A controversial call spoiled the end of a tremendous final.
June 20, 2017 by Ravi Vasudevan in News, Recap with 2 comments
AMSTERDAM — Windmill, Europe’s biggest tournament of the year, is a special event that combines the best of what ultimate can offer. There is a huge festival vibe with crazy parties but that is combined with the highest level of ultimate talent that Europe has to offer. For American readers, imagine Potlatch but with Slow White, Drag’N Thrust, and Seattle Mixtape in attendance.
The mixed division at Windmill has 40 teams. It is the largest division and ranges from funny pickup American teams playing in Hammer pants to the Polish team preparing for World Games. The format of the tournament is Swiss Draw, so as the tournament progresses through the first five rounds, the teams start to rise and fall to where they belong on the talent curve. Then the top eight move to a quarterfinal bracket. Through those early rounds, there were a clear top three teams in the Polish National Team, GRUT (The Netherlands), and Black Eagles (Scotland).
The Polish National Team
Poland is hosting the World Games in a few weeks, allowing them the opportunity to compete against the top five countries in the world (USA, Canada, Colombia, Australia, and Japan). You may not have heard much about Polish ultimate and it is probably safe to say that this team will not be winning too many matches at the World Games, but they have taken their preparation very seriously. They formed their team about two years ago and have since competed at WUGC in London, where they were knocked out in the prequarter round by the Philippines.
However, this team has been working hard and making sacrifices to become the best they can be. For example, Katarzyna Podpora turned down a good job in Turkey even before final cuts were made on the chance that she would make the team. At World Games, teams are only allowed to bring 14 players, but Poland brought another line of players to Windmill called “The Rainbow line” made up of staff and friends that have helped the team as a thank you for all the help throughout the season. They played the Rainbow Line relatively regularly during the tournament; it even played a point in the final.
They cruised past almost every team with at least a five point differential in the Swiss draw rounds. They even beat the eventual 3rd place Black Eagles 15-6. They also cruised through their quarter and semifinal matches, beating two German teams. They beat Hassliche Erdferkel (3rd at EUCF 2016) 15-10 and then beat Mainzelrenner. However, there was one team that gave them quite a fight in an early round. Saturday morning, GRUT managed to take the game to 15-13. Though Poland came away with the victory, it foreshadowed a later meeting deep in the bracket.
GRUT, or the Get Rekt Ultimate Team, is made up of all stars of the Dutch youth scene. Their women played at Tom’s Tourney earlier this year and got 3rd place. But GRUT, at its core, is a mixed team. The women won the European Youth Ultimate Championships in the U17 division in 2014 and 2015 and came 4th in at the World Junior Ultimate Championships in U20 division last year. They also have a few all star men as well. The GRUT squad is almost entirely made up of players between the ages of 17 and 21. They have recently added Tjeerd Ates, the 25 year old captain of the Dutch Open National team in 2016, and the 25 year old Maartje Keulen as well.
GRUT did not have such an easy road to the final. In Swiss draw, they were only able to beat Black Eagles on double game point with a casual high release pass from Basten de Jongh to Lola Dam. Then they found themselves against the German National team in quarters. They started down a few breaks but managed to put the game away on double game point yet again. On the final throw, a pick was called by the Germans, who initially asked to send the disc back. However, on reflection, the Germans, in a wonderful display of spirit, decided that the pick didn’t affect the play and congratulated GRUT on their spot in the semifinals. In semis, GRUT found themselves facing the Black Eagles whom they only narrowly beat earlier in the tournament. They managed to make things only slightly easier with a two point victory in another incredible match up between two skilled, gunslinging teams.
The Black Eagles are a top mixed team from Scotland. They are preparing for a run at the World Ultimate Club Championships in 2018. They recently split their squad and took both 1st and 2nd place at the UK Mixed Tour. At Windmill, they decided to bring their huge combined squad of 32 players. They rested a few players each game to have a manageable number, but they are still working with this large contingent before they make cuts later this year to decide who will represent the team at WUCC in the US. They only suffered two losses in the Swiss draw rounds, both to the eventual finalists, Poland and GRUT.
So that brings us to the final between the Polish World Games team and GRUT. The crowd for a Windmill final is always huge since teams only have one morning game on Sunday, allowing everyone to watch the tournament’s deciding games. With a Dutch team in the final, friends and family poured in to fill out the already crowded stands.
First of all, you should go watch the final on Fanseat. But here is a short account of the game.
It was a game of runs and a game of big plays. On the Polish side, standout performances by Kamil Osieki, Maciej Grabowski, and Filip Stepniak kept them going while defensive plays by the aforementioned Podpora helped to generate the breaks they needed to take leads and come back from deficits.
