Black Eagles begin to soar

Black Eagles, Mixed, WUCC2018

Sean Colfer watched the reigning UK Mixed champions Black Eagles match up against the strong Canadian team Banana Cutters.

Black Eagles and Banana Cutters entered this match with identical records – three wins and one loss, to Philadelphia AMP, meaning that this was for second place in the pool. The prize awaiting the winner was a round-of-32 match against IKU from Tokyo, while the loser would face Sydney’s Friskee.

Sexy Fish Monsters

Devon, Open, WUCC 2018

Bad Skid and Devon faced up this as part of pool play. Going on past placings, Bad Skid would likely be given the upper hand in this match – the two are generally separated by a fair few seedings at EUCF. Black, Green and White are the colours that both clubs share, and more than that, both center around a strong core of junior development. St Peter’s school in Exeter is the home of Airbadgers, a team that you won’t see at WUCC yet is utterly dominant in their scene – UK junior championships. Keep an eye out for paw-print tattoos on the Devon sideline, as it is this mark that many of the Airbadger alumni carry. Devon’s Luke Ryan was a recent graduate of Airbadgers in 2008, when he competed as part of the GB Men’s Junior team at WUGC 2008 in Vancover against Germany for the bronze medal, and in that game (which Germany won), many of the victorious side would go on to form the Bad Skid roster Devon now faced. Florian Böhler (who won the ‘golden arm’ for most assists in Vancouver, including all senior divisions), and Holger Beuttenmüller who was responsible for the majority of Florian’s goals and continues to be a dominant force on the international stage. Based in Heilbronn, Bad Skid have such a high representative count in the German Men’s National team that they’re often described as such colloquially. Between the two sides, many more years of experience were at play than suggested by youthful exteriors.

Opening with a hammer score, Devon’s offence stated their intent immediately before falling down to early pressure from Bad Skid who scored successive breaks to take it to 4-2. It was Sam ‘Meaty’ Taylor’s birthday today, and he answered back with style, slicing a visionary cross field flick to a streaking Luke Ryan. The self proclaimed ‘sexy fish monsters’ have no problems with self congratulating, and the boys really liked that throw and made it known. However, Bad Skid’s four man cup was generally causing issues – a surprise for Devon who are usually known for toying with zones for fun. The hammers continued despite the struggles, allowing Devon’s defense to grind. Rather than zone they were going pure one-on-one, choosing careful match-ups that was starting to provide results. 8-4 down after half, Ben ‘Woody’ Hall stepped up the intensity, standing underneath Beuttenmüller. Woody’s aerial prowess is famous for those who have played with him in the UK scene, and taking the decision to tempt Bad Skid into the deep shot most teams do all they can to stop proved brave rather than crazy as Bad Skid under-threw their trusted receiver. Greg Mann put in a heroic bid to save Devon’s precious defensive possession, which was shortly converted to make it 8-5.

 

Sam Taylor gets a German backpack for his birthday. Photo by Kevin LeClaire for UltiPhotos

In the next point Devon earned the disc again thanks to Piers Ticknell, but this time they couldn’t convert their chance and the Germans pushed on. It was 11-7 before the next break, but it was Devon’s again with a pass bouncing off a Bad Skid receiver’s chest. Richard Coward wheeled to the endzone for a one-pass goal from Ed Hammond and a roar from the Fish Monsters. Unfazed, Bad Skid showed their class here as Nico Muller let out a pinpoint full field flick bomb to who else but Beuttenmüller. Hall was as tight as ever on his match-up, but even at a half step underneath this throw was un-defendable. Muller had an excellent game throughout, taking alternate passes at will, getting four goals on top of this assist and seeming impervious to the pressure that built around his teammates. His performance held together for the Heilbronn team, who may have had a tough time without him. After a scrappy six-turn point to get to 14-10, Devon’s late game fight was abruptly ended with a simple goal by Bad Skid to a standing receiver. Almost like the lights coming on at the end of the night, Bad Skid had harshly brought things back to reality and spoiled Devon’s party almost without celebration.

Devon came here to win, and knew they could have done better but still held onto a sense of perspective; this was a team they have never been in a position to expect to win against, and this unfortunately wouldn’t be changing. It also put more pressure on their 5pm match-up against Daione Kumay, where a win was needed to prevent them being dropped into the lower pools.

Devon knew this was a winnable game but it was clear from the opening points that nothing was going to come easy at WUCC. Striking early to take a 3-1 lead, the Chinese Taipei team immediately struck back with fierce athleticism to bring the game to to 5-5. A Kumay layout block (and a proper one at that) was ripped straight back by Devon next pass, with the Luke Ryan promptly streaking deep to receive a huck and flip a score to Mark Garbers. A cheeky tongue-out celebration from Ryan buoyed his team, and Devon were in a real, tight game.

