Charlie Blair continues her previews of the upcoming Eurostars additions…
Thanks to Luci and Isa, Spain is the only nation to have more than one new player represented on Eurostars this year. This is a hugely significant achievement when you consider that the Spanish national teams do not sit with the usual European powerhouses such as Russia, France, Great Britain or Germany. Neither of these players headed out to Cincinatti for WUCC this year. However, this has allowed them the time to prioritise their training and more importantly, their on field connection for Eurostars having made a conscious effort to play together as much as possible this year since the roster was revealed.
Both Isa and Luci believed that it would be either one or the other of them picked for the squad so they are not only excited to play on the tour, but doubly excited to play with each other. Their chemistry will be a particularly vital asset for a Eurostars team that will have no opportunity to play together before the tour kicks off. Isa recognises it is the furnishing of such connections that has propelled their own Spanish national team to recent success at last year’s Beach World’s despite the rarity of opportunities to play at the highest level.
“Your mental feeling for a competition is super important for giving your best. Some of the first competitions we played in Europe were quite hard for us because we knew that our level was a bit lower compared to the rest. But last year in Royan, we knew it would be easier because we were very prepared. In that moment we had been working together for three years and we knew the connections were starting to be really strong on the field. The whole time we knew that we were very motivated for this competition, so we gave our best and for me it was my highlight”
Having both started playing around seven years ago, Isa and Luci form part of a core group of players who have been the backbone of the Spanish team since 2015, competing at both Europea’s in Copenhagen and Worlds in London the following year. Luci has been playing with her local club, Bolskandisc, ever since she began. As for Isa, she began playing in Santander, then spent a year studying in Utrecht where she first saw and played against her now teammate Paula Bass. Upon returning to Spain in 2015 she has played with both Parrochas from Coruña and Bravas from Barcelona.
Spain’s fantastic performance at Beach Worlds last year saw them placing seventh overall. A team who had in previous years not really contended against the stronger nations at EUC in 2015 and WUGC in 2016, suddenly saw themselves contributing to the European pressure that unhinged the usual North American dominance. Despite placing behind the Canadians, the Spanish did defeat them early in the tournament along with another nation with their sights always on the finals: Australia. In fact, of the 11 nations they played they only lost to four of them.
It is momentum that the Spanish hope to capitilize on but both Isa and Luci highlight that it not was only a more close-knit team dynamic that got them to where they were, but also the fact that beach really plays into their hands. The Spanish scene is still relatively small and grass teams are rare because most people live and play in the coastal areas where beach is preferred. In many ways, beach ultimate can be less demanding, with the smaller squad sizes and softer playing surface. Isa notes that as soon as you start playing on grass you need to have at least double the players to make a team and you need to invest in making your body stronger to prevent injuries. This extra necessary commitment is an understandable barrier to Spain’s transition to more frequent field play, when the beach is right on your doorstep.
Many a sodden winter league player has questioned their sanity chasing plastic in horizontal rain; surely nearly all of us would choose sunny beaches if we had one. But the sad reality is that the rest of the world doesn’t have this luxury, and so to compete with these nations on a regular basis, Spain needs to play on grass.
To help drive this, Spain has recently gone from alternating Nationals anually between beach and grass to holding them both separately every year. But this is stretching their player base and more needs to be done to develop the game. Isa explains that her club in Coruña used to have some juniors involved a year ago but their were not enough coaches with the time to keep them engaged with the sport. At the same time, Luci tells me that in recent years the women’s division has nearly doubled in size. Clearly the demand is there, but finding a way to maintain these teams and turn them into clubs who have the infrastructure to pass on their wisdom is now needed. As a result, it is already in the diary that Luci and Isa will be hosting clinics upon their return from the tour in order to share what they have learned in the USA with the aim to inspire the next generation of Spanish superstars.
“In my case I’m looking forward to demonstrate that Spanish girls can play high level ultimate”, says Isa. “I think girls from the national team are proud of us, both of us getting in. They also see an opportunity for them to learn from us. I think it’s an opportunity for whole ultimate community in Spain – it’s a big thing” says Isa.
With Eurostars, Luci and Isa will be a source of the high level visibility that Spain very much needs to inspire domestic development. As both reiterate to me, you only get better from playing the best. Isa says it often seems to be the case that US teams get more of a challenge domestically than they do internationally. Moreover, neither of the players were aware of the Eurostars team’s existence until both were encouraged to make last minute application by the head coach of the Spanish Open squad. At the time finding footage of them playing was difficult. But, after this summer, that will no longer be the case!
So what is it that secured their place on the squad? By their own admission, the tour will be a huge step up for them; but one they are wholly ready to embrace. While not necessarily the most technical members of the squad, what they do bring in abundance is raw pace. Both have always been very keen runners. For Isa, this has always been her main strength, with her father often taking her to races as a child. Outside of Ultimate trainings, she often goes running twice a week. Likewise, Luci takes full advantage of living in the Pyrenees and uses the dog walk as opportunity to fit in another run in that crisp, fresh mountain air.
On field, they like to play a fast and agile game. Luci’s confident break-mark throwing punctured the US offence when they matched up against each other in Royan last year. And despite the loss, they received nothing but praise from their opponents because the talent of the Spanish was evident, if yet to be tamed. A quick look at the stats tells the story of both Luci and Isa’s dominance in this tournament. Moreover, their strengths appear to compliment each other perfectly, with Isa topping the squad with 22 scores and Luci with 22 assists by the end of the week.
This is why both players have been working even harder this year to play together. This has been no easy challenge with 850 km separating Luci, who lives up in the mountains in Huesca and Isa, down by the coast in Coruña. This is why Luci has picked up with Isa’s club, Parrochas for most of the year, who recently won Beach Nationals in Spain. They also formed part of the Spanish team, Enraladas, for their inaugural outing to Windmill Windup.
Rest assured, the extra effort has definitely paid off – according at least to Luci, who claims she can now read Isa like a book: “I know where she like[s] to cut and I know where she likes to throw”. So release the Spanish! These ladies are seeing red and ready to run rings round ya! Watch out ‘Murica…