WUGC 2016: International Wednesday Recap, Presented By VC Ultimate

The quarterfinals are set in the Men's, Women's, and Mixed Divisions.

Ireland v. France. Photo: Jolie Lang -- UltiPhotos.com
Ireland v. France. Photo: Jolie Lang — UltiPhotos.com

This post is presented by VC Ultimate. All opinions are those of the author; please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at VC Ultimate!

ST. ALBANS — Hope springs eternal in the human heart, and, as players woke up yesterday, fountains of the stuff gushed across the fields in London. Wednesday marked a critical day for the tournament: a great shedding of the squads still battling for viable positions in the much-pursued top eight of their particular division. To make it to such a height is to announce to the world the caliber of ultimate to be found within your borders, ensuring a seeding for future generations and proclaiming your country’s relevance on the international stage.

For some teams it was a foregone conclusion; for considerably more it was a rare opportunity to write their names in their respective communities’ history books.

The day opened with two scintillating matches on the showcase pitches: rematches of two of Sakai’s most talked about pairings, one famous for the outstanding performances it produced, the other for more egregious reasons.

Men’s Division

Japan and Canada met in a revisiting of one of the most infamous games in recent memory, once again to see who would top the pool. The match started off typically enough. The Japanese were running the switch heavy man defense, happy to let the Canadians swing it freely while trying to limit the downfield options. Canada was largely unfazed by this tactic initially, content to dump until options, mostly unders, presented themselves. On the other side of the disc, Canada played hard defense and produced an early turn from Japan. The Canadians converted and took the lead 3-2.

In the opening quarter, it seemed to some spectators that the Japanese were getting a little physical. That’s something oppositions have to come to expect from them, but it can’t be denied that the darker aspects of the crowd’s minds were hoping for some scandal. Ultimately, and thankfully, such a progression never took place. The teams traded until 6-5 when a rare misthrow from Japan gave Canada another look at a break. A bladey flick to the endzone was picked up by Masahiro Matsuno who got a huge aerial block, the kind the world has come to expect of him, to keep things level. The Japanese played the disc downfield before Matsuno put it to the back corner and Yohei Kichikawa scored, toeing the line with some impressive footwork. The teams both held before an opportunistic Japanese poach block was converted when Masashi Koike threw a beautiful backhand break to Matsuno, 8-7 Japan at the half.

Smart switching by Japan would get another turn three points into the second period. Confidence, never in short supply for Japan, was starting to shine through as they put up a huge hammer to the breakside before Matsuno popped it to Yuta Inomata for another break, 10-8 Japan.

Japan added another break to their score two points later following a ridiculously accurate outside-in huck by Shinya Kikuchi to the front corner of the endzone. Kikuchi played a quick give go with Inomate and Japan went up 12-9, threatening to pull away from Canada.

More trading followed before Japan gave up a turn on a floaty deep shot. Dave Hochhalter secured the break with a pristine flick blade across the endzone to Mark Lloyd, 13-12 Japan. Canada sensed the game is on the line and put on a big line. Japan played as if the huge Canadians weren’t there and scored in four passes. Canada responded in kind.

On what would be the last point of the game, Matsuno put up a massive bladey huck. Lloyd threw himself at the disc but, painfully, only managed to mac it high into the air where it floated down softly to Kichikawa waiting in the endzone. Japan win 15-13.

As a testament to both the high level of skill and spirit, the game ended fifteen minutes before time with the longest point, by a distance, being just six minutes. Afterwards Japanese head coach Yohei Abe said, “After Sakai, today we wanted a clean game.” That was, for the most part, exactly what they got.

***

In the other pool L match-up, which had become a knockout game for pre-quarters, France faced Ireland.

France hold a season record of 2-1 against the Irish, and continued to exhibit their dominance over them in the first half, finishing it with a four point run to go in 8-5 up. The Irish would use the break to recuperate. The teams traded until 11-8, the last point of which would prove a crucial momentum shift as it went on for over fourteen minutes.

