Bracket play begins!
December 1, 2023 by Edward Stephens in Recap with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 WFDF Pan-American Ultimate 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.
After a couple of days to establish themselves, teams found their paths blocked by one another in the bracket. That necessitated knockout matches that created some Day Three drama.
Bamboo (COL) and Revolution (COL) cruised through their morning sets to ensure that one half of the women’s division semifinalists will be Colombian. After what was essentially a warm-up game against the overmatched Malafama – Bamboo led 8-2 at half – they toed the line to start quarters against a much tougher Soul Lyons (COL), who had yet to lose in the tournament. The Soul Lyons’ main weapon in pool play had been Alejandra Oviedo, who entered the quarterfinals already having posted a 13 assist, 12 goal stat line through four games. But Bamboo had an answer for her: Cindy Monroy (and, sometimes, Luna Andrade) who covered her like a weighted blanket. Angela Galeana and Valentina Ocampo both played well despite not having an open Oviedo, but Bamboo were far too deep for Soul Lyons to gain any real traction. Rossy Quecan, Valentina Heberle, and Mariana Ballen all showed off disciplined cutting and good hands in tight, quick situations. Montoy’s backhand hucks were, mostly, beauties. Sofia Cardenas did well to control the pace from the handler set: this is a team who, despite their pool play loss to Wakanda on Tuesday, are very much in the running for a medal.
That medal, though, might not be gold: to reach the gold medal match, they’ll have to contend with Revolution, who made quick work (15-1, 13-6) of both Warriors (COL) and Qub (CAN) to reach semis. Their depth earned a quick shout-out on in the Day One recap, but it bears repeating: Revolution are the deepest team in the division by a large margin. Yessica Sánchez, a player I was not familiar with before today’s rounds started, was marvelous in flow on offense (frequently as part of the D-line). Luisa Sánchez also played well, and both Mangie Forero and Ana Maria Rojas continued their fine work at the tournament. Even against Qub – who, with a few eye-popping plays by Ariane Pepin and solid offense from Marie-Therese Veillette-Matte and Daphné Govare, dispatched Venus (CAN) to start Thursday – they jogged to an 8-2 halftime advantage before striding out the rest of the game. They are almost a lock to reach Saturday’s final.
But who will they play in it?
One possibility is Wakanda (ARG), a group of Argentinians with a padding of pickups from the United States, Colombia, and Brazil (there weren’t going to be enough players to field a women’s team from Argentina otherwise). Wakanda have a lot of heavy hitters – Yaira ‘Yazz’ Urdaneta, Taylor Simpson, Mariana Lanzarini-Lopes, Paige Howell — but none of them hit quite as heavily as Paula Martin in their quarterfinal against remix (CAN), who could not find an answer for her. She led the scoring for Wakanda even before they closed the game on a 6-0 run, and she finished with a gargantuan line (5G, 5A). remix were within striking distance at 8-9 when what started with a thrower-initiated away shot from Urdaneta to Lanzarini-Lopes – a backhand so thoughtful that Lanzarini-Lopes only realized it was up at the last second, when it was right next to her and all she had to do was reach out for it — and continued with a handblock in the cup to set up a quick score. Wakanda rode that energy all the way to the end.
But don’t count out Aerosoul (COL) either. They looked like the best team on Day One, continued to make a good impression on Day Two, and advanced to quarters with ease, where they came face to face with an extremely talented Stella (CAN). It was easily the game of the day in the women’s division. The evenly-matched sides each played up to their strengths: Aerosoul were technical and quick, and relished sideline-to-sideline swing movement on offense; Stella were more reliant on a power game that allowed Cassandra Jaffray and Helen Eifert leeway to shoot for their prime athletes, like Victoria Bailey and Kez Gesell. Aerosoul’s Natalia Gomez, Diana Marin, and Jenny Medina punched in consecutive breaks to take a lead into halftime. That difference stood firm as they increased the lead to 7-5, 8-6, 9-7, 10-8: Angelica Espinosa, Juanita McAllister, and Maryi Saenz were able to keep the disc just out of reach of Stella’s defenders, although Lauren Ballantyne came awfully close at times.
Stella, though, benefitting from some buttery Jaffray looks and one or two monstrous receiving plays by Bailey, wouldn’t go away quietly. A rare Aerosoul mistake nearly ended in a break when Gesell laid out for an Eifert huck from midfield, but the play was contested – so was Gesell’s quite legitimate foul call. Several throws later in the drive, Eifert got an even cleaner look from the goal line and flipped a backhand to the inside lane for Amanda Ring to tie the game at 10-10. Universe point was upwind for Aerosoul, which took their away throws out of play until past midfield. They advanced steadily to almost the attacking brick when McAllister spied an opening for Erika Alvarado in the end zone. She put up the long throw, but the disc hung slightly in the wind, giving Bailey a chance to make up the ground – which she did with enough time to plant her foot and go straight up over Alvarado to reach the disc first and bat it aside. The force of the block was not enough to send it all the way out of bounds, however, and Alvarado found her footing to make a second effort bid, securing the game-winning score in spectacular fashion. Aerosoul stormed the field to celebrate.
