Some exciting games in the Men's Division highlighted day two at Worlds.
June 21, 2016 by Lorcan Murray and Charlie Eisenhood in News, Recap with 0 comments
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An English Summer may sound like quite the fanciful thing, but much like the similarly dubbed breakfast, it has the potential to ruin your clothes. Rain dampened everything it touched except the spirits of the competitors at the first full day of WUGC 2016. After the opening salvos of Sunday had been spent, it was time for battles for position to be resolved as power pools were established. While the Women’s Division remains very much up in the air, nearly half the teams in Mixed and Open saw their hopes of glory summarily grounded by Monday evening.
The early portion of the day was dominated by the weather. Thick sheets of water crashed down on the pitches while strong gusts of winds played havoc with any throw foolish enough to expose its underside. In the morning slot, India and Israel met in an evenly matched game. Hailing from countries unaccustomed to precipitation (or cool temperatures) of this scale and regularity, the game proved to be an education for both sides. Turns were frequent and understandable. Players slid from one end of the pitch to the other trying to get to grips with the wet discs and unstable ground. Israel started strong, going out to a 3-0 lead before India tied it up with a run of their own. This would mark the end of both side’s most prolific spans during the game as they traded until half. It was a tale of position with neither team able to put together significant runs of possession.
Rama Krishnan led the Indian offense as one of their few throwers who could handle the conditions. His confidence was a boon for the team and a spectacle for the small crowd as he made a habit of breaking the Israeli zone with element defying hammers. It became apparent early that Israel were looking to huck and play zone.
“We knew there would be a lot of turns and we wanted them in their half,” said captain Scott Graber.
For Israel, big man Eshel Tachnai impressed with his ability to retain the slippery disc when going up. Despite a close first half, Israel pulled away after the break, going on to win the game 12-8.
Nearby Mexico and Korea were experiencing a similar affair. It became apparent early who the deft hands were. Mexico experienced little success that didn’t involve either Shiru Liu or Victor Bautista. Opposite them, Korea was led by Sam Kim. The game deteriorated into huck and D for the most part as the teams struggled to develop lasting short games.
Once the disc was out of the hand of the more experienced players it seemed inevitable that an errant throw would sail too high or slip down to the ground. It was a close game throughout, but Korea secured the win for themselves, 13-11, thanks to a surge early in the second half. A tough loss for the Mexicans, but one to learn from should they want to improve their record in London. “We played hard, but are not used to the weather,” said Manuel Oseguera. “In the end Korea had the better throwers.”
The United Arab Emirates gave the United States their toughest challenge of pool play, staying even at the beginning of the first half and playing with confidence even as the USA lead swelled in the second half. The final score — 15-5 — clearly indicates the superiority of the United States team, but credit to the UAE for coming out with a ton of energy and making some big plays. Kendall Thorn, an Aussie playing for the UAE team, was a standout throughout pool play and had three of the UAE’s five assists against the USA, including a big step around backhand break up the line for a score.
The USA’s advantage at nearly every position, however, added up over the course of the game. Raha Mozaffari was excellent and led the US in points with two goals and two assists.
Men’s Early Games
France and Italy met in a crucial game to escape Pool F and reach the power pools. France got off to a strong start, looking to put their surprise loss to Switzerland behind them, roaring out to a 4-2 lead. The Italians responded with a beautifully worked possession that never seemed to stop moving down the pitch. At 4-3 the game looked promising. France threw a zone at Italy to try and trap them and Italy seemed happy to huck to Giovanni Santucci. As high as the young Italian could jump he could not help Italy reach France’s lead. France’s initially poor zone offense fell away and they began to put some space between themselves and their opponents by halftime. Quentin Roger and Steve Bonneau both impressed for France with their quick cutting and competent throws, helping put France up 8-5 at the break.
The Italians held out of halftime after one of Davide Morri’s three assists, but the second half belonged to the French. Their small advantages from the first half ballooned into bigger ones and they went on a 7-1 run to win 15-7.
In a battle for supremacy in Pool D, Ireland faced off against Germany. The Germans were hot early, taking advantage of the miscues that perforated Ireland’s early attempts at offense. The first half was a difficult one for Ireland as they consistently mismanaged the disc. Hucks fell short of their targets while the Germans switched well on under coverage.
The Irish threw out a variety of zone looks but look a little rattled on the rare occasions they get the disc. The Germans, led by Phillip Haas and the Beuttenmüller brothers, made much better use of their chances, taking half 8-3. “We knew the offence would go through [Haas & the Buettenmüllers], but they are so fast it is difficult to stop,” said Irish coach Dónal Murray.