For GRUT, the 17 year old Ben Oort (born on January 1st, 2000) and his favorite target, Walt Jansen, were helped by the athletic dominance of Floor Keulartz and Lola Dam. Windmill used the “endzone decides” gender ratio rule and each time Poland kept switching up between throwing four women and four men to try and take GRUT’s offensive line out of their comfort zone. It was a truly mixed affair with Poland generally initiating cuts and scoring with their female players and GRUT using an experienced though young (15 years old) Anne Minnaard as one of their primary offensive handlers.
The game was full of fireworks and it all came down to double game point at 12-12. Both teams stacked their lines as they clamored for a gold medal at Europe’s most prestigious tournament outside of the EUCF.
Poland started on offense and worked the disc up and eventually put up a floaty huck to Osieki. Jansen was able to get around Osieki, but Osieki leapt and came down with the disc. The crowd erupted but quickly after the catch Jansen began giving the hand signal for offensive foul in the most controversial moment of the tournament. You can see a full discussion of this call on Reddit or on the Windmill Facebook page. Check out the play from three angles:
Eventually the foul was contested and the disc went back, remaining in Poland’s possession. A few passes later, another floaty disc went up and this time Jansen was able to tip the disc to the ground giving GRUT the chance at gold. A few dumps and swings later, Dam just barely held onto the disc off of a near run-through block by Sylwia Wroblewska. Dam was able to thread the disc through defenders and find Jansen in power position. He launched a perfectly placed disc to the back of the endzone where De Jongh caught it and secured the Windmill gold for the Dutch youth.
Posted by Windmill on Monday, June 12, 2017
Things didn’t quite end here. In European ultimate, games always end with a “spirit circle” where both teams express their feelings about the match. Poland coach Heiko Waldorf said that much of the Polish team felt that their silver was actually a gold and that GRUT should have retracted the foul call. Poland went on to give GRUT a “0” in the fair-mindedness category for spirit because of the last foul call and a few other instances in the game where they felt GRUT did not handle themselves properly. However, the Polish team cooled off a bit during the Open final and gave GRUT a hefty congratulations during the medal ceremony.
I spoke with both Walldorf and Jeroen Oort (father of standout player Ben Oort) of GRUT to ask about their feelings on the tournament and the match.
Oort told me that he had very mixed feelings about this win. Of course, he is super proud of his team, but he said that the attitude of the Polish team was quite off-putting at the end of the match. He said, “They made us feel like we cheated.” He said that he really felt that it was unfair of the Polish to not give Jansen the benefit of believing he was fouled. He said that contesting the call is fine, but that this sport only works if we give players the benefit of believing that they are making calls in good conscience and not trying to cheat to win.
Walldorf expressed that he thought that much more physicality was allowed prior to the double game point call so he still thought that the call was outside the spirit of how the game was played and that the call was only made because it was double game point. He expressed that the Polish team “felt betrayed” and may continue to see their silver medal as a gold. He said that the biggest thing he regrets is not calling a spirit timeout during the final call by Jansen rather than letting his player angrily send the disc back.
“The spirit timeout is a great tool that is underutilized in these situations,” he said. “I think tension could have definitely been reduced if this happened whether or not the call was retracted. This probably would have helped both teams to respect the outcome of the game more.”
He also claimed that if he were to show the play to all five teams at the World Games he is very sure that all of them would agree that there was no foul and that Poland should have been awarded the gold medal.
In Europe, there are no observers, or even game advisors yet. Though there are definitely some players pushing for their inclusion, a majority of players in European ultimate, even at the highest levels, still prefers the self-refereed model. When both coaches were asked as to whether some type of third party would have been helpful, they both gave me a resounding “no.”
“I strongly believe in self-refereeing,” said Oort. “I think that the level of responsibility and accountability should still be with the players even where there is disagreement. A small increase in objectivity by a third party is not worth losing the many advantages of self-refereeing.”
Walldorf echoed this sentiment. “Observers or referees are also human and could get a call like this wrong as well,” he said. “I love this sport and a big part of that is self-refereeing. I think communication can be more open between players but we shouldn’t need a third party for this.” He added: “Maybe if we had enough money to see a video replay on these calls that would be helpful, but the responsibility for the call needs to be with the players.”
It is definitely a pity that such an amazing game ended with sour feelings from the teams. Still, both coaches had positive things to say as well. “Above all this was an amazing game,” said Oort. “We really showed how high level mixed ultimate can be.”
Walldorf spoke highly of GRUT. “These young players are amazing and if they ever would invite me to give them a training camp I would do it in a heartbeat,” he said. “I can earnestly say that they remind me of a young Bad Skid and I really think they have the potential to reach that same level.”