The defending champs go unbroken en route back to the semis
October 21, 2023 by Jenna Weiner in Recap with 0 comments
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.
When you watch enough ultimate, the details start to blend together. Which team, which year, or even which tournament. Sometimes, though, a particular feature worms its way into your brain, ready to resurface at a later date.
Such was the play of Molly Brown’s offense at times last year, when they’d race down the field with such pace and chemistry they’d make it seem as if the other team wasn’t even on the field. It was a remarkable sight to behold, and in their 15-10 win against BENT, they flashed that incredible efficiency throughout the game. Alongside opening up an 8-4 halftime lead, it was more than enough to earn them a berth in semis for the sixth time in seven seasons and a matchup with top seeds Scandal.
If you’re a team like BENT who might have trouble breaking the Molly Brown offensive line, you can’t afford to find yourself down a single break, let alone multiple. Unfortunately for New York, that was out of the question in short fashion as Denver broke on a dishy pass from Kendra Miller to Claire Chastain that made it 3-1 in the early going.
BENT certainly could have done with a more promising start, and it never really got better as Molly Brown made it 6-3 on a Manuela Cardenas assist to Kristen Reed, and then broke for half to go up 8-4 as Ronnie Eder and Chastain made it work in a dance at the front of the end zone.
As is so often the cliché, it was a whole team effort from Molly Brown, with 14 different players contributing at least one goal or assist against BENT. Lisa Pitcaithley and Kristen Reed did still manage to stand out amidst the crowd, though, as they led the Denver offense to the tune of one goal and five assists for Pitcaithley and an even four goals for Reed. This was more of the Molly Brown offense we expected to see, and attempting to slow it down will likely be the biggest challenge facing Scandal when the two teams face off Saturday afternoon.
For New York, their offense has been driven all weekend by the powerhouse duo of Ella Juengst and Yina Cartagena, who lead the goals and assists leaderboards at the tournament through the end of Day Two with 17 goals and 19 assists, respectively.
Playing against her compatriots, the Cardenas sisters, seemed to specifically bring out the best in Cartagena. She threw wholly half of BENT’s assists against Molly Brown despite regularly having Chastain, Manu, or Valeria marking her over the course of the game. Likewise, Manu and Vale both had strong games against BENT, with Manu notably filling up the stat sheet with a pair of goals and assists.
“It has been a year in which we have played each other a lot,” said Manu about facing off against Cartagena and Montaña. “We played against each other at TEP, we played at Colombian Nationals, then over here, so we grew up together and playing frisbee, and so we know each other so well.
“So it’s always so exciting to play against them because you’re playing against people who know how you play, your movements, and that’s very exciting because it’s like a game of a second and who reacts and who’s gonna react off of that, so it was pretty fun to play,” she continued.
The Colombian connection offered a fun subplot to follow throughout the game, though especially caught the eye in the second half of the game as both team’s offenses really kicked into gear. On each of the first four points out of half, both Cartagena and Manu were directly involved in their team’s goals, Cartagena throwing wide to Tracey Lum to open the second period before Manu wriggled free for a pass from Pitcaithley. The exchange set the foundation for what would become a ten straight holds that took the game from an 8-4 Molly Brown lead at half to a 13-9 advantage in the closing stages.
While BENT weren’t able to ever close the deficit and Molly tacked on one last break before the end, their second half performance was impressive and promising. Lisa Kowalski and Tiffany Phan in particular had standout games for New York. Kowalski continued her weekend of excellence with a 2G/1A/1B line and Phan was absolutely dealing on as a thrower, notching three assists including a fearless outside-in backhand huck to Juengst to take the game to a 10-7 Molly Brown lead.
Despite the loss, this showing meant BENT secured the program’s best ever finish, which had sparked cries of “we made history!” after New York’s win over Nemesis in prequarters. That achievement puts a shine on BENT going out in quarters, and one they’ll hold onto as they look to make repeat Nationals appearances for the first time since 2011.
“This is the third year I’ve played with BENT, so I look at what happened in the first year, [and we’re] getting better, getting better until this year,” said Cartagena. “I’m so happy because I can see everyone working hard to get better for the team, and [this season is] the ascension of the team.”
Molly Brown move on to face Scandal, whom they have yet to play this season. It’ll be the defending champs against the tournament top seeds, and to hear Manu say it, Molly have been eager to play this game all year.
“I have been looking forward to this game for the whole season,” said the Molly Brown star. “I’m really excited to play against them, to match up with Claire Trop. It’s a matchup I enjoy a lot and I know it’s going to be a really hard game, and it’s gonna be a really enjoyable game.”