July 30, 2015 by Robert Gough in Analysis with 3 comments
Seattle Riot didn’t have the flashiest offseason this year, but they might have had the best. Riot added young, proven, and talented players, managing to fill out the middle of their roster, keep their big name players, and also get younger. In short, they did everything you could ask for.
Five new players join the club this season: Julia Snyder, Lauren Sadler, Jaclyn Verzuh, Paige Soper, and Qxhna Titcomb. Four of those five were college all-stars, likely the best player on their college team, and all of them have at least one international gold medal representing the US — if not more.1
We now get to see each of them involved at the highest level of women’s club, where they will play supporting parts of a unit as opposed to being the go-to stars of their college teams. The 2015 U.S. Open gave us our first look at the Riot additions with three recorded games: pool play against San Francisco Fury, the semi-final against Vancouver Traffic (both available in the Ultiworld Club Video Package), and the championship game against Fury on ESPN. They’ve since played the All Stars Ultimate Tour in an exhibition game, with Snyder, Sadler, and Soper respresenting Seattle and Verzuh and Titcomb suiting up for the All Stars.
Let’s take a look at how Riot, who loves to find and utilize players’ “super powers,” has used their new additions so far this season.
Julia Snyder (#27)
– Age: 22
– High School + College: HS Champion, College Nationals Finalist [’13 Carleton Syzygy], Ultiworld 2014 1st Team All-American
– Club: Minneapolis Pop
– International: 2-time U19 [2x Bronze medal], 2-time U23 [’13 Gold, ’15 Silver]
– Key Skills: Steady handling, footwork, two-way player
Snyder has been featured as the third handler on the O-line, splitting time with Gwen Ambler, Alyssa Weatherford, and occasionally Rohre Titcomb, Angelica Boyden, or Kelly Johnson. Snyder has so far filled the role of a reset handler, catching pulls and centering the disc, often staying comfortably behind the disc on the break side to give a reset if needed. She plays a markedly mature game, using all the throws in the book to hit open cutters or to turn and make a reset throw.
Here is a common sight throughout the weekend: Snyder as the far side handler preferring to sit back behind the disc in more open space for resets. When needed, though, she finds ways to explode, attack her defender, and create separation.
Snyder mostly played a passive style at the U.S. Open, preferring to be a reset option as opposed to attacking downfield. If an opportunity presented itself, however, she wasn’t afraid to attack a defense:
The most impressive aspect of Snyder’s game is her footwork. Whether pivoting and faking with the disc as a handler, or playing defense, Snyder has really strong, focused footwork that allows her to manipulate her mark and create space for better throwing lanes. She has one of the smoothest handling games you can find today.
Isolated clips aren’t the greatest tool to see Snyder’s footwork skills, so instead, I encourage you to keep your eyes on her when she plays through a full point of offense/defense. Every step seems to have purpose, and she always maintains a solid, athletic stance, allowing her to stay in good position at all times. Snyder isn’t always as fast as her mark, but her footwork means she rarely gets beaten badly, providing a trustworthy mark in person defense.
Her skill was really on display with the U23 Women’s team in London, where she got more touches than she typically would on Riot. In her first point with the team, we can see Snyder’s strong pivoting and versatile throws (high-release flick, around backhand) while punching in a break.
Snyder is a player that can come into any team and find playing time on either line, and she’s done that with Riot. She joins an excellent core of handlers and has already earned a quality amount of points, mostly with the offense. It will be worth noting how she splits playing time when Qxhna Titcomb finally has a chance to play a full tournament in the future.
Lauren Sadler (#23)
– Age: 24
– High School + College: American University, University of Washington, Ultiworld 2015 College Defensive Player of the Year, Ultiworld 2015 2nd Team All-American
– Club: Washington DC Scandal [2-time National Champion]
– International: U23 [’13 Gold medal]
– Key Skills: experienced zone/handler defender, great quickness
Lauren Sadler is a capable, qualified defender in the women’s club scene, and has become a large contributor to the Riot defense, logging as many points, if not more, as any other D-line-only player. Sadler has proven her defensive prowess across several teams, coming from one of the most talked about defensive systems in women’s ultimate — two time defending champion Washington DC Scandal [1, 2] — and winning Ultiworld’s 2015 College Defensive Player of the Year at Washington.
