Sean Colfer watched Reading and RusMixed face off in a crucial pool game.
Reading Ultimate have approached this tournament with a professionalism to be admired. They’ve been preparing a team for several years, they’ve practised together extensively and they scout their opponents in great detail. That has all come together nicely for them in Cincinnati as they sat with three wins in three ahead of their match with RusMixed, the Russia champions who beat Black Eagles at Talampaya. RusMixed lost to Wild Card, but otherwise had been in great form, topping GRUT 14-13 earlier in the pool. The winner of this match would have the inside track on second in the pool, though if Reading won they’d have a chance to top it against Wild Card.
The start of the game portended what was to come. Reading came down with a zone and forced a turn. Despite giving it back, they managed to get it off the Russians again and converted a break straight off the bat, Sam Gunbie throwing a blade to Ben Withers. RusMixed converted the next point but were clearly struggling with Reading’s 2-3-2 zone. They broke again at 2-1 after RusMixed dropped following a number of dump passes that gained minimal ground, Gunbie finding Bex Palmer on the break side.
Reading got another block on the next point but turned over on a high stall following some good dump defence by RusMixed, who went the length of the field to score despite some difficulty with the zone. They managed to force Reading into an error immediately off the next pull and, despite some stubborn endzone D from Reading, converted their first break with a throw from Alena Vinogradova to Daria Salnikova to level up the scores at 3-3.
Reading needed to gather themselves a bit. They had started out on fire but their level had dropped slightly and allowed RusMixed back into the game. They went back to a staple of their offence with the next point – send Andy Lewis long and see what he can do. He couldn’t quite reel in a huck, despite a cracking bid, but they did take the disc back just outside the endzone and Ania Godbold found Lewis anyway.
Reading’s zone continued to trouble their Russian opponents. They forced a miscue, one of the Russian handlers throwing to wide open space, and scored after Maks Tobiasiewicz cleaned up a huck and dished it off for the goal. RusMixed started to make more mistakes and Reading continued to take advantage, notching two more breaks in quick succession for a 7-3 lead. The Russians managed to convert an offence to stop the rot but Reading scored quickly with another Godbold-to-Lewis connection to take a convincing 8-4 lead into half.
RusMixed came out with renewed effort in the second half. Reading came out on O but were made to work for the point, RusMixed getting a turn with a good distraction D but sending a huck just too far. They scored their own offence, though they were still struggling to work out the Reading zone. Reading dropped on the next point, Godbold with the only blot on what was otherwise a sparkling performance, and RusMixed converted to pull themselves back to 9-6 down. The comeback was short-lived, though, as Reading went on a three-point run, Sam Gunbie sending two pinpoint hucks and Matt Bolton linking up with Amelia Kenneth in a play they drew up on the sideline during the previous point. It was 12-6, and the sense on the field was that both teams knew where the game was headed from here.
The teams traded the next few points, featuring a spectacular Lewis huck to Rachel Naden, and then Reading topped off a convincing 15-8 victory after a wayward RusMixed huck, notching a break with Bolton finding an unmarked Harry Mason in the front corner. This was a performance that served as a statement; Reading are here to win.
They play Wild Card tomorrow in a matchup of two teams with very similar records – both have four wins, both have scored 59 points from a possible maximum of 60 (both were held to 14 by Singaporeans Chuckies) but Wild Card have conceded 3 fewer points, beating Chuckies 14-10 while Reading needed to come from behind and win 14-13. The game in the morning will go a long way to telling us how Reading are positioned for a run at the medals, but at this stage they’ll be thinking anything is possible. They’ve already built the biggest club in the UK, and now they’re trying to create one of the biggest stories at WUCC too.
Feature photo by Jolie J Lang for Ultiphotos.