DC does enough to get past Denver and advances to face Boston in final
October 22, 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.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
A year after their inaugural title win, Denver Molly Brown couldn’t recover from an 8-5 semifinal deficit for a second year running as Washington DC Scandal held on to win on universe 13-12. After taking an initial 2-0 lead, the defending champions fell behind the tournament top seeds, with Scandal reeling off three straight goals to go up 6-4. Despite tying the game up at 11s and 12s, Molly never regained the lead.
In the opening exchanges, though, neither team looked much like winners. After playing the rest of their games at SurfCup Sports Park, both Scandal and Molly seemed unsettled as they adjusted to the new conditions at the Canyon Crest Academy Stadium. Across the first two points, the teams combined for 17 turnovers with missed throws and simple blocks galore.
When you have a start that messy between two teams who are that good, there’s not normally one specific reason why both squads are struggling to string passes together. And indeed, while the wind and turf each seemed to have their own effects, Scandal and Molly’s defenses played their own key role in disrupting the opposing offenses in the early going. Though not every change of possession was immediately preceded by a block, the chaos caused by the constant pressure of each team’s defense had a clear effect.
As a result, Molly Brown’s two-goal advantage didn’t last long. Scandal held and then broke back to even the game up at 2-2, Jackie Wang finding Sandy Jorgensen with a cross-field backhand after Denver’s deep game sputtered and coughed up a pair of break chances.
Following the frenetic first four points, the game fell into a bit of a rhythm for the next quartet, each team holding twice as the nerves of playing in a national semifinal started to ease.
“Just reminding our players that, hey, we have 100% confidence in you, just take a breath, and make sure that we’re executing those [plays] I think helped a lot,” said Scandal’s Lisi Lohre about that shift in energy.
“It’s a semifinal at the National Championships, so it’s really exciting,” continued the ex-Molly Brown-er. “We have a lot of people who’ve never been here before. And I think it’s easy for that hype and those nerves to get you and so just like reminding ourselves to keep with it and that we have it all the way.”
Once they did have their nerves under control, Scandal looked like they would take it all the way in relatively comfortable style, putting together three breaks in five points to claim a three goal halftime lead. While you might expect Kami Groom and Claire Trop to be heavily involved in the Scandal offense, and they were to the tune of a goal and an assist each in the first half, DC’s depth was on full display throughout the game. Second-year Scandal standout Jess Sourbeer and recent University of Virginia star Kira Flores both matched their world-caliber teammates in first-half offensive contributions, including a cheeky scoober from Sourbeer to Flores to take the score to 7-5 as Scandal started to figure out the Denver goal line zone defense.
Even with the Scandal bounceback, it wasn’t all downhill for Molly Brown in the first half after their initial surge. The Cardenas sisters made their impact felt from the opening point of the game, Valeria throwing to Manuela for the game’s first goal, and the two connected again to take the score to a 4-3 Denver lead on a rifled flick from Vale to Manu. Lisa Pitcaithley also contributed a first half goal and assist combo, though their three combined efforts couldn’t keep Molly Brown from falling into that familiar halftime deficit.
Whether it was some perverse comfort with being down three at half or some shade of a letdown from Scandal, Molly Brown came out of the halftime break with renewed energy and focus. Ronnie Eder capably covered a huck intended for Trop to earn a break chance back for Denver, and Alika Johnston found Claire Chastain for the conversion and a reduction of the margin from three to two. Scandal’s offense couldn’t find their feet on the following point, and Molly Brown were happy to take advantage for a second straight point as Vale picked up her third assist of the game, angling a perfect away throw to Rena Kawabata. Just like that Molly had closed the deficit to one, and the energy felt like it was turning. But Scandal didn’t fold.
Instead, the game started to pitch and yaw back and forth as both team’s stars stepped up. Lohre picked up two goals in four points that sandwiched a Lisa Pitcaithley hand block which earned the disc back for the Molly Brown offense. They held on yet another Valeria Cardenas assist.
While both Cardenas sisters played incredibly against Scandal, Vale in particular more than lived up to her billing as one of the best players in the division. Her semifinal stat line of 1G/5A/6B was simply stunning, and she had one of the most remarkable individual points you’re likely to see as Molly Brown tied the game up at 11-11 with three straight goals.
As Groom tried to get the disc to the center of the field on a pass to Ashleigh Buch, Vale came flying through with an immense layout poach block, then immediately popped up and got set to put the Molly Brown offense into gear. A short series of throws later, and with the disc on the near sideline, she spied her sister across the field toward the back of the end zone, and put up a perfectly angled inside flick up and down over a crowd of unwitting players for the Denver break. After being down 11-8, Molly had clawed all the way back, and the Cardenas sisters were at the heart of it all.
— Charles Cleary (@unchuckable) October 21, 2023
While they did eventually fall just short, there’s a real argument to be made that Molly Brown wouldn’t have even been in a position to win this game without Vale and Manu. They are two of the best players in the world, after all, but more than that, their behind-the-scenes impact was just as crucial to Molly’s success this season.
“Even at practice…they show me every, every time we play together, they show me what’s possible with the frisbee,” said Alika Johnston after the game. “It’s amazing what they can do…they put their entire hearts and soul into every game they play. It’s inspiring, it’s something we can all aspire to. It’s been tremendous, to have them show us what’s possible in ultimate.”
“They do a lot for this team off the field,” added Emma Cortright. “They are contributing to our energy and I think are kind of like the fire starters when we need to turn things around. I think that they can do that both on and off the field. It’s just really inspiring to be able to get to play with them.”
Still, even with the heroics of the Cardenases, Molly Brown could never wholly make their way back into the lead as Scandal held strong. In a twenty-five point game that had ten breaks throughout, it was holds that got the job done for DC. One final point of clean Scandal offense ended on an up-the-line from Trop to Groom. Even on universe point, Scandal and their stars didn’t blink, and they knocked the champs off their perch.
“I think all season long we sort of prepared for this moment and trusted each other,” said Scandal’s Amanda Murphy. “At practices we play against each other, and I think we are our toughest competitors.”
Having made it past the title-holders, Scandal’s reward is a rematch with Brute Squad, who DC narrowly beat in pool play 13-11. It’ll be a matchup of two defensive titans, so don’t be surprised if we get another slugfest in the final.
“It’s never easy to play a team twice in the same tournament, because I think it’s hard not to have lingering feelings from the past result,” said Lohre. “And so I’m excited to kind of reset, refocus for that matchup. I think they have a lot of really talented players, and it’ll be fun.”