National Championships 2023: Charmed! Bravo Ride Magical Play to Semis (Men’s Quarterfinal Recap)

Can anyone stop Denver Johnny Bravo's nigh-improbable run at a second consecutive Nationals?

Denver Johnny Bravo’s Connor Olson cheeses against San Francisco Revolver’s Michael Ing at the 2023 Club Championships. Photo: Rodney Chen – 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.

Denver Johnny Bravo’s magical run in San Diego – which dates back a year to the second half of prequarters last year, since which time they have been untouchable – continued in the quarterfinal round with a complete 15-11 victory over San Francisco Revolver. The four-point margin is something of an illusion: the game was not even as close as that.

Conor Tabor (1G, 3A), Noah Coolman (2G, 3A), and Quinn Finer (3G, 2A) once again led a sharp O-line, with able support and playmaking from Alex Atkins, Denny Bechis, Jon Nethercutt, and Nathan Buchholz behind them. Outside of a few silly shots late in the game to let Revolver back within spitting distance, they were a brilliantly coordinated unit. Most of the time they looked downright comfortable.

“They’re pretty easy to be comfortable with,” said Nethercutt of his new teammates. “All those dudes are really steady ball-handlers… They’re easy guys to play off of. They create well with their throws and their legs, which means defenses are generally forced to do something to take one of their throws away, which gives you a good counter-option… They make it super-easy because they create good windows.”

They were not so easy to defend, though, as Revolver, already down a pair of breaks, found out the first time they had to try to stop them. Coolman found Finer with plenty of space deep, and then, with Revolver keyed in for the goal line stand, Tabor dropped an outrageous, skyscraping hammer out to space ahead of Coolman. (Tabor remains in the revelatory fugue state of frisbee greatness that suddenly gripped him at the start of play yesterday – he has been one of the tournament’s best throwers.)

Revolver’s O-line was not nearly so smooth, unfortunately for them. Some wacky execution errors yielded turnovers – they can choose whether to blame themselves or bad luck for them. But they also could not find much headway through the tidal force of Bravo’s defensive intensity, and they succumbed to the same wave of blocks that has washed out all of Bravo’s opponents so far this weekend. Erik Hotaling held position to get high on a deep block. Chance Cochran’s pulls were monuments to hang time. Mathieu Agee ate up an under. Atkin Arnstein body surfed on an invisible surge of air for a massive layout block. They had everything covered.

Well – almost everything. I need to interrupt the Bravo love-fest at least momentarily to shine a spotlight on the play of Adam Rees for Revolver. With apologies in particular to Orme (3G, 1A, 1B) and Michael Ing (2G, 2A, 1G) and the rest of a talented roster who have been among the division’s best all season, Adam Rees was arguably the best player on the field for either side. His line (2G, 2A, 2B) doesn’t do him full justice. He torched Bravo repeatedly, either cutting or throwing deep, and he was their most reliable defensive playmaker. His excellence this game and this weekend cannot be lost simply because it ended in a losing effort. Rees was a mythic figure, and it’s a Greek tragedy for all of us that we won’t get to watch him any deeper in the bracket.

Nevertheless – nothing but plaudits to the authors of that tragedy, Bravo. They broke twice to start the game. They broke twice more before the first half was over. They held out of half to keep the pressure on. They outworked and outperformed Revolver to such a degree that it even warped luck their way. Or, perhaps a better way to phrase that idea: luck is hustle’s devoted valet. It made its presence felt in the way some tough Atkins shots leapt above outstretched Revolver finger tips. It certainly helped Seth Wells lay out past the hospital pileup that had gathered to try to jump for Cody Spicer’s stall nine desperation punt, setting up their final break of the game. It was a marvel of skill, timing, and bald happenstance – all of which underscored everything Bravo have done well through four winning efforts over two days of frisbee.

The game ended on a calm note: Noah Coolman zigged in the red zone against the grain of the defense, and the opening gave him not only the disc, but also a free throw to Finer on the break side: a pure system play to push them into meaningful Saturday play for the second straight year. They have done nothing but prove to be more than a handful for all-comers so far. Machine wait for them tomorrow afternoon to try to put a cure on Bravo’s undeniable Nationals magic.

  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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