Julia Dunn watched a tight game between Sweden and New Zealand and spoke to the Kiwi captain afterwards about their journey to London.
That this game could play a key role in determining the second seed in pool A brought a riveting edge to the New Zealand and Sweden matchup on Tuesday. Both teams fought to the bitter end, coming down with amazing catches, putting on intense defensive pressure and making good decisions throughout the entire game. These teams were well matched in style of play, with their focus on the long game and fast transitions.
Sweden led the game comfortably, except when New Zealand scored some breaks to make it 5-4. For most points the Swedes held onto the disc easily, using the break side to their advantage, and transitioning swiftly from offence to defence. Anneli Andersson, a dynamic handler, helped her team work it up the field. Sarah Eklund also had beautiful grabs, and leads the tournament in goals for her team. The Swedes threw up many floaty throws into the wind, but came down with the disc every time. Every Swedish player looked out for errant throws, and read the disc well in the air.
Captains Andersson and Carolina Hargeby talked about their excitement going into this game. They came into the match wanting to play fast and take away New Zealand’s long game. The Swedish squad that has grown a lot in the past year since EUC has focused on making each other good. “We are using all our players,” said Andersson. All players on the team made big plays, contributing greatly to the Swedish offence.
On the other side, New Zealand demonstrated their ability to hit deep shots in the wind with Marah Neal finding receivers downfield. Neal also laid out for the score for a number of up line cuts, her signature play of the game. Zones employed by both sides in the first half had little effect on either team. The New Zealand teams play in a lot of wind back home, and are at ease breaking a zone. Veronika Sedova, a former Czech player and the highest goal scorer at the previous Worlds, put on great defensive pressure and played a key role in the handler movement. New Zealand showed great movement at times, and scored easily when they swung the disc around and used their break side. The team had outstanding moments of finding power positions, hitting receivers deep with good positioning.
Whaitiri, New Zealand Women’s team name, means the goddess of thunder in Maori. Every New Zealand team name connects to native animals or plants, or terms from Kiwi culture. New Zealand Ultimate consulted a native Maori, and assigned the names to teams after an extensive process ensuring the names were culturally appropriate. “Words carry a lot of power, and have stories attached to them, so you want to make sure that you are connecting those stories with things that fit with them,” said captain Meg Nicoll. She felt that her team definitely lived up to their name today: “We definitely brought the thunder during that game.”
New Zealand has a unique Ultimate scene emphasizing the growth of women’s and youth Ultimate. Nicoll said that a lot of players on the team have taken on captaining and coaching positions in their respective regions to pass on knowledge to future generations. “I think New Zealand, especially in the women’s scene, has exploded over the past few years,” she said. Teams come out for Worlds in the U19 and U23 divisions, and the Women’s team has the first New Zealand youth players entering the program.
Despite this recent growth, the team has faced challenges in receiving enough playing opportunities, given the island’s isolated location. “We’ve traveled the furthest compared to any team here,” Nicoll pointed out. The team prepared for Worlds at a tournament in Australia, and some warm up games last week. Nicoll explained that “it’s just a privilege to be here, and to be able to play teams from around the world. It’s exciting to come out, not knowing anyone.” The team has built great chemistry, and brings together different playing styles and skill sets from all parts of New Zealand to learn from each other. Whaitiri want to focus on playing the best they can this tournament, test themselves as a team and power through close and hard-fought games.
Sweden ended up winning on universe in an exciting but well-spirited match, working it up the break side the way they had all game. Pool C had quite the day of upsets with Belgium beating the Swedes later in the day (13-10), putting Belgium in a good position for the second seed before crossovers. New Zealand takes on Belgium on Wednesday, a game that could decide the fate of all of these teams.