UCF had just seven healthy bodies for the final.
January 19, 2016 by Daniel Prentice in Coverage, News, Recap with 0 comments
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On a windy weekend in Apopka, the Florida Winter Classic got the championship matchup it deserved as UCF defeated Michigan 12-8.
Michigan Flywheel and the UCF Sirens were a step above the rest of the field this past weekend, each going undefeated heading into the tournament’s final game. Michigan displayed the impressive depth of their squad, surviving a demanding semifinal game against Ohio State. UCF, meanwhile, began the tournament with only eight players, and, by the time finals came around, that number was down to seven after Mia Griner suffered an injury in the semifinal against Florida State.
Playing savage in the sixth game of a weekend is far from easy, but it becomes even more of a task in a tournament final against a team as deep as Michigan.
The game got off to an ideal start for Flywheel. An easy downwind hold was representative of how fluid the team’s offense looked for much of the tournament. Hannah Henkin’s smooth handles and lefty backhand break throws dismantled UCF’s zone better than anyone has in the young season. Michigan brought out a zone of its own on the team’s first defensive point and a tenacious cup trapped UCF on the sideline, creating a pair of upwind break chances and a score.
By the final round on Sunday, the intense wind from the morning had died down considerably, but was still significant enough that Michigan’s early break felt all the more crucial. The 2-0 deficit was the first time all tournament that the Sirens found themselves down a break.
Michigan missed a couple of golden opportunities to break again as UCF’s offense continued to struggle against the Flywheel zone, but the Sirens eventually secured the hold. UCF broke on its ensuing defensive point, and Michigan’s chance to really put UCF under pressure was gone.
The teams traded to 4-4, with Michigan looking as comfortable as ever on offense, but no longer causing UCF much trouble on defense. As Sirens head coach Joe Tilley said after the game, UCF’s cutters – primarily Alexa Wood and Gentry Maddox — began to crash the Michigan cup much more effectively and the team’s handlers did better avoid the force sideline trap.
Midway through the first half, UCF’s Janina Freystaetter began to take over. After a Michigan turn, UCF worked it against the wind into the redzone; Freystaetter finished the push with a huge bid in the endzone for the break and UCF’s first lead. Her athleticism was probably the biggest difference between the two teams, with Michigan unable to limit or match her impact.
Michigan switched to a person defense and again gave the UCF offense a bit of trouble, but were unable to capitalize with another break to get the game back on serve. The teams traded holds until 7-6, with UCF pulling downwind. Michigan struggled to move the disc downfield going into the wind and turned it over in its own red zone. UCF took advantage of a short field, with Stephanie “Eli” Williams finding Freystaetter for the break to take half.
Freystaetter then got an assist on the hold out of half and caught the break score on a strike cut on the next point to make it 10-6. In a four point stretch on either side of halftime, UCF turned what had been a dead even game into one that Michigan had — suddenly — very little chance of winning.
Michigan did manage to dial up the pressure on its next defensive point to get a break after a quick hold, thanks in large part to Gina Sancricca’s tenacity in one-on-one coverage. But again, UCF’s stars took over and quashed any hope of a comeback. Another great defensive point from Michigan was outdone by a massive, possession-saving bid from Freystaetter on the sideline. When her high stall put into the endzone was blocked, but then saved by a bidding Wood for the score, the game was all but over.
UCF broke on the ensuing point, as Wood again got loose in the end zone and the championship belonged to the Sirens.
It was an incredibly impressive performance from all seven of UCF’s healthy players during the championship game, Freystaetter especially. She stepped up when her team was tired — Shayna Brock reportedly battled illness all weekend, Williams labored through a back issue, and every other player gutted out the grueling demands of playing an entire tournament with virtually no rest.
After the game, Freystaetter commended her teammates’ ability to keep “pushing through” the long haul of a six game weekend, “with mental toughness.” She went on to say that on any particular point, when one player on the line “doesn’t have it” the other players fill in for her.
Tilley shared a similar assessment, explaining, in a way, how the team finds ways to give players a break during points. “We have different places where we have mismatches. We haven’t run into a team that can shut down all of our key players,” he said. “When [a player] needs a break, we have someone else to make that cut.”
It’s a unique way of resting players, perhaps, but it has obviously worked for the Sirens thus far. And Tilley certainly was not wrong when he pointed out that no one has been able to shut down all of his team’s players. Michigan had a far deeper roster but could not match UCF’s top talent. That’s how a seven player UCF squad was crowned the 2016 Florida Winter Classic champions.