Despite France eventually converting their offensive hold, they were visibly exhausted. Eager to press their advantage, Ireland scored the next point quickly, with Cillian Flynn getting the disk in the endzone following some assured disk movement by the Irish. Ireland’s D-line came back out, emboldened by their success shutting down the French on their previous effort, and, unfazed by their own poor throwing decisions, they went on a three break run to take their first lead since 4-3. The French responded with a huge O-line, knowing it was now or never for their season. After a brace of turns, Frnace got conservative. They trused  their cutters to get free and eventually Guillaume Plas collected the disk to send the game to double game point, 12-12.

Ireland made no mistakes. William Martin got the disk near the halfway point of the pitch and put it deep. Brian O’Callaghan slipped, sending Irish hearts into their mouths, before regaining his footing and running down the pass to send Ireland into the next round.

“Our defensive offense won us that game, especially after the marathon point in the middle of the second half,” said Ireland’s head coach Leo Yoshida after the game.

***

In the last game in pool K, Colombia played out a double game point game with Singapore. This one would prove to be simultaneously more controversial and less important than the Ireland-France game. The teams were similarly matched, both forces made up of generally short, incredibly fast players. There were few unforced errors but plenty of big blocks as both teams threw themselves around with reckless abandon.

The game was physical and full of tight calls. Colombia took half 8-7 thanks to their two early breaks. The Colombians threw out a zone in the second half, looking to slow down Singapore and got another break for their efforts, making it 11-9. On the next point, Singapore’s Jethro Ong got taken out and had to be carried off the pitch injured. This seemed to fire up his team as they rattled off a three point run to take the lead back, 12-11. The last two points went on for a nearly ridiculous amount of time but ultimately both teams held and Singapore took the win, but still finished last in their group. James Mason was outstanding for Singapore in this game, scoring eight points and adding an assist. “I think we adjust well defensively (to get the late run) but sometime that’s just how disc goes,” Singapore head coach Clive Myintsoe said.

***

There is further discussion of the United States-Australia game in the USA recap, but here are some thoughts from Australia captain Mike Neild.

Ultiworld: You guys were right there for the first 12 points of the game, very close, got the break. What happened in the second half as the US defense started to clamp down?

Mike Neild: Well that’s the question that we’re asking ourselves. And hopefully we can crack it because that’s the riddle that probably makes the difference for us at the tournament. I suspect that maybe we were shooting to contest long a little too much in that middle point where the game swung. And maybe there’s some defensive adjustments that we need to make. But really it’s the ability to consistently produce offensive holds amongst the pressure. I think that’s where we need to adjust.

UW: Their O-line was sharp. You guys struggled to generate consistent pressure against them. You made them look to their second options a fair amount, which nobody else has been able to do, but how do you take away the disc from them?

MN: We got that one early. And it does feel like pressure is part of it. Because it’s potentially foreign for them. So we have a set where we try to disrupt the first play. So to close down the second play is the next level that we need to produce. And for us so far in this tournament — in some ways it’s the same way as the US — disrupting the first play has been enough, and then we get it. So for us we need to continue to disrupt the first play and find a way to close down and be a little tighter when they go to the secondary option…You get the sense that if they can be pressured and be in a foreign policy, there’s a space there for something to go weird, and maybe we get a few.

UW: Do you feel like you have any particular matchups you want to take advantage of?

MN: Offensively, we’d like to think we’re pretty balanced in terms of players that can both attack with their cutting and attack with their throwing. And perhaps that’s it for us where if we can get multiple different structures with different people coming back and looking to throw and the same people looking to go out. And maybe that variety is a strength for us — less predictable.

Defensively we think that athletically we’re actually OK. Across the seven, we’re relatively tight there. And we do have a couple of elite athletes — as do the US obviously — but we think we have some speed mismatches once we get it.

UW: You guys looked fast.

