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WUGC 2016: International Quarterfinals Recap, Presented By VC Ultimate

Sheets of rain and tears of joy.

Colombia's Esteban Zuluaga. Photo: Jolie Lang -- UltiPhotos.com
Colombia’s Esteban Zuluaga. 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 — All week, weather forecasts have been threatening, with the cracks in the sky waiting to burst. Today, they did. Teams that have fought through all manner of conditions to find themselves in the top eight were faced with more challenges than simply their opponents. Heavy rain limited play on Thursday to quarterfinals in the Men’s, Women’s, and Mixed Divisions, the organizers scrambling to accommodate as many people as possible.

A far more literal brand of electricity filled the sky as the world championships began to rumble into their closing stages after a lightning delay. The great ultimate powers faced off against the rising forces in fierce matches on soggy ground, all in the pursuit of radiant glory.

As the old adage goes: “If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm.”

Women’s

The Women’s Division quarterfinals opened the day.

Germany played Colombia in a close match where the Colombians were able to slowly find separation thanks to their superior speed.

Colombia opened the game with a break before the teams traded points to 5-4 as both sides played smart, effective offence. Yina Cartagena was as influential as ever for the Colombians while Meryl Kusyk was impressive downfield for the Germans.

Colombia tacked on another break after generating a turn from the German offense with strong person defense. After calling a timeout the Colombians settled themselves, outrunning the Germans before Jennifer Andrea Ricaurte López picked up the crucial score to make it 6-4. Germany respond with a break of their own with the energetic blur of Kyoko Hosokawa getting both of the scores.

Hosokawa was happy to race the Colombians and frequently win matches against quick footed marks. Colombia took half 8-7, as Manuela Martinez making herself felt against Germany’s man coverage.

The Colombians scored four of the first five points of the second half to push their lead out to 12-8 and started to brush their fingertips on the coveted semifinal spot. The Colombian offense looked smooth and graceful following the halftime rest. A mixture of smart German defense and a hint of complacency creeping in to Colombia’s game allowed the Germans to get two points in a row to bring it back to 12-10. The teams would both hold to make it 13-11.

Germany came out in a zone to try and slow down the Colombians and get a needed turn. Colombia called a timeout to try and break it down; the talk doesn’t work. The Germans get a block but immediately give the disc back, opting to switch back to man.

Silke Hingst gets a huge block on the under cut and Germany makes it count. Kyusk plays a beautiful back and forth with Hosokawa to get the break, 13-12. That would prove to be the closest the Germans would come to a victory.

Alejandra Maria Torres Echeverri secured the Colombian hold by sending a picturesque huck through the morning rain for Laura Ospina to layout and catch. Germany, facing down match point and the end of their season, turned over on a swing pass near midfield. Colombia took their time, swinging quickly, but always in rhythm before a series of short, shallow endzone cuts allowed Ospina to find Manuela for the 15-12 win.

***

In the match to decide Colombia’s semifinal opponent, Japan faced Australia. The Japanese looked confident and in control throughout the game, eventually winning 15-6 against the athletic Australians. Speaking to Ultiworld after the match, Japanese coaches Emily Minegishi and Yuki Mori outlined how they were able to overcome the physically imposing Australians in such an impressive manner.

“We played them in March so we knew what to expect, they are taller and they have very good grabs,” said Mori, adding later, “We knew Michelle and Cat Phillips are their big threats downfield so we put our best defenders, Izumi Ichimasa and Keiko Temmyo, on them to shut them down.”

Minegishi also talked tactics. “We put on a straight up force to stop them from being able to send it deep and we got our players to force them under,” she said.

***

On the opposite side of the bracket, Canada took on Russia. The game opened with both teams holding serve until 4-3 to Canada, though not with a lack of turnovers. The Candian D-line offense struggled to connect on their deep looks after earning the disc off the Russians.

Juxtaposed to the defensive line’s troubles, the O-line made scoring look effortless, making few mistakes in the early exchanges. The D-line decided to stop hucking the disc away after getting a second turn in one point from the Russians, calmly working the disc down the field, ending in a cheeky inside flick break from Betsy Chan to Sarah Bobak to get Canada’s first break of the game.

The following point was filled with spectacular layout bids and blocks, but it was Audrey St-Arnaud who stole the show with an astounding layout Callahan to make it 6-3.

