2016 Beach Championship - Day 2 Recap

Posted: May 15, 2016 08:50 PM

The beach changes things. 

I’m talking about more than the obvious "it’s not grass" change. The beach changes your speed, the ever-present wind changes the flight of the disc, and together, the conditions change the definition of "good" ultimate. 
In club championship games, turnovers are few and far between. The winner could be the team that has just four turnovers instead of five. But on the beach, expectations change. Not that turnovers are ever really considered a good thing, but the teams that made the finals in Virginia Beach this weekend were by and large the teams that took chances. They had some turnovers like everyone, and maybe even more than some, but what set the finalists apart was their ability to get the disc back with defense. Players aren’t as fast on the sand, fields are shorter, it takes a while to figure out the right amount of touch to put on your throws and how to use the wind. So turnovers are expected – they’re part of the game – but being able to get the disc back can make you a champion.
Teams in the men’s championship bracket got to sleep in on Sunday morning before jumping into the quarterfinal round. The bottom half of the bracket was packed – three of last year’s semifinalists ended up there, so no one had a match up they were particularly excited about. Meanwhile, the top half of the bracket looked pretty wide open. 2015 fifth-place finishers Paranoia and Bayonet finally played their year-old tiebreaker game in this year’s quarterfinals. Bayonet came out on top. MidRift, And the Warhawks and Humiliswag filled the other semifinal spots. 
MidRift was a bit of a wild card heading into the weekend. They started out seeded 10th overall and worked their way into the championship game against And the Warhawks. Humiliswag mentioned early on Saturday that they were wary of And the Warhawks, a team they know quite well. Humiliswag knew their friends from Boston were expecting reinforcements for Sunday’s bracket play, people who would supplement the Warhawks’ already strong dynamic, and as they found out in the semis, they were right on the money. 
Brett Matzuka and Tom Doi slipped right into the team’s handler sets, keeping the disc moving quickly for the Warhawks. Markham Shofner gave them an extra quick target to hit downfield. Despite being down just before the hard cap went on, Humiliswag evened up the score to force double-game point. An athletic grab from Sean Keegan came at just the right moment; And the Warhawks survived and advanced. Humiliswag was eliminated by the Warhawks for a second straight year. 
In the championship final against MidRift, the Warhawks often forced backhand with low hands on the mark, using the wind to force high, floaty throws that gave their speedy defenders – people like Shofner and William Katz – a chance to catch up and make plays on the disc. MidRift was pretty successful when using quick, short throws and lots of short pop-out resets from in-cuts back to the handlers, taking advantage of the space the Warhawks gave them with their junky defensive looks. But when they saw open space downfield and tried to jump on it too early, the Warhawks were there to contest everything.
The Warhawks got a couple breaks to give themselves a cushion, and despite hanging around throughout, MidRift couldn’t close the gap. 
And the Warhawks claimed their second consecutive Beach Championships title with a 12-9 win. 
All four of last year’s mixed semifinalists made it back there again in 2016. Luckily for players and fans alike, the match ups were different. Defending champions Point Break took on The Kevin Seiler Experience and OPig faced No Tsu Oh. The Kevin Seiler Experience was a fun team to watch all weekend. With a lot of their offense running through Becca Miller, Ben Lohre and 6’4" Ryan Tucker, they were quick and explosive. But with continued heavy lifting from people like Tyler Grant and Keegan Uhl and the help of new additions like Angela Lin, Point Break pulled out a 12-9 win to earn a second straight appearance in the finals. 
If you follow high-level ultimate and also happened to flip through the event guide before the Beach Championships kicked off, there is a decent chance you would have picked OPig as the eventual champion in the mixed division. From top to bottom, the players that make up their roster can claim nearly every accolade the ultimate world offers – club champions, world champions, national team members both past and present, and the list goes on. But as is often the case with teams packed with stars, there were moments over the course of the weekend when things didn’t look as easy as they could have. There were times the offense just wasn’t on the same or defensive switches weren’t smooth. But OPig got the glitches out early and, by the time they reached the semifinals, were ready to roll. They defeated a talented No Tsu Oh team 13-9 to advance to the championship game. 
The final provided the fans gathered around the showcase field with great ultimate throughout, including some spectacular highlight-reel plays like Nicky Spiva’s greatest that started at midfield and ended as a goal for OPig. After doinking the throw off his hands on an up-line cut, he followed the disc and had the presence of mind to not only get the disc back in play, but to throw it downfield toward his original continuation cutter. The disc ended up in the end zone and floated long enough for Brian Marshall to sprint from behind the initial throw, catch up to the play and sky a teammate and her defender for the goal.
It’s nearly impossible to pick just one or two standout players for the new champs. They got important contributions from their entire roster – tireless cutting from Crystal Davis, solid handling from Adam Simon and David Cranston, the typical but often-unsung workhorse play of Ryan Morgan, and Jenny Fey continued to be Jenny Fey, contributing heavily on nearly every offensive possession and adding to her already considerable assists statistic. And that’s just to name a few. 
OPig certainly looked the part of a champion and made the title official with a 13-8 win over Point Break.
Despite also having some repeat teams in the semifinals, the women’s division looked the most different in year two. 
The only defending champions not to make the semifinals this year, Boston Skeeahreet, fell to Sharks & Kisses in the quarterfinals, which put two North Carolina teams in the semis. They matched up with two of last year’s semifinalists, Madison’s Rockford Beaches and Philadelphia’s Filly LAMP. 
Filly LAMP looked strong all weekend. They embodied the "take chances, play hard defense" mentality. And for nearly the entire weekend, it worked for them. They have tons of speed up and down their roster, so the shots they kept putting up were often caught thanks to their quick receivers. If they didn’t work out, they were typically able to get the disc back with tough defense. The strategy earned them a bye into the semifinals where they defeated Chapel Hill, N.C.’s First in Flight. The win set them up for a championship final against Rockford Beaches who had easily dispatched their own Carolina semifinal opponent, Sharks & Kisses.
The women were the first to take to the showcase field for a final, with their championship offset from the other four divisions. As a result, the atmosphere was vibrant. Athletes who were either finished for the day or waiting out a bye round packed the bleachers and were rewarded with tons of exciting, athletic plays. 
Rockford Beaches managed to tally two Callahans during the game, one a run-through grab on the first throw from Melissa Gibbs after a perfect pull from Becky LeDonne landed in the back corner of the end zone. The second Callahan was one of the weekend’s most exciting plays. While on the mark on the end zone line, Arthi Padmanabhan got a hand block that kept the disc in the air. Keeping her eye on the disc, she laid out to grab it in the end zone. The Callahans were a microcosm of how the game went for Filly LAMP. They started with two quick scores, but Rockford found their rhythm and did not relent for the remainder of the game. The offense LAMP had been running all weekend was still exciting to watch, but Rockford was far stingier with possession than LAMP’s previous opponents. When one of LAMP’s deep shots didn’t succeed, they weren’t able to earn as many extra chances. With people like Liza Minor, Sally Mimms, Becky LeDonne and Sarah Meckstroth anchoring Rockford Beaches, it’s easy to see why. 
Rockford Beaches won the championship 11-5.