The second half would prove a redemptive affair for Ireland as they largely traded scores before going on a four point run to bring some respectability to the scoreline. The run was facilitated in part by improved use of the disc by the Irish and the Germans’ tendency to lapse once they have established leads.
“We were too relaxed,” said German head coach Stefan Rekitt. The game ends with the two teams trading points. The last five points look a lot more like the game both teams were expecting: clinical use of the disc matched by high intensity defense. The Irish were disappointed with a 15-12 loss, as it took them so long to play their way into the game.
“Nerves caused unforced errors,” said Irish head coach Leo Yoshida. “We underperformed big time.”
Sweden played Canada in a rematch of Sakai’s third fourth place playoff last year. On paper, it was anticipated to be one of the more exciting matchups of the day. But it proved to be less eventful as Sweden were unfortunate with a few drops and Canada were ruthless once they had the disc. Sweden frequently found themselves running down the pitch against Canada’a defense only to run out of options in front of the endzone and fall victim to poachy defensive looks from Canada. The game ended a deserved 15-4 to Canada.
In one of the prime examples of everything good about WUGC, Latvia squared off against South Africa in Pool B. Both sides brought everything they could to the game. The first half was a tight affair with South Africa starting to build a lead thanks to two separately acquired breaks. The rain had largely dissipated for this game but the wind remained.
Latvian captain Mārtiņš Gusārs was an integral part of the offense for his side, even if he was not a stat stuffer. For South Africa, Jonathan Aronson was involved frequently in their more impressive movements. Despite the two break advantage at half the game felt very much up for grabs. The Latvians seemingly decided to take it for themselves during the team talk as they came out significantly brighter in the second half. Roberts Apinis started to make his presence and size felt in and around the endzone while Gusārs continues to carve up the South African defense liberally.
The Latvians switched from man to zone and started to be rewarded handsomely for it. Offensively, once they stop hucking as much and rely on their hard working under cutters, they took on an altogether cleaner appearance. The Latvians went on to win the second half 9-3 and the game 15-12. Head Coach Sergeis Volkovs attributing their success to the switch to zone following the halftime break.
Belgium locked up Pool H in the morning with a hard-fought 15-11 win over New Zealand. After a very even first half, Belgium’s Pieterjan De Meulenaere finally created some real separation for his team on the first point of the second half with a big layout block followed by a fabulous deep cut to reel in a break and make it 9-6.
Later Meulenaere added a pretty cross field blade assist. He, Merlin Wollast, and Benoit Spapens led the way for Belgium as their offense held the Kiwis to zero breaks in the second half.
New Zealand got nice performances from Hamish Gibson and Troy Stevenson (each had three goals and three assists) but they couldn’t find answers for the sharp Belgium O-line. On their 12 D-line points, they were able to score only two breaks.
The wind seemed to pick up the slack once the rain abated in terms of tormenting players with weather. This became very apparent in the tantalising match up between Germany and Canada. Despite a 14-8 final score in favor of the Canadians, the game felt well contested. Canada just seemed to be able to find a way to produce a point when the Germans were unable to at key moments.
While the Canadians were able to get good throws from most of their top handlers, the German offense always looked suspect when lacking the presence of Lisa Kaulfuß, Kyoko Hosokawa, or team captain Bettina Kieser on the pitch. Early promise of a barnstormer (a 3-3 tie) faded away as the Canadians were able to be that touch more clinical and put together a five point run to close the first half 8-3. A testament to their teamwork, the Canadians spread the scoring during this run around their players, though a special nod has to be given to Betsy Chan for her dedication to the dirty work on defense.
The Germans were far from out of this game and opened the second half with a beautiful huck that Yannicka Kappelmann pulled down over two defenders. Slightly outside of the endzone, she opted to dump the disc, make a reverse cut into scoring range, and sky another pair just for good measure. Every time the Canadians looked to pull away the Germans responded with a hope-instilling score.
The turns continued to pile up in the wind as both teams made breath-taking plays and hair-pulling mistakes aplenty. In the face of defeat and marathon points, Hosokawa was tireless for the Germans. Though eventually Canada managed to put the game to bed, the Germans never stop fighting. Towards the end, exhaustion was apparent and skill levels deteriorated somewhat into a field position battle.
