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.

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