Thursday, August 20, 2009

2009 CUC Womens Final Review- Lotus Blossoms on Universe to win National Championship


The women's final was the last match of the 2009 CUC championships. It brought some of the most loyal and loud fans to the stadium, and was helped by the return of sunshine to the Winnipeg skies.

Joining Rahil Suleman and myself in the commentator booth was Lexi Marsh. Marsh, a former Lotus and Capitals player, brought an excellent resume as player (who knew both Lotus and Stella) and as a world juniors coach, and had the sort of positive personality to help our broadcast efforts.

I stepped out for part of the first half due to a CUPA board meeting, but returned to the booth and served as the 3rd person color when needed.

Women's Final- Lotus (Toronto) versus Stella (Ottawa)

One of the biggest rivalries in Canadian ultimate is also one of the best examples of teamwork and cooperation. These two teams, which battle each other all summer, annually combine their best players to compete in the UPA finals each fall. In 2007, they combined all summer to try to win a worlds birth at Canadian nationals that year (Losing in the finals to Vancouver's Traffic). These teams train together, work together to make tournaments like No Borders attractive to American teams, and are loyal to nationals every year.

Stella was the defending champion but entered the 2009 championship seeded 5th after a regionals loss to Lotus. Stella had been without some of their key players this season due to World Games committments, but all players would be in Winnipeg. Outside of a universe point 11-10 loss to Lotus in pool play, Stella sailed through round robin and playoffs, disposing of PPF in the quarters (11-5) and Storm in the semi-finals (10-4). The champs would be underdogs going into the final given their 0-3 record versus Lotus this year, but the universe point loss suggested Stella was peaking at the right moment.

Lotus had lost only one game all season (No Borders final against Boston's Brute Squad). Outside of games versus Stella and QUB, they remained relatively unchallenged in pool play. Playoffs saw pure dominance from Lotus, as they beat Fusion 15-1 in the quarters and a 15-3 whalloping over a promising Zephyr team from Vancouver.

Heading into the match, Lotus fans were concerned with a reported injury to Hadiya "Dee" Roderique. An injured ankle resulted in a hospital visit and a doubtful status for the finals. Given that ultimate players are notorious for overhyping their injuries for no apparent reason, everyone watched the warm up to see what the great striker was able to participate in. It turned out that Dee was still hurting and her play time was very limited.

I was able to see the back and forth nature of the first few points before heading out of the booth for a meeting. One of the biggest impressions made to me on the first few points was was the play of Martha Paterson. Paterson was clearly showing the ability to go deep and get open underneath, and I wondered how Stella was going to manage her. It made me think the tall striker from Traffic in 2007, whose deep play was unstoppable and really hurt the Capitals.

After a brief meeting (still able to catch the Anner Mercier Callaghan in the first half) I got to return to the booth and watch a great match. It seemed like no team could really make a big run on the other team. It was a 1-2 point the whole way. The key seemed to be the mental make up of the teams- Stella was calm and relaxed throughout the match, and was not the least bit intimidated at key moments. Lotus was equally relaxed, and not having challenges leading up to the finals did not pose a problem.

Stella was getting some great play from a number of different sources. Kate Cavallaro was playing at her best, being a very active cutter and scoring several points in both the second half. Sam Morris was taking the proverbial "next step", playing lights out defence with layouts, and showing her ability to produce on offence on turns. Cassie Bergquist was providing very intense marking in the lane and on the disc. Captain Jenna McBride was scoring points, playing hard d, and managing the lines. It was exhausting just watching her, but she was handling it well.

As the game progressed, Carly Bassett was really the player that stood out throughout the game for Stella, providing the kind of handler play (100% throws, getting open for east resets, working in perfect tandem with Marie Imbeault and Anne Mercier) that every team needs to win.

Lotus was being lead by some stellar veterans. Allyson Walker was showing the country why she is so highly regarded. She was all over the field on offence and on defence. Kaitlynn "Hoodie" Lovatt seemed to be the player Stella had trouble matching up against. Her ability to get open at will in the second half was proving either points or free resets to Toronto. Winnipeg native Malissa Lundgren (who had a great performance at No Borders) is making her mark this game with absolutely huge pulls into the Stella endzone on each defensive point.

Outside of the dominance of Walker/Lovatt, the unsung hero is Laurel Berkowitz. Number 5 from Lotus has a very tough task- shut down Anne Mercier. Point after point, she's doing it, especially in the second half. A couple of key turns for Stella come from trying to force it in to their Mercier, and Berkowitz is getting d's preventing the pass, and shutting down the big throws from Anne before she gets it. Only when Lotus opts for a zone is Mercier able to really contribute.

Further, one of the most dangerous players in the game (Kate Crump) is not the focal point of Stella O. Lotus leadership has devised a game plan to prevent the big play, and Crump's ability to get open at will (watch her folks.. open every play!) was neutralized by the lack of throwing lanes to her. The fact that the game is so close comes from Stella's other cast of players who are able to play high level ultimate outside of Mercier and Crump... that's what good teams do.

In the end, the game is tied 14-14 and its universe point madness. The point starts with many fans standing in excitement. Both teams have at least three chances to score, and all opportunities end of long distance throws that can't connect. Finally, Lotus buckles down and works the disc underneath. Walker and Lovatt are crucial to the disc movement, but Stella's d is so tight that many passes and swings are needed. Eventually, the patience pays off and Lotus puts it in for the winning goal on universe.

Congratulations to both teams who combined with the open finalists to provide the best finals ever in terms of parity and play. It's so exciting to see two teams play their best when it matters most, and have the best players play their best.

Lotus serves as a deserving champion, building a deep program that helps their team and their sister squad Lily. Their use of strategy and team depth made up for the loss of one of their best players.


Patrick Mooney said...

congrats to lotus and good luck to the capitals this fall. i will be cheering for you guys (and heckling the other teams) from the sideline

soniak said...

I'd like to point out the excellent play of Kristin Laurin in the finals for Lotus. She was almost always the first cut and markers were having difficulties shutting down her left flicks. It was fitting that she scored the winning point.

Yes, that Traffic deep cutter is Sanya Pleshakov. She was huge in that finals against Capitals. No one could cover her.

Lotus definitely was a deserving champion this year. They have played great at every tournament they have attended.

Even though the finals went to universe point, it was not a very clean game. Yes, it was raining and the wind picked up, but there were 69 turnovers! A little excessive. The incredible Open game was a tough act to follow!