Canadian Head Coach Jeff Cruikshank highlighted the cause of so many poor turnovers: “Trust in the system fails as some throws can’t be hit and there needs to be more efficiency on the reset game in response… It starts to snowball and it’s like the wind drives common sense out of your head,” he said. “It’s very fixable.”
The game ended a flattering 14-8 for Canada, though a rematch later in the week could be exciting.
Great Britain took on Denmark in the first round of the day, the one marked by the heaviest rain. The conditions caused major headaches for both offenses, as disc control was difficult and cutting was more speculative than sure.
Great Britain jumped out to a 3-0 lead to put Denmark on their heels, but the Danes held tough and rattled off three off their own to tie it up. After a quick hold by the Brits, the game fell apart somewhat on the following point, one that lasted over 20 minutes before Denmark finally got a hold. Another 3-0 run for the British sent the game into a capped halftime at 7-4.
Once Great Britain’s Jaqueline Verralls scored her third goal early in the second half for another break, the game was put effectively out of reach for Denmark. They just didn’t quite have enough depth at the handler position to generate clean scores and opted against punting and playing defense, something that may have been a sound strategy in the downwind direction.
Great Britain closed it out, 10-7.
Men’s Late Games
Each of the pools for the Open Division seemed to have a clear predestined winner and an initial whipping boy. Such is the nature of having such a wide disparity of skills represented in the opening rounds. On Monday evening many of the teams that occupied the spaces between these two extremes squared off against each other to decide who would get a spot in the coveted Power Pools for the next three days.
Ireland faced Finland in a match to decide who would join Germany in progressing out of Pool D. The game was a standard upwind-downwind affair, with the breeze dictating the pace and flow of the first half. The Finns got off to a better start despite opening the game by giving up a break. As anyone who has played ultimate outdoors can tell you, there’s only really one type of break that matters in an upwind-downwind game, and Finland earned it first.
Cashing in their upwind break for a subsequent downwind one, they took back the lead and then some, going up 3-1. The offense shown by the Finnish defensive line seemed much improved from their outing against the Germans the day before.
Both teams seemed largely content to huck the disc away downfield and look for the convenient turn. This strategy did not work too well for Ireland initially and, if not for the first half heroics of D-line captain Niall ‘Handsome’ McCarney, they could have found themselves a further two upwind breaks down. But they were able to pull together some confident, and at times lucky, offense and get two upwind breaks of their own to earn back the lead and take half 8-7. The second half was a different affair as the Irish resolved to lean on their under game much more. Thanks to the tireless cutting of Ferdia Rogers and a more conservative handling attitude the Green Army marched past the Finns 6-2 in the second half and on to the power pools. The game ended 14-9 to the Irish.
In one of the more unpredictable groupings, Pool B, there was numerical fun for fans of statistics. Going in to the last round of games, all four teams still had the opportunity to qualify. Great Britain were guaranteed passage to the power pools. Lithuania, attending their first international tournament since 2004, held their destiny in their own hands as they just needed to beat South Africa to book a spot in the upper echelon. Latvia needed a win, or a close loss to GB and a narrow victory for South Africa over Lithuania, while South Africa needed a much larger margin of victory to push out their Eastern European rivals.
What followed was a near weightless display of South Africa’s prowess against the Lithuanians. Running away to a 7-0 lead, the South Africans played with a joie de vivre previously unseen from their side at the event. As one player put it, “we went in with nothing to lose so there was no pressure.”
On the adjacent pitch the Latvians felt the squeeze from a GB side still tuning up for later challenges. With their 15-6 victory over Lithuania, the South Africans booked their place in the last sixteen by the scarce margin of three points after a three way tie at 1-2 sent it to point differential for a tiebreaker.
Colombia wasn’t supposed to face a tough game against Spain, at least in the minds of many before the start of the tournament. But it was a tough game that they got. Led by the six assists and three goals from captain Mauricio Martinez, the Colombians had to fight past a calm, effective Spanish offense to claim a spot in the power pools with a 15-12 win in the last round of the day.
The game was extremely even to begin the round, as a slight breeze made scores in the downwind direction comfortable for both teams. There were nothing but downwind holds for the first 13 points of the game, before an excellent layout block from Colombia’s Juan Felipe Gomez Hernandez set up the first and only break of the first half to send Colombia into the intermission up 8-6.
Spain’s struggles in this game were confined mostly to the defensive side of the disc; they only managed one break and squandered a couple of excellent opportunities coming out of timeouts with the D-line on offense. Spain did get a break early in the second half, though, to tie the game at nine after a bailout catch on a hanging huck.
