2023 WFDF Pan-American Ultimate Championships: Semifinal Recaps

Only six teams remain in the hunt for three gold medals.

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.

While many of the scorelines do not indicate thrilling contests, some big plays helped keep the semifinal rounds at PAUC entertaining. The stage is certainly set for some intriguing finals.

Full Results

Women’s Division

Revolution vs. Bamboo during semifinals at the 2023 WFDF Pan-American Ultimate Championships (PAUC). Photo: Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

Pour one out for Bamboo (COL), who deserved a better fate than playing the punching bag for Revolution (COL) in semis – but that’s the way it crumbled, cookie-wise. Lina Pereira, Rossy Quecan, Mariana Ballen, and Cindy Monroy were determined and incisive with the disc, but often only for 40-60 hard-earned yards at a time before the wind, the moment, or the opponent got the better of them. Monroy and Ballen, in particular, were also excellent on defense, stopping the Revo offense in its tracks several times in the first half. But Revo comes at the end zone like an inexorable tide, carrying the disc back in that direction over and over again until it lands on the shore of a score. Ximena Montaña, Ana Maria Rojas, and Molly Robbins all played well for them as they leapt out to an 8-4 lead. Bamboo earned a few more goals during some long second half points, but Revo would not falter in a somewhat windy game. When conditions were tough, they simply put the disc in the hands of their two premier throwers, Mangie Forero and Yina Cartagena, more than a match for the stiff breeze, and rolled to a 14-7 win.

They should expect trouble in Saturday’s final, though. That trouble has a name: Aerosoul (COL). Aerosoul may not quite have the same top end potential as Revo, but, as they showed to a shocking degree during a semifinal thumping of Wakanda (ARG), they might be both deeper and more disciplined, two superlatives Revo have had on lockdown for years in the Colombian scene. Aerosoul are that good, and they’re going to be a real threat to take the Pan-American title from Revo.

Wakanda started the semifinal in good form with stars Yazz Urdaneta, Ana Arango, and Paula Martin helping them through three early holds. The wind was up, the zone defense look had been taken out of its cellophane, and, playing Urdaneta as a deep-deep, they could reasonably expect to have break opportunities. Here’s what they failed to consider: the throwing and catching talents of Angelica Espinosa, Diana Marin, and, Maria Santos were completely off the charts. They threw nose-up backhands into the wind and plucked them from its lift as if they were simply walking the disc from one player to the next for a simple hand-off. Santos, in particular, came down with everything: she likely has the best hands at the tournament.

The Aerosoul defense was stout, too, both before and after turns. Whether Katherine Jimenez was locking down the resets (she earned two reset blocks in one point, the second inches from being tip-caught as a Callahan) or they were taking advantage of some missed hucks from a deep-throw-happy Wakanda (Taylor Simpson and Urdaneta have been excellent this week, but they haven’t been infallible), the counterattack was in good hands with Natalia Gomez, whose ability to go up for a high disc has been exceeded in the division only by her teammate, Santos.

Down two breaks, Wakanda showed off some pizzazz with a mesmerizing one-throw flick huck from Paige Howell to Arango, truly one of the best throws of the week. At that point, they were only down 7-6, and they had the look of a team likely to stay tight or even claw their way back ahead. But the second half belonged to the discipline of the whole Aerosoul roster: they made Wakanda’s zone look like so much wetted tissue paper and were as rigorous about looking off covered cuts as they were about staying on the high side of the field. Well played to them: they tallied four more breaks to finish of the semifinal 14-8. If they can play at that level in the final, we are in for a hell of a game.

Open Division

Comunidad El Oso, Uro Monster, and a Game Advisor during the semifinals at the 2023 WFDF Pan-American Ultimate Championships (PAUC). Photo: William “Brody” Brotman – UltiPhotos.com

One question comes to mind after watching the open semifinals of PAUC: what can WFDF do to improve the Game Advisor system? Game Advisors have a title and shirt and perspective and deep knowledge that lend them an air of authority. They have watches and scorepads and headset comms. Players want to appeal to them when there is a question about a stall count, an injury call, an in/out dispute – and they present themselves for the appeal, absorbing questions and complaints like a judge. But what can come of their ruling? Nothing. In reality, they have no more power to resolve a dispute than a breath of wind, a UV ray, a passing mist of rain. And unlike the air, the sun, or the rain which, though they may make their presence felt during a game, appear exactly as what they are —simple circumstances – and invite little controversy, game advisors, by their very existence, increase discussion and confusion by shifting responsibility for a fair game away from the players without actually taking responsibility.