MN: Yea, the selection of this team was geared towards speed, rather than height, which is a shift in Australian policy. Coming out of other campaigns, we felt like we were not fast enough. So there are players here that are fast and that’s why they’re here.

***

In one of the crossover seeding games of the day, the gathered crowds were treated to a rematch from last year’s European final between Germany and Great Britain. The opening point was scrappy as the teams felt each other out; eventually the Germans held. The next point was much more clinical as the Germans got a quick turn and put it in. The teams split the next four points.

Germany sought to get another break after turning over the Brits again but Justin Foord had other ideas, swatting down a German huck with a vicious and impressive handblock. The British were starting to look more comfortable and they went on to take half 8-6. Despite looking shaky earlier on GB were starting to play their way into the game and had begun executing their horizontal stack cutting with increasingly lethal efficiency. The German O-line were far from out of the game, but were making scoring look harder than their opponents for the first time in the tournament.

The wind was starting to pick up and the Germans, appropriately, started to throw some zone looks at Great Britain. While they were able to generate the odd turn, the Brits went on a good run of making sure they got it back. Holger Beuttenmüller picked up where he left off in the first half for the German offense, running hard and being integral in producing scores.

Despite a lot of pressure from the German zones and switching, the British handlers keep producing excellent throws when the stall count got dangerously high. Exceptional dump coverage, epitomized by the manic Andrew Hillman, helped drive a three point run putting Great Britain up 12-7. Germany stemmed the flow with a confident offensive display, running hard and getting the kind of consistent downfield movement that got them to this position in the tournament. A monster point ensues, littered with great blocks and turnovers borne of tiring minds. Germany eventually put it in after ten minutes.

But it was too little, too late. Great Britain close out the game with an impressive three point run to win 15-10. Germany’s normally clinical offense was challenged to a level previously unobtainable at this point in the tournament. Britain, and Ollie Gorden especially, was able to put their cutters under previously unencountered pressure.

“We had to play our best to beat them,” said Foord. “The main thing for us is to focus on ourselves and not get complacent. There are no weak teams left.”

As it was a game for seeding it was not the end of the tournament for either team. Far from it. The Germans got to test their prowess against one of their main rivals while Britain got a confidence boost in their abilities and an insight into the weaknesses the other top teams awaiting them will seek to exploit.

Mixed Division

In the late morning Canada met the Philippines to decide who would top the surprisingly open power pool J. The game was a blur of momentum in the early stages. Canada stormed out to a 4-1 lead behind some great plays by Antoine Lepagnol. Philippines would respond with a three point run to tie the game up. The first half settled down somewhat after that, as the teams traded briefly. Philippines would manage one more break that half, after a shaky high release turnover from Canada. Felic Angue would abuse the poach given to him by Canada’s eager handler marks, leading his side down the pitch and into the endzone to make it 7-6 to the Philippines.

The second half started at 8-7 to the Philippines, but a pair of scores, punctuated by Alexa Kovacs finishing off a play started by Cole Keffer’s inch-perfect huck, gave the lead back to the Canadians. From this point on the Canadians only got stronger. The Philippines are able to hold their next two offensive possessions but Canada decided enough was enough and finished the game with a 5-1 run.

The run was facilitated by Canada’s dump defense getting tighter almost every point the game wore on in the second half. Tensions rose during that time as the Canadians were happy to delegate jurisdiction to the game advisors while Philippines tended to go with their initial convictions in most calls. After their impressive victory, Canada topped the group and were beginning to look like the team they were expected to be. The Philippines finished second due to their 15-11 win over the Czech Republic, who, despite upsetting Canada the day before, came third in the group.

Next to them, hometown heroes Great Britain played out a brilliant match against Japan. Unlike their counterparts in the other divisions, the Japanese enjoy utilizing the deep game quite a bit. A very close game the Brits would establish a lead halfway through the first half and hold on to it for the rest of the game, gaining and surrendering the odd break in the second half. The British got a lot of joy from harassing Japanese attempts to get into power positions for their hucks. Full of a confidence that has only been growing since the start of the tournament the British were able to see out their game despite their mild underdog status.

