When Sunday comes around during an ultimate tournament, the stakes get raised. Today, just four teams were left competing for the ultimate (pun intended) goal of winning the Youth Club Championships. On a cool and sunny Minnesota morning, bracket play continued in the semifinal round; the field had been cut in half after yesterday’s quarterfinals.
The two semifinal games going on simultaneously on adjacent fields. After impressive showings yesterday, Seattle Bonzai went head to head with Delaware Valley DEVYL in a rematch of the 2015 final. The top two seeds put on a show in Blaine and had the fans on the edge of their seats until the final goal. Delaware Valley head coach Ryan Belline said he tweaked his team’s game plan after pool play by looking at what was and wasn’t working. He also added that he didn’t feel any pressure for the rematch. After DEVYL took two of the first three points, Bonzai picked it up a notch and won six out of the next seven. Co-captain Adam Jemal picked up a goal and an assist during this stretch, and Otis Williams dropped two assists. Early on, both teams threw different defensive patterns at one another. DEVYL was trying to force Bonzai into mistakes with an interesting poachy look, going with a modified zone, and Bonzai was going with a full-on zone with a three-man cup that was staggering DEVYL’s offense. Midway through the game, both teams switched from their starting coverage to man-to-man looks.
Bonzai looked to have the game in the bag, out in front 12-7 in a game to 13. DEVYL fired back with three straight goals to cut the margin to only two points on three James Kenelly assists. But on the next point, Bonzai sealed the game with a beautiful huck by Jasper Dean to make the score 13-10, securing their spot in the 2016 YCC final. Other notable performances during this semifinal match up came from Bonzai’s Tony Venneri (three assists), James Kenelly (four assists), and Chackgarin Brown – the only player on Seattle with multiple goals.
The other semifinal match up between Bay Area Aftershock and Atlanta ATLas ended with the latter earning a 12-9 victory. The stage was set for the championship final, which would get underway after both teams had some time to rest up for what might have been the biggest game in their lives.
The highly anticipated final started off with a goal from the connection between the Bonzai captains: Tony Venneri on the assisting end and Adam Jemal on the catching end. From there, the teams traded goals all the way through the first half, as Bonzai went into the break leading by a score of 7-6.
On the first point of the second half, there were many big plays that got the crowd on their feet cheering, and in some cases, gasping. Two incredible layout Ds by Otis Williams, who snagged a sure-to-be point out of the air, and Achilles Abella started off the point with a bang for Seattle. But the biggest highlight of the point was still to come. ATLas handler Aidan Downey lofted a hammer down the sideline, and both Jaden Medley-Fowlkes of Atlanta and Raymond Chan from Seattle bid for the disc while they were airborne and collided with each other. Medley-Fowlkes got the worst of the impact and sat the next three points to catch his wind.
The last several points drew a crowd from teams who wanted to see who would emerge as the 2016 champ and fans wandering over after other finals finished up. With Bonzai leading 11-10 late, Jake Powell a caught a pass and continued the play by hucking it toward the end zone. Seattle’s Achilles Abella made an amazing layout D bid and actually made contact with the disc, but to no avail. The disc landed right in the hands of Atlanta’s Ben Dameron to tie the game up at 11 all. On the next point, just after the original hard cap horn sounded, Aidan Downey threw a 50/50 disc into the end zone that was mercifully pulled down by 6’5" cutter Matthew Dacey-Koo to give Atlanta the lead. After the injury to Medley-Fowlkes, the teams had agreed to add injury time to the end of the game. As a result, the game wasn’t over, despite the hard cap horn having sounded. Atlanta was finally ahead, up one, and one point away from becoming first-time champs and knocking the four-time winners off their throne. But it all fell apart. Bonzai’s next score knotted up the game at 12s and sent it to universe point, Seattle broke the Atlanta defense, and a pass landed in Achilles Abella’s hands in the end zone to end the game. What followed was pandemonium, as both the boys’ and girls’ teams from Seattle stormed the field and lifted Abella off the ground, while an emotional Atlanta team left the field without the championship.
After a long and emotional spirit circle, an also emotional coach Joey Shea from Atlanta said he was overjoyed with how his team performed this weekend, repeating from an interview yesterday, "We just wanted to see our team play up to their potential." He also stated that he thought his team had played their best game of the tournament in the final and that they played better than, "any blowout they’d had." Despite the heroic efforts, Atlanta couldn’t pull off the victory they had come to Blaine looking for.
After a captivating weekend of ultimate here at the National Sports Center, it is finally time to say goodbye. So many memories were made and great ultimate played over these last three days. But there is always next year.