Revolution, paragons of women's division ultimate, faced a fierce universe-point battle with Aerosoul in the 2023 PAUC final
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.
The pillars of international women’s ultimate trembled in the PAUC final, but, in the end, they remained upright as reigning world champions Revolution (COL) survived an epic challenge from their national rivals Aerosoul (COL), coming away with a 12-11 victory. The wind was stiff, the margins were thin, the throws were crisp, and the playmaking was gigantic across the board from both teams in what will surely go down as the game of the tournament.
Aerosoul punished an opening Revo mistake to start the game, scoring as fast as one of the sudden cloudbursts that periodically sprinkled the fields at Cap Cana throughout the tournament. Just as quickly, a Molly Robbins block set up a Revo break to put the game back on serve. Those two quick jabs set the tone for what would become a heavyweight battle between two of the most talented teams on the planet.
Revo deployed a zone (to which they would return periodically) to set up a second break, and it slowed Aerosoul to a crawl for a few throws – until a spectacular layout grab from Juanita McAllister to save possession keyed a marvelous series of pinball passes all the way down the field. It was an important point for Aerosoul to show they would not buckle in the face of a setback.
Having exchanged opening volleys and shown themselves capable of resisting, the two teams settled into a display of their strengths. For Aerosoul, that meant a world class deep game, with both McAllister and Maria Santos – who has an argument for tournament MVP – showing they could pinpoint long throws out of reach of the Revolution defense. (Zulay Sáenz, one of the most effective receivers of the week, scored both goals.) Revolution, meanwhile, could put the disc in the hands of stars Yina Cartagena and Mangie Forero. They were easily the most polished players in the women’s division – a decade of high-level international experience tends to have that effect – and they have developed a chemistry that borders on telepathy. Their red zone play together was untouchable; their ability to create space to cut in any circumstance against an athletic Aerosoul defense powered the offense downfield; their throws were, frequently, visionary.
As good as Forero and Cartagena were, however, Revolution had been prone to mistakes throughout the first half. Unfortunately for Aerosoul, they failed to capitalize on any of those mistakes beyond the one on the first point, letting three good break chances get carried away on the backs of their own unforced errors. And, as everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows by now, if you can’t put Revolution into a hole, they’re going to put you in one. An open field drop at midfield allowed Luisa Sánchez to lead a brilliant counterattack, finishing with a powerful backhand up the gut to Mishelly Quintana just past a defender’s fingertips for a break.
Ironclad discipline with fakes and holsters against Revo’s zone kept Aerosoul from falling behind by another break. Discipline, as well as a little spectacle: a tremendous goal line layout catch from Valentina Medina both saved the Aerosoul hold and ushered in a series of impressive grabs from both sides to close out the first half.
Forero ripped a catch from between two well-positioned defenders at the end of a back-and-forth point. Aerosoul’s Natalia Rodriguez made an excellent read on a disc intended for Santos before leaping high to bring in an iffy throw in the wind. Best of all, though, was Forero’s catch to end the period. Yessica Grajales, blockaded near the front cone by a flotilla of Aerosoul defenders, let loose a late stall OI forehand. It tipped off of Alejandra Uribe’s fingers on the first attempt before Aerosoul’s Natalia Gomez swatted it away. Forero had been running toward the pile to help clean up the initial deflection, but after Gomez’s touch she turned on a dime and chased the disc’s new trajectory toward the back of the end zone, laying out to grab it just before it could reach the grass.
Halftime offered a brief respite from the intensity of the game, as well as a chance to reflect on the game up to that point. To look at the score – Revolution led 8-6, up a break – one would assume they had simply controlled the game. That was far from the case. In fact, the story of the game’s first half was Aerosoul’s inability to control a game that was in their hands early and often. Aerosoul had at least one break chance on every defensive point they played, but they only managed to convert the one to start the game. The pressure had been phenomenal, but they found themselves too often unable to finish.
Those missed opportunities came back to haunt them, as they were broken to start the second half. Forero and Ximena Montaña led a tremendous counter to take a 9-6 lead. Santos skied three defenders on the next point to prevent a turnover that might have made the deficit even larger.
A few points later, the tenor of the match shifted abruptly. The whole game had seen Aerosoul’s D-line offense try and fail to take advantage of the Revolution O-line’s mistakes. Then a solution presented itself: like Alexander the Great waking up from his nap before cutting through the Gordian Knot with a single stroke, Aerosoul found a way around the tangle that had been perplexing them. That shortcut came in the form of Gomez. After a booming Santos pull started the Revo offense from deep within their own end zone, Gomez, playing much larger than her height as she had all week, tore a wind-blown pass from the sky for a Callahan. That play brought the game back to within a single break.
Leading 10-9 on an increasingly shaky foundation, Revo kept their slim advantage in classic Revo style, dancing within five yards of the force sideline for an entire point, largely thanks to the heady command of Torres. And then, usurping the dubious mantle that had for much of the game been Aerosoul’s province, Revolution took a turn at wasting an important break opportunity, throwing behind the receiver on what would surely have been a successful red zone set to take a virtually insurmountable late three-point lead. Aerosoul, given a second chance at life, would leave it to Santos to keep them in the game. She zipped past both Robbins and Grajales to chase down a Sáenz away shot and secured it just ahead of the back cone at full speed – and just ahead of a desperate Grajales bid. Her scorching play kept Aerosoul trailing 11-10, right on Revo’s heels.
Aerosoul’s Natalia Gomez, who had made it her business to keep them close with her Callahan two points earlier, would soon make the contest a dead heat. Following a rushed Revolution swing pass that hit the ground, Gomez surveyed transition from midfield. The Aerosoul coaches wanted a timeout, and from the sideline her options looked limited. But from her vantage, she saw a sliver of a lane through the middle of the field: she expertly guided a 45-yard forehand through that window and put just the right edge to have it curve away from Revo’s last defender and into the stride of Valentina Gomez. That gorgeous pass evened the score at 11 apiece. Time had expired, making the next score the game-winner.
As they had almost every time they took the field, the Aerosoul D-line had an opportunity to break. Forero saw an opening for a deep shot, but Santos took position and cleaned it up easily. Starting from their own goal line, Aerosoul were determined to play a patient game. But Revo, keeping a defender underneath the stack to help take away any easy throw, forced them into a mistake almost before they could get going. Without any other options available and with the count nearing a stall, Diana Marin had to resort to a thirty-yard swing pass to a hard-charging Kate Jimenez. It carried a few inches wide of the mark, giving Revo a second chance to hold for the win – this time, from only 15 yards out.
Grajales muscled her way to the backhand cone at the front of the goal line, inches from the win. In a tight space, who else would come to her rescue but Cartagena? In one move, she cut a path through three defenders to make room for herself, the disc, and the Revolution win.
Unlike in every other match they played at PAUC, this last Revolution win was not by any measure inevitable. They were, as the final score shows, the stronger side. But their advantage was fragile, and they nearly lost hold of it. Aerosoul presented both a credible challenge and a worthy one – we can look forward, I hope, to many more battles between the two of them on both the Colombian and international stages in the coming years.
Victoria Bailey (Stella)
Yina Cartagena (Revolution)
Mangie Forero (Revolution)
Cindy Monroy (Bamboo)
Alejandra Oviedo (Soul Lyons)
Maria Santos (Aerosoul)
Yaira Urdaneta (Wakanda)