Daione Kumay’s play was relentless, and seemed totally unaffected by the intense heat. Their offense played a deep stack, with each cutter going deep almost from in-line with the handlers, often before planting hard and making huge gainers underneath. It was simple, but it worked despite some fantastic performances from the Devon defensive line and Kumay took a commanding late-game lead with two more breaks to go up 11-9. Devon’s efforts were starting to come to fruition as well, though. Athletic through and through, their match D was generating more and more pressure, now regularly getting two and sometimes three mark-outs in a row. After a hold and a Devon timeout, Robin Ellis-Cockroft got the block his team had been waiting for, shortly afterwards catching the goal as well and paving the way for another break next point, with Jarrod Bradley finding Woody with a perfect huck to space to go 12-12, Devon now on-serve.

These final points of the game seemed heavily underseeded. Both teams were in flow and fully amped up, with little sign of the tired legs and heads that would be expected. Devon still seemed to have the smallest of edges, again thanks to their stingy upfield defense which regularly took Daione Kumay cutters out of play. Kumay were defiant though, and clearly enjoying this match-up too as they overcame pressure again and again. However a huck score to Jake Warren saw Devon 14-13 up, and the Fish Monsters finally sensed blood in the water. Sticking to plan A, they ran a stifling match defense and Kumay cracked at last, passing to Ben Hall in the short field. After a pick call on what looked to be the winner, Devon held composure and worked a few passes, before Ed Hammond found fellow ex-Airbadger, childhood friend and long-time teammate Jarrod Bradley in the front corner for the goal, and the win.

Credit has to be given to Daione Kumay for a storming performance throughout, which brought the level of the match to a height that the seeding of the matchup does not depict. Devon, known well for giant-killings back in the UK as well as their unique brand of humour and self adoration, are starting to display a maturity, discipline and grit that will only gain them consistently higher results as they go on. Their route upwards only gets harder from here, but they remain a team it would be silly to underestimate at WUCC.

 

What’s Cooler Than Being Cool?

Iceni, Womens, WUCC 2018

At a relatively early point in the tournament, reigning European champions Iceni have a very important game on their hands. Besting Seagulls in their pool and losing to Fury were results without serious surprise. An early wobble in the former was corrected for a confident win, and whilst some were frustrated by the Fury game, the Londoners gained valuable experience from the matchup and had a lot of fun whilst they were at it – both being crucial in such a rare opportunity. Standing in the way nexte was Japan’s Swampybarg – a largely unknown team for Iceni.

 

However whilst this team may not have the reputation of UNO, Huck or MUD, Swampybarg had already made their mark in Cincinatti dispatching Malafarma 15-1 earlier in pool play. This routing was the biggest margin of victory so far at WUCC, and would likely remain so for the whole tournament. Malafarma caused Iceni considerably more trouble until 9-9, before a late game push saw Iceni take it 15-10. It is unfair to remove contexts when comparing teams’ results; Malafarma clearly found an inspiration against Iceni that they couldn’t when up against Swampybarg. However what was certain going into their matchup was that both teams are serious contenders.

 

Both teams took a turn each as they settled into the first point, but Iceni broke through early with Grainne McCarthy finding Sophie Wharton confidently for the 2-1 lead. Iceni were finding early form here, and after the disc floated over one of Swampybarg’s superstars, Saori Inoue, Iceni took advantage again and calmly scored another break. The half continued to be a display of intense, exceptionally clean ultimate with minimal calls and very quick points. Swampybarg bit back after winning a short field from an Iceni drop, and quickly looping a blade to the break side. Iceni wouldn’t let momentum grow for the Japanese however, with Sonia Komenda breaking the mark effortlessly washing away any recent memories of conceding a break with a confident assist to Maya Mileck.

 

Withi Iceni receiving 8-7 up after half, the rapid exchange of points halted for a moment as both teams raised their defense, jostling for the second-half momentum. This monster point included six turnovers alone between the teams, many on long range efforts as both sides attempted to capitalise. On what would eventually be a successful attack on the Swampybarg endzone, Jackie Veralls completed a huge possession saving layout before flipping an assist to Qiao Yan Soh. One of the youngest and newest recruits along with Claire Baker, Joyce Kwok and Leila Denniston (on loan from London’s Deep Space), Yan coolly stepped up in this match contributing a further goal and assist on top of this across the game. So – as Iceni asked each other – what’s cooler than being cool? Well – following this up with another break in quick succession. A rare drop from Inoue gave Iceni a short field, but they couldn’t convert initially as the huck faded away from Wharton. On second asking, Iceni made sure – Sonia Komenda’s powerhouse handling stepping up another notch with an un-defendable low backhand pivot securing another advantage for Iceni. Lend me some sugar, they shouted. I am your neighbour. Iceni were just about taking control, and they were very clearly enjoying it.

