set on that third point? Not only was Brute’s offense functioning on a higher level than Flipside’s offense, but their defense as well. Time after time, point after point, Boston stymied the SoCal offense. It resulted in easier than expected blocks and basic throwaways that you wouldn’t expect from a team that had upset a talented Raleigh Phoenix side and won their pool the day before.

Because, let’s be clear, Flipside deserved to be here. This wasn’t a case of Brute Squad putting a pasting on a fresh face team that lucked into quarters; Flipside earned their way to this game. They had a fantastic performance against Phoenix, had cruised past Nemesis and Nightlock, and had a consensus top-5 player in the division in Kaela Helton. And yet they simply had no answers for Brute Squad as the East Coast giants piled up break after break.

If you were a Flipside fan, there was an unfortunate repetitiveness to how the rest of the game played out after those opening points. Yes, Flipside did respond to three straight Brute goals with two goals of their own, both ending in the hands of Pojunis, but it didn’t get much better from there. The score was 8-3 Brute at half and the closest it got in the second half was 8-4 after a Flipside hold out of the break.

For a young Flipside team, this loss leaves them still lacking that leap to semis, though a loss to a Brute Squad team that hasn’t missed semis in a decade isn’t shameful by any means.

“When you’re facing a team like this with the veterans and experience they have who’ve been here, I’m not upset with that team going on to semis,” said Flipside’s Avalon Igawa. “I’m so, so proud of us, and yeah, you’ll see us again next year and I know teams are scared of us, so we’ll bring it.”

“And we got a lot of great players working hard in PT!” Pojunis chimed in.

Meanwhile, Brute’s reward for beating Flipside is a matchup with another Southwest title-contender, this time their long-time rivals Fury.

“This is a team we’ve faced many many times over the years and multiple times this season, and so we kind of know what they’re looking to do,” said Tornquist. “They play big space offense and they’re great throwers and they’re gonna punish on the turn. So we just need to play the way we know how to, and I think it’s different facing Flipside, who we’ve never played before versus a team we have a lot of history with, the approach is a bit different.”

We’ll get to see what that approach is for Brute Squad against Fury at the fields on Saturday afternoon in a rematch of their universe point semifinal last year. If Brute Squad find a way to replicate their level of execution against Fury, then they’ll have a real chance to avenge last year’s loss; otherwise it’ll be Fury in the final for a third straight season.

  1. Jenna Weiner
    Jenna Weiner

    Jenna Weiner is a Senior Staff Writer, a co-host of Ultiworld's Double Overtime podcast, and considers herself a purveyor of all levels of ultimate. She's played mostly on the west coast but you're likely to find her at the nearest ultimate game available.

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