Sean Colfer watched Nice Bristols in their tough first game against Atlanta Ozone.
Atlanta Ozone entered this game as the fourth overall seed, while Nice Bristols were 36th. The gulf in class between the teams, though, was nowhere near that large. Bristols had scouted Ozone through video of some of their games in the USA and had developed a game plan to deal with the strengths of their opponents. Plans are tougher to execute in practice than on paper, though, when your opponents are this talented.
Both teams came out hard with the first four points being quick offensive conversions. Both teams used a horizontal stack and worked the middle of the field well, Bristols relying more on good inside channel throws from their handlers and Ozone using a lot of quick movement without the disc. The fifth point saw the first turnover of the game as Alice Beeching put a little too much on a low inside flick to the endzone. Ozone took full advantage, going the length of the field for a score.
Bristols took the setback in their stride. A delicious flick from Hannah Smith found Bailey Melvin Teng who smashed it deep for a streaking Polly Ainsley, a great score and an emphatic response to their first stumble. Ozone continued their run of good offence though and the ladies in red were struggling to contain their American opponents. Bristols switched to a zone at 4-4, trying something different, and came very close to three consecutive blocks. Ozone pushed the limits of the defence though and managed to punch another one in for a 4-5 lead. They came out with a zone of their own and generated a quick turn on a bad swing, which they duly converted for a two-point lead.
Bristols didn’t struggle so much with the zone next point. In a move that portended how she’d play for the rest of the game, Georgie Davin launched a pinpoint huck to a receiver across the field, allowing Miranda Cole to pull down a great catch under a lot of pressure. Bristols too a timeout to discuss how to get a break back.
It worked. Bristols got their first turn of the game after a drop from Ozone, but gave it right back with a loose throw. Ozone didn’t make the same mistake again and converted easily with nice flow to the breakside. The next point was the best so far for Bristol – a great hammer from Jen Hart to Davin, who boxed her mark beautifully and sent a perfect backhand for Hannah Gilchrist to run down. Liquid ultimate – although Ozone were fine with the point, shouting to each other that they didn’t mind such a ‘sketchy’ option as the hammer.
The point seemed to fire Bristols up and they came down right on the pull. Ozone turned again, but this time Carla Link picked it up and ran quickly, getting free in the front corner with an up line cut for Ainsley to find her. Bristols had a break back, and the game was now tied at 7-7.
Bristols called a strong line and got their first block, Lesley Morison stretching every sinew to get her hand on a disc meant for an under cut in the middle of the field. Ozone did brilliantly to limit the space for Bristols, though, and after a lot of high pressured passes around the back a drop finally came. Bristols turned the defensive intensity back up but couldn’t stop Ozone taking half as their two strongest players, India Stubbs and Katelyn Travaglini, hooked up for the score.
The teams took differerent tacks at halftime. Bristols chatted, circling their lines separately and then as a team. Ozone did some dancing and had a brief discussion, staying very loose and relaxed. That paid off at the start of the second half – a poor pull gave them a short field which they converted easily. By this point, SMOG, Devon and Iceni were all watching and supporting Bristols but the pressure from the Americans was too much. Two turns by handlers in two points led to more short field opportunities for Ozone and they slotted in both. The margins for Bristols were becoming smaller and smaller as Ozone turned the screw, and they needed to readjust slightly.
They turned again but this time Ozone did too. Davin took charge and threw a score to Kelly Wiese, who roasted her mark underneath to the front corner, stopping the rot for Bristols. They managed to get another turn with some stifling handler defence on the next point and Link threw a gorgeous high-release backhand to Catherine Taylor for the score.
The game still felt like it was Ozone’s to lose, though. Stubbs, Travaglini and the rest were getting open when they wanted to and every member of the Ozone team was able to use both sides of the field at will, making Bristols mark a huge area. They had a 9-11 lead, and extended that on the next point with Kayla Emrick finding Stubbs for a score. Link tried to thread the needle to Melvin Teng against an Ozone zone in the next point and was blocked, allowing Travaglini to get a quick score for a 9-13 lead.
Ozone threw a transition zone, and came out of it superbly, but Bristols dealt with the challenge very well. Wiese again roasted her mark underneath and caught it on the front corner, reducing the deficit and giving Bristols something to shout about at 10-13. That didn’t last too long, though, as Ozone’s #99, Marie Perivier, pulled down a brilliant score from a huck – she’s only 17 and, based on this display, is going to be something of a problem for opposing teams for a long time.
Ozone threw another zone at 10-14 and forced a throw just beyond the grasp of Beeching, who screamed in frustration. They took little time to score and end the game, Stubbs fittingly throwing the winning assist. She had three assists and two goals in the game, and Travaglini was just behind with with two and one respectively. Georgie Davin was excellent for Bristols, notching four assists, while Link added two of her own and a score.
The game was a great start for both teams – Ozone getting their campaign started with a good, solid victory in which they displayed very few flaws, and Bristols managing to hang with, and trouble, one of the elite teams at the tournament. Both teams played some excellent offence at times, but the big difference was the difficulty Bristols had getting the disc off Ozone, who largely looked comfortable in possession.
Bristols coach Mark Davin was happy with the showing: “We played well, but they’re smart with the defence and they turned the screw on our handlers at the beginning of the second half. I don’t think they’re beyond us, they’re not unbeatable, but they’re very good and played very well. I think we’re playing the pool the right way, the Americans first which sets us up for the rest of it, but they sped us up to their tempo a bit in that game. The team’s feeling positive and we’re pleased with that performance.”
Cover photo by Andy Moss.