Australia matched the Colombians much of the way in a well played match.
July 15, 2022 by Edward Stephens in Recap with 0 comments
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BIRMINGHAM, AL — Pool B came down to the final match between top seeds Colombia and Australia. Even though they had already clinched spots in the semifinals, they were not content to take it easy. To the contrary, both sides competed with a heightened sense of purpose that made for first-class ultimate. The spectators on hand and viewers at home could not have hoped for a more action-packed spectacle or a finer demonstration of pure sport. The pace of play was lively, the bids were numerous, and the throws were nothing short of brilliant. In the end, Colombia held off a late Australian charge to take the game by a 13-11 margin.
The first order of business for Australia would be to try to knock an assertive Colombian O-line off their game. To that end they threw a zone designed to overload the path back to the center of the field when the disc moved to the sidelines. Colombia stayed out of the trap, however, working carefully down the field with precise short passes. Valeria Cardenas and Jonathan Cantor were instrumental to the hold. Cantor in particular impressed with his penchant for quick short connections, not only on the first point but for the entire game. “He’s an amazing player. He looks like a normal guy, but he plays like butter, throws like butter, there is a lot of confidence,” said Aleja Torres.
Australia could not manage the same level of comfort on their opening offensive point. The Colombians relegated most of their passes to the backfield. Progress slowed as they reached midfield. Cat Phillips tried to run down and bid for a long swing pass, but it hit the turf. Yina Cartagena got the disc on the forehand sideline just out of the end zone on the counter. Australia swarmed the strong side options to trap her there. Cartagena found a way out of the jam, anyway: a 25-yard crossfield blade to Julio Duque. He fed Ivan Alba the continue to complete the early break.
Down 2-0, Australia settled into cleaner offense. Sam McGuckin, Alex Prentice, Cat Phillips, and Alex Gan were all strong and consistent. Tom Tulett, though, was simply extraordinary in the center handle role for the Crocs. He kept his motor running through the heat to stay available for resets, and he had a throw for every situation. Everyone at the complex watched in awe as he blasted a 50-yard hammer from the force sideline crossfield to Prentice for a goal.
On the other side, Aleja Torres was cooking for Colombia. She is, at 43, the oldest player at the tournament, and though age catches up with all of us, it hasn’t yet found a way to get to Torres. Her game against Australia was all sterling and no rust. She is as quick as ever, both to find the open spaces and to release the disc, and her throws have a consistent authority to them unmatched by most of her teammates. (The exception is the phenom Valeria Cárdenas.) Torres had a run of three consecutive assists for Colombia in the first half, including an inside forehand that she managed to squeeze past her mark by shimmying three times and then bending halfway to the ground.
A lucky break helped Australia even the score. Valeria broke through the Australian zone with a mid-range blade forehand to Andrés Ramírez well behind the wing. As he started to pivot, however, the disc slipped out of his grip. Alex Ladomatos pounced on the break chance, immediately finding Rob Andrews in the end zone.
The level of intensity and skill demonstrated by the two sides broke through some kind of limit toward the end of the first half. It was a masterful game. Cantor danced and weaved through the center of the field to gain forty yards on five passes in the blink of an eye. Cat Phillips ran down a huck ahead of a full-steam Elizabeth Mosquera. Valeria sent a forehand some sixty yards from a dead stand-still. Tulett whipped a goal line backhand from one front cone almost all the way to its opposite. Valeria managed to catch a Cartagena huck past a shoulder-high Sally Yu bid.
Still on serve to start the second half, Australia and Colombia picked up the incredible ultimate right where they left off. Prentice launched a forehand to the backline for Andrews; he accelerated to snatch it just before it carried out of bounds for one of his game-high four goals. Trust throws for Andrews have been a regular occurrence this World Games, and he has done nothing but reward that trust with goal after goal.
In spite of stupendous effort, Australia began to falter. Whether it was a result of the accumulated Colombian defensive pressure throughout the match or simply fatigue, Tulett finally erred – twice – and the Crocs fell behind by a pair of breaks.
Colombia, on the other hand, had poise to spare. Simon Ramírez and Cantor each threw backhands you could hang in a museum to Cartagena, who was much more active downfield than in either of Colombia’s first two games. Even the rough patches smoothed out. Mish Phillips seemed to have made the point block on an attempted elevator pass over her head, but Valeria was in position to catch the end-over-end disc behind her.
Down 12-9, the Australia mounted a final comeback. Liv Carr and Alex Gan held on to tough passes for a Crocs hold. That set Andrews up for another chance to sparkle. With almost a full game of action to process Colombia’s preferred small-window throws, he finally found the angle to pick one off, reaching ahead of Alexander Ford to steal possession. On the counter, Ladomatos did not hesitate to send a blade to Andrews in coverage – which, naturally, he caught. “The reason that it’s easy to have faith in Rob [Andrews] is you’ve seen all the work that he’s done. I think it’s obvious that he works hard. I think it’s obvious that he does the running. I think it’s obvious that he practices hard. And so it’s easy to do things that you’ve seen in training a thousand times,” said Ladomatos.
Andrews’ catch brought the score to 12-11 in favor of Colombia, but Australia did not get another chance. Colombia simply worked down the field with an open-hands approach and finished with an easy dish to Manu Cárdenas.
Australia were upbeat after the loss, understandably so, as they had already qualified for semis after their second victory. That security allowed them to soak in the special qualities of the occasion more than they might have if elimination were a possibility. “We were really excited for the matchup. Colombia is a really exciting team, and it’s a country we only get to play against very infrequently at world championships,” said Ladomatos. Being able to push Colombia was a good measure of their potential, and they will enter the bracket now with the certainty that they have what it take to win gold medal.
High spirits filled the Colombian side of the players’ tent post-game. “I feel perfect. Super-happy,” said Torres. They did well to stave off a furious charge from the Aussies. It was probably good for them to face a serious challenge in that way before the end of pool play. The win only confirms what most observers already believed: through three rounds of play, Colombia have been, clearly, the best team at the tournament.
It’s a point of national pride to continue to raise the bar heading into the elimination rounds. “The best moment is thinking about the Colombian people,” said Torres. “The whole country is thinking about us, and we have to win.”