2013 Youth Club Championships - Saturday Recap

Posted: August 10, 2013 11:27 PM

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Today the best high school ultimate players from around the country convened once again in Blaine, Minn., to compete in this year’s Youth Club Championships. One casual flip through the program or brackets will demonstrate the burgeoning nature of the sport, what with this year’s tournament fielding the most diverse field of teams yet, representing four divisions: U-19 open, U-19 girls, U-19 mixed and U-16 open.

  U19 Girls:   Scoreboard  
  U19 Mixed:   Scoreboard  
  U19 Open:   Scoreboard  
  U16 Open:   Scoreboard  

Round 1

The weather in Blaine today was wonderful throughout but never better than at the start of the day. Clear blue skies, warm sun and no wind, the perfect setting for the high-quality ultimate on display. In the U-19 open division, Pool A’s number one seed and defending champion Minnesota Superior made quick work of South Dakota, who were back for only their second appearance at YCC. Minnesota relied on a strong defensive effort, none more active than Luis Caballero (#34). The final score was 11-3, Minnesota. By the end of the round, the Open U-19 had played out to seed with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Seattle having fairly lopsided games alongside Minnesota. The two closest games of the round, Boston BUDA v. North Texas Two Step and Colorado Cutthroat v. DiscNY Lil Ponies came from Pool D which featured the most evenly matched teams in the tournament.

Round 2

Over in the girls’ division, DEVYL narrowly managed to prevail against a talented Boston BUDA in one of the better games on the day. With the wind picking up, both teams threw zone, using three- or four-person cups. Despite the defensive tactics, neither offense could be shut down with Angela Zhu (#8) directing the BUDA attack with pinpoint throws and cuts and Sadie Jezierski (#11) channeling her energy for big play after big play for DEVYL. In the instances where BUDA didn’t throw a zone, DEVYL looked to utilize their star players, running a German offense, isolating one cutter at a time. The teams traded to the end, including a turnover-laden universe point where DEVYL finally pulled out the win, 9-8. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see these two teams meet again in the finals, though they’d have to go through the likes of Denver and Seattle, respectively.

For their part, Colorado Cutthroat used their solid man-defense to get three early breaks and a quick 4-0 lead on Minnesota Superior. Throughout the game, Minnesota had trouble keeping up with Cutthroat's aggressive transition offense, and Colorado would ride their momentum to a 13-1 victory.

The second round of U-16 boys matches, the first for Pool B’s teams, featured Cincinnati's Flying Piglets against one-seeded DEVYL which ended up being one of the more exciting games of day one. Cincinnati jumped out to a surprising 5-1 lead, but as the game wore on, DEVYL's deep and balanced lineup allowed them to grind down the Piglets' lead. Delaware Valley took charge at 9-7, but Cincinnati reclaimed the lead at 10-9 moments before the hard cap was sounded. DEVYL promptly scored to send the game to universe point. What followed was a highly contested point featuring multiple turnovers and a do-over after a disputed line call on what could have been the game-winning goal. On the mulligan, DEVYL completed their comeback by breaking on universe point to win 11-10.

Round 3

Unfortunately for the spectators this year, the Mixed Division was confined to a set of far fields, away from the rest of the action. This meant the navigation of a busy street and a long, lonely walk through empty fields, but the endeavor was well worth it. Continuing their fast rise in the youth ultimate scene, the boys and girls from Maine demonstrated a level of chemistry and skill above their opponents throughout the day. In their third round game, Maine Rising Tide proved too much for Chicago Micromachines. Maine’s reliance on a balanced and noticeably athletic attack brought them to a final score of 13-5. Chicago simply wasn’t operating on the same level as Maine.

On a nearby field, Seattle Smash and BUDA traded until BUDA was able to pull away, 13-7. Indeed, BUDA looked to have control of the better part of the game with their calm demeanor and the final result never in jeopardy.

Round 4

In the U-19 open division, Iowa Elite ran into a buzz-saw hailing from the American Northwest, that buzz-saw known as DiscNW Kingpin, a program with years of success at YCC. The game proved to be as much a showcase for the high-flying boys from Seattle as it did for the relentless energy and positive spirit of Iowa. For as lopsided as the game ended up, the final score 11-2, the spirit of competition never wavered.

The other matchup in Pool C for the U-19 boys saw Indiana Inferno struggle to stop the measured offense of DEVYL. Indian’s own brand of zone defense did little more than mildly confound their opponent. DEVYL looked as strong today as any other team in the U-19 open division, led by calm handler movement from players like Jonah Wisch (#38).

Pool D posed as good a candidate for the pool of death, with North Texas Two Step – a talented team by any measure – losing all three of their pool play games on the day. No doubt their smaller roster and tighter rotation played a factor in the results, as they were able to stay close in their games without actually pulling out a victory. Colorado Cutthroat exploited the tight rotation of Texas by cycling in fresh legs of their own point after point and earned the victory, 12-10.