“For us it is not an upset, we are upfront psychologically about our stretch goal, and we have a few strong psychological players on this outfit,” said GB coach Rich Hims said. The win rewarded Great Britain with a seeding match with Canada later that day.

Men’s Prequarters

For the teams who did not top their power pools, the prequarters were a much more dangerous place. Rather than simply jockeying for seeding, they were fighting for their legacies.

Canada met Czech Republic in the only straight forward match-up of the round. It is not a stretch to say the Canadians were the strongest of the teams in these matches and they proved it against the Czechs. Despite some early mistakes, which allowed the Czech Republic to bring the game to 2-2, the Canadians would find their rhythm quickly and definitively, finishing the game 15-3.

***

In the battle of the cheeky charmers, Australia faced off against Ireland. Irish Ultimate has been enjoying somewhat of an ascendancy of late and Australia in the prequarters of Worlds is the exact type of opponent in the exact type of situation that they need to beat to take the next great leap forward for their culture.

Ireland opened the game strong, holding their offense and getting an early break to extend the lead to 2-0. The Aussies were quick to fight back and made up the distance through some athletic plays and an intercepted greatest to go up 4-3. The wind picked up and the game became considerably upwind/downwind. Ireland going downwind would struggle to convert initially but eventually Mark Fanning would layout big to collect a Niall McCarthy’s swing and make it 4-4. What followed was a showcase in downwind offensive excellence.

From 4-4 through the half to 9-9, there were no turnovers. Both sides started off with some quick swings before taking deep shots to the endzone, almost always to a different receiver. Australia, eager to put a stop to Ireland’s success in one on one deep match-ups, started putting on a zone, as head coach Dan Rule pointed out. “We figured if we kept a man behind them they wouldn’t huck it,” he said.

Rule’s assumption was right, but he didn’t account for the excellent under zone cutting of Conor Hogan who continually gave Irish handlers good options. The Irish D-line stayed with man but started pushing their targets under, which produced a similar effect.

Australia keep their turnless form thanks to a huge layout grab from Nick Dousset, who immediately got up and went 1-2 with Sebastian Barr for the score 11-10. The Irish offense was first to crack, not giving up a break immediately, but turning on a play that sent looks of concern through the gathering crowd. Ireland recovered the disk and scored.

Australia continued to make it look easier and hold for 12-11. Ireland turn again going downwind, but once again the Aussies huck it back to them, upon Ireland’s second turn that point the Aussies opt to work it up, everyone gets a touch, total ultimate, and they score a crucial upwind to make it 13-11. Ireland respond by bringing on a handler heavy line. Australia’s zone looks considerably more menacing now that Ireland have to throw into the wind. Led by Sam Meghian, Conor Hogan, and a supporting cast of poppers the Irish spent seven minutes climbing their way up the mountain, only to stumble on Australia’s endzone line. The Aussies scored in three passes, to the audible groan of the Irish centric sideline. The teams trade a downwind more each and Australia booked their place in the quarterfinals, 15-12.

***

Next to these games Austria and Belgium battled it out. The Belgians open up with simply the best ultimate they have played since landing in London, storming out to a 5-2 lead. Their sideline is fired up and across all the nearby fields people can hear the sound of Belgium’s break train leaving the station. 19-year-old Merlin Wollast is taking every opportunity to announce himself to the world as Belgium’s next big thing, showing up whenever and wherever he is needed.

The Austrians look visibly rattled, their array of defenses that locked down other European outfits failing to have an impact on the Belgian O-line. As the Austrian coach Peter Scheruga would later admit, “We tried to focus but couldn’t at start due to the draining game we had with Sweden earlier in the day.” The Austrians would start to play their way into the game behind the unconquerable resolve of Valentin Vogl and sheer athleticism of Matthias Neubauer.

