Wednesday, September 7, 2011

WCBU2011: Mixed finals

All tournament Germany and USA were on a collision course to meet in the title game. The tall and experienced Germans—a team with key players from the international beach veteran club the Woodies and featuring five who were at WCBU in 2004 (gold) and WCBU 2007 (silver) were captained by Paganello bon vivant RΓΌ Veitl and Janne Lepthin and dominated Pool B with relative ease, their closest games three-point wins over regional adversaries Poland and Austria.

The Americans, culled primarily from a core of the 2010 USAU Mixed Champions Polar Bears and joined by other California stalwarts, were led by beach aficionado Dave Hammond and veteran Steve Dugan and also went undefeated in their pool.

The finals proved the two teams' supremacy.

Sometimes it doesn't matter which team you're rooting for when you get a game like this: Big upwind hucks for scores, layout blocks for Ds and a massive comeback completed with a layout grab leading to the game-winning goal shot.

Still it was a disappointment for many as the role of underdog spoilers belonged to the archetypical favorites—the Americans—who fought back from a 6-2 deficit to defeat a strong German squad and take the championship, 9-8.

Early in the game Germany's ultra-patient and effective offense capitalized on American turnovers to take a decisive 6-2 lead, forcing the U.S. to take a timeout. At that point fortunes changed for both sides.

Scoring downwind, USA pulled upwind to the commanding Germans. Perhaps the Americans changed their defense or maybe Germany just wanted to hit some downwind goal shots but in a decisive series of plays, Germany—uncharacteristically and against their captain's wishes— twice hucked endzone-to-endzone to an open receiver and both times the throw was carried too far by the wind. USA's Greg Marliave then laced a half-field IO forehand to Erol Yildiz for a crucial upwind goal and momentum-builder.

"Definitely [the American's] upwinder at 6-3 was the point to go," wrote Veitl afterwards.

After two upwind chances for Germany, USA converted the down-winder to close it to 5-6. On the next possession a solid pull trapped Germany in their upwind end zone. Trying to break out without the huck, a short up-field shot was instead the victim of a layout D from American June Srisethnil. An easy score from there tied the game at 6s and gave the U.S. a ton of confidence.

Facing the wind, a German short-field miscue gave the U.S. an easy goal and their first lead, 7-6. Again for another downwind Deutschland opportunity the U.S. utilized a defense that all of the U.S. teams were playing—protect the unders, play a straight-up mark and force throwers to bend or hook their hucks. Even with the wind at their backs this strategy worked. Germany's open looks were deep and temptation ruled again as a throw that sailed long was picked up by USA and converted upwind, this time an impressive, forehand rip from Tyler Grant that came out fast and high before seeming to float down like a UFO into the waiting arms of An-Chi Tsou and Sally Mimms for the back-breaking upwinder and an 8-6 lead deep into the match.

Finally Germany recovered behind the strength of their veteran A line. Two goals later, an upwinder from Nicolas Fink to Marvin Horter (one of five on the team to compete in his third WCBU) and downwind Arne Reusch to Daniela Sprunk (another of the five) and the match was tied at 9s, game to 10.

Similar to the Mixed Masters' final, the Germans failed to hear that the time cap had been called. The American's top line then took the field seeking to close out the game—although like his Condors teams of the past, co-captain Dugan utilized an open/non-sub-calling strategy and players went on the field of their own accord. In quick fashion a layout catch by Mimms at half-field gave her two looks to rip an unmarked backhand and the second look found a small spot to hit Adam Raty and just like that the match was over.

This was a thrilling game and I'm sure the Americans were overjoyed with their comeback.

For their part the classy Germans won silver and the Spirit of the Game—no small feat and a sign that the veteran German side was built with precision and passion and an unwavering belief in playing good-spirited disc no matter the circumstances.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

WCBU2011: Masters Finals

My view of the finals is colored by the fact that I was in uniform for USA.

We faced a rematch with the only team that defeated us in pool play: Austria. They took us out three days earlier by playing a smart, motivated match in front of hundreds of cheering supporters on the main beach field, 10-9. It was a good game but we played tight and looked forward to meeting them again.

Finals started at 4pm which gave us time to relax, sleep in and keep it loose. That all changed when we showed up at the Beach Arena at 3 o'clock. The stadium was empty but the Austrians had taken over the sand. They were practicing a variety of throws in the wind and looked more than solid.

All tournament the weather was hot, humid and unbearably still. It seemed as if eternity had consigned Lignano Sabbiadoro to a breeze-less existence—until the Saturday finals. Now the wind was whipping flags and turning over discs. I felt this could be an advantage for Austria.

We did our usual warm-up and then tried to get in as many throws as possible with the new conditions. We did find one sweet spot on the field where the seaside stands blocked the wind and provided a clean release and flight for 30 yards or more. It would turn out useful as we scored two upwind goals from that spot.

