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Texas Refuses To Fold In Gritty Centex Victory, Presented By Nike Ultimate Camps

Texas' Dre Esparza pulls off the Greatest. Photo: Conrad Stoll -- UltiPhotos.com
Texas’ Dre Esparza pulls off the Greatest. Photo: Conrad Stoll — UltiPhotos.com

The article is presented by Nike Ultimate Camps; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and participate in Nike Ultimate Camps!

AUSTIN — Texas became hometown heroes on Sunday, winning 12-11 over Michigan in the windy Centex finals.

It’s bittersweet that the same wind that ravaged games all weekend would be the reason the final game was so compelling. Michigan and Texas had proved capable all weekend in the wind, collecting breaks like candy. The final didn’t feature the big-play teams; it featured the teams who knew when to be patient and crafty.

Both teams stepped onto the finals field knowing the glory of pristine upwind endzone grass, and they knew each other, having met during pool play.

The Greatest

Michigan pulled upwind and the teams traded to start: uneventful, like most early game points…

Except when Texas’ Dre Esparza leapt out of bounds to save a pop fly from Liu. Midair, Esparza batted the disc back into play and into her teammates’ waiting arms to score. Seeing a successful Greatest is the ultimate equivalent of seeing a unicorn. Michigan players walking off the field said they weren’t even mad: that was pretty damn cool.

The First Break Run (Michigan: 4 breaks)

The real fun started when Michigan captain Tracey Lo blocked a big huck that Texas hoped would sail far downfield. Instead, Flywheel got the disc 10 yards outside the endzone, and they didn’t disappoint, with Nina Janjic scoring to break. They sealed the break downwind to go up 4-2.

Michigan kept feeding the break fire, stomping up and downwind to rack up four breaks in a row. Every line Michigan put out had the throws to work in the wind. Beyond Henkins and Lo, Janjic and Leah Bar-On Simmons both had assists during the run, and Emma Boyd and Grace Denney were crucial in the midfield to advance play.

Points were long when both teams decided to huck and play defense. Yet the most impressive moments of the game (besides the Greatest) weren’t huge endzone plays; they were quick breaks upwind between midfield players connecting in stride with confidently flat inside flicks, one after another.

During Michigan’s run, Texas looked panicky and rushed. They punted to close match ups or overshot their players. They balled out on defense, but they couldn’t dial back down to work through boring offense, even in the red zone.

The Second Break Run (Texas, 3 breaks)

In most games this weekend, teams didn’t come back from a four break deficit. They started thinking about Torchy’s Tacos and dreading their ice bath.

But Texas knows how to pick up the pieces, assess them, and put them back together again. First, they got the offense off the field with a hold, 3-6.

They identified their problems, and they made small but effective changes. They calmed down when they had possession. They waited for the best option instead of taking the first.

They found the right matchup for Michigan’s Hannah Henkin: Laura Gerencser. At 5’11”, Gerencser’s height alone is enough to hamper the tiny Henkin. Gerencser’s mark limited Henkin’s full range of options: she had to punt several high stall discs because she couldn’t even see her options through Gerencser’s long frame.

These adjustments wouldn’t have mattered without Shiru Liu’s perfect flick hucks. Trapped against the force sideline, Liu threaded the needle again and again to gain position and connect with Julia Schmaltz deep. If Schmaltz was outside the endzone, Domenica Sutherland and Shiru Liu played catch along the endzone line until they found opportunity.

This recipe produced three breaks in a row. Flywheel tried to interfere but couldn’t match Texas in the air, particularly upwind. Texas’ three breaks gave them the downwind advantage at 7-7, ready to take half.

But this wasn’t going to be one of those games. Michigan wouldn’t let them have the satisfaction. Flywheel answered to take half 8-7.

What wind? 

Pools withered on the vine this weekend because teams couldn’t muster an offense in the wind. But in the second half of the Centex final, you’d never know there was a breeze.

Liu hit Sutherland long to break upwind 9-9, and Michigan reacted with a composed upwind hold. Texas immediately began their own march back upwind, through a hasty and unsuccessful Michigan zone. Another Liu assist. Another Schmaltz score. And another upwind goal, in the endzone teams had coveted all weekend. The game was tied again, 10-10.

The sidelines were losing their shit. Texas and Michigan were illustrating elite-level skill in the wind and taking it to each other on defense. Reminiscent of Lo’s earlier block, at 9-8 Texas’ Schmaltz buffeted a Michigan punt out of bounds to stay upwind. Later in the same point, Texas’ Susan Gilbert nabbed a handblock to keep position once more.

The game was capped to 12. Tracey Lo uncharacteristically turfed a first throw, and Texas broke quickly to take the lead. Michigan held, but a final huck from Liu to Schmaltz ended the final in fitting fashion as the hometown crowd went wild.

Texas is tall and tough. Their habit of not giving up on a game won them the weekend, and it will likely win them a regional title, too. Michigan undeniably benefited from the weekend’s wind, and their weekend could have gone a different direction if other teams had easier access to the deep game. But having the best throws of the weekend is nothing to sniff at, especially as a Great Lakes team.

Expect to see both teams in Raleigh. I certainly do.

  1. Katie Raynolds
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    Yet another product of the Seattle youth Ultimate scene, Katie Raynolds remains a fiercely proud Seattle native in the Midwest. She's played for Northwestern Gungho, three years of mixed Club in Chicago, and most recently one season with Chicago Nemesis. She's a handler by nature, a cutter by impulse, and an ultimate addict.

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