What happened in Lithuania at the first tournament of its kind!
December 20, 2022 by Sean Colfer in Recap with 0 comments
There’s been a longstanding discussion in Europe: which country is actually the best at indoors? In much of Europe it’s something that’s played largely for fun, a side quest for outdoor players who haven’t got much more to do during the winter months. There are only a few dedicated indoor players that don’t venture onto seven-a-side pitches1. But in northern Europe, especially Scandinavia and the Baltics, indoors is much more popular and played far more frequently.
In early December we saw those arguments settled (for now) as the first European Ultimate Indoor Championships were held in Kaunus. The divisions were all different sizes, with 16 open, eight women’s and 12 mixed teams. Here’s what happened in a very cold Lithuania.
The winners and standouts
The open division was the largest, and seemed to have excellent depth coming into the tournament. In the end, Belgium ran out as winners with a 17-14 triumph over Finland in the final. The Belgians featured a heavy Mooncatchers influence with both Jonkers brothers, Reph and Ben, just as crucial for this team as they were in Cincinnati at WUCC. The tournament was something of a breakout for Sofiene Bontemps, another Moon player who caught 25 goals in six matches to lead the division2. They defeated a Finnish team that lost in the pool but had a strong run in the knockout stages. They unfortunately lost key player Erkka Niini to injury in the final, and after an early 5-1 Belgian run to establish a 6-4 lead the Finns were never able to bring themselves level.
Latvia, probably the favorites going into the event, defeated the surprise package Ukrainians in the bronze game. Arvids Orlovskis continued his dominant showings this season with 20 goals and 20 assists and seemed largely unstoppable all weekend. Alas, his eight-goal, five-assist masterpiece in the semi was not enough to overcome his Mooncatchers teammates as the Jonkers brothers, Bontemps and defensive ace Daan de Maarre turned in phenomenal second half efforts in a 16-15 classic.
The women’s division featured only eight teams, with the home team seeded first. The Lithuanians ended up with bronze medals, though, losing to the Netherlands in the semi in a game they led 8-6. From there, the Dutch accelerated and finished the game on a 6-2 fuelled by Justine van der Meulen and GRUT standout Floor Keulartz. The Dutch faced the as-yet unbeaten Swedes in the final, the teams having met in the pool in a game that featured a number of lead changes before Sweden ran out 14-13 winners.
The final promised to be a tight, exciting game but a four-point run for Sweden at the end of the first half effectively ended the contest, the Dutch unable to pull back from an 8-5 deficit against such a talented and well-drilled team, the Swedes winning 15-12. Sarah Eklund, for years one of the best players on the continent, was unstoppable down the field and scored eight goals, but the standout and breakout performer for Sweden was Vendela Viktorsson. She was excellent with and without the disc all weekend after previously thriving for KFUM Orebro at Club Indoors in 2020. Lithuania defeated surprise semifinalists Great Britain 14-11 in the bronze game after GB won the quarter against Latvia with a universe-point Callahan by Tanya Fozzard.
Twelve teams meant the schedule for mixed was a little odd, with byes in the first knockout round. The semis featured a balanced, deep Great Britain team scoring six consecutive points around half-time to win against another team that far exceeded expectations, ninth-seeded Slovakia 16-8, and advance to the final. Estonia also advanced after winning a slightly tighter semi against their friends across the gulf, Finland. The Estonians started slightly stronger and turned the screw with a 4-1 run to finish the game 15-10. Both teams in the final were undefeated and came in with the same goal difference3 so everything was set up for a great final game of the tournament.
The first 16 points were extremely tight and neither team could gain the upper hand for long. One break each left the score at 8-8 with GB coming out on offense to send the game to half on serve. However, a miscommunication on the first pass left Ott Toomsalu with the interception for a Callahan to send the Estonians into half on a high. They slotted in the O point out of half, nabbed another break a couple of points later and closed out the game for a 13-10 victory. Estonia’s stars were the standout players in the division, with Jakob Tamm finishing jointly atop the scoring table and Helen Tera doing great work downfield all weekend. Finland rode an excellent first half to come away with bronze medals, 16-13 over Slovakia.
Estonia and Belgium are not teams who traditionally win gold medals in Europe, so the jubilation from the teams at the end of their games was not surprising. Overall, it was an excellent showing for the smaller ultimate communities in Europe – Ukraine and Slovakia were big surprises, and the Latvians, Lithuanians and Finns all performed extremely well in more than one division.
The tournament itself
Running an indoor tournament for 36 teams is not quite as logistically easy as running one outdoors; there are far more spaces that can fit a number of games at the same time outdoors. Such space is always at a premium when you put a roof over everything. That meant that the games were split over several venues for the whole weekend, which had several knock on effects.
Some of the venues were better than others in terms of space. At one, there were bleachers very close to each end of the fields, whereas on another there was essentially no sideline. Divisions were grouped together, which meant that teams could not cheer on their compatriots.
“It was a shame we couldn’t cheer our boys on, I wanted to see them, but [being in the same hall as other women’s teams] was helpful for scouting other teams in the division. Some of the halls were better than others, but the quality of the floor was the best I’ve ever played on,” said Dutch women’s handler Sarah Sparks.
“We couldn’t support any other GB teams and we only got to see the women in their bronze game, which I didn’t like,” said GB mixed captain Ben Bruin. He also pointed out that the schedule meant that if games hadn’t gone to seed there would be rematches early on in the knockout rounds, something that the open division also experienced. There were also some slight confusions on rules, and with the food for some dietary requirements4.
Overall, though, given the requirements of hosting so many teams indoors it seems as though things ran pretty smoothly. The shuttle services worked well, the hotels were good quality and the team doing the organization worked hard to make sure it all went as smoothly as possible once the games started. “I thought the organization was really good. Format was maybe a bit weird, but I thought it was very well-managed,” said Latvia open player5 Ned Garvey.
The future of indoors
Given the relative success of this tournament and of the club tournament held in 2020, it seems that international indoors is here to stay. It gives smaller countries that have a much smaller player pool a chance at competing with the bigger nations and the games provided some fantastic highlights for spectators to boot. The addition of indoors to the calendar has been received very positively by the playing community, and the European Ultimate Federation has certainly noticed.
“Even though there is no bigger strategy in place right now, the EUF is well aware that especially for northern countries these Championships can have a big impact not only for the players but also for the federations,” said EUF Event Manager Felix Nemec.
The big factor to consider is player burnout with such a packed calendar already, but Nemec says that the EUF is working on how to integrate things and make indoors work alongside everything else:
“We are working on establishing a plan how these Indoor tournaments can be part of the bigger picture without exhausting the athletes that are already working so hard all year long. We noticed that these official tournaments can also be a burden for federations since they might need to go there because of their official recognition in their country. This is different from country to country and needs some evaluation. It is brilliant that we saw all these different athletes getting their spotlight. Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and of course Belgium, Sweden and Estonia!”
For those uninitiated, indoors is five-a-side and played on a roughly basketball court-sized field. ↩
Including the catch to win the tournament. ↩
Estonia had scored two more, GB had conceded two fewer. ↩
Vegan options in particular being a sticking point, with teams told late on that they wouldn’t be available. ↩
And Ultiworld writer. ↩