As exciting a doubleheader as you can get.
August 18, 2017 by Cody Mills in News, Recap with 0 comments
Editor’s Note: Due to an extremely busy week in advance of the US Open, this article was inadvertently left unpublished at the time of the games. We wanted to make sure we still published the recaps of these two double game point finishes!
The fifth stop of the 2017 Eurostars/Americus Cup tour brought the Europe’s elite women to the San Francisco Bay Area to play a double-header against the Bay’s pair of top-tier women’s team, Fury and Nightlock. The home town teams came away victorious in each contest in thrilling fashion: 11-10 double game point finishes.
The games took place in the afternoon at a high school football stadium, just north of Berkeley, CA, and the conditions were beautiful — a sunny 80 degrees and only a slight up/down wind on the field. The field itself was a bit of a curveball for a showcase game, with confusingly marked sidelines and 25-yard endzones (and no observers). In order to accommodate the double-header, the teams agreed to play games to 13 with a time cap.
Eurostars vs. Fury
First up for the Eurostars was Fury, one of the most dominant women’s club teams in the history of the sport, and a Pro Flight team in the USA Ultimate club season as a result of their 3rd place finish at last year’s Nationals. Fury began the game on defense, pulling slightly downwind. The first three points of the game saw the Tour exhibit some of the growing pains of having played just five matches together. The Euros were plagued by drops and miscommunication turnovers, which Fury cashed in for three consecutive breaks, capped by a beautiful flick huck from Alex Snyder to Claire Desmond.
While the visitors were clearly struggling to find their rhythm, Fury was also far from sharp; they gifted a few turnovers back to the Tour on overly aggressive deep looks and were saved by a few outstanding layout grabs from Alden Fletcher and Marika Austin to maintain and score their possessions.
The Eurostars finally got on the board to make it 3-1 Fury after Bex Forth found Sarah Eklund to finish a smooth O-point. The Tour’s downfield spacing was frequently congested on their first few O-points but improved as a result of a transition away from a horizontal stack in favor of a side stack off the pull.
Fury answered with a clean side stack hold of their own to make it 4-1.
The teams continued to exchange holds, with the home team eventually taking half up 7-4. Fury continued to turn the disc over more than one might expect, but the Eurostars were unable to capitalize, thanks in large part to their continued struggles with spacing. Indeed, the visitors’ offense frequently sputtered and failed to generate much in terms of cutter flow. The struggles were exacerbated by Fury beginning to vary their defensive sets, primarily with force middle but also with poachier junk looks. However, the Euros were able to keep pace on the strength of a handful of moments of individual brilliance. In the face of stagnant upfield looks, throwers like Francesca Scarampi, Olivia Hauser, and Laura Farolfi were able to huck over the congested cutting lanes for scores.
Pulling to start the second half, the Eurostars came down in a diamond-like zone set. The Fury handlers were unfazed and methodically advanced the disc to force a transition to person. Snyder repeatedly shredded her mark with around backhands but put an open side pass a touch behind Desmond whose acrobatic attempt couldn’t quite save it. The Tour again sputtered on offense, but another Scarampi backhand huck was able to find Bex Forth deep for the break to make it 7-5.
The next point was another break for the Euros, who capitalized on a missed Fury cutter by immediately hucking to Ulla Kiili, who managed to both sky for disc and toe the line to make it 7-6. A deep pull on the ensuing possession made it look like it might be a third straight break, but Fury’s offense held, thanks in large part to a pair of possession-saving layouts by Desmond and incisive upfield breaks by Anna Nazarov.
The following two points were by far the sloppiest of the game. Fury threw an FM cup that eventually netted them a break, but not before a long series of turnovers, both from poor decision making and missed execution.
With Fury about to receive up 9-7, the game was capped to 11. Fury held the O-point on a catch from Austin, whose cutting had been strong all afternoon, to set up their game point at 10-7.
Facing defeat, the Eurostars rose the the occasion. Fury continued to try to go FM, but Scarampi found Eklund with another breakside backhand huck off the pull play to cut the deficit to 10-8. On the next point, Nici Prien got a huge layout block on an away shot from the Fury O-line. The Tour gave it back, but Jackie Veralls got a thunderous point block. One Alisa Tizik sky later, it was 10-9. Tight team defense earned the Tour another turn, and they continued to dial up their deep game. They broke for 10-10 on a huck from Essi Inkinen to Bex Forth, which set up double game point.
Fury received on DGP and fearlessly shot deep to Kaela Jorgensen off the pull, but Prien was there to get the block. On the turn, the Euros went back to the well again, hucking for Tizik, but Nancy Sun forced the turn to get it back for the home side. Fury then found Opi Payne — who until then had yet to truly exert her will on the game — who coolly stepped out and delivered a breakside backhand dime that sat in the corner for Austin to catch for the win.