From that point on, the Canadians didn’t look back. Russian offensive centerpiece and all around lynchpin of the squad Aleksandra Pustovaya led her team with six assists out of their eight scores, but couldn’t perform the miracles her team required of her, though she came damn close at times.

The Russians played their hearts out with layout bids, blocks, and some impressive periods of play, but the disparity became more and more apparent as fatigue sunk into their legs.

While the Russians have some great cutters in the likes of Olga Kochenova and Virge Andre, they lack the depth to really compete at this level. The Canadians took half 8-4.

The second half is was more of the same: Canada made some impressive defensive plays, such as Reanna Bowlby handblocking a huck, but their D-line continued to struggle with the disc once they had it. Most of the points that Canada’s defense was able to convert were due to them getting short field turns through their excellent dump defense.

“We look good at times, but we need to be better,” said Canadian coach Jeff Cruikshank. “We are about two thirds of the way there. I like all the deep looks, a lot of the time the issue is throwing to a cutter who is not at 100% speed. After playing defense they are tired, we just need to give our cutter a chance.”

Men’s Division

In the first game of the Men’s quarterfinals, Germany took on Canada.

Germany opened up the game with their slightly poachy zone look in typical fashion. Canada worked the disc to midfield patiently before the Germans switched to man.

In the transition, Rainer Beha got a layout block when the Canadians tried to squeeze a flick up line. The Germans rushed their offense, though, and were unable to convert on a deep shot.

The Canadians were more assured coming back down and Isaiah Masek-Kelly laid out to catch Thomson McKnight’s outside-in flick for the opening hold.

The German offense came out in vertical stack, but turned over on a slight overthrow, potentially the result of the adrenaline from facing Canada.

Luckily for the Germans, the Canadians seemed to be disinterested in possession as they immediately hucked it away.

Germany worked it down the pitch, utilizing a lot of up line cuts. Philipp Haas got stuck in the corner in front of Canada’s endzone as the defense converged around him. He escaped with a quick hammer to Holger Beuttenmüller, who popped the disc in to Marcel Hartmann. The teams then traded to 3-3.

The Canadians were putting a lot of pressure on the German resets, but the Germans were able to cope initially, making crafty cuts on the open side. The German defense was tight all over Canada’s downfield cutters but couldn’t quite make up the last few inches required to get a turn.

A careless misthrow gives Germany another chance for a break but they give it back. Thomson Mcknight got a hockey assist for his beautiful break throw to Cameron Harris, who pops it to Andre Gailits.

Morgan Hibbert started to make his presence felt with a huge layout block in the lane, setting up a sharp Mark Lloyd blade flick to Adrian Yearwood in the front corner of the endzone. There were several turns in the next point before Canada broke down the German poach with some fluid triangle offense and scored to make it 6-3.

The teams traded to 7-5. Intensity started to ratchet up as halftime approached.

Holger Beuttenmüller got a great interception on an errant Canadian throw and immediately sent it to the streaking Christoph Köble to earn back a break, 7-6. Tim Tsang spends the next point essentially getting free at will, cycling the disc until Mark Lloyd and Nathan Hirst play a cheeky give and go to take half 8-6.

After three quick turns the Germans surrendered another break to Canada’s methodical under game making it 9-6.

Germany found their feet offensively, led by Holger Beuttenmüller, who after beating Mark Lloyd for the first half found himself matching up against Canadian folk hero Morgan Hibbert.

Three perfect huck possessions follow as the teams find their range. Canada maintained a three point lead, 11-8. After a German hold, Koble got a huge layout block, but his teammates struggled to produce options before turning it back to the Canadians.

Canada was also much more comfortable after the half and did not turn over the disc on offense again in the game. The teams trade out for the rest of the game without turning. Hammers, hucks, and high release pop passes all made welcome appearances before Cam Harris sent a huge huck from endzone to endzone into the path of a streaking Jeff Lindquist for the win.

“We watched lots of tape and we knew they would try to burn up the line,” said Canada coach Scott Hastie. “We tried stopping it, but they still got it at times. We are still trying a few things out and working out our best lines.”

With regards to tomorrow and their match-up with the USA ‘Dream Team’, Hastie said: “ We know what they do, we know who they are and we have some experience getting upsets.”

