Eurostars Sweep West Coast Swing With Wins Over Fury, Riot

The all-star tour is undefeated to start their 2019 campaign.

Eurostars’ Ines Bringel makes the layout catch v. San Francisco Fury. Photo: Darren Yamashita.

This article was written by Charlie Blair and Hannah Pendlebury.

RALEIGH – The Eurostars are back! Bursting back, in fact, into their annual continental-wide extravaganza, where they have already secured three victories against the top women’s teams of the West Coast. Whereas last year San Francisco was the first station to halt the European all-star train, this year the team heads to the East Coast with the momentum of a stunning six-point unanswered comeback against Fury and an undefeated record.

With most of the Eurostars roster used to facing off across the field rather than playing with one another, perhaps a gritty sudden death win over San Diego Wildfire was exactly what the doctor ordered in order to best prepare for a face-off against Riot, the two-time World Champions in Seattle. Riot has been involved in every Eurostars tour to date, but Wildfire’s debut performance in the tour injected a welcome boldness and energy that infected every player on the field.

The game hosted a series of fiery plays from both sides in the highlight reel, including a Sarah Melvin mop up in the endzone and a dominant Melissa Dunn snag at full pace while sandwiched between two defenders. Brittnee Grimshaw put on a show with some electrifying second or third catch attempts, earning herself the honor of play of the game for her fearless work in the endzone. However, it was the new addition to the Eurostars roster, Anna Garner, whose pivotal play on double game point decided the fate of the game with a huge layout block to set up the offensive possession for a 15-14 Eurostars win.

In Seattle, it seems the scrappiness of the previous match carried straight over. Riot got game two underway with a defensive break and the early stages of the match were swift but far from clinical until a squeaky clean hold from Riot’s O-line during the third point. Both sides played fast and aggressive, clearly amped up by the occasion. The Eurostars ripped up the pitch with pace and flow, passing quickly between their handlers while Riot’s Alyssa Weatherford put on a clinic in using hucks to eat up yards for the Seattle side.

As the initial ‘kick-off’ adrenaline spike started to fade, the Europeans became the victims of unforced errors – flustering in their handler cycles and often finding space but missing their connections. In contrast, Riot’s scoring attempts were sharper but blown out of the air by Dina Dumanskaia and Levke Walczak.

In a bid to put further pressure on the shaky European handler set, Riot introduced the first zone of the game. Unfortunately for the home team, this seemed to have entirely opposite to the desired effect, forcing the Eurostars to slow down their offense and engage their smarts as well as their athleticism.

Europe began to patiently move the disc laterally. This new challenge would set up a gasp-inducing high catch from Paulina Dul on the far side of the field, with picture-perfect footwork to keep the disc in bounds. Yet Riot’s defense stifled most of the upfield flow, brilliantly containing their opponents on the halfway line for over two minutes. When the time eventually came for an audacious crosspitch huck to smash through the deadlock, USA’s hard work went unrewarded and Europe took home their first break of the game. Before the Americans could blink twice, a hand block from Tosnerova with a quick conversion saw them go another break down, bringing the score to 5-3.

After these two breaks, both teams set for battle and the points began to get significantly longer with two timeouts called in as many points. Riot’s zone continued to allow room for some less conventional blading throws from the Eurostars who started to find faith in their precision. Soon the scoreline was 7-4 in favor of the Europeans, who then decided to mix up their defense by throwing on a zone of their own.

This new strategy initially contained Riot well with a strong flat force, but it was soon punished once Jack Verzuh and Rachel Bradford came under to expose the break side, playing give go with ease all the way to the endzone. This was swiftly followed by another sensational point from Valeria Cardenas, who dished out a high release flick to the break side and then surged into the endzone for an athletic layout grab.

The score tightened to 7-6 as halftime neared, but Riot couldn’t quite shift momentum to come out on top as the Eurostars punched in the score to earn themselves a 15 minute rest – just enough time to sing captain Rebecca ‘Bex’ Forth a very Happy Birthday!

The second half proved to be significantly more decisive than the first, finishing after just 30 minutes of play. Riot had the opportunity to bring the score back within one as they came back out of the blocks on offense, but it would be the Eurostars who would take a quick break and bring the score to 9-6.

For the rest of the game, Riot were unable to bring themselves closer than two points behind the Eurostars. The game looked all but over, with both team’s offenses considerably more polished than the first half and trading blows. Riot were playing with real snap — zinging tight, fast shots to strong receivers like Verzuh. The Eurostars continued to find poached players in space, hitting them with punchy and confident cross-field passes until they saw out the game, 15-12.

All eager eyes then set their sights on the Bay Area, since it was Fury who had been the first team to disrupt European momentum in the early stages of the tour last year.

However, not many of the players on this year’s roster would carry a psychological albatross from the loss, with only five returning players from 2018: Bex Forth of Great Britain, Dina Dumanskaia of Russia, Lasma Kublicka of Latvia, Ines Bringel of Portugal, and Sarah Melvin of Ireland.

One of the major factors in game three would prove to be a strong, gusty wind which would get the better of each of the players on the field at least once. Eurostars captain Bex Forth was the first, with the wind having dropped during the flip to determine initial possession. Having chosen to start the game on offense, the starting seven for Team Europe found themselves staring down the barrel of the wind tunnel that quickly became El Cerrito High School stadium. Both teams had been scrimmaging on a field behind the venue ahead of the game which had the opposite orientation to that of the game and as the Eurostars tried to adjust for the new conditions, a missed connection between the handler set of Europe gave Fury an easy short field break to start the game.

This time, the European mindset came out stronger in spite of the challenging conditions. Fired up by a picture-perfect forehand huck from Forth, which sailed over the fingertips of a laying out Bree Cahn, the Eurostars broke back immediately to return the game to serve and then set themselves one break ahead after a turfed Fury throw.

After some overthrows from both sides, the first half soon became a tight, grinding battle with absolute marathon points. With the Eurostars running two lines of eight players rotating each point, the longer stretches started to take their toll, but both sides’ athleticism kept legs moving. Some of these errors were by virtue of players trying to read and attack the disc as early as possible, with the wind seeming to play a game of hide and seek with the disc whenever the likes of Walczak or Sarah Griffith attempted to make trademark grabs.

Fury finally got a momentum swing in their favor, posting three points in a row to earn themselves a modest one-point cushion and a halftime lead. They then came out of halftime with ferocity, flashing their offensive capabilities to add a further three scores to their total.

Then came a momentum swing in favor of the Eurostars: a posterizing grab from Maja Lindroth in traffic made it 12-11 and injected some confidence back into the team. From there, they went on a pilgrimage towards victory, setting Fury on the back foot and capitalizing on some achingly close errors to score a solid six points in a row. In the last breaths of the game, the Eurostars called a timeout and ran a first-time zipper play, where once again Griffith would be shy of a defensive block by a hair’s breadth. Game, Eurostars!

Things move quickly in the life of a Eurostar. Every pass, every cut, every failure and every win is amplified by the intensity of building a team in a matter of days while traveling the length and breadth of North America. With a third consecutive win over not just the USA Ultimate but also World Champions for Team Europe, could the perhaps lesser known Raleigh Phoenix be the ones able to stop them in their tracks this year? Find out tonight.

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