While Clapham had their chances, PoNY was far more efficient in converting their break chances in running out to a semifinal victory.
August 1, 2022 by Jonah Lee-Ash in Recap with 0 comments
LEBANON, OH – On Thursday, London Clapham (GBR) had a hard fought win over Vancouver Furious George (CAN). With several long, drawn out points, the boys from London were put to the test and had to grind for every single tally on the scoreboard. New York PoNY (USA), on the other hand, won their quarterfinal on the trot at 15-7 and looked as though they simply walked through Tokyo Buzz Bullets (JPN). While both teams entered the semis looking very strong, it was clear that the lads from across the pond were in for a tough game.
Something you might not know is that these two teams actually faced off the week prior. Two days before WUCC officially began, Clapham and PoNY played an exhibition match in New York which went to double game point. Looking at this result, one might assume that the two teams were on equal footing, but circumstances tell another story.
“A few of us were sort of jetlagged, and some of the PoNY guys had just come off the World Games as well,” says Clapham’s Ollie Gordon, who also played at the World Games a few weeks ago. “But it was great to get a run out against them and kind of figure them out and understand what the matchup would be like if we met them here.” While they certainly gained some invaluable intel on this particular matchup, pre-tournament scrimmages are not the WUCC semifinal round, and coming into this game, PoNY were the clear favorites.
If you read our recap of the Clapham vs Vancouver Furious George (CAN) quarterfinal, you’ll recall that Clapham’s biggest weakness was their ability to convert turnovers into breaks. This Achilles heel was once again an issue for the Brits right off the bat in the semifinal, when Clapham earned a poach block on Jimmy Mickle on the game’s first point. With the disc in hand and a chance to break, Clapham worked it up to just outside the end zone. Unfortunately, an errant high-release went up and didn’t find its mark, allowing Ben Jagt to swat it out of the air. After PoNY methodically worked the disc back and forth across the field a few times, Harper Garvey put up a perfect huck to Sam Little for the PoNY hold.
“In this game,” continued Gordon, “it felt like we didn’t convert a few chances at the start, and that kind of let it slip away from us.”
Conversely, every Clapham turnover was a stab in the heart, illustrated by the very next point. With Clapham on O, John Randolph had a quick-reaction block on a reset pass, after which Ben Katz immediately shot into the end zone to Jack Hatchett for the one-throw PoNY break.
This was the through-line for this game. Clapham would get their turns, but could not capitalize. That said, if there’s one team in the tournament against which it is hard to convert breaks against, it’s certainly PoNY. The PoNY O line — featuring the likes of Ben Jagt, Sean Keegan, and Jeff Babbitt — could be in the conversation for the best D-line in the tournament. In total, PoNY earned five breaks, while Clapham only finished with one.
Still, Clapham’s defense was excellent through and through. “We’ve had a really solid defensive strategy from Andy Hillman — our D-line captain — prior to every game. He’s done thorough analysis,” said Gordon. “We’ve had a decent chat about exactly how we’re going to shut teams down. So big credit to him and big credit to the whole D-line for applying themselves to that strategy, because I think it’s really shown.”
Regarding the pressure they were able to exert, Mickle said, “[Clapham is] a super talented team, and a really well-conditioned team. I don’t think we got a single play off the whole time.” The Brits certainly were able to contain PoNY’s offense, at least partially. There were several points where New York were trapped in their own third, and had to swing back and forth until something opened up. But PoNY are nothing if not calm and collected.
“We talked a lot about being patient, and then making sure that we still attack deep,” said Mickle. “I mean, when you have receivers like John Randolph and Ben Jagt and Jeff Babbitt, they have to be afraid of us deep. As soon as those guys aren’t getting backed, we’re gonna let me and Harper throw it out to them.”
This strategy seemed to play out just as New York intended and Mickle notched 8 assists throughout the contest, six of which were thrown to either Jagt or Babbitt.
Coming out of half, Clapham did have a glimmer of hope. “We brought it back to being within a shot,” said Gordon, as the Londoners held and then immediately broke to bring the game to 8-7. Ashley Yeo and Joshua Briggs had excellent performances for the squad, never slowing down and consistently making big plays. Of course, Justin Foord was a force of nature as usual, casually snatching discs while defenders were laying out on top of him. Unfortunately, the excellent play from Clapham lit a fire underneath the Americans, and they cranked up the defensive pressure. PoNY broke Clapham back to bring the game to 11-8, and then one more time for good measure. When all was said and done, PoNY managed to stuff Clapham’s break opportunities, and managed to run away with it.
Down the stretch, Jack Hatchett was undeniably the best player of the game. He had multiple blocks, an assist and two goals, and was a looming presence on every under cut. Antoine Davis and Jibran Mieser also had some huge bid attempts, though in one Davis attempted to get a piggyback ride from Ashley Yeo, who simply shook the would-be hitchhiker off and threw it for a goal. Regardless, both Davis and Mieser were flying through the air throughout the entire game, and were yet another layer of difficulty for the Clapham offense.
And what can we say about PoNY’s offense that hasn’t already been said. Mickle was on fire all game, as were Sean Keegan and Grant Lindsley. The entire PoNY O-line moved like they had WD-40 in their joints, and everyone worked together as cogs in one big machine.
PoNY ended up winning 15-10 in this hotly contested match, though it felt much closer until the end.
“It’s a shame,” said Gordon. “It just didn’t quite come together in the semi. But we’ve got one more game, and I think this will definitely be the highest that [Clapham has ever] finished at Worlds, if we can take third. So that’s what we want here. To medal. Ideally gold, but now we’re going to fight for the bronze and we’ve got one more chance to do it.”
Clapham went on to beat Mooncatchers 15-11, securing the dirty gold and etching their spot in ultimate history as just the second European open side to medal at WUCC — the first since 1999.
With the win, PoNY earned the right to square off against Ring of Fire in a rematch of the most recent USAU national final, this time with a world championship on the line. Expect this to be the most hotly contested match of the tournament, and one for the ages.