June 26, 2017 by Hugo Sowder in News, Recap with 0 comments
ROYAN, France — It was a game the USA had under control. The score was 10-7 in a game to 11 in the final of the Women’s Division at the 2017 World Championships of Beach Ultimate. The US was tantalizingly close to gold. Russia had challenged the US in the first half but had never led in the game. By all appearances, their run was over.
Russia, however, challenged the US to execute in tight windows, even when they were trailing. In many of their previous matchups, the US cutters were able to gain separation and, at times, overpower their competition with superior athleticism. Russia was different. “They played tight and once they rallied that crowd energy definitely kept their spirits up,” said head coach Mike Whittaker. With the stands packed with teams rooting for Russia, the stage could not have been better for a comeback.
Yulia Akrimova had just reeled in her first goal of the game on a backhand huck and Russia began to discover some momentum on the following defensive point after a block on a short deep shot from Paige Soper to Becky Malinowski. Russia converted on a huck that slipped past Cree Howard and into the hands of Inga Sulimova who threw the goal to Olga Pololskaia. 10-8.
The US received going upwind. After a brief stoppage to switch out discs following a possession-saving catch by Soper, Russia converted on another break opportunity on a backhand huck to Elizaveta Voronkova. Russia’s fans were fired up and Russia was feeding off the energy of the crowd.
The US had one more downwind opportunity to put the game away but a pass just out of bounds was blocked by Voronkova. Russia converted on a high release backhand to Margarita Parshukova, who laid out to secure the disc ahead of a bidding Sarah Anciaux. With the score 10-10, Russia was primed to force the US to work upwind for game point.
Russia’s fans were on their feet in the stands as Anna Pustovaia put up the final pull of the game. The US squad worked the disc to half field on the backhand sideline. Russia clamped down on the backhand lane and pressured a tough, short swing pass that was just out of reach for Soper on the reset. Russia bounced the disc back to center field to Aleksandra Pustovaia who put up a long backhand huck for Olga Podolskaia. Howard had a read on the throw but somehow missed the disc as it deflected off her head and into the hands of a trailing Podolskaia to punctuate the 11-10 comeback victory.
It was a stunning finish to a truly wild final. The atmosphere and emotion of the game were unmatched as Russia exorcised the demons of a final loss they sustained at the previous Beach Worlds in Dubai in 2015. The US was stunned and rightfully so. Their defensive schemes had worked all game.
“We wanted to challenge their handlers to execute laterally and put up throws they were not comfortable with,” said coach Whittaker.
That strategy worked the entire game. Russia never truly looked like it found a rhythm against the defensive looks thrown at them by the US and at times simply had to trust its receivers to execute in extremely narrow windows. Yet Russia had answered with a tenacity of their own. Their defense forced execution mistakes from the USA offense and they were opportunistic after the turnover. It was, without a doubt, the game of the tournament and an unforgettable fight to the finish.
As for the other divisions, the US demonstrated its usual international dominance. The USA men rolled through Great Britain using a defensive look to contain unders and force lateral disc movement and upside down throws to the backhand side. GB never got comfortable against the defense and fell 11-8 in a game that never felt close.
In the Mixed Division, the US team shook off any memories of their 2015 semifinal loss and claimed gold against Canada 12-10. There was a great deal of vindication for the team which had a roller coaster road to the finals.
“Sweden was a game that we felt just didn’t go our way. Losing to the Philippines, however, pissed us off,” said head coach Eileen Murray. “I remember Jack McShane verbally expressing that after the game. It flipped a switch in our players.”
USA began to feed off of the belief that they were the best team at the tournament. Looking over the stat lines for the US, the distribution of goals and assists was fairly even between genders. In the final, it was the contributions of Sarah Meckstroth and Liza Minor that truly set the US apart from the top-heavy Canadian squad.
“I knew we had the best depth at this tournament,” said Murray. “Our women are just better.”
By far, one of the biggest performances came from Eli Kerns, who continued to take on the role of center handler with the USA beach squad. During the games against Sweden and the Philippines, Kerns did not look nearly as confident or capable in his role. Things changed in the bracket.
“Eli was the key in our backfield,” said Murray. “When he decided to truly step up after those losses, he came into his own.”
Kerns will be a fascinating player to watch on the club circuit this year. With San Francisco Revolver last season, he filled the void left by the temporary departure of Ashlin Joye on the offensive line. He was effective, but didn’t own the position the way Joye had in previous seasons. Perhaps Kerns found something new at Beach Worlds. Kerns was by no means perfect, but his ability to take on the role of a leader in the backfield when the team needed it most bodes well for the coming club season.
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