Germany’s coach Stefan Rekitt was in a more reflective mood, he said: “We didn’t utilize our breaks in the first half. But it feels better than four years ago.”

***

In a nearby quarterfinal, Japan faced off against Belgium. It was a beautiful clash of styles for those few people who were lucky enough to get access to the pitches to watch the game: the rigid discipline of the Japanese against the swashbuckling attack of the Belgians. Belgian coach Yves Mans said before the game that “if they make a mistake we have to punish it. We will try to use length and give deep looks a shot.”

The Belgians put this tactic into practice immediately, sending a long huck to their resident big man Pieterjan De Meulenare. Keiichiro Shiba was wise to it though and got the block.

The Japanese worked it down in their standard clinical fashion and Shinya Kikuchi punched it in to Taiyo Arakawa. The teams trade to 3-3, with the Belgians pulling out some absolutely ridiculous throws from the likes of Benoit Spapens and Moby Espitia.

As entertaining as the style is, it asks a lot of the Belgian receivers. Normally they would answer the call with aplomb but the rain made the disc considerably more difficult to corral. The Japanese inflicted their mesmerizingly precise throws on the Belgians in return and closed out the half with a 5-1 run to make it 8-4.

What follows is one of the best examples of what makes ultimate so great. The Belgians are fast becoming fan favorites at this tournament due to their reputation for very spirited games. They realize that they will struggle to get the disc back off the Japanese and rather than become frustrated, they opt to lean in to the fun of the game.

Both sides revel in the joy of play despite the storm warnings lashing down from the sky. The Japanese threw ridiculous breaks and laser guided hucks while the Belgians showed off their creativity with the disc and athleticism. As the day took a decided turn for the worst, a warmth emanated from the game that drenched the surrounding area. The more relaxed approach helped Belgium get back a few breaks in the second half, but one imagines this was due more to the relaxed nature the game has taken on.

Japan win the game 15-10, though for once, ultimate might actually have been the real winner.

***

Australia and Great Britain had their morning game pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back some more by the rain and then the lightning delay. The most highly anticipated game of the day got underway around after 7 PM in London.

“Today it was about keeping our mindset fresh,” said Australia coach Mike Rule, “as we were changed back from an 11:30 quarterfinal, to a 3:30 quarterfinal, to a five o’clock final, into a 5:30, into a 7, and finally 7:15 on eight minutes warm up.”

From the start, the intensity was palpable as both teams had aspirations not only of advancing to semis but of winning the whole tournament outright.

Although Great Britain has historically had some dominance over the Aussies, it would prove to be a different story here in London.

The game began fairly even, though Great Britain had the better chances early. A low Aussie huck didn’t connect but a poor flick gave it back. Two points later, the Australians dropped it in the endzone, but GB put up one of a number of ugly hucks in the breezy conditions.

The Aussies struck first after a pair of GB turns. Mark Isherwood snuck a hammer over the defense to find team captain Mike Neild on the break side for a 4-2 lead.

The Brits leveled it after an Aussie off-balance break throw in the red zone went wide.  A big huck to Ollie Gordon set up an easy dish to Callum Ayers to make it 5-5.

Another throwing mistake from GB, however, gave the Aussies the lead back just before half. A turnover near midfield set up some of the best D-line offense we’ve seen from Australia and Tom Tullett hit Gavin Moore for the 8-6 lead at the break.

GB, receiving out of half, needed a hold out of half, but Justin Foord couldn’t come up with a layout grab in the end zone. Moore caught another booming huck on the doorstep and dished it to Brendan Ashcroft for the 9-6 lead.

You could see that the Australia was generating more pressure defensively. O points for GB lingered while the Aussies O-line was quick to huck and quick to score.

The Australians used an effective flat mark and heavy coverage on the under cuts to stifle the normally clinical British offense, regardless of the line.

“They did an incredibly good job of shutting down our underneath game and they forced us to ping it early,” said GB team manager Colin Shaw.

A Foord drop near the sideline set up another smooth Australian break as the took their largest lead of the game at 11-7.

Although the Brits would get back within two at 13-11 after switching to zone and getting a point block from Gordon, they could never close the gap. Another zone point from GB didn’t confound the Australians a second time, and another miscue on offense set up the Australia break to win it, 15-11.

It was a disappointing finish for a Great Britain team that had visions of gold coming into the tournament.