Stella, who lost only to Revolution and Aerosoul over the tournament’s first three days, lost the chance to play in a bronze medal match, but they have a legitimate argument as the third-best team in the division.
A pair of universe point games opened bracket play in the men’s division in another demonstration of the murkiness of the large middle – through pool play, it seemed that the second through thirteenth best teams at the tournament could finish in any order. Top billing belonged to General Strike (CAN) and Makawua (COL), and they did not disappoint. General Strike employed Matthew Pagé to try his best to contain Makawua star Jonathan Cantor – and, to a degree, it worked. Cantor stayed away from the action, letting Mauricio Amaya, Julian Soto, and Cesar Jimenez take control of the offense. Makawua, for their part, played in a saggy zone for the entire game, clearly hoping for mistakes out of the General Strike offense. But General Strike’s throwing – thanks to Devin Cohen, Stephen Crew, and Ari Nitikman – was more than a match for the wind, and they did a good job to scout out the next players left open by the zone after each pass. Crew, in particular, devastated the zones with one of the tournament’s best throws: a soft OI forehand. Makawua, down a pair of breaks, finally got the turn they needed with an unforced drop, and Cantor led a quick 10-pass counter from midfield to force Universe Point. General Strike continued to play patient offense with the game on the line, and Cohen leapt just across the goal line to milk a long strike cut for the game winner.
The other tight contest was an all-Canadian grudge match: Quake (CAN) against AFC Rumble (CAN). Quake, who had looked very good in pool play in spite of two losses, had the advantage coming out of half. They quickly lost it, though, as sloppy play gave Jordan Vogel, Landon Lavoie, and the rest of the AFC D-line countless chances to come back. AFC tied the game to force universe when Lavoie made an incredible effort on a tailing Vogel huck and then, after a timeout, lofted a barbecue backhand over a clump of eight players to a wide open Vogel on the opposite side of the end zone. Quake managed to stop the slide before it was too late: Nabil Chaouch, excellent all game, put them into the red zone with a turn-and-shoot flick huck, and a Victor Sauvé toe drag a few throws later secured a spot in quarters.
Neither Quake nor General Strike would be able to keep the momentum as the morning session evolved into quarterfinals: they played two of the top Colombian sides, neither of whom had struggled much in their Thursday openers. Quake had to contend with a Comunidad el Oso (COL) side that has looked like one of the best teams at the tournament throughout the week. As soon as Ivan Alba, lightning quick in the red zone as he danced past Chaouch (whom he also guarded admirably), guided Oso to their first break, the bottom dropped out of Quake’s game. Mario Lozano was equally quick with give-and-go sets on offense. The result of the game wasn’t in doubt by the last point – Oso held a 14-6 lead – but the spectacle wasn’t finished. Fabian Jimenez saved a reset with a brilliant second effort under pressure and sent a flat forehand to the back line, where Mark Donahue just managed to tap his toes, layout, and clap-catch the disc at the same time.
General Strike were much closer against Uro Monster (COL) for most of the other morning quarterfinal – they went down a break in the early-going but earned it back with tremendous two-way deep play from Pagé, who earned bookends. They came out of half with a chance to tie the game at 8-8 – actually, it was several chances: the 16th point of the match was the worst point of ultimate I have seen all weekend. It was chock full of bad throws, bad bids, injuries, contested stalls, and phantom foul calls – nearly twenty minutes’ worth of agony. It ended, finally, with an open side backhand to Juan Vargas. The effort of keeping that point alive for so long without managing to score seemed to deflate General Strike, and they made simple errors (a drop, a covered pass backwards into their own end zone) on each of the next two points to increase the deficit to 11-7. They were, essentially, out of the game, and Uro won by a final score of 13-9. Kevin Valderrama and Sergio Perdomo continued to dictate Uro’s offense. It will be up to them to keep the team in the game in Friday’s semifinal against Oso.
PoNY (USA) ran away from Omen (USA) in the second half to earn a quarterfinal appointment with Blue Devils (DOM), who kept Fénix (MEX) at bay. It was an even matchup to start, with PoNY’s Cam Wariner, Oscar Kohut, and John Randolph playing as efficiently as the Blue Devils’ established best-in-division offense with Trent Dillon, Luis Perez, Jeff Holm, Andrew Roy, and Tyler Monroe. Both Monroe and Dillon crossed over to the defense for the point before half for the game’s first break. PoNY couldn’t quite maintain the same level of execution during the second half, and they fell behind 14-10 before earning back one of the three breaks – a last gasp before bowing out of the tournament for good. Elsewhere, Flota Chancle (COL) earned the final spot in semis – making it three Colombian clubs to reach that level – with a convincing win over Warao (VEN). Kevin Perea and Jorge Bulla were fantastic for them on Thursday.