We were treated to a battle of fearless mark breakers when Belgium’s Lode Jans takes on the Vogl assignment. The nippy Moby Espitia is having the time of his life throwing viciously accurate scoobers through the wind for Belgium. Meanwhile Michael Gaisl seemed to become more relevant for Austria as the pressure built. All the while the Belgian sideline is screaming encouragement in a discography of various chants.

The teams traded until 13-10, when Austria would start to capitalize on their intense man-to-man defense. Matthais Neubauer reminds the Austrians that they have voices by skying two Belgians for a score. The disk goes back but the Austrian spirit sticks around. They work it around and Gaisl puts a lovely throw to Dominik Osl, 13-11. Austria are rekindled and playing their best defense of the game. They get the turn and offensive talisman Vogl puts a huge huck to Felix Nemac 13-12. The teams trade to 14-13. Gaisl, true to form, shows up in a huge way, getting up for the block before taking off for the score to level it up and set up universe. The Belgians stayed calm…ish, moving the disk around and executing a huge down the line huck to Benoit Spapens who pops it in to Pieterjan De Meulenaere for the game.

“I told the boys this was the moment we have been working for for two years, the moment where you give everything, on the pitch and on the sideline,” said Belgian coach Yves Mans. For a team loaded with young players, making the top eight is a huge success story.

***

The last of the prequarters featured Colombia and Switzerland. The Swiss relied on their superior size and excellent throwers to send the disc deep with impunity, while the Colombians never stopped running, resetting the disk with more irresistible consistency then previously seen by them at this tournament.

The first half was a tale of momentum as both teams went on three point runs. It ends when Nicolas Bühlmann got a huge footblack, made a long, loping cut deepm and cut quickly under before getting the disc and putting it on a platter for Fabio Jacomet to take half 8-6.

The teams came out and traded for four points in an increasingly intense physical battle. The Colombians have developed a reputation for hard, horizontal defense, something the Swiss are more than happy to respond in kind to. Mauricio Martínez Lung seemingly decided enough is enough at this point and put his entire country on his back. Running the offense the Colombians catch fire, leading his team on a three point run with a combination of split second throws, ceaseless cutting, and raw passion, making it 11-10. The teams trade for three points, bringing it to 12-12, the last point of which takes over eighteen minutes.

It’s another double game point battle for a coveted top eight spot. The Colombians are perturbingly patient. Five minutes of calm, if not relaxed, offense as they run themselves ragged ensuring the person with the disc only ever has to take 100% throws. Eventually Andrés Felipe Ávila Gómez gets the disk to Ivan David Alba, who scores arguably the most important point of his career to win it, 13-12.

Afterwards Colombian head coach Andres Felipe Angel is visibly dazed. “We are honored to share the pitch with (the Swiss) gentlemen on the field,” he said. “A lesson for our team and our country, so physical, so fair. They made us go to everything we had, what a game.”

Mixed Prequarters

In two of the less eventful Mixed prequarters we saw fast, Asian teams outpaced bigger European opponents in the early stages and ride out their performances for the quarterfinal spot.

When Japan met Czech Republic there was a murmur of excitement around the field. Czech Republic had taken on and bested the Canadians in power pools, beating them for hucks and athleticism. However the Japanese were able to exploit the same hole the Philippines had in pool play, only, seemingly with more precision. The Japanese played their standard game and for the most part the Czechs had no answer. Running away to an 11-3 lead the Japanese relaxed a bit and gave up the odd break in the closing stage of the game but never looked threatened.

***

Just next to them the Philippines locked horns with Poland. Poland struggled to gel on offense at the start of them game. Philippines were able to get their long game going early and, thanks largely to the excellent deep patrolling of Felic Angue, shut down Polands long shots. Poland made a lot of errors in the first half and the Philippines capitalised to take an 8-3 lead in to the break. Jamel Pangandaman was nearly unstoppable for the Philippines. Poland had big bids but little in the way of rewards for them. They were not without weapons, Kamil Osiecki was solid throughout, but their offence started to click too late to turn a concerning comeback into a viable threat. Philippines offence of hucks mixed with constant swinging and big gains on the subsequent wing proved too much in the end and they came out comfortable winners 15-9.

