Germany remain undefeated in style but the other semi was a rollercoaster!
August 17, 2023 by Sean Colfer in Recap with 0 comments
The women’s semis looked set to be exciting games. Italy and the Czech Republic weren’t among the top tier favorites coming into the tournament but had both done well in the power pool stage, while Germany and Great Britain have been looking good for much of the year. Germany lost Anna Gerner earlier in the tournament but were impressive in the quarters and dominated a young Czech team, while GB took on the Italian zone in inclement conditions and just about passed the test.
Germany marches on
The Germans have seemed to be the team to beat this season, and it looks as though that remains the case even without Anna Gerner. Their performance against a good Czech team was extremely impressive.
The worst of the weather came in a very messy first point. Six turns each resulted in a hold by Germany, Kyoko Binnewies finding Charlotte Schall. A rushed pass from the Czech O line on the next point gave the Germans a short field and Marlene Müller found Inga Narjes for a one-pass break. The dream start for Germany continued as Müller sent a huck downfield for Inga Spanuth, and the resulting redzone offense left Sophie Rumpelt free on the open side for a 3-0 lead.
The Czechs stopped the roll. A huck to young star Kristýna Tlustá got the offense going but a high stall shot to the endzone didn’t come off. A quick German turn gave Tlustá an open receiver in the endzone to score the first point of the game. Germany had a drama-free hold and put the D line back out.
The Czechs moved the disc quickly on their first possession but dropped it outside the German endzone. From there it was a scrappy point, both teams making execution errors and giving the disc up. Germany eventually scored with an offhand break from Jessica Rühle to Pauline Janssen, taking a commanding 5-1 lead.
The rest of the half saw both teams hold serve. The Czech offense put away three clean holds, but Germany gave up several chances to the Czech D line. Every time, though, Germany got the disc back. Schall, Binnewies and Lena von Stebut were key to the disc movement that Germany were able to generate, with at least one of them in the dump space seemingly at all times. Going into the half 8-4 up, they were in control of the game.
The Czechs came out of half with a very effective dominator set featuring Tlustá, Lucie Vávrová and Tereza Mrázová. After moving it to halfway with ease, Mrázová shot it deep for Barbora Hrušáková for the hold. Not to be outdone, Germany responded with a four-pass hold of their own.
The Czechs tried the same quick movement on the next point but a throwing error gave the German D line possession. The Czech Republic was able to get the disc back but, on the next offensive possession, their vertical stack offense was nowhere near as slick and they turned under heavy German pressure. Germany utilized the break space well and notched another break to extend the lead to 10-5.
The Czechs threw everything they had at Germany to try and get back into the game, but from there the story was written. Germany didn’t turn on offense for the rest of the contest and the Czechs, while executing well and holding all the way to 14-9, couldn’t generate enough pressure to start eating into the lead. Fittingly, Germany broke to finish the game. A same-third huck drifted out of bounds to give them a short field and clinical use of the break space gave them a 15-9 win.
Charlotte Schall is not a brand-new name on the scene, but performances like those she has put in over the last few weeks put her in very different company. In this game she scored a goal, threw four assists and had two blocks, looking every inch one of the very best players on the continent.
Müller, one of the captains of the team, said: “The game was a lot of fun, we had a great game with the Czech Republic in the pool play and I think both teams just really enjoyed it. There was a lot of power, a huge fight from everyone and they put out there what they had. It was great.
“We’ll start preparing later today, we have two hours of free time of just enjoying and being proud of what we’ve done so far and then after those two hours we’ll start preparing for tomorrow. I’ve never played with a team like this, before the tournament I was worried we were going to be a little bit too uptight. With the German teams sometimes there’s a bit too much expectation and we can be very serious, but we have really managed to enjoy playing ultimate and I think that’s what has brought us this far. We just have a lot of fun together and enjoy being here.”
GB back to the top
GB reached the final at four EUC tournaments in a row, but the last two cycles haven’t been at the same level; fifth in 2015 was followed by 11th in 2019. The team for this cycle started out well with a win at Tom’s Tourney and has looked like one that could turn that trend around. Italy, on the other hand, were largely a mystery coming into the tournament with no warm up results. They beat France in the power pools to top the group, and came into the semi with a zone set up that had frustrated every opponent they had come up against.
The game started, just as the other semi, in the worst of the conditions of the day. The first pass was a turnover from Italy’s O line. They responded with the zone that had served them so well all tournament, a three-player cup with three mids behind that and a conservative deep, pushed all the way back. It worked right away, GB trying a pop into the cup that was knocked away, and Italy scored at the second time of asking.
The next point saw the other zone that had been working for Italy: a six-player zone with an assassin mark on the opposition centre handler. France had struggled to move the disc effectively when Aline Mondiot was match marked throughout, and the choice this time around was GB captain Hannah Brew. In previous games there had been a few players tasked with taking out the handler but on the first point Italy chose to use Gaia Pancotti, one of their best and most important defenders, to do the job.
The point was messy given the wind and the rain, with several turnovers for each team. Eventually, though, GB were able to get the disc close to the endzone, forcing Italy to switch to match, and then find an open Avril Hunter at the front of the endzone.
GB responded to the Italian pressure with a zone of their own. A switchy 2-3-2 with Kate Gibson paying as the central disrupter caused Italy problems and set up another turn-heavy point. Italy eventually put it in, and GB did likewise on the next. GB had no clean O points in the first half1 but continued to get the disc back.
