An all-US final saw Drag'n Thrust pull away from regional rivals NOISE to win PAUC 2023
December 6, 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.
Drag’n Thrust (USA) are the undefeated Pan-American mixed division champions after a high-flying 15-11 victory over NOISE (USA). Their athleticism, throwing creativity, and defensive looks proved too much for even a very capable, physical NOISE team.
At first, and then periodically throughout the game, it appeared as though NOISE would overtake their North Central rivals. They opened with a break after Jack Kelly – who played an astounding game on defense in the final, making layout blocks look completely routine – handblocked James Pollard’s attempt at an around backhand. They didn’t score on that possession, but they earned the disc back and went straight into their bread-and-butter: hucks. This one was on target for Jack Kelly, who then flipped in the easy continue for the goal.
It took all of two more points for Drag’n to break back, taking advantage of an execution error by NOISE on an inside backhand. And it took all of four points for them to tack on two breaks of their own. On the first, Brandon Matis made a huge bid to keep a bendy backhand from coming in bounds in the end zone, and he and Brendan McCann dipped and darted through the NOISE transition defense for 70 yards. On the next, NOISE simply threw the backhand-side reset straight to the defender, Stephen Lin. Drag’n worked the disc to the goal line on the flick side before Jonah Malenfant bent an OI to Chris Martin over the top of everyone to the other side of the end zone. At that point, Drag’n led 4-1 and had all the momentum.
NOISE were down but restless. They earned one break with a Drag’n overthrow and, trailing 6-4, almost had another when a Drag’n pull play broke down, illustrating the problem with bringing so many pickup players together. Clare Frantz, playing with Drag’n just for this tournament after having spend the US club season with Kansas City United, began a deep cut for a pull play but, thinking she had run out of Josh Klane’s throwing range, pulled out of it. Klane’s usual teammates would have known that he had plenty of power to keep the throw out ahead of the play – he pulled the trigger just as Frantz started to come back under, and the disc hit the ground in the middle of the end zone. The NOISE counterattack broke down just as it started when Ness Cannaday, out of options just ahead of the defending goal line, tried a backhand huck as a punt. Kelsey Cowles jumped in front of it and absorbed the point-blank block – painfully – before Drag’n held on their second attempt.
Drag’n closed out the first half with a few brilliant throws. For a hold, Pollard, after making a nice play on a high disc and much to his teammates’ chagrin (until they saw the result), lofted a high-release backhand out ahead of Jacob Lien that floated beautifully into his stride. Then, following a NOISE turnover, Courtney Walbe sized up a perfect 50-yard backhand to break for half with an 8-5 lead.
Recovery from three-point deficit is a challenge, but it’s never out of reach – as NOISE well knew. They attacked the second half with vigor, starting with a hold before ratcheting up the pressure to force a bad pass out of Drag’n Thrust. Beautiful timing on a connection between Austin Prucha and Emily Cohen – Cohen was one of NOISE’s most effective players in the final – cemented the break to bring NOISE within one. They had two chances to tie the game on the next point but, in what became a second half theme, simply could not execute in the moment.
A lovely Kelly huck set up field position for another Cohen score, keeping the deficit at a single goal. Drag’n matched them on the next point as Pollard snuck a pretty flick ahead of the last defender to Klane. Then, ruthless as ever, Drag’n Thrust’s D-line punished a pair of NOISE mistakes to take a commanding 12-8 lead.
One of NOISE’s strengths throughout the tournament had been their team-wide buoyant vibes: if anything would keep them from giving up, it would be that character. It was still on display as they held on the next point. Kelly and Prucha broke deep at the same time, and Kelly appeared to yield the huck reception to Prucha, but a good chase-down effort by Malenfant forced a tipped disc. Kelly and Prucha simultaneously pancaked the second chance – and then, adorably, fought over the score, playing tug-of-war with the disc. Prucha came away with it, and Kelly offered them his back for the requisite wipe-down-of-shame. That playful moment signaled a NOISE team who were not in any way cowed by the difficulty ahead of them.
Indeed, NOISE again came within a point of Drag’n Thrust. Tyler Bacon and Robyn Fennig exchanged high-difficulty forehands to punctuate the first break. On the second, Ben Parrell toasted Klane in isolation to run in a mid-range upline away shot. NOISE, after fumbling away their initial second half comeback, had cobbled together a second, and Drag’n’s lead narrowed to 12-11.
But that was all NOISE had in the tank: they would not score again. The deep throwing from both North American clubs had been a point of strength throughout the week, a theme that continued right through the end of the final. Jason Tschida saw Stephanie Rupp take a step deep and delivered a 50-yard forehand from the sideline. A turfed backhand scoring attempt led to a full field drive – capped by a lovely Brandon Matis touch backhand that rode the crosswind back in bounds to McCann – for a break to put the Drag’n Thrust victory into view. Finally, following one last unforced error from NOISE, Bryan Vohnoutka knifed a long forehand between two defenders to an unmarked Frantz for the Drag’n Thrust win – and the 2023 season sweep1 over their regional rivals.
Robyn Fennig (NOISE)
Alejandro García (Academia)
Logan Keilor (Union)
Josh Klane (Drag’n Thrust)
Melisa Paredes (Avalon)
Daniel Romero (D-Crash)
Keinys Salamanca (Hammers)
Audrey Wei (Mischief)
Drag’N beat NOISE at Pro Champs, North Central Regionals, Nationals, and PAUC ↩