Sean Colfer followed the only Mixed team from the UK to make the top 16, Black Eagles. Here’s the story of their day.
Black Eagles were facing the biggest day in their history. They’ve played in Nationals finals, they’ve played big games at European championships and they’ve played a WUCC before, but they had never been in this spot. Defeat the talented Japanese team IKU and the reward was a shot at the favourites for the title; the top seeded Seattle Mixtape team that took home USA Nationals gold last season.
First things first; IKU were more than a speed bump on the road to the Mixtape game. They’re a good team who had been playing well in Cincinnati, though had lost some tight games in their pool. Eagles started confidently, trying to pressure the Japanese under cuts and back themselves to contest any hucks. The teams traded to 2-2, before a point featuring several turns. Eagles called a timeout after getting it back for a third time, taking a moment to call a play and get some breath back. Andrew Dick took down a huck out of the timeout and they kept hold of an important point.
They got two turns on the next point, Michelle Yang positioning herself for an easy D before Andrew Boxall was footblocked outside the endzone. IKU turfed it straight afterwards, allowing Boxall to drift it up for Pete Dennis – the tried and tested ‘big lad’ tactic again paying off for the pair. First blood to Eagles, 4-2.
IKU took the next two points, scoring a break on a quick huck from Sakura Sato to Hirofumi Yamashita after a drop against the Japanese zone. At 4-4, they were back in the game and their whole team was loud and engaged. The zone was a fairly conventional junk, a male chase with three players in the wall that were tight to the disc. The wind had picked up by this point, pushing the disc to the far side of the field and making the overheads Eagles had succeeded with early in the game more difficult.
Dick made light work of the zone on the next point, hucking it to Cam Agnew for a quick hold. The timeout had done its job, and Eagles were back in their aggressive, swarming defensive mindset. They snatched two quick breaks, Calum Easton cleaning up a mess in the endzone for the first and Aisling Barton catching the second one-handed with a spectacular layout grab after the throw looked to be landing short of her. IKU took a timeout with the score at 7-4, trying anything to stop Eagles’ rhythm. They managed to hold their next point despite intense pressure through an inside flick to the endzone. It was thrown with some venom but Reina Ishizu reached up her hand and snared it with a great reaction catch.
IKU switched tack with Eagles having success going deep. Their marks flattened, but Eagles just used the whole field instead. John Stainsby found Danny Strasser with a wide, rolling flick to the back of the endzone for an easy hold and the end of a great first half for the Scots, leading 8-5.
The teams traded again to start the second half, but at 10-7 Eagles managed to convert a turn. Kate Stafford got a block, and Danny Hoyle’s misthrow was bailed out in the stack to set up a nice inside backhand from Easton to Cameron Mackie for the score. IKU took another timeout, seeing the game slipping away from them at 11-7. They held the next point, Eagles did likewise, and then broke their Japanese opponents again – Boxall finding a wide-open Easton after some nice work down the sideline. It was now 13-8 and Eagles had all the momentum. The teams traded for the rest of the contest, Eagles looking comfortable and never like they’d let their lead slip. A 15-10 victory was the least they deserved.
That set up the Mixtape clash. Mixtape entered as favourites, featuring household names across their roster. They started exactly as you’d expect favourites to start, racing out to a 2-0 lead with two breaks of the Eagles’ offence. The UK champions gathered themselves though, Easton finding Boxall for the score to right the ship. When Mixtape broke again to go 5-2 in front, it looked as though the Americans might run away with it.
The Scots, though, had different ideas. After trading out to 7-5, their D line took over. First Chris Habgood found Stafford, then Hoyle found Boxall to pull back to 7-7. Mixtape converted their offence for half, Abbie Abramovich with a ludicrously good layout grab, but then conceded a break right out of halftime to put Eagles back on level pegging at 8-8 and leave them only one break behind.
Mixtape clearly sensed they were in a battle, because they raised their game the way that few teams, only those that are really world-class, can do. Khalif El-Salaam is a superstar for a reason, and he scored the next two defensive points for Mixtape after a hold to put them 11-8 up.
Eagles wouldn’t lie down and continued playing their all out, aggressive style of Ultimate, sending big shots downfield and trading for a while. They put the Mixtape offence under pressure, Stafford getting particularly close with one layout on Abramovich, but couldn’t quite get the turns they needed. At one point the disc bounced out of Stainsby’s hand but Dick reacted instantaneously to snatch it out of the air for a score at 12-10, and Hayley Dalmon caught a good throw from Dick to make it 13-11.
In the end, though, Mixtape were too good. After a huck out of the pitch left them with a short field, Henry Pham worked some close-quarters magic with El-Salaam for the win, 15-11.
The Eagles players, while obviously disappointed, could hold their heads high after scoring more points than anyone else to this point against Mixtape. Gordon Kerr said:
“I thought we played well against IKU, it set us up for Mixtape well. Against Mixtape we had a slow start but we got into the game and had a bit of a roll there in the first half. We managed to bring it back to 9-9 and make it close, but in the end they made a few more big plays than we did.”
Captain James Glover was proud of how his team had performed against such opponents:
“They have a lot of players with big game experience. We’re quite a young team, and I think that difference told in the end. They’re world class, and they made great plays. We played our style and took chances, they just did that better than we did. We’re proud of that performance, a few things either way and the result might have been different. We played our way and we’ve got no regrets.”
Mixtape might have clipped their wings, but the Eagles were soaring for a while against one of the best teams on the planet. There’s plenty still to play for, with a top ten finish up for grabs, and plenty more chances for the huck-happy Scots to let it fly.
Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire for Ultiphotos.