During that point, though, the frequency of questionable foul, pick, and travel calls started to creep up. During the next Spanish offensive point, the poor calls ground the game to a halt and there were multiple two minute discussions about their validity. Eventually, the teams called a spirit timeout:
The game play did improve after that as the Colombians continued to hold off the Spanish attack on their slim lead, highlighted by a fabulous goal line block from Kevin Nariño to save a break.
At 12-11, Spain appeared to have dropped the pull as it looked like the disc hit the foot of the receiving player before contacting the ground. However, he played through it and the Colombians did not make a call. Regardless, the Colombians clamped down on defense and forced a short field turn on the flick sideline, which they promptly turned into a break.
There was more controversy at the end of the game when the Colombian leadership misunderstood the cap rules1 and got visibly upset with the volunteer time-keepers. They believed the game was in a hard cap, but the rules are clear: there is no hard cap and you must play to the highest total+one.
Ultimately, it was not significant as Colombia broke again and finished out the game with a healthy 15-12 win. Their athleticism and superior defense carried them into the power pools.
“We were not expecting a close game,” said Colombia coach Andres Felipe Angel. “We knew they were a hucking team; that’s one of the things that makes us uncomfortable. They were a great team and showed some fight. It’s well-deserved that they had a competitive game.”
Finally there were the two most gripping of the playoff games. On one field New Zealand faced off against the Czech Republic, while a pitch away Sweden battled old rivals Denmark. Both games were testaments both to the sport of ultimate and the spirit it inspires.
Denmark and Sweden redrew their battle lines as soon as the schedule came out. A game of swings each team pulled off runs in the first half of the game before Denmark brought it to a close at 8-7, in no small part due to the irresistible work of Kristoffer Thomas Buus. The second half opened with trading until Sweden got their noses in front after surviving a grueling eight minute long point to make it 12-11.
Denmark responded by taking the lead right back with a brace of scores. Next: another monster point, time outs by both sides, somehow eventually the Swedes score, 12-12, game to 14. The Swedish come out on defense, they get the vital turn. Knowing their fate lies in their hands, they are patient. Swinging it back and forth, working their way down the pitch until Patrik Sundqvist squeezed it to Johan Leandersson who jumped in for the score. That’s game (after a line call and some discussion with a game adviser), adulation and anguish, all in an instant. “This is what we were preparing for, once we saw the schedule we knew this was the game we had to win,” said Swedish coach Johan Sundstrom. “Nothing more was planned. We knew we had to get to this game and win it.” The Swedish went off to a chorus of cheers and the uncertainty of the power pools.
New Zealand and Czech Republic played out a phenomenal game. Unforced errors were few and far between. Tight marking, huge bids, and silky smooth throws peppered the game like a fine steak. Juicy and succulent as the match-up was, there could only ever be one side leaving satisfied. The Czechs took half 8-6 but conceded three straight points when they returned to the pitch. The second half swayed back and forth before the Czechs were able to go up 14-12 thanks to a beautiful inside out flick from Peter Hroššo to the streaking Jiří Svatoš. New Zealand responded with a signature flick huck from Gibson for the score.
Furious defense followed up with ingenious handler resetting by Lauchlan Robertson and Aaron Neal revealed an easy pop to Zev Fishman to force double game point. The Czech responded to the call with aplomb. Calm, confident under-cutting worked the disc down the pitch before Peter Hroššo fooled his mark and collected the open pass. Some inevitable discussion of a travel call followed, but it was talked away as an amicable ending was reached. The Kiwis are visibly gutted; the Czechs are elated. It was a testament to the quality of the game that Czech captain Pavel Blaha insisted we mention that this was the highest standard of intensity and spirit most of his team had ever experienced. Despite the unavoidable dichotomy of emotion, both teams were able to leave the pitch with their heads held high.
For most of the teams participating in the Men’s Division, the glory available in this tournament does not take a physical form. It lays in the heights you can drive your team to, the distance you can run before hitting the brick wall of the big two. Earning a spot in the power pools is the first, and most important, part of that journey. For most of the realistic contenders, it boiled down to one close game. For half of them, it was a success.
The road only gets harder for the teams taking part now, and more exciting for those of us watching.
Power pools for the Men’s and Mixed Divisions begin on Tuesday. Pool play continues for the other divisions. Be sure to check out the UltiPhotos galleries from WUGC.
At 100 minutes, the cap goes in. Teams must finish the point, then add one to the highest score and play to that score. There is no hard cap. ↩