The host country's pride was on full display in a Blue Devils' win.
December 8, 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.
A large cheering section with representation from every other division, the extensive volunteer staff, and local friends and family thronged the sidelines of the Open Division final as two-time defending Pan-American champions Comunidad el Oso (COL) looked to hold onto their title against the hometown Blue Devils UC (DOM). The (mostly) pro-Dominican crowd were rewarded with a historic victory as their beloved Blue Devils pulled away from Oso in the second half to win the championship 14-10.
The undefeated Blue Devils success over the course of the week had been defined by incredible offensive efficiency. In six games heading into the final, they had only been broken a handful of times – and not at all in a tight semifinal the day before against Flota Chancle (COL). The challenge for Oso, therefore, was clear: knock a high-functioning offense off their game early. Oso, though, faltered before they could find a way forward.
As good as the Blue Devils offense had been, it was the defense who stood out early. AJ Merriman, Fidel Echavarría, Miguel Pujols and the rest of the D-line completely stalled Oso’s forward momentum on the opening point, pushing them into dire straits against their goal line before forcing a turnover in a tight inside window. Steeven Velandia read a centering pass for a block and skillfully led Oso to the end zone on their second opportunity – but the tone had been set. Eduardo Hernández, tightly trailing Oso’s Dante Carvajalino, earned a run-through block the next time Oso had the disc. Andrés Ramírez, Noah Hanson, and Merriman took care of the Blue Devils’ possession and cashed in the break.
The match swung back to even, though, when two Blue Devils offensive possessions – one by the D-line and one by the O-line – ended with wide open red zone throws that were placed outside of any optimal catching zone, and neither Andrew Roy nor Jeff Holm could quite hang on. Mark Donahue had made a habit of huge playmaking over the course of the tournament, and he came up with another huge play to secure Oso’s break, laying out for an OI screamer as it whizzed past him.
The remainder of the first half followed that seesaw pattern. Each team, beset by the sometimes confounding, sometimes just plain tough defense of the other, suffered from execution errors. Each team made tremendous plays to set up break scores. Fabian Jimenez of Comunidad el Oso wore the laurels for play of the game briefly after making one of his signature full-extension, full-speed layout grabs in space. But Blue Devils’ Noah Hanson, who had been a pest on defense the whole half, claimed those laurels for himself with a cat-quick layout Callahan. In spite of the spectacle – or, if you like, because of it – Blue Devils and Comunidad el Oso entered the second half on serve.
The boisterous Blue Devils fans, paying little attention to the small vicissitudes of the game, maintained their intensity. They regularly broke in to chants of ‘Hustle, hustle!’1 and (curiously) ‘Allez les bleus!’ At least two standard bearers had celebrated scores with a sprint down the sidelines flying the Dominican flag overhead. They simply would not rest until their on-field representatives gave them, and the entire Caribbean nation, a victory.
And the Blue Devils obliged.
Following two holds on stellar offensive play from Efrain Herrera, whose hucks in the final were often Oso’s only way out of the stranglehold put on them by the Blue Devils’ defense, and the indefatigable Blue Devils cutter Alex Machado, who led the game with four goals, the game broke for the home team once and for all. A deep throw turnover from Oso – that Diego Arango nearly kept in bounds with a sensational effort – quickly became a Blue Devils red zone opportunity. Noah Hanson got the disc just outside of the end zone at the forehand cone. Carvajalino, who had left his matchup on Georgie Echavarría to keep Hanson from scoring, recovered quickly and laid out on an attempt to block Hanson’s continue pass. He touched the top of the disc, but only enough to send it slightly off-track, and Echavarría stuck with the play to make the catch.
Hanson apparently felt that luck was on his side. And who, watching the game unfold, would say it wasn’t? On the very next point he bent an OI forehand against the wind from midfield for Trent Dillon. Oso had been diligent about playing help defense all game, and three of their players swarmed underneath the pass. But the throw carried all the way to the sideline, where Dillon, after making a great read, finished the play with a tricky leaping catch.
A quick, competent hold from Oso on their next O-point could only delay a little longer what had begun to feel like an inevitable outcome. As well as Herrera and Velandia had played during the final, and as intelligently as the entire Comunidad el Oso side had approached the tournament, there was not going to be a way to come back against a locked-in Blue Devils O-line. Nor would there be a way for them to siphon any of the energy away from the Dominican fans, who had started to prepare for the victory celebrations in earnest midway through the half.
Leading 13-10 in a game to 14, Blue Devils quickly took control of the disc. But even though they had a chance to end the game there, they drew out the tension to Hitchcockian degree, leaving the fans in an ecstasy of suspense as they waited for their chance to rush the field. Once – a Merriman IO backhand carried a yard beyond the backline – twice – Adelson Perez dropped an open one-handed catch – three times – Arango pounced on a pass to the front cone – the sidelines, ready for mass jubilation, began to spill onto the field of play in expectation of the game-winning score; three times they had to retake their positions behind the player line.
Finally, on the fourth break chance of the point, Georgie Echavarría fired an OI backhand from 35 yards out to his older brother Fidel. Fidel rose above both defenders to finish the Echavarría connection, the break, the win, and by far the single strongest performance ever by a Dominican team in international competition. Blue Devils supporters, at a boiling point after the three false starts, joined the team’s collective embrace in the end zone, sang, cried, and waved flags – as fitting a display of local pride as you’ll ever see in ultimate. ‘Allez les bleus!’ they chanted to close the tournament.
Ivan Alba (Comunidad el Oso)
Jorge Bulla (Flota Chancle)
Landon Lavoie (AFC Rumble)
Alex Machado (Blue Devils)
Gonzalo Manrique (Uro Monster)
Tyler Monroe (Blue Devils)
Matthew Pagé (General Strike)
Actually, they were saying something like ‘Josea, Josea!’ that was glossed as ‘hustle’ on the Ultiworld stream, but I have been unable to confirm the actual Spanish word and am just taking Dominican commentator Josue Soto’s word for it. ↩