Once the game started our adrenaline was strong. We had worked on a new defense to prevent some of Austria's keen bladey forehands and quick-look passes. Add in some nerves, perhaps, on the Austrian side (it also helped that our team had played in the arena before and knew it was a fast track) and two upwind goal shots, from Billy Maroon to Rook and Billy again to Kelly Swiryn and in short order we were in command of the match at 7-2.

The Austrians had their strengths but the Hannes half of the tall, rangy twins Michael and Hannes Zellinger went down with a foot injury early in the match, deflating the Austrian side (he would return three points later and end up with 3 goals in the finals and finish with 46 overall caught and thrown, leading the division while Michael was third overall with 40).

Whenever the Austrian offense did manage to score, the USA O line led by Al DeFrondeville, Ricky Eikstadt, Trey Katzenbach and Jim Parinella would match downwind and score with seeming ease. At no point did Austria get two goals in a row whereas the U.S. was boosted by a five-goal run in the middle.

In the end the we kept up the pressure and won handily 12-5.

It makes me think back to that Wednesday match on Field 1 when they upset us. The crowds were thick lining the field and one side was entirely Austrian supporters, cheering wildly on every pull and once, during a timeout, streaming across the field with three massively large Austrian flags to raucous cheers. It was truly impressive.

We were bitter after the loss, stung by their success and aggressive attitude. They basically took it to us.

We deserved to lose and it helped us, in a sense, focus on getting better as players and stronger as a collective team.

Maybe to some the finals were a foregone conclusion, but I don't think we ever got ahead of ourselves. They beat us once and there was no reason they couldn't do it again. This time we got the breaks, stayed focused and won.

WCBU2011: Mixed Masters Finals

This was the inaugural year for the Mixed Masters division (defined as players born before 1978) and no one knew what to expect. Would speed be a defining factor? Beach experience? Strategy? Confidence?

Perhaps all. This turned out to be the most interesting of the six finals as savvy and speedy Great Britain surprised the USA 11-7 in a convincing performance before the setting of the sun.

USA had gone undefeated in ten games of six-team pool play including wins over GB and Germany, each twice. They had expected to meet Germany in the finals because Germany had beaten GB in both matches and played the USA to closer outcomes.

But that's where Great Britain staged their first coup, knocking off the Germans in semifinals 11-9. By the time the finals were set the G.B. team was prepared for its final take-down.

Scouting was their first step: they devised a game plan for each of the top USA players. Secondly they disguised their strengths in pool play knowing results there were relatively unimportant. They sat their top player Si Weeks in the first game against USA but in the finals, Weeks was causing trouble everywhere on the field. One of their captains, Lucy Byrne, also sat for games against the Americans to nurse an injury. She too played a key role in the finals.

Perhaps USA underestimated the depth of Great Britain. GB carried core players from three-time Paganello mixed finalists Poughkeepsie, they had two women who won gold at the 2007 WCBU in the Women's Division, several men from the GB Masters team that won Silver at WCBU2007 and they had recently eligible Weeks—a human stat machine at Paganello in 2007, among other tournaments.

In other words, this team was stacked.

Great Britain also changed up their defensive sets and came out of the gates aggressive and confident. Put it all together and what we witnessed on the field was a series of turnovers from the Americans and lightning-fast strikes from Great Britain. The turnovers came everywhere: USA could not find a rhythm. Drops, miscommunication throwaways, overthrows, nothing seemed to work for a team that hadn't been down in a game the entire week. Only a couple of big plays from Kimberly Beach and some solid handling from Rod Hannon kept USA alive.

The ending was unfortunate and seemed to sum up the confusion that reigned on the American side and on the part of the time-keepers. Down 9-6 with a scant few minutes left in the time cap the Great Britain team scored on an easy 12-yard throw up the sideline. But the goal came back on a call and a discussion ensued. Upholding the call meant USA was taking a gamble. They could have let the score stand to get another point of offense before the cap. Instead the time cap was called during the discussion and shortly thereafter GB punched the disc in easily with the same throw to make it 10-6, game to 11. This gave GB a chance to win the game on defense.

To be fair to USA, the time cap was never signaled properly to either team and the Americans never checked so they never knew it was coming.

The U.S. scored on offense, Great Britain did the same and unexpectedly the game was over, 11-7. After a ten-minute delay to explain what happened to a confused American it was decided that GB had indeed won the game.

It was a fair choice by GB who would have won in a game to 11 regardless. To cap it off, they won the Spirit of the Game award for the division, a double peak for Beach Worlds.

My final impression of the Mixed Masters division was that it worked. We saw solid play, quicker-than-expected players and above all, the kind of great play that comes when you've been playing with your teammates for ten, fifteen years. Never hurts.