Photo by Jolie Lang for UltiPhotos

Swampybarg responded with intent however – clawing back another break and keeping the game very exciting for the neutral. Iceni’s O line looked as confident as it had all game, but after an errant pass the Japanese got the turn they were looking for, and wasted no time over sending a looping shot to the endzone to make it 10-9 Iceni. The masterclass continued from both teams, with faultless ultimate until 13-12. Gifted a short field after a slippery Iceni release, the Swampybarg leadership pounced again, scoring the crucial upwind goal and punishing one of the very few mistakes made in the game. 

With both sides even at 13-13 after 80 minutes of play, Iceni adopted the elite poise they’ve generally been associated with over the last decade, threading pass after pass around the Japanese. Defensive pressure was still intense, and game pressure the highest yet by far but after a long possession Iceni put in yet another rock solid goal: 14-13. Before this match, schedule hawks may well have doubted Iceni’s chances. Since they broke an almost perfect run of European and domestic dominance, the team has been squeezed by the double pressure of endlessly high legacy expectations, and somehow also the failure of meeting these same expectations. It will have felt good, then, as they followed up on their hold with a block on the reset from Komenda, which shortly after ended up with a goal to the talismanic and still unstoppable Veralls to take the win on their terms, from defense. Ice cold.

Speaking after the game, it was clear Iceni had as much of a game plan as they could. Kwan explained ‘It was very hard to get much scouting done . . . we knew they were many players from the U23 team a couple of years ago, and we knew we had to try and take away their IO breaks”. Asked about their route to quarter finals from here, Kwan had considerably less to say, but with a simple ‘I honestly have no idea’ showed that sights were being set no further ahead than they needed to. With new leadership in the form of Kwan and Karina Cooper’s, ‘Ice’ have gone through a bit of a re-branding. Fresh kit and Outkast inspired chants are the superficial changes most apparent, but the team and captains are also challenged with assimilating their legacy position as dominant in competition and elite-only at trainings, with a younger energy and more developmental function across the London and UK Ultimate community. It’s no easy task, but today Iceni succeeded at this, balancing youth with experience, and managing to appropriately focus both on themselves and the external challenge to powerful effect. They now have a formidable power pool carrying over their loss to Fury, and also meeting Riot (USA) and Iris (CAN). Whilst we know they won’t be getting ahead of themselves, there’s a huge amount to play for here, and the warriors from London may well be defying a few more predictions as they continue their WUCC campaign.

 

Reading sweep aside RusMixed

Mixed, Reading Ultimate, WUCC2018

Sean Colfer watched Reading and RusMixed face off in a crucial pool game.

Reading Ultimate have approached this tournament with a professionalism to be admired. They’ve been preparing a team for several years, they’ve practised together extensively and they scout their opponents in great detail. That has all come together nicely for them in Cincinnati as they sat with three wins in three ahead of their match with RusMixed, the Russia champions who beat Black Eagles at Talampaya. RusMixed lost to Wild Card, but otherwise had been in great form, topping GRUT 14-13 earlier in the pool. The winner of this match would have the inside track on second in the pool, though if Reading won they’d have a chance to top it against Wild Card.

Chevron fall to tough Doublewide

Chevron, Open, WUCC2018

Matching up against the US teams is the main hurdle for every other team at WUCC. Sean Colfer watched Chevron take on Austin superteam Doublewide.

Chevron had a good first day at WFDF 2018 WUCC, winning both of their games and setting themselves up for a huge game first thing against Doublewide. The Texans, second seed at this tournament, had a very similar day and entered the game unbeaten too.

Chevron came out on offence, and slotted it in pretty efficiently. Both teams did so until Chevron managed to get a turn at 3-2, Issa Dualeh finding Jake Aspin for the first break of the game. Chevron were pumped, and they were loud. They had been building for this game and this environment all year; they were desperate to test themselves against a team of Doublewide’s quality and show off their own.

Crash Landings

Glasgow Ultimate, Mixed, WUCC2018

Glasgow, starting second bottom in group F began the day with a 15-8 win over second seeded Freakshow from Singapore. This made things exciting. Sesquidistus, from France and also in this pool showed their hand at Windmill, and were known to be beatable by the Scots. The french pushed the pool leaders Crash to 15-13 in the first round of play, which altogether rendered Glasgow’s upcoming matchup as surprisingly human despite both the high seeding maple leaf next to their name. Whilst all Canadian and North American teams undeniably arrive with inherited respect at WUCC – a hand up before the game has even started – the narratives of this pool were starting to look like things might not be so simple, and Glasgow would have a decent chance.

Viva la Revolution

Revolution, Womens, WUCC2018

Sean Colfer was keen to see how Revolution, reigning US Open champions and hot tip for the Women’s title here in Cincinnati, would perform against Atletico, the reigning European champions and themselves no slouches.

This was a hotly anticipated game, not least because it was the first look at Medellin’s Revolution against a European power. Atletico snatched the EUCF title away from Iceni last season with an excellent and precise long game, something that the Colombians will surely face as they get further into this tournament.