“We came here to win,” said Shaw. “We absolutely felt like we could do that. We’ve matched with Australia the last two. I was there in 2008 and we beat them. We definitely came into it thinking we had their number and came up short.”

Australia will take on Japan in the semifinal. The two teams faced off in a friendly before the Dream Cup earlier this year, where Team Japan won 15-13 over Team Australia in what Rule called “a cracking game.” Look forward to another great matchup on Friday.

Mixed

In one of the more predictable matchups of this round, Canada faced off against Colombia. Colombia started the game well, retaining the disc for some time thanks to their propensity for speedy swinging. However it did not take long for the Canadians class to shine through. The Colombians fought hard, bidding on many throws and trying to put up as much resistance as they could. It was a spirited but brief game that the Canadians won comfortably 15-3.

***

Australia defeated Japan in a game that finished with a final score — 15-13 — that looks closer than it truly was. Australia went up four breaks in the first half and only gave one back through most of the second as they reached game point at 14-10. A tense O-line gave up a 3-0 run, but big Australian captain Tom Rogacki — a legend in Australia and the obvious leader for the Mixed squad — delivered one of his three assists to close out the win.

Rogacki was also on the receiving end of two of the team’s four breaks in the first half.

Ayumi Fujioka had a strong game for Japan, finishing with four assists and a goal.

***

In what was realistically the only true upset of the day, France faced off against Great Britain. Great Britain are the reigning European Mixed champions and had been impressive in the run up to this tournament, winning Windmill Windup. The French were comparatively less accomplished, and by their own admission they ‘have no heroes’ in their ranks.

Britain had carried their winning tradition with them into WUGC, the most notable scalp in their collection being the Japanese in power pools. The game opened up with France getting a break in the first point thanks to a miscue by the British and some clinical offense by their D-line. 

Great Britain responded by confidently walking the disc in for a score and sending their own D-line out on the pitch to crush the French handlers. Initially they did just that, if it was not for a desperation huck from Sébastien Debaert coming off, then Great Britain would have probably gone up 3-1.

However, luck seemed to be with the French at the start, and over the next few points they replaced it with skill. Britain’s intense defense did get them a turn back and they made it 4-3 to them as the weather started to get vindictive. The rain meant that for the most part both teams relied on primarily under cuts. The thunder rolling towards the pitches originated in France and it seemed to be giving support to its countrymen. Great Britain made occasional drops amongst some good pressure defense that the French did a professional job of capitalizing on. Ronan Bichon was in the form of his life, being everywhere for the French offensive line. By the time the game had to be brought to a halt the French had managed to take half 8-6.

Cue a near two hour break that had the potential to ruin France’s momentum. Luckily, when the organizers cleared the pitches, the French found that their form was right were they left it. The teams each held their opening points, though there were multiple turns for each side, making it 9-7. At this point some form of divine inspiration hit the French team. They went on a five point run behind the competent handling of Sacha Poitte-Sokolsky and Haude Hermand. Truly, though, it was as complete a team effort as had been seen all day.

James Freeman and Sam Vile handled well for the British during France’s run, but couldn’t seem to break through the endzone line for the critical conversion. Meanwhile, France had developed the type of swing game you tell beginners they’re supposed to play: well timed, relaxed, and spacious. At the end of the run it was 14-7.

Great Britain got one back, with Lucy Barnes reminding her team what made their offense so potent all season. However, it would prove too little, too late as France scored their final point with sublime ease before collectively exploding like cannons on Bastille Day. The French fell to their knees, some leapt into the air, all of them screamed. It was a sight that helped bring out the sun after the torrential downpour of the afternoon.

“We have been playing together for three years and we have never played like that,” said French head coach Gael Peyrical. “Even in the weeks before we had lots of drops. It is like everything connected. We have very good team spirit, we play together, we win together, we lose together.”

Highlighting the level the French raised themselves to, and in turn the strength of the opponents they bested, Peyrical summed it up succinctly:

“That is the best game we have ever played.”

  1. Lorcan Murray
    Lorcan Murray

    Lorcán Murray is an Ultiworld contributor and freelance journalist. He lives in Limerick, Ireland. He plays ultimate for PELT and with his mustache regularly. You can reach him by email: rev.lmurray@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RevLorcan.

  2. 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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