It was an exciting end to a game that saw both teams struggle a little more than their talent might have suggested. The Eurostars never quite got their downfield spacing right, relying heavily on their deep shots to carry them, while Fury committed more execution mistakes than their pedigree would suggest. Nonetheless, it was a contest filled with spectacular plays from a variety of contributors, highlighting the depth of talent on both squads. The women of the match were surely Francesa Scarampi, whose throwing prowess in particular kept the Eurostars offense going when it needed it most, and Marika Austin, whose tireless cutting was key for Fury all game long
Eurostars vs. Nightlock
After a half hour intermission, the Eurostars took the field for the second game to face off against Nightlock. This iteration of ‘tributes’ (in the parlance of The Hunger Games) is a little younger than in the past, with the Bay Area squad pulling in a younger crop of plays from the Stanford and Berkeley districts.
The second game started much like the first. Nightlock pulled slightly downwind to the Eurostars, and their defense came out hard. Captain Claire Sharman made the first of her many big plays, blocking the first upfield pass and continuing to the endzone for the bookends break. On the next O-point, Anne Marie Gordon got a run through block on the first upfield pass, but couldn’t quite come down with the bookends score shortly after. The Tour took advantage of the second chance and punched in their hold to bring it to 1-1.
Nightlock came out side stack on their next O-point, but after the Euros shut down the first isolation cut, the lack of a fill cut and crowded cutter spacing forced a high stall huck. Luckily for the home team, Shannon Bubb made the grab and they were able to hold for 2-1. The Tour followed with a side stack set of their own, and Inkinen found Bex Forth upline to end a smooth string of cutter flow.
Nightlock again received and came out side stack, but struggled to keep their stack location disciplined and wide. The Eurostar defenders took advantage, sagging into the lanes and disrupting the offense. It was enough to force a turn, and following a pair of great sky grabs by Forth and Kiili, Maya Mileck hit Tizik with a beautiful back shoulder flick to put the game back on serve at 3-2, Eurostars.
Looking for more, the Tour came down in a 1-3-2-1 zone against a vet-heavy Nightlock line. The home squad played textbook zone O to swing around the wall and break through but were tempted into shooting a hanging huck deep. Fortunately for Nightlock though, Sharman was able to outread Scarampi on the deep ball and haul in the hold.
The Eurostars received and continued to rely on their deep game for offense, but were foiled when Nightlock rookie Shayla Harris elevated to tally a big block on Kiili in the deep space. A few exchanged turns followed, but the home side was able to cash in a break on an inside flick from Jackelyne Nguyen for a 4-3 lead. The Nightlock D got another shot at a break the next point, but a resounding foot block from Katy Forth got the Eurostars the disc back, and they held for 4-4 on a smooth IO backhand away shot from Hauser to Eklund, who cut from the open side rail.
The teams continued to trade out, with Nightlock taking half up 6-5 after a Rachel Habbert catch block on a goal line dump set.
A few takeaways were apparent from the first half.
First, the contrast in energy was pretty clear between the two squads. The Eurostars were looked a bit slower than their first match, understandably so given their smaller roster and the tolls of the road. In contrast, the young Nightlock team looked fresh and energized. An aspect of the game where the teams looked similar, however, was the continued battles for stack discipline. The Eurostar horizontal stack continued to stagnate cutter motion by congesting all the under lanes, while Nightlock’s creeping side stack hurt their downfield spacing. Though both teams were finding a way to work around it (Eurostars with deep shots and Nightlock via handler cuts and breaks), the theme was consistent.
As they did the in their first match, the Eurostars made a run out of half. Eklund got a block on a Nightlock away look, Anneli Andersson added a catch block, and the Tour completed the break on a Bex Forth assist to a quick Eklund upline cut. The Eurostar D continued to stymie the Nightlock offense by poaching the lanes on the next point, forcing several turns. A long, sloppy point ended in a second straight Euro break when Annika Linqvist cleaned up the back side of a hospital pass away shot. The Tour made it three in a row after the home side turned a high stall short pass. Foralthi found Andersson for to make the Eurostar lead 8-6, but the highlight of the point was a huge layout grab by Scarampi to save possession on what would have been a point block by Katie Swinnerton.
The next three points saw the teams trade holds to 9-8, with the biggest story being the unusually high number of drops. Nonetheless, the offenses persisted and the cap went on to make the game hard to 11. Up a break, the Eurostars received the pull but a short field dump block from Alina Kagan, and the subsequent bookends goal, made it 9-9.
The Eurostars received again and ground out upfield cuts, but a miscommunication huck to a cutter who had started to come under gave the disc away. Nightlock eventually cashed in the break, on a rookie-to-rookie-to-rookie connection, punctuated by an incredible Allison Griffith layout in front of Prien to notch the break and give Nightlock a 10-9 advantage.
Receiving on Nightlock’s game point, the Eurostars played a smooth side stack point, finishing with Bex Forth finding Eklund to force a second straight double-game point finish.
Nightlock received on DGP and hit Iris Leung on an isolation cut under. Leung turned upfield and fired deep to a streaking Sharman, covered by Eklund. The matchup of the two women who had been their team’s respective MVPs for the game would decide it. The huck hung up slightly and Eklund went up first, but her timing was too ambitious and she came up short, leaving Sharman to catch the goal for the win.
The exciting afternoon of ultimate gave fans an exciting pair double-game point contests, with the visitors coming up just short on both occasions. However, the Eurostars showed the quality of their talent, hanging to the very end with two nationally elite women’s teams in their Bay Area showcase.