2014 U.S. Open - Women's Day 1 Recap

Posted: July 3, 2014 06:56 PM

Day one of the 2014 U.S. Open Ultimate Championships in Blaine, Minn., dawned mostly sunny with just the right amount of patchy cloud cover, zero wind and mild temperatures. Perfect ultimate conditions. Teams piled into the National Sports Center ready to take on some of the best competition in the world in the first leg of the Triple Crown Tour season.

At the end of day one, the biggest story in the women’s division is Fury, but not for the reason typically associated with the seven-time national champions. For the first time in eight years, they lost two consecutive games before tallying their first win of the tournament in the day’s third and final round. 

Round One

Half of the field has already managed to squeeze in at least one tournament this year, but all the teams looked to still be shaking off a little early-season rust to start the day.

It was a round of 15-6 matches. Only the surprise Fury v. Traffic upset ended in a different score – not that it was much closer. 

Despite being one of the teams seeing their first official competition of the year, Traffic came out of the gate looking smooth and ready to win. The first half of their game against Fury was full of traded points, with several short, quick throws leading to open downfield looks for both teams. But when Traffic put their foot on the pedal, Fury stayed in third gear. Uncharacteristic throwaways and too many Fury feet landing out of bounds gave Traffic opportunities, and they took advantage. Not afraid to take chances and break Fury’s junky defense over the top when necessary, Traffic cruised their way to the first big upset of the weekend with their 15-8 win over their west-coast counterparts.

Colombia’s Bamboo is fun to watch – they’re high-energy, they’re tall, they’re athletic – and they’re young. Starting against the defending national champions probably wasn’t their dream debut at the U.S. Open, but their enthusiasm certainly didn’t take any hits. They look deep with regularity, living and dying on long bombs, and often attempting huck bailout throws, instead of dump resets. Bamboo’s average age of 22 made Scandal’s experience all the more apparent. They used patient offense and strong handler movement to work their way through the first round. 

Brute Squad is another of the teams seeing their first official game action of the season, but like Traffic, they looked ready to run. Starting their weekend against the short-staffed Iceni, they took advantage of what they had – a deep roster and impressive athleticism. On defense, they sagged on the handlers to clog cutting lanes, making it difficult for Iceni to execute their game plan. Brute’s offense opened up the field with quick handler movement, often putting the mark on their heels before throwing and immediately cutting up field. Iceni couldn’t keep up – Brute Squad made up-line cuts to the front corner of the end zone their bread and butter and ran away with the game. 

Riot captain Gwen Ambler is on the sideline in tennis shoes, thanks to an ankle turn in practice last week but hopes to make an on-field appearance by the end of the weekend. 2014 Callahan finalist Callie Mah is keeping Ambler company: what she thought might be a pulled hamstring at the College Championships may be instability in her already repaired ACL. An MRI next week should give her and Riot Nation some insight to her fate for the season. Riot’s handler line is also a little thin on day one – both Shannon McDowell and Angelica Boyden will arrive in Minnesota tonight and be with the team for the remainder of the U.S. Open. But even while missing pieces, Riot looked tough. According to Ambler, they’ve been "focusing on playing with intention this season – deciding how to score and how to get the turn before the point starts." After ending their 2013 season against Showdown in a hard-fought, competitive game with a Worlds bid at stake (Riot came out on top), this game felt quite a bit different. Showdown’s roster turnover in the offseason creates a new look for the Texans that they’re still trying to work out. New recruits and University of Central Florida stars Mariel Hammond and Sunny Harris were immediately thrown into the mix, with Hammond mainly playing offense, while Harris was traded around between offensive and defensive lines. It’s anyone’s guess what their lines and strategies look like later in the season. 

Round Two

Where the day started perfectly calm, Mother Nature picked round two to start increasing the level of difficulty for the teams. The winds were nowhere near the hurricane-force gales many of these teams have played in before (2012 Club Championships, anyone?), but the upwind-downwind breeze certainly affected several squads’ strategies. 

By the end of their match up against Fury, Brute Squad had turned to a huck-and-play-defense tactic when going downwind, making Fury really earn any upwind points. Generally speaking, it worked in Brute’s favor. Near the end of the game, Fury typically looked like Fury up until the red zone – they worked the disc surgically up field before turning it back over close to the end zone. Uncharacteristic drops and throwaways were commonplace for Fury, giving Brute Squad all the opportunities they needed. Fury tightened up their lines as the end of the round approached, relying, as they often have in tight spots over the years, on Alex Snyder and Manisha Daryani to anchor their offensive line, while Anna Nazarov, Carolyn Finney and Nancy Sun took charge of the defense. Newcomer Sabrina Fong also claimed a central spot on the D-line as a defensive handler. It was closer this time, but Fury was upset for a second straight game – 15-12.

