Every year, the level of play at the Youth Club Championships increases, and every year spectators leave the fields at the National Sports Center blown away by the talent and skill of the young athletes competing. 2018 was no different. Live Ultimate Ambassadors, and superstars in their own right, Jesse Shofner and Jimmy Mickle, who stuck around to watch the final day of play at YCC, echoed those sentiments.
In the boys’ divisions, the champions come in two forms: one a very familiar face and one a new addition to the title plaques.
The Washington, D.C. Foggy Bottom Boys were the new face in the U-20 boys’ semifinals. Semis berths for the other three teams are getting to be almost old hat. Since 2013, Triangle Triforce has been in the semifinals every year – that’s six in a row – and Seattle and Atlanta, this year’s other semifinalists, were each making their fourth appearance in the last six years.
Triforce faced off against Seattle Supreme in the semis, again a match up of familiar faces – and coaches who know each other very well. Supreme’s head coach, Ben Snell, helped lead North Carolina Darkside to their first College Championships title in 2015, alongside Jonathan Nethercutt, Triforce’s head coach. The familiarity was surely both good and bad for both teams. Triforce had already played a couple close games, particularly in their quarterfinals match up against Boston BUDA, and Supreme was ready to take down the two-time defending champions. Triforce is still a very strong team, thanks to the always-growing youth programs in the Triangle Area. But this year, they struggled throughout the weekend to find someone to fill the main-distributer role Liam Searles-Bohs had played for several years. In the semifinal, Triforce only had one player, Jack McCleary, get more than one assist. McCleary got two. For Supreme, Zachary Heffron and Jasper Dean led the way, combining for three goals and five assists. Connor Ryan also tacked on three goals for Supreme. Triforce got things off to a good start, breaking on the first point, but Supreme immediately got things back on serve, up 2-1. Triforce was up a break again at 6-5, but Seattle then scored three straight that set the tone for the rest of the game. Supreme came away with a solid 12-9 win and a spot in the finals.
In the other semifinal, the Foggy Bottom Boys took on the ATLiens. After finishing sixth in 2017 and 13th in 2016, the Foggy Bottom Boys climbed the ladder and were making their first appearance in the semis. The Foggy Bottom Boys played tight lines, but it worked for them. Aaron Rosenthal, AJ Merriman and Ben Preiss were all big for the D.C. squad, as was Matthew McKnight. McKnight ended the game with three assists, but it felt like it should have been many more. He was huge for the Foggy Bottom Boys, leaving his fingerprints all over nearly every point. Points were traded in the beginning, but the Foggy Bottom Boys scored four straight to go up 6-3, which effectively put the win in their hands. Aidan Downey and Ben Dameron did everything they could for the ATLiens behind the disc, tallying a combined eight assists by the time the game was over, but D.C. never relinquished control. The Foggy Bottom Boys advanced to their first-ever championship final with a 15-10 win.
The Foggy Bottom Boys ran very tight lines again in the final, with Matthew McKnight, Ben Preiss and AJ Merriman playing essentially every point. Preiss had an especially outstanding game, directly contributing on nine of the team’s 13 goals. Merriman notched three goals and three assists, and McKnight continued to play the center handler role, always getting open for the resets that often kept the D.C. offense moving. The stars were out for Seattle as well, with Connor Ryan, Tony Venneri and Gabe Port leading the way. Supreme broke early, giving them a 2-0 cushion to start the game, but D.C. wasn’t fazed. They continued to play their game, and the teams traded points before D.C. was able to pull ahead at halftime, up 8-6. Seattle got that break back to tie things up at 9-9, and got another one, what seemed to be an all-important break for 11-10, with the cap going on. Game to 13. But things weren’t all done up yet. The Foggy Bottom Boys got a huge break to go up 12-11 and, after an offensive hold each way, received on game point, tied at 12-12. Their offense was really patient, taking what the Seattle defense was giving them, which wasn’t all that much. They reset and swung their way down the field, with Merriman eventually finding Aaron Rosenthal for the game-winning goal. The Foggy Bottom Boys claimed their first YCC championship title.
The ratio of familiar to unknown faces was similar in the U-17 boys’ semifinals. Seattle is the perennial contender, having made it to every semifinal in the history of the U-17 boys’ division. Atlanta ATLas made their fifth appearance this year, while Bay Area Aftershock made their fourth. The addition to the mix was Oregon Eruption!, a second-year team based largely out of Portland.
Seattle Space Jam, the six-time defending champions, rolled through their semifinal against Aftershock with their trademark efficiency. Aftershock had a strong weekend, pulling out wins in some close games and only falling in the early rounds to fellow semifinalist Eruption in pool play. But they were no match for Space Jam. Seattle advanced to the finals with a 15-5 win.
On the other side of the bracket, ATLas put up a real fight against Eruption!, led by Justin Burnett and Cole Chanler. Burnett led ATLas in assists, in large part thanks to strong cutting downfield that put him in positions to throw assists. But, in just their second year, Eruption! played with impressive poise, probably in large part due to their experience. Fourteen players returned to the YCC squad this year after finishing 12th in Minnesota last year. They had several standouts in the game, and there were simply more of them than what ATLas showed. Felix Moren and Mica Glass led the way behind the disc for Eruption!, each accumulating four assists in the game. Downfield, Mio Fassett was unstoppable, contributing six goals on his own. They also had numerous capable handlers to help keep things moving on the offensive side. Eruption! opened the game with a break and a hold that set them on their way. Scoring four straight to put them up 11-6 did the rest. ATLas and Eruption! traded for the rest of the game, all the way to a 14-10 win for Eruption!
The final brought a close-fought game with impressive play, despite an increasing wind, and sometimes what felt like a lot of stoppages. Both teams tested out variations on their offensive and defensive sets, trying to keep the opposing team working, and at times, trying to combat the wind. Eruption! respected Space Jam’s ability to hit deep looks and often guarded behind, especially when Seattle was working downwind. They also tried using a zone defense to force extra throws, but Seattle had few problems keeping their offense clicking, just taking what the defense was willing to concede. Seattle is remarkably patient, dumping and swinging with ease, particularly in their end-zone set, waiting for an open look. Likewise, Eruption! did a good job of moving the disc amongst their handlers, often waiting for Mio Fassett to get open downfield, or waiting for a chance to put out a throw on which he could make a spectacular play. Which he did. More than once. The teams traded breaks in the first half and each had chances for more, but Seattle was the first to get another one, taking half up 8-7. The Eruption! offense continued to be successful in the second half, but the defense could not convert on their break chances, with Seattle’s offensive defense clamping down very effectively. Space Jam got two more breaks in the second half, and that was all she wrote. Seattle took home their seventh straight U-17 boys’ title from the Youth Club Championships.