An experienced handler defender, she has a small frame, but is lightning quick and can make up a lot of ground. In this clip from the 2015 Northwest Challenge, Sadler gets initially beaten up-line, but easily covers those few feet in seconds to make the play.
Her talents have earned her some tough matchups, often including Fury’s Alex Snyder (who she marked on Championship point at the U.S. Open), but Sadler has been able to force turnovers in those matchups as well.
Surprisingly, in the few true zones that Riot threw, Sadler was not involved. Riot did come down a few times with junky, poaching marks to slow down the first few options of their opponent, however, and Sadler was given part of that task.
She showed a similar ability to get down on the pull and junk up lanes in the All Star Ultimate Tour game, nearly getting an early poach D.
While not notching a single point on the O-line in these games, Sadler is an effective offensive threat on break opportunities. Here is a shot from Sadler to the endzone after playing tight handler D on Alex Snyder to force an errant throw:
And here she is showing off her quickness, and also her endurance. Another long point on defense left many players trying to catch their breath, but Sadler kept grinding, gaining huge space on Snyder:
Lastly, in that same inaugural All-Star Ultimate Tour game against Riot, Sadler stole the show with this ridiculous play, which landed her the #9 spot of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays:
Sadler’s defensive abilities bring a lot of new options for Riot’s D-line to continue running different zone and junk sets. Riot ran mostly person defense at the U.S. Open; it will be worth watching to see if that rate changes as the season progresses with Sadler on the team.
Jaclyn Verzuh (#22)
– Age: 18
– High School + College: Lakeside Highschool [’14-’15 State Champions], 2-time YCC Champion, starting at Dartmouth in the fall
– International : U19 [Gold], U23 [’15 Silver]
– Key Skills: big, athletic frame; complete player
After all of the hype, the high school phenom finally takes the field on the women’s club scene, and she is turning a lot of heads. Jaclyn Verzuh piled up stats at the U.S. Open, throwing the second most goals on the team over the weekend, and hauling in several goals as well. Verzuh showed the ability to be effective anywhere on the field: handling, cutting under, going deep, playing defense, you name it.
The most important use of her talents and imposing size (6’0″) is in the deep game. Riot used this advantage several times from stopped discs to send Verzuh deep, particularly when they were struggling to move the disc effectively.
When Riot couldn’t find the endzone against Fury late in their pool play game [they were up 8-2 at one point], they came out with a set play to send Verzuh deep. Her defender waits to react, but most teams will quickly learn that you can’t let her get any separation deep:
In the finals, after a long point with loads of turnovers, Riot again turned to Verzuh after a stopped disc.
Verzuh is also capable of making some highlight-reel catches in deep space.
Verzuh also showed her promising handling skills, rarely throwing the disc away. When she gets the disc, she doesn’t rush decisions or throws. Rather, she looks through her options, and wisely turns to her handlers if nothing looks promising. Jaclyn brings a lot of high-end playmaking talent, while also being a reliable disc handler. She didn’t miss a huck in recorded games, taking smart shots to good spaces and matchups, and placing the disc in really good spots each time:
She’s also has some crafty throws at the ready, as seen in her recent U23 game:
While the other newcomers have been given a specific role, Verzuh can be found playing on both lines, even in clutch situations. Verzuh was on the field for double game point against Traffic in the semis and again vs. Fury in the finals. Evan Lepler called it spot on when he noted: “when Riot really needed a hold, they called her number.”
When Riot had their backs against the wall in the semifinal after turning the disc over on DGP, Verzuh came through with the most important play of her weekend:
While the sample size is small on Verzuh, I think the footage is very telling so far: she is a complete player. She is performing well on both sides of the disc at all the highest national and international levels. She can already be an every-other-catch type of player, and has great body control to use her athletic frame to layout all over the field on offense and defense.
It’s clear that Riot already has a lot of trust in her abilities, so expect to hear the name Verzuh a lot this club season and those to come.
Paige Soper (#0)
– Age: 22
– High School + College: Ohio State Fever [National Champions, ’14], Ultiworld 2014 1st Team All-American
– Club: Cincinnati Steamboat [Mixed]
– International: U23 [’13 Gold medal]
– Key Skills: Plays both lines; experienced handler; potential playmaker
When we last saw Paige Soper, she was a dominant force in the women’s college game, and was Ultiworld’s College Player of the Year in 2014. In the College Championship game that Ohio State won, Soper was the centerpiece of both lines; she very often got touches every other throw, was patient with the disc, and made almost no mistakes. While mostly being the safe, dependable option, she was able to make some highlight plays:
But we haven’t seen much of her in the club scene before. This is mostly due to her playing on the Ohio mixed team Santa Maria which, though it made Nationals last year, didn’t draw too much attention. Now she joins the women’s division at the highest level.