The Game Advisor problem has plagued the tournament across all divisions, but it reached its nadir during both open division semifinal games: they were unwatchably contentious, stop-heavy, and perplexing. And in the end both matches became something even worse: cynical. The essential bedrock of trust on which Spirit of the Game – the concept that dictates that players both approach the game fairly and assume the same approach on the part of their opponents – rests had completely eroded. Both games featured multiple points that stretched well beyond the 10-minute mark simply because they could not come to terms about the validity or consequences of a call. It was a maddening experience to follow; it seemed even worse to play through, and players from all four clubs wore masks of discontent as they left the sidelines.

Please, WFDF, take steps either to empower your knowledgeable, dedicated crew of Game Advisors or to remove them entirely. The current model hinders fair play and personal accountability at WFDF events in every respect.

Comunidad el Oso (COL) finished off the top-heavy Uro Monster (COL) after staging an impressive comeback. Gonzalo Manrique was electric for Uro early, scoring all three goals as they roared to a 3-0 lead. There have been many points this tournament when everyone on the field knows that the disc is going to either Manrique, Sergio Perdomo, or Jose Jimenez. It doesn’t make it any easier to stop: Perdomo always seems to have a last second option in play to get clear for a reset or to find an unmarked teammate, and Manrique has been a whirlwind as a cutter. Oso have a far more balanced attack; they can play in multiple styles confidently, transitioning between them in the course of a single point like someone who can switch accents mid-sentence. One of the keys has been Diego Aranga, an inflection point of a handler who keeps the transitions smooth. Another has been the considerate play of Oliver and Elliott Chartock, picking up with Oso for the tournament and demonstrating keen vision as they picked through Uro’s zone. Once Aranga, the Chartocks, and the rest of the offense were able to establish their footing, it laid a foundation for the defense to pull them back into the game.

The primary defenders tasked with slowing Manrique, Perdomo, and Jimenez were Mark Donohue, Ivan Alba, and Mateo Montealegre: three players who know how to dig in their heels and work, trusting in their ability to frustrate their matchups eventually. It worked. Perdomo attempted throws without measuring them all the way first, and between those unforced errors and an excellent Montealegre block, Oso were able to run the Uro defense ragged. The most spectacular run was a 50-yard Alba dash in transition. Guarded closely, he leapt once to get the defender into the air early, and then he leapt a second time the moment he landed to bring in the catch, at which point he found Felipe Avila to push the play the last few yards into the goal.

Oso were still down two points to start the second half, and Perdomo was still effective for Uro’s offense. Kevin Vargas, one of the Uro cutters, made a sensational play to catch a high disc just before the explosive Donohue could take it away – they both caught it and (in a moment of rare harmony) agreed that it was simultaneous, giving the disc to Vargas. Arango, Kevin Nariño, and Sergio Martin, the last of whom flashed a delightful scoober, ensured the Oso offense kept humming. A brilliant pull set up an Uro offensive point to start from deep within their own end zone. Uro had only just crossed their goal line into the field proper when Perdomo stepped into a huck that never rose above shoulder level. It was an easy downfield block for Donohue, and the D-line offense quickly punched in the tying score. There was nothing quick about the next point, a 14-minute affair that saw a call every few throws, but it ended the same way: with an Efrain Herrera break score.

Oso had the lead, but Perdomo and Manrique had one final breathtaking moment in them. From a standstill on the backhand sideline even with his defending brick, Perdomo arced a towering OI flick into the crosswind. It passed over the center of the field and then blew back to the left, holding its edge beautifully as it carried. Manrique read its flight better than any of the three Oso defenders in the area and, just keeping his toe down at full speed, he brought in the screaming missile of a falling disc before it could finish its flight out of bounds. That unreal play – not so different from the 4th-and-31 scoring play in the recent Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama – tied the game at 8-8 to force universe point. Universe brought much less excitement, though, as the Oso offense stitched a 70-yard sequence with ease to reach the final.

There, they will be met by Blue Devils (DOM), undefeated in the tournament so far, who put away a very pesky Flota Chancle (COL) club 13-11 in a game that did not see a break until the final point. Jorge Bulla and Diego Realpe are one of the more liquid offensive pairs in all of Colombian ultimate: you cannot hold them without their finding a way to leak through your grasp. Together with Carlos Sanmiguel and José Rosero they ran laps around the suddenly hapless Blue Devils defense. But the Flota Chancle defense weren’t fairing any better: Jeff Holm, Tyler Monroe, Alejandro ‘Alex’ Machado, Trent Dillon, Luis Perez, Alex Olivo, and Andrew Roy have been nothing less than the stingiest offensive line at the tournament. And the least predictable, to boot. Outside of Monroe’s permanent position as center handler, they have mixed up their formations and points of attack so much as to be, from a tactical perspective, almost unscoutable.