In the girls’ division, the final round of pool play was similar to the second round. Three teams played to seed while DEVYL again earned an upset by defeating Minnesota 13-2. Initially, Cincinnati Belle appeared to have a shot at breaking seed in the early stages of their game against Seattle. They seemed to have no problem scoring against Rampage's man defense, but after a couple traded points, Seattle transitioned to a zone look. The defensive shift allowed Seattle to score three consecutive breaks and finally take half 7-3. Rampage went on to win 12-7.

Round 5

Another visit to the far oasis of mixed ultimate. Pittsburgh Mixie, a patched-together effort made up of former Moxie girls and other young prospects faced off against BUDA. They looked every bit the motley crue, rag-tag in their white shirts with tape for numbers (applied right before the game with help from their opponents; you really don’t need much more than a disc to play this beautiful game). However, the underdog aspect wasn’t merely in their jerseys, for Pittsburgh fielded the smallest roster of any of the mixed teams, looking tired on the very first point of this final-round game. The fatigue manifested itself both in their physical actions as well as their decision making, often showing no hesitation to launch a risky or perhaps ill-advised throw downfield. Pittsburgh wasn’t without talent by any means, but was more lacking in the experience and depth of the other teams.

Long after the round’s other two mixed games concluded, Minnesota Superior and the Bay Area Happy Cows remained locked in their contest. An even matchup between the four (Minnesota) and five (Bay Area) seeds of the seven-team mixed division, the game remained even, with neither team holding a lead for long. One noticeable difference between the teams was Minnesota’s height advantage, one they utilized often in well-placed hucks, connecting for scores or big gains. Bay Area also looked to huck often, though their strategy included the cutters looking to dump or reset to a handler almost right away, with the desired result an open look in a power position. The Minnesota coaches became well aware of the tactic and implored their players to stifle deep looks with shifted marks and greater awareness downfield at the back of the stack. In the end, Minnesota had the right combination of natural talent and execution to pull out the hotly contested victory, 10-8 after the hard cap.

Over on the U-19 open fields, Boston and Denver were playing for control of Pool D. Colorado started with an early break, but BUDA quickly broke back to take the lead at 4-3. Although it was the final match of the day, both teams were playing fast-paced ultimate that one would expect more from an earlier game. Colorado would eventually even the score at 5-5 but would not match BUDA again as Boston pulled ahead to take half 8-5 and pull away to an 11-7 win. On the other end of Pool D, New York and Texas were each fighting to get their first win of the day. Texas got a quick break to go up 2-1 and then a second and third break to lead 5-2. It was at this point that New York cleaned up their play, eliminating the unforced errors that plagued them early and began moving much more consistently around the field. This change allowed Lil Ponies to get back in the game and take half 8-7, a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The final round of play in the U-16 boys’ division cemented Seattle Dynasty's dominance of Pool A. They defeated Bay Area Aftershock in a quick 11-3 game. Their three points scored against Dynasty were the most allowed all day by an opposing team. Over the course of four games, Dynasty allowed a total of seven goals against while scoring 44 themselves.

Final Thoughts

A big storyline of the day was what exactly happened to Minnesota in the U-19 open division. They came in as the defending champs, with the number one seed and brimming with confidence, only to land in Sunday’s consolation bracket. Their dropping of seed could be attributed to many factors, but one major element that can’t be overlooked is the turnover they experienced from last year’s championship team. This is part of the excitement of YCC – the new faces and talents that emerge each year, often proving that the numbered seedings are merely numbers, projections based on past performance rather than present makeup. Another factor that can be considered in regards to Minnesota is the number of high schools from which the team draws. Minnesota benefits from a wide talent pool, but at the same time, this wide pool means many of the players have less chemistry together than other teams at YCC that represent fewer schools. Teams only have a couple months to truly assemble a team and practice/prepare, with countless factors playing into the team’s performance, including that illusive force commonly referred to as chemistry.

Despite Minnesota’s fall from contention, the U-19 open field remains up in the air, with quarterfinals rife with potential champions. The U-16 boys displayed many of the same skills and energies as their older counterparts, with exciting plays and match ups throughout the day, though the division’s contenders are much more apparent and clear cut, an indication of the deeper and more established youth programs across the country: Seattle, Minnesota, Triangle Area, Delaware Valley.

The girls’ division could break any which way, with zone defense and turnovers playing a bigger role than in any other division, save perchance the U-16 boys. And then there’s the mixed division. With only seven teams and a round-robin format followed by a single championship match, each game carries the same weight, the same high level of excitement, as if it were a single-elimination affair. Here’s to hoping the weather and the level of competition delivered tomorrow equal what was produced today, leading to an exciting conclusion to the 2013 Youth Club Championships in beautiful Blaine, Minn.

Photos by UltiPhotos.com (extended Saturday gallery)

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