Victoria Higgins watched Colombia play Australia in an instant classic. Here’s what she saw.
Agua agua! Fuego fuego! Colombia keep setting and unsetting poachy defensive formations to prevent Australia from gathering momentum. They keep hurling themselves through the air and crashing back down to the earth to make possession-saving catches. And most importantly, they keep the disc moving. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the most thrilling game of Ultimate the Women’s division has witnessed so far this year at Worlds.
The game begins in classic Colombian fashion with a tremendous backhand sailing over the defence for an easy O point. After a turn, an Australian defender bids to tip an identical backhand huck, only for it to be intercepted by a Colombian player in the endzone. The Colombian team rushes the field, jubilant; their first two points were effortless. A buzzing begins on the Australian sideline. None of their previous games had been contested and they are clearly startled by the pace that their opponents have brought to the pitch.
But they also know that they have certain advantages. Where Colombia are quick and agile, the Aussies are tall and powerful. They force the Colombians out by setting a couple yards of buffer zone under and Shannon Trenwith (#2) manages to smack down an up-the-line throw. Mimicking the previous point, the Australian Firetails launch a huck into the endzone that Colombia tips into the hands of an Australian player.
At 2 – 1, the Colombian squad are trapped in the back of their own endzone after a pull merrily bounces around the corner, and the Firetails’ Cat Phillips (#35) leaps to D yet another deep look. The noise escalates on the Australian sideline. Their on-field seven capitalize on the confusion that switching from a junky configuration to man-defence creates for the Colombians. 2 – 2.
The Fireflies lock down on man-defence and Valeria Cardenas (#33) and Yina Cartagena (#20), usually flawless, put up several desperate shots deep that get picked up by Aussie defenders. Cat Phillips won’t stop screaming, “WIN WITH YOUR LEGS!” and they do. Australia put three more away to lead Colombia 2 – 5. With the Colombian cutters struggling to find space and after these five consecutive goals for the Firetails, I’m wondering if this will be a close game after all.
But then Elizabeth Mosquera Aguilar (#15) lays it out big for a D and suddenly, Colombia are back in this game. 4 – 5. Alejandra Torres Echeverri (#12) lofts a hammer to the back of the endzone after Australia bring out the same jam-like zone that was unsuccessful against Italy on Monday. Fouls are being called but neither team is able to understand each other, so after much wild gesticulating, Juanita McAllister (#17) is called out to translate. Laura Ospina (#7) gets accidentally body-checked into the ground for the second time and Australia profusely apologise for the second time. Manuela Cardenas defies gravity to snag a speedy flick and regain the lead at 7 – 6, but similar throws from the Firetails are a bit too far for their targets. The Australian players seem less willing to leave their feet but admittedly, they do have much farther to fall. Mosquera goes up big for a sky in the endzone again, a foul is called and misunderstood again, and Colombia score again. 8 – 6.
Australia appear to be meditating at half-time. Perhaps they are imagining themselves making glorious bids in the endzone, or a perfectly-formed zone defence, or Yina Cartagena mysteriously disappearing into the ether. After these few moments of closed-eye contemplation, they erupt into howls and take to the sidelines. The game is afoot.
Australia are moving faster now, passing the disc before the t- in two. Cat Phillips bullets a flick to Mikhaila Dignam’s (#53) well-timed cut to bring the score to 8 –7. (I keep saying “Cat Phillips” because I discovered that she does, in fact, have blood relations with the identical-but-apparently-not-actually-identical #17, Michelle Phillips, also a registered baller.) The Firetails’ Rosie Dawson (#28) flies for about ten feet to apprehend an errant Colombian throw. The Aussies have learned the hard way that the Colombians always catch the errant ones. Australia resume their habit of ignoring the around and waiting for a handler to make themselves available for an inside-out flick. Ocho – ocho.
The wind assumes a more influential role in the game and both teams turn it four times in the next point, but Colombia come away with it and retake the lead. Torres stiff-arms her defender every time she wants to come under for the reset and 80% of the time, it works every time. She flips it to Manuela, who rips it deep, gets it back, and makes a veteran time-out call just outside the endzone. After some furious planning, the Colombian side-stack makes the necessary space and boom, it’s 10 – 8. The Australians are bounding up and down the sidelines madly, each of them hurling the same advice at their on-field squad: “Like we talked about, mate, build your buffer!” But the Colombians can be contained neither under nor deep and in the blink of an eye, it’s 12 – 9.
Mosquera consistently refuses to come under after high-tailing it deep, seemingly only interested in awe-inspiring highlight reel skies in the endzone (we all know the type), and Colombia throw it away on a high stall count. The Aussie D-line converts the turn into a crucial point. 12 – 10. Soft cap has gone off and the Aussies desperately need three Ds in a row. They get one. An outside-in flick with so much touch that I laugh sails into Ospina’s hands, sealing a seat in quarter-finals for the Colombians. 13 – 11. The Australians must now prove they deserve the top eight tomorrow against either Finland, France, or Singapore, depending on how the topsy-turvy pool B shakes out.