Same old, same old in the mixed masters division – no pun intended. Three of the four mixed masters division’s semifinals spots were locked up after Saturday play. Shostakovich (and the Angry Buddha) secured their semifinals berth by defeating Overrated (Rochester, N.Y.) in the last round of pool play on Sunday morning. 
The semifinals draw just so happened to pit Washington, D.C. Over the Hill against Shostakovich for a second straight year. But this time, Over the Hill defeated them soundly. Their 11-5 win gave them a lot more breathing room than 2015’s double-game point thriller. The defending champs, the Swamp Rats, took on newcomer Gruntled in their semifinal and moved on to the finals with a 12-9 victory. 
So once again, Over the Hill faced the Swamp Rats in the mixed masters division finals in Virginia Beach. Both teams have plenty of athletes who still compete with prominent club teams around the country, so their athleticism and experience match up well. But the Swamp Rats had height and some extra intensity on their side. The Swamp Rats played aggressive defense, unafraid to take chances that might generate a turnover. Although their over-pursuit occasionally led to open looks for Over the Hill, the net gain fell in the Swamp Rats’ favor. 
Players like Ben and Sara Dieter, Ray Parrish and Kate Morrison are tough to beat on the sand (or grass). And captain Ben Dieter’s competitive drive and ability to motivate teammates through on-field effort helped lead the Swamp Rats to their second Beach Championships title. 

The grand masters division grew the most from year one to year two of the Beach Championships, which allowed for a stronger format and better overall experience. One of the new teams that had looked particularly promising on Saturday was Denver Johnny Walker. The defending grass national champions seemed to have moved their game to the beach with aplomb. But they ran into an unexpectedly difficult challenge from Chicago Sandblast in the semifinals play-in game on Sunday morning. Maybe Johnny Walker hadn’t quite adjusted to the Eastern Time zone or maybe it was just that Sandblast came out firing on all cylinders on day two. Either way, Sandblast took advantage of many of the throws Johnny Walker just missed to begin the game and gave themselves a big lead. Johnny Walker came back in the second half, but ran out of time. Despite scoring last, Johnny Walker fell to Sandblast 11-12, and Sandblast advanced to a semifinals match up against Scrapple. 
In the other semifinals play-in game, 2015 champions Alchemy took care of Sol Draft 13-4 and moved on to face No Country in what is becoming a familiar late-tournament match up in the grand masters division. No Country avenged their 2015 championship finals loss on Sunday morning, defeating Alchemy in this edition of the rivalry 10-7. No Country was yet another team that won on the premise of taking chances. Having a receiver like Fritz Burkhardt and defenders like Arnold Sanchez who can help you get the disc back if necessary makes it easier to feel good about taking shots downfield, and No Country did just that early and often. They were also one of a small number of teams that used zone looks on defense, particularly when it was extra gusty, to force errant throws.
No Country didn’t lose a game this weekend, but they also kept looking better and better as the weekend progressed. By the time they got to the finals against Scrapple, they were rolling. They kept their momentum rolling after their semifinal win and defeated Scrapple convincingly in the championship game to add a beach title to their already-impressive trophy case.