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To suggest that a quarterfinal game between the #7 Ann Arbor Hybrid and the #10 Arizona Lawless was unexpected is an understatement. With victories against heavyweights like Minneapolis Dragon Thrust and Washington D.C Space Heater, these two first-time qualifying teams have added several monster slayings to their credentials to arrive at this point. Given that both clubs pride themselves on being gritty, defensively focused, this contest was certain to be a rollercoaster of a game–and it was. Hybrid held off a second-half comeback to win 10-9 and advance to the national semifinals.
The game started off well, but with gusting gusts blowing down the valley, misthrows and executions were certain to happen. Despite this, Arizona and Ann Arbor kept the game close until the opening few points. Sean Ham of Lawless had an especially strong start to the game. Even when he was shut down in the handler set, Ham transformed into danger in the deep area, and Hybrid tried their best to neutralize him with tight defense from Nathan Champoux. Dan Donovan, Hybrid’s leading scorer, was a major danger as well, making crucial catches, including one in the endzone that was returned to the thrower after his defender was penalized for an offensive penalty.
Lawless was behind 5-4 at the time, setting up a pivotal moment in the game. A windy huck fest of marathon points transformed into a back-and-forth series of well-executed holds. Lawless battled hard to keep their lead over this almost ten-minute stretch, but they handed Hybrid opportunity after opportunity, which Ann Arbor wasted time after time. Mark Whitton was finally able to score, extending Hybrid’s advantage to two.
Michigan made good defensive decisions to minimize Arizona’s deep game, especially their women-matching defensive threats and took advantage of Arizona’s lack of wind adjustment knowledge. Ann Arbor pushed into the wind and got the turn they needed, which they converted promptly to increase their advantage to three points. Anyone who knows Lawless knows that when they’re down, they’re the most deadly. Their team battled through another almost 10-minute point, but this time came out on top because of the tenacity of their women-matching players like Jamie Eriksson, who had a big grab to prevent a Hybrid score and subsequently threw a score to skipper Lindsey Doyle to secure the 7-5 lead. After another break, Arizona appeared to be on the verge of a comeback, but Hybrid quickly closed out the half 8-6.
Arizona came out of halftime with a fierce underdog attitude, holding off heavy defensive pressure to cling on and force yet another marathon point. These teams may have tremendous athleticism, but lengthy points and tight matchups will wear anyone down, as seen by the exhausted huck fest that followed. They swapped ill-advised hucks until Lawless’ Merideth Byl used a layout to save her side from the point’s hundredth turnover. Lawless evened the score at 8-8.
The tone of the game changed slightly, with both sides obviously realizing the importance of reeling at this point with the soft cap coming. Both Hybrid and Lawless drove the disc all the way to their endzone and failed to convert on many occasions. Arizona came out on top after two timeouts and multiple turnovers to grab a 9-8 lead.
Arizona’s lead might have easily been the end of the tale. Lawless was awarded a double game point after a fast Hybrid hold. A rollercoaster ride of a game came to a halt. Arizona was spooked by the strain of the moment, and an easy drop provided an opportunity for Hybrid. Lawless players searched for huge D opportunities and savvy poach in their quest to reclaim the ball, but they were penalized by ignoring the fundamentals. Sara Nitz found herself unguarded in the endzone and scored a straightforward touchdown to advance Ann Arbor to the semifinals.
“We take pleasure in being a punching squad that can also be punched back,” said captain Bailey Besser. “We’re never out of it psychologically; we’re always striving to keep our heads in the game.” With that approach, we were able to come out on top in a close game.”
Despite the fact that Arizona’s voyage through bracket play ended a little flat compared to the rest of the fights they fought during the weekend, this inaugural squad has a lot to be proud of. “We came out to play for ourselves, but we’re also playing for Arizona as a whole, the entire community…we want to show on the Nationals stage that Arizona can ball, and we’ll be back,” Doyle said, her face beaming with pride for her squad. “In a relatively short season, we went from 0 to 100… This squad had incredible mental toughness in riding the highs and lows of the season to finish strong.”