At 3-3, the first break of the game came. GB had been struggling more with the Italian D but it was GB that made the first breakthrough. After one turn each, Leila Denniston made a poach block2 and got the offense moving quickly, with Maddy Leong eventually finding Kate Gibson cutting up the line after some good swing movement.
Italy responded well. A GB zone left the sideline open and Francesca Sorrenti found Giulia Baroni with a lovely leading pass, who then found Pancotti for the clean hold. They then sent the D line out who pinned GB right outside their own endzone for 28 passes and eventually forced an error. One pass and the game was back on serve, 4-5 to Italy.
GB sent out an O line without Brew, leaving fellow captain Rachel Naden as the one to be matched, and it was another point with several turns, six in all. Each time GB had possession they took more than 10 passes, patiently working through the Italian zone but making execution errors that seem in the moment to be unforced but in reality are a result of the diligent work of the defense. Each time, though, Italy couldn’t get another break and GB eventually held with a visionary OI flick from Hunter.
GB broke again on the next point, Molly Wedge taking an aggressive shot to Nat Oldfield, and the teams traded for a timed half at 7-6. GB had closed the half with a 3-1 run, and were coming out of the half on offense.
Italy came back out with their assassin zone, this time using star player Irene Scazzieri to take Brew out of the point. After a throwaway Italy marched downfield and Scazzieri threw the goal to get them back on level terms, but still trading down after the half. An early turn on the next point gave them an opportunity to get their noses in front, an opportunity they took cleanly with Pancotti finding Sorrenti for a 7-8 lead.
A GB D line came out on the other side of the disc to stop the Italian roll and scored quickly through Sarah Jeffrey’s huge rolling OI backhand to Emma Klima on the front corner. Six new players3 went out on the next D point and restored GB’s lead with Wedge again linking up deep with Oldfield.
The game became one of runs. Italy held, and then broke again following a scoober from GB’s own endzone that went awry. Pancotti threw the simplest of passes to Scazzieri and Italy were up again, 9-10. GB turned twice shooting into the endzone on the next point but smart switching stopped Italy from converting and eventually the British held, Hannah Yorweth with a shot to Hannah Thompson, to tie the game up at 10-10.
The O lines both gathered themselves after the run of four breaks in six points to start the half. There were still turns, with only one clean hold from 10s until the end of the game4, but both teams were giving everything after the turn to get the disc back and progress to the final. GB took advantage of the assassin at one point, throwing over the top to Brew as Pancotti had replaced the deep but was pushing Brew away from the disc.
Italy held for a 13-12 lead as the time expired, meaning it was a game to 14. They put out a power line, with players like Pancotti, Sacazzieri, Elena Benghi and Susanna Casarini all having played huge roles in the game to this point. GB did likewise, putting out Ruth Cawdron, Wedge and Denniston who had played almost entirely on the D line. Italy turned GB and had the disc around 5 metres from the endzone but Hunter blocked a dump to Pancotti, getting the disc back, and then popped the disc into Wedge for the goal after some patient build up. 13-13, universe point for a spot in the big game.
GB took a timeout, but it seemed that either they didn’t communicate that to Italy or that Italy thought GB had used two already in the half. The miscommunication only served to amp up the pressure even more. Italy put out another power line, while GB brought Hunter and Yorweth over from the O line to get a crucial block.
An excellent roller pull from Wedge put Italy on the sideline. The first swing was tipped by Sorrenti, who then pulled it in at the second time of asking despite a big layout bid from Hunter. Wedge and Cawdron both put huge pressure on the next pass, colliding in the process and causing a delay while Cawdron was assessed. The game continued, and Wedge went deep, marking Simona Stefanelli. She hung around in the deep space and when Scazzieri was able to get steps on Payne, the British defenders switched. The throw went up with Wedge in perfect position deep of Scazzieri, and the Italian star couldn’t get around Wedge in time to catch up to the throw. Italy dropped into – no prizes for guessing – a zone, the 3-3-1 version this time, and forced GB to swing the disc. Hunter broke the cup to Denniston and continued for more gain, getting GB inside the Italian brick mark. Italy stayed in the zone. GB again broke through the cup, Cawdron to Denniston, and she exchanged passes with Amy Van Zyl to get the disc two metres from the line. The Italian downfield defenders recovered but left a huge hole in the middle without the handler marks, and Denniston pitched an easy throw into a wide-open Yorweth to win the game and send GB to the final.
GB had been forced to make a huge amount more passes than Italy throughout the game. Italy had made 1415 while GB had made 3716. Despite the Italian pressure and the fact their O line only had one clean hold7, they came through and reached the final for the first time since 2011. Hunter, with three assists and a goal, was hugely important to the team but the steady handling of Yorweth and Lucy Hyde while Brew was being taken out of the game was crucial, as was the defensive pressure exerted by Van Zyl, Gibson, Wedge and Denniston. GB will go into the final with confidence that they can overcome any challenge after such a nerve-shredding semi.
Nor did their D have any clean breaks. ↩
It did look as though the throw might have been right at her, but still! ↩
Molly Wedge stayed out there, everyone else changed around. ↩
GB held cleanly to bring the game to 12s. ↩
75 on offense, 66 on defense. ↩
A very similar 64 on defense, but a massive 307 on offense. ↩
The other came through a D line after two breaks. ↩