With the four top North American teams – Drag’n Thrust (USA), NOISE (USA), Union (CAN), and Mischief (USA) — already having earned a bye to quarters by virtue of winning their respective pools, the pre-quarterfinal crossover rounds were a chance for several of the mixed divisions other hopefuls to prove they belonged in the same sentence. Two of those matches were drawn out and intensely competitive: national rivals Zen (COL) versus Academia (COL); and Meclao’ (DOM) versus Avalon (MEX). The leaders of Zen (Juan Pacheco, Angie Vasquez) and Academia (Vicky Home, Alejandro García) must have been familiar with each other given how easily they defended each other’s strengths and tried to force the game into each other’s faults. In the end, it came down to execution: a too-long huck from Pacheco to open the second half opened just enough of a crack for García to push through a break. That two-goal lead stood up all the way through to the end, and Academia advanced.
But the high-stakes familiarity of Academia-Zen was nothing compared to the passion on display as the hometown (and New York) heroes Meclao’ battled valiantly to come from behind against Avalon. Johan Justo made a brilliant catch to end a marathon point to knot the game at 5-5; on the next point a heartbreaking Avalon goal line turn allowed Sharonid Lopez to send a shot to Anthony McLean to take half. But Meclao’ were not as perfect as they were determined, and Avalon were happy to punish their mistakes. One mistake? Throwing the disc anywhere near Melisa Paredes, whose speed is remarkable and whose hands have a rare affinity for plastic. She blew past Lopez to block an upline pass and made a magnificent sky to give Avalon an 8-6 lead. Nina Finley placed a perfect deep flick to bring Meclao’ back within one. Then, with a score cap set at nine, Cassie Brown orchestrated a lovely full-field offensive point from Avalon. On the goal line she snuck a push past just beyond the bidding Justo to Jonathan González to advance Avalon to quarters. Both Justo and González, exhausted, were emotional after the game-ending play.
Three of the mixed quarterfinals were quite lopsided. Mischief utterly dominated D-CRASH (COL) in the first half. Munis Thahir and Andrea Brown were the stars of Mischief’s D-line. In spite of one brilliant every-other-throw 12-pass point from D-CRASH’s Daniel Romero that belongs in some future museum of great offensive sequences, they were out of the game by halftime and fell 15-6. Avalon, coming off of the emotional high of the previous round, didn’t fare any better against Drag’n Thrust. Erin McCann, Josh Klane, Clare Frantz, and others were simply too crisp with the disc, too good in the air, and too alert on defense for Avalon to build any momentum. The most lopsided score of the round belonged to NOISE’s 15-4 neutralizing of Hammers (ARG), who had looked quite dangerous in every other game they played. NOISE saw strong work from the likes of Emily Cohen, Katy Stanton, Avery Johnson, Austin Prucha – their roster at PAUC is likely deeper than either Drag’n’s or Mischief’s, and they appear to be peaking at the right time.
The fourth quarterfinal, though, relegated to the farthest field from tournament central, was a battle for the ages between Union and Academia. Isabel Torres, Vicky Home, and Alejandro García were, as they have been all tournament, stupendous for Academia. There is no D-line at this tournament that can flatten their ability to find openings and keep the disc in motion. Even Union’s Logan Keillor, who has an argument for best defender at the tournament in any division, found his furious bids coming up a centimeter short against García. Academia, making very few mistakes of their own in the first half, were pleased to capitalize on the ones that Union offered them, and they jumped out to a two-break lead. But once Union set the ship back aright, they took back both breaks and ended the half on serve. Leah Tackaberry-Giddens, Brianna Prentice, and Keillor were instrumental both in stopping the team’s slide with a marathon point and drawing them back even. Each side broke once at the start of the second half, just to prove they could. That possibility added spice to the string of holds that defined the end of the game. At 11-11, with time running out, Academia were unable to find the last block they needed, and Union, having endured pressure all game long with varying degrees of success, found every pair of hands they needed until Thomas Panayiotopoulos secured the game-winner to send them to semis.
We Knew Ye Well: 15 Notable Performers from teams that Were Eliminated on Thursday
This is not nearly an exhaustive list – just a list of players who caught my eye.
- Victoria Bailey (Stella)
- Gabriela Diaz (Fieras)
- Angela Galeano (Soul Lyons)
- Erin Lacy (remix)
- Rachael Thompson (Spanglish)
- Johan Justo (Meclao’)
- Vicky Home (Academia)
- Melisa Paredes (Avalon)
- Daniel Romero (D-Crash)
- Claire Weng (TT)
- Nabil Chaouch (Quake)
- Avery Cypress (El Combo)
- Oscar Kohut (PoNY)
- Landon Lavoie (AFC Rumble)
- Kyle Romard (Omen)