All that is to say that both teams had their hands full with their assignments, and the frustration of having so few opportunities to create separation boiled over into an ugly second half of deliberate fouling, petty discussion points, and resolute disagreeability. The tension of 23 consecutive holds finally snapped after the soft cap cap came on when Andrés Ramírez and Fidel Echavarría, who typically play a role in more than just one break in a game, connected following a rare Flota Chancle miscue. With that, the Blue Devils earned a spot in the final to potentially win a gold medal in front of their home crowd.

Mixed Division

Drag’n Thrust versus Mischief in the semifinals at the 2023 WFDF Pan-American Ultimate Championships (PAUC). Photo: Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

Saturday’s mixed division final will be a familiar sight for fans of American club ultimate: NOISE (USA) versus Drag’n Thrust (USA). The two regulars at US club Nationals will play out the next chapter in their longstanding rivalry in Punta Cana.

Drag’n Thrust squeaked past a feisty Mischief (USA) in one of the semis. Drag’n were in control through much of the first half. Already up a pair of breaks, they took another free one near the end of the period when the disc slipped from Mischief’s Vivian Chu’s grasp and straight into an accidental handblock, giving Courtney Walbe and Jonah Malenfant an uncontested scoring look ahead of the defense. In general, the handlers on offense were patient, letting the cutters set up big spaces in isolation for easy movement.

The second half, though was a different story, as Mischief strung together four breaks to take a 9-8 lead. Drag’n’s slide began innocuously enough, with Bryan Vohnoutka rushing a goal line throw after chasing down a tipped huck. McKinley McQuaide – a tireless downfield cutter for Mischief’s counteroffensive – caught both that break score, and then the one on the next point to bring Mischief within a point. Drag’n made their worst turn of the game on the next point, when the normally reliable duo of Jason Tshida and Josh Klane failed to connect on a stand-still, unguarded reset pass, giving Mishief excellent field position. Drag’n defended the goal line along the backhand sideline well, smartly overloading the near spaces. That left McQuaide open forty yards away on the other sideline; after they found her on a high stall, she lofted a forehand behind the recovering defense, and Jordan Jeffery just managed to keep a toe inside the back line to tie the game. Mischief quickly took the lead on the next point, taking advantage of a Drag’n overthrow with Matthew Crawford delivering a gorgeous IO backhand huck to Audrey Wei.

Drag’n regained their composure after that and managed to retake the lead three points later. A few excellent plays later – a James Pollard layout out at full speed for a front cone Drag’n hold; Jeffery releasing a long away shot to McQuaide for one of Mischief’s responses – Mischief gave Drag’n a chance to create a little distance near the end of the game. Erin McCann played tremendous defense on two nearly simultaneous under cuts to set up a Drag’n possession – I couldn’t tell if she blocked the disc or only disrupted the second cutter’s vision, but the play was a credit to her agility and awareness. Jeffery blocked Drag’n’s first break chance, but he turfed a forehand to give it back to them at the attacking brick. Acrobatics carried them through for the 14-12 lead: first Vohnoutka recovered from a bad slip to keep possession; then Clare Frantz brilliantly kept a toe down as she laid out for a disc almost two yards wide of the line; finally, Frantz, seeing Crawford with his back to the disc on a defensive island against Jacob Lien, bent a backhand just over his shoulder and right into the bidding Lien’s waiting hands. Two points later, Klane put a nifty high OI forehand, flat even as it rode a curve inside the forehand sideline, right into Kelsey Cowles’ stride for the 15-13 Drag’n win.

NOISE did not have nearly as much trouble with Union (CAN). Union, as good as they’ve been this weekend, were not prepared for the kind of aerial assault NOISE dealt them. The game was close for eight points, with predictable players taking the initiative early – Robyn Fennig and Jack Kelly for NOISE, Declan Gainer and Brianna Prentice for Union. On the ninth point, the NOISE defense kicked into high gear. First, Rose Glinka announced Union’s fate with a callahan. Then, after the defense forced a very tight reset to coax a drop from Dan Balzerson, Tyler Bacon punctuated it with a forty-yard forehand down the sideline for Sydney French. They took a three break lead into half, and then tacked on another as Fennig sent Bacon to the goal line with a huck.

Even as Union earned back a break, they struggled to find any way to contain all of NOISE’s weapons at once: Ben Parrell, Dan Garlock, Austin Prucha, Frank Qin, and Avery Johnson all joined in the scoring party, and Emily Cohen was a galloping nightmare on defense. All in all, they looked both as punchy as Drag’n, and, crucially, more consistent. That consistency could very well prove the key difference in Saturday’s final, provided, of course, that it sticks around.

All-Semis Line

Ivan Alba (Comunidad el Oso)
Yina Cartagena (Revolution)
Sydney French (NOISE)
Alex Machado (Blue Devils)
Gonzalo Manrique (Uro Monster)
McKinley McQuaide (Mischief)
Maria Santos (Aerosoul)

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