***

Over a hedge nearby Ireland were playing out a chippy, back and forth game against Colombia. Initially Colombia started off quite strong in this game. Taking a solid 5-3 lead through their quick movement and ability to spread the disk without fear through their ranks. On the defensive end their zone was giving Ireland trouble while they struggled to break it down. The Colombian captain Sara Maria Builes being typically influential in developing the gap. Ireland responded by switching the force into the wind and picking off the resultant floaty disks. They would then get the disk moving before Colombia could set up.

Utilizing quick movement and some great grabs by Dylan Ryan and Eimear Keyes Ireland took the lead 7-5. The Colombians responded with a brace before Ireland took half. As the first half wore on the calls started getting significantly more frequent. Something that, when combined with the need for translators, served only to elongate the calls. The frustration the Irish felt when going to this effort only to have the Colombians stick to their decisions became palatable. On a brighter note Andrew Moroney and Carlos Romero engaged in a riveting battle with each other. The second half of the match belonged to the Colombians, as the Irish started throwing into their zone poaches. The Colombians took advantage of the mistakes, winning the half 5-1 and the game 12-9.

“We felt our zone click at the start of the second half, we kept switching the types of defense set-up so they wouldn’t get comfortable,” said Colombian coach Jhon Jairo Salgado Tobasura.

After the game captain of the Irish team Liam Grant pointed to their miscues against the various looks as costing them the match.

“Our turnovers cost us the game in the end,” he said.

***

Germany and France played a tight, contentious game a few fields over. The game, which featured two separate spirit timeouts, was a battle of attrition, particularly at 11-11 when Germany had multiple break chances but could not convert. Germany got their first opportunity after a sprawling block on a low huck. They worked it to the goal line and had the break sealed, but Julia Jaensch dropped the scoring pass. After a French overthrow on a swing, Germany had another red zone opportunity: this time they threw into a poach at the front cone.

The French wouldn’t give it back again and punched in the hold to go up 12-11. The pain of that point crept into the German minds and they were unable to steady themselves. They turned it over four times on the following point and went down by two. After a huge sky from France’s Sacha Poitte-Sokolsky on a bailout high-stall huck, Ronan Bichon got the disc near the brick mark and bombed a massive hammer for the 14-11 capped win.

Women’s Division

In a seeding crossover for the pool winners, Japan took on Canada in a thoroughly entertaining match, one of the best of the tournament in the Division. Japan was able to pull away late to take a 14-12 win and the overall #1 seed in the bracket.

Japan went up two breaks early, but a 3-0 run got the game back on serve for the Canadians in a capped half, 7-6 Canada. An extremely even game bounced back and forth with holds until 11-11, when Japan was finally able to get the go-ahead break after a Canadian drop at midfield. The Japanese pounded the break side, as usual, and went up 12-11.

Japan added another on the following point after Alex Benedict turned it over in her own half after great reset defense from the Japanese.

Canada got an easy hold with a big huck and then had to great chances to tie it up. First, a massive layout D gave them the disc near midfield, but a throw from Danielle Fortin was just out of reach of Rachel Moens. Then Terri Whitehead got a slick layout block of her own but Fortin gave it away again with a poor break throw that was knocked away by Japan.

The Japanese worked it down the field for the win.

***

Most of the prequarters matchups in the Division were not particularly close. Russia opened up a four point halftime lead on France and never looked back en route to a 15-11 win. Switzerland went out in front of Sweden 10-6 early in the second half, and, although Sweden would chip away at the lead, they could never get level. Switzerland’s Olivia Houser had an epic performance with eight assists.

The other two prequarters were not close. Australia defeated Finland 15-9 and Germany defeated New Zealand 15-6.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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