October 23, 2023 by Laura Osterlund 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.
Ann Arbor Hybrid qualified for their second club Nationals final in three seasons with a 15-13 win over New York XIST. They came back from an early deficit, led by patient offense and aggressive defense.
Off the bat, XIST came out guns a-blazing. When Hybrid turfed a pass on their first possession, New York capitalized — Josue Alorro launching a huck to Ryan Drost — to punch in a game-opening break. It was one of Alorro’s four assists. But it was the only break that the New York team scored in the first half.
To say Ann Arbor Hybrid were underdogs going into this tournament would be an understatement. After an unexpected trip to the national final in 2021, they’ve been a bit quiet. Last season, they were out in the prequarterfinal round. This summer saw some rocky results, including a seventh place finish at Pro Champs that did just enough to hang onto the final strength bid for their region. They came to San Diego as the bottom seed in what was widely considered the toughest pool the division has ever seen.
Their performance this weekend, however, flipped the expected narrative. After losing to Mixtape in their first game on Thursday, they’ve been on a heater. They ended up winning their pool thanks to convincing wins over 2022 finalist Madison NOISE and two-time national champ Philadelphia AMP, then escaped quarters on universe point against another former champ in Boston Slow. On Saturday morning in a tight semifinal match, they continued their out-of-nowhere run, besting New York XIST 15-13 to send the Michiganders back to their second final in three seasons.
With some impressive plays all around, the teams held the next seven points, neither one able to gain an advantage. With the score at 4-4, XIST’s scoring attempt went out the back of the end zone and Hybrid hit Nathan Champoux for a break to get back on serve and take the lead for the first time. Due to another unforced error, Hybrid got another break to lead 6-4. With the gap at two, the teams held until halftime.
In all of the games they’ve played at Nationals, XIST was rarely down by three breaks. In this game, they had a harder time converting the blocks they got and the turns they generated to earn a break. Their offense ran a tight ship; eight of their nine holds in the game were clean. However, they could not play clean offense while on a defensive point. In addition, the team that prides itself on having a strong core of women-matching players found some of their heavy hitters stifled. Players such as Genny De Jesus, Abby Cheng, and Cara Sieber, who normally had no problem filling up the stats sheet hardly made any big plays throughout the course of the game, combining for three goals and one assist. The poachy defense they often used against Ann Arbor’s women-matching players also became an issue for the team, as Hybrid learned how to take the most advantage of it. They focused on team defense and generated nine blocks against Hybrid, they were not as able to do much with their offense when they did turn.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles that XIST faced was themselves. When they made it to the semifinals last year, the New York team fell to eventual champions, Seattle Mixtape. After being on the big stage, their names got on the radar of everyone. At the beginning of this year, seeing the names we all can recognize, Ultiworld ranked them at the top of our Power Rankings. No team goes without injury, and XIST faced more than most this season. Emily Barrett and their new recruit Anne Worth both got injured early in the season and were unable to compete. Several other players got injured as well throughout the course of the season but this is the first tournament where (almost) everyone is back and healthy. With that said, the team maintained the high expectations they had of themselves.
“There’s pressure from everybody. We came out of nowhere, making it to semis last year and I think everyone wanted our number,” said XIST captain Genny De Jesus, who finished the game with two goals and an assist.
After both teams held to enter the half, in a point with some of the most mistakes that had been seen up to that point in the game, Champoux made a layout that toed the sideline of the end zone and Hybrid broke again. XIST followed that point with a hold and a break of their own after forcing Hybrid to make a lot of short passes.
Unlike the high mental expectations that XIST felt, Hybrid played loose with nothing to lose as they were seeded in the bottom four teams. No team that has been among the bottom seeds at Nationals has made it to a final in the mixed division. The underdog mentality can be strong at times and Hybrid embodied this.
“I think we showed up with chaos on the mind, right? You’re coming in at the bottom, you’re just aiming to make the bracket. And we did that and it worked out in our favor,” said Kat McGuire, who tallied one goal, two assists, and two blocks to go with three turnovers. “We had great opponents and we respect them and we’ve been showing up every single game and building from that. The Mixtape game stoked a fire in us that let us keep building to where we are now. Having those losses, having those tight games, we are pushing harder every single game and showing up.”
In general, they also just played the better game, plain and simple. Any defensive look that XIST threw their way was something that the Michiganders could figure out. Even after XIST’s zone generated a break, Hybrid figured out how to break it quickly and had success scoring with it set. They played an impressively clean game, with seven of their 10 holds having no turnovers. They were efficient with their break chances, scoring on five of eight, and only allowed XIST to get four breaks from 12 opportunities. Almost every time Hybrid turned, they were able to get the disc back at least once.
With a few more holds a piece, Hybrid fell victim to XIST’s zone and a break brought the game within one point at 11-10. To their dismay, in their following offensive point, XIST failed to make a catch and allowed Hybrid to get the break back, increasing their lead to 13-10. At this point, XIST knew it was nearly do or die. They held cleanly and then started to make big plays on defense. Even though XIST was hungry to stay in the game, Hybrid was ready to end it once and for all, returning fire with blocks of their own. The New Yorkers got one more break to bring the game to 14-13. This was it.
The following, and final, point contained the most possession changes of the entire game. For XIST, Hannah Garfield, Benjamin Levy, and Mike Drost and Hybrid’s Kat McGuire and James Hill all got blocks in the last point. Each team also made at least one unforced error in the point, just for good measure. However, XIST could not take the heat well enough to finish it out, and with a no-look, over-the-shoulder high-release pass from Champoux to Whitton, Hybrid punched in the score.
“Our O-line has been building to this point throughout the whole season,” said McGuire. “Coming out with that confidence in our O-line, having that ‘we can do this’ from the beginning always is what gives us that success in games like this when it matters.”