The last time Fury lost two consecutive games? Eugene Solstice 2006.

In the non-North American match up, Iceni and Bamboo played a back and forth game, with each team playing to their strengths and preferences. The Bamboo defense, saggier than what Iceni had seen from Brute Squad, allowed the Londoners to better utilize their quick movement strategy, earning more success on in cuts and easier handler resets. While it’s not atypical for American teams to change offensive and defensive strategies mid-game, and often mid-point, to keep their opponents guessing, these two teams have a tendency to stick with what they know. It will be interesting to see how the tactics evolve as the sport grows and provides more consistent high-level competition for these teams. 

As mentioned above, Showdown is still working out some kinks. With a high percentage of new players – 11 athletes in all were on their 2013 Nationals roster and are gone for this year’s U.S. Open – it’s pretty clear they are a new team getting to know each other on and off the field. They run hard but haven’t yet settled on an offensive flow. Everyone knows Scandal has the talent to take over a game, but as of the second round, they hadn’t yet looked like the dominant force we saw in the National finals. They’ve taken care of business and put up convincing score lines, without yet turning up the gas.

After a strong showing against Fury, things went downhill a bit for Traffic when they faced Riot. Just as they had planned, Riot dictated the game from start to finish. Traffic hung around, but Riot kept playing their game, with each athlete taking care of their role and everyone buying into the team concepts and system. As Ambler mentioned, they are "focusing on process" and controlling the game. So far, so good.

Round Three

In an inter-Titcomb-family contest, Brute Squad provided the toughest test of the day for the Riot zone defense. Brute possessed the disc well, making the Riot cup run, and Sarah "Surge" Griffith may be one of the best deep deeps 5’5" or under in the game. Even after a long game with Fury, the Bostonians were still ready to run. They pressured Riot’s offense and made the defense work. The game went well into the soft cap before Riot closed it out with a quick point 15-12. 

Fury did what Fury is known to do after rough patches: they rebounded. But it didn’t come without some help from Scandal. The defending champs are without a few of their main handlers, and at times, it showed. More 50/50 balls than ultimate fans have come to expect from Scandal made their way into the game. To mix things up a bit, Fury’s D-line started playing offense toward the end of the game, but any line with names like Anna Nazarov, Sabrina Fong and Lisa Pitcaithley will always be an offensive threat. 

Iceni closed out day one against Traffic in what turned out to be a 6-15 loss. But it didn’t faze them. Coach Paul Waite said they had a good first day, achieving what they came to achieve and learning a lot. Iceni traveled to the U.S. Open to "play their game and not get drawn into a shooting game just to score points," according to Waite. They are using this weekend as an opportunity to play at a high level they can’t match in the U.K. and work on eliminating weaknesses in the lead up to Worlds. Friday will provide an even tougher day of the high-level competition they were seeking with match ups against three of the tournament’s top four seeds: Scandal, Riot and Showdown. But based on what we saw today, the seeds don’t necessarily mean much. 

Despite going 1-2 on the day, Showdown is still on track. Their two losses came to two of the teams seeded above them, and they took care of business in the final round, getting their first win against eighth-seeded Bamboo. 

Looking Ahead: Day Two

At the end of day one, Riot is sitting alone atop the pool with a 3-0 record, looking like the team to beat. Scandal, Brute Squad and Traffic, all tied with 2-1 records, round out the top four, and perennial powerhouse Fury is tied for the fifth spot in the pool. They get to start day two against the familiar faces from Riot, which may or may not work in their favor, but it is nearly always an exciting match-up. Although Fury was victorious when the teams met in the Solstice final two weeks ago, all signs point to Riot tomorrow. If Fury does drop the game, they’ll need to sweep their remaining match-ups to hope to make the semifinals.

The addition of two more handlers for Riot, with tonight’s arrivals of Shannon McDowell and Angelica Boyden, should only make Riot look better tomorrow, a scary thought for their opponents. If the dynamic Scandal we all got to know last year shows up in Minnesota tomorrow, their third-round match-up against Riot will definitely be worth keeping an eye on. 


2014 - US Open - Day 1 Highlights - Images by CBMT creative


Images by UltiPhotos


U.S. Open Championships Event Page

Event Guide (PDF)


Women's Game Schedule

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