Soper found less playing time than her fellow rookies as the fifth O-line handler behind Gwen Ambler, Alyssa Weatherford, Snyder, and Rohre Titcomb. Because of this, it’s hard to see how Riot wants to use Soper and her known talents. In recorded games, they struggled to get the disc in her hands, especially in reset situations:
When she was able to get involved, Soper played a solid game. While not racking up a ton of assists or goals during the weekend, she was a reliable handler playing on both lines.
As Riot’s season progresses, we will probably see Riot and Soper develop a better rapport as Soper finds her groove in the elite women’s club game. Things indeed looked more comfortable for Soper in the All-Star game (she is the aggressive handler in the clips, wearing a USA headband).
Don’t be surprised if Soper’s integration happens quickly; we’ve seen her dominate before, and she definitely has the knack for making plays.
Qxhna Titcomb (#9)
– Age: 23
– College: Tufts, Ultiworld 2015 2nd Team All-American
– Club: Brute Squad
– International: U19 [’12 Gold], Beach Worlds [’15 Gold], U23 [’15 Gold]
– Key Skills: Precision throwing
The elusive Qxhna Titcomb has not yet played with Riot in a recorded game. She was playing at the U.S. Open for the Thursday pool play games, but other than that, she has been busy with the U23 Mixed team and with organizing the All Star Ultimate Tour.
We have seen Qxhna play with other teams, though. She was part of the 2014 Brute Squad team that earned the #1 seed at Club Nationals, where her pulling and handler defense abilities earned her a spot on the starting D line [not unlike her sister and current teammate Rohre Titcomb]. Her senior year on ’14-’15 Tufts Ewo earned her a Callahan bid and an UltiWorld All-America team selection.
Qxhna was also selected for the 2015 Beach World’s team, representing the U.S. Women, where she made what might have been the play of the tournament for the gold medal winners:
During her time with the U23 Mixed team, she seemed to be playing exclusively as an O-line handler, earning praise for breaking through zones as the center handler.
Now we find her centering the offense of her All Star Tour team, lining up as the primary handler. While starting in that position, Qxhna found most of her success working as a cutter in the break-side space during the tour’s first game against Riot:
Qxhna also brings in a big sideline/off-the-field presence. She was the captain of the 2012 gold medal U19 team, Tufts EWO captain in 2015, the spirit captain of the spirit award winning 2015 Beach Worlds Women’s team, and most importantly, the mastermind of the All Star Ultimate tour. Qxhna brings these leadership qualities back to her hometown of Seattle with a team and a city that is heavily involved in the growth of the sport.
While we do have footage on Qxhna’s past ventures2, none of the videos do well in showing off her key skills, save her 2015 Callahan video. She has worked as a handler on both lines at high levels, but she has so far played a steady, careful game. We will be seeing a lot more of Qxhna as the All Star Tour continues. For now, however, we will just have to wait to see where she slots in with her sister Rohre on Riot.
Each of Riot’s rookies is a great addition to the club. We have yet to see Riot play with all of their newcomers (as well as Worlds-caliber cutter Sarah Griffith), but even without their contributions, the team has reached the finals of both Eugene Summer Solstice and the U.S. Open, losing two close games to Fury.
Despite the two losses, the 2015 Riot team looks impressive on paper, ranked as the #1 team in the pre-season, and currently sitting at #2 in the Ultiworld rankings.
Riot doesn’t have another tournament until late August with the Pro Flight Finale. For more U.S. Open footage, check out Fulcrum Pro’s Pool Play Highlights, featuring plays from all five Riot rookies. And for continued footage of Julia Snyder, Jaclyn Verzuh, and Qxhna Titcomb (as well as Riot’s Shira Stern), check out the U23 Women’s/Mixed games on Skyd Magazine’s YouTube Channel. Additionally, Verzuh and Titcomb are touring the country with the All Star Ultimate Tour, with games live-streamed.
Sadler even brings US Nationals Championship winning experience. ↩
Youtube footage is available for Qxhna on Brute Squad, U23, and Beach Worlds. ↩