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.
The game started as expected; tight, competitive and high-quality. Both teams held serve, the pressure on each building with every point. Black Eagles started on offence and, when leading 4-3, had the first break of the game too. A drop by Cutters close to their own endzone gave Eagles a short field opportunity which they took with aplomb, Shona Whitely nailing a full extension layout to nab an inside break from Calum Easton.
Eagles were fired up. They chased the pull down hard but Cutters responded well with a pinpoint huck to Erin Daly, who made a nice catch up high for the score. Eagles struggled slightly with their next offence but managed to get the disc back following a turn and ran down the breakside sideline, Eleanor Taylor making a nice high grab and moving it to Natasha Lim who found Danny Strasser for the score. They took a timeout to gather themselves and prepare for the next D point, leading 6-4.
Cutters worked the disc to the sideline on the next point and had an open deep cut available. The huck was too low, though, and went right through the stack. It was blocked and dished off to Andrew Boxall who fired a beautiful huck to Aisling Barton for the rapid break. Eagles went wild, celebrating the break, and the 7-4 lead, loudly. Cutters responded with a timeout of their own, causing even more celebration from Eagles.
The Canadians seemed rattled. They turned almost immediately and right outside their own endzone, and Eagles didn’t waste any time in taking half – Easton with another break slightly too far from his cutter, Jonny Shaw making it two-for-two with fantastic layouts ensuring Eagles scored anyway. Cue another wild Eagles pitch invasion, and Banana Cutters walking back towards their endzone with their heads down. They had conceded three points in quick succession and the game was starting to get away from them.
Both teams sheltered from the unforgiving and unrelenting sunshine at half, huddling in tents and underneath umbrellas. Eagles looked relaxed and assured, confident that the work they had put in during the first half had set them up for a good second frame.
They came out on defence with a zone, but Cutters went right over the top and scored a quick point. It was much-needed, and seemed to give the Canadians a shot of confidence as they stole a break on the next point following a loose Eagles throw. At 8-6, they were right back in the game.
Cutters came down with a 3-3-1 zone, a loose cup and three defenders roving behind them with a deep all the way down the field. Eagles worked it well to start with but began to slow just before midfield, finding their space restricted and dumps more difficult to find. Cutters transitioned at half and Eagles were seemingly thrown by the change, miscuing on one of those dump plays. Cutters tried a huck to snatch back some momentum but it was too long. Strasser responded in kind but the disc flipped up in the air and dropped early, an easy block. He atoned by getting a block of his own close to the endzone, though, and Andy Dick found John Stainsby for a score.
Eagles went away from the zone on the next point and forced a turnover as Cutters tried to pop it over the D for an easy pass that hit the turf. Boxall picked it up and spotted Pete Dennis, who is what is known in the trade as ‘a giant’, open in the back corner of the endzone and hit him with a huge hammer. The common indoor tactic of ‘hammer it to the big lad’ paid dividends for the Scots, who extended their lead back to four points at 10-6.
It was notable how much Banana Cutters were having to push the envelope with every throw. Their hucks were going slightly too far, their swings slightly too wide and their dump throws just off target because of the stifling Eagles pressure. They turned twice on the next point, each time trying to make something happen but failing to hit the tiny margin that Eagles were leaving them. After missing on a huck at the first time of asking, Eagles scored with a lovely IO throw from Chris Habgood to Cameron Mackie for a five-point lead.
Eagles went back to a zone, a very loose junk with the wall a long way from the force, each picking up cutters. Cutters turned under little pressure, seemingly back in the difficult headspace they’d been earlier in the match where mistakes were quick to come. ‘Hammer to the big lad’ failed this time, giving Cutters another chance. They sent a huck deep that was blocked by Easton but called back for a foul that seemed to have little effect on the throw. The same throw went up, with the same result – Easton blocked it superbly. He then took off deep and was found by Boxall to more wild celebrations from the UK Mixed champions. They had really put the hammer down in this one and now led comfortably at 12-6.
Cutters scored their O, and notched another break after an inexplicable and hugely uncharacteristic drop from Mike Noblett in the endzone. Eagles remained poised, though, and scored their next offence comfortably. Cutters responded with a score, though there was a dangerous-looking collision that left a female Black Eagles player injured.
Eagles turned on the next point, but a tough, swarming force from Cam Agnew left the Cutters player with nowhere to go. He took a timeout on stall eight and turned it immediately after the break, allowing Eagles to move it quickly and Dick to sling it to Agnew for a 14-9 lead.
Cutters tried to go deep again, but Bella Tait smacked the disc out of the air despite the attention of a male Cutters player. Eagles played the possession game and, following a turn just outside the Cutters endzone, they ran the tried-and-tested ‘big lad’ play, Boxall hitting Dennis for a 15-9 win.
Eagles played brilliantly here. Cutters seemed defeated at two different points because of the fantastic pressure that the Scots exerted on defence, and the winners moved the disc brilliantly on offence. Boxall, Dick and Easton were rock solid with the disc in their hands and Lucy Barnes was constantly open as a release valve for the offence. It’s difficult to pick anyone out defensively because everyone did such a good job of either erasing their mark from a point at various times or executing the zones well.
Captain James Glover was pleased with the performance from his team, saying: “That game was the culmination of our tournament to this point. We came in with a good tactical plan and we were able to execute it well, our offence was better than it has been. We’re starting to get into this tournament.”
They will now face Tokyo’s IKU. Longtime Black Eagles player Gordon Kerr was guarded about his team’s chances: “We’ll see how it goes, take each game as it comes. Many of our players haven’t played against teams from that part of the world so it’ll be a new experience for us. If we play like that, though, we have a chance against anybody.”
Now that they’re finding their stride, these Eagles may have only begun to unfurl their wings. The next game is a huge one, fighting for the chance to (probably) play Seattle Mixtape in the pre-quarter. If they can put together another few performances like this one, we may yet see them fly.
Cover photo by Andy Moss for Ultiphotos.