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.
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.