Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WCBU2011: Women's Finals

The setting was certainly unique: the game started is twilight before the evening floodlights filled the beach arena with an eerie glow and a touch of cinematic drama.

But first and foremost: USA versus Canada finals was a heavyweight bout. Both squads came out ready to compete seeking a mental and physical edge over the other.

The sides formed a mirror image: physical marking and chippy handler defense on the USA side was duplicated by Canada as the squads jockeyed for the edge. A massive forehand IO huck goal shot from Canadian star Malissa Lundgren (six goals thrown in the finals, 48 total for the tournament) was countered by a Kathleen Ratcliff forehand huck. The cuts from speedy American Marie Madaras (22 goals thrown, 24 caught) left her wide open for unders and deep goals while the fleet-footed number 42 Kate Jardine for Canada found herself with steps on defenders seemingly at will.

Both teams had their lines set by finals but whereas the United States had enough depth for solid starting O and D lines with second lines in place, Canada had shorter lines due to a lack of depth. The team had top Capitals players and veterans Anja Haman and Anne-Marie Carey but also brought several younger players and beach rookies.

Despite a slew of impressive plays from #55 Lundgren, including two quite improbable deep IO flicks and two run-through blocks on under swing cuts, USA found themselves with a two goal advantage at the time cap, 9-7. It would be a game to 10.

Canada scored on offense and then kept several of their O line players on the D line, moved Jardine over to guard Madaras and benefited quickly when Haman got a block and Canada converted to tie the game at 8s. Pressure was now on the Americans.

With their A line on the field it looked like the game was over when Ratcliff hung out a forehand for a racing Madaras. But the disc fell too fast for a turn in Canada's end zone. It sounds strange to say this on game point, but I believe that the choice to huck was a wise one to gain field position and almost immediately USA got the turnover back at mid-field. They tried to punch it in again and failed but when Lundgren picked up the turnover her cutters were swamped by the Americans' D and the final turn of the game gave USA the disc back with only a third of the field to the goal. After a dump and a swing, co-captain Rohre Titcomb had the disc in the middle of the field and slung an IO forehand to the far side short cone that sailed wide—but a foul was called by Titcomb, marked by Lundgren. It sure looked as if the disc path looked true. But after a short discussion with Titcomb illustrating her throwing motion and Lundgren seeming to suggest that the hit on Rohre's arm had come after the release, the disc was checked back in and Rohre again chose the IO, this time painting the corner but short of the goal. After a quick cut opened up a short dish up the line the coup de grace was made and the game was over with USA's second gold medal of the day.

After the game several of us on the Blockstack TV video crew (I was commentating live for the web broadcast) gathered around Tushar Singh's laptop to replay the critical foul call that so disappointed the crowd and seemed like it could have been bad. Zooming in to grainy footage and stopping the video frame brought us this: In one frame the disc is out of Rohre's hand and in the next frame Malissa's hand hits Rohre's arm. Replaying at normal speed you can see Rohre's arm snap back. But was the hit after the release? It looked like it. Would any thrower be able to know when the hit occurred exactly, especially given that a good IO needs follow-through? Doubtfully. And would a foul call be made even then, considering that at least a short follow-through on an inside-out flick is particularly necessary?

The game was a great one, it had elements of the epic Fury-Uno 17-16 Worlds title game of 2010 in Prague with neither teams ever up by more than two.

In the end Canada had two chances to score and the USA ended up with three chances to score and the third one counted.

Both sides showed some real grit and talent and special props has to go to Canada for getting to the finals with a team many didn't quite see coming.

Monday, August 29, 2011

WCBU2011: Open Finals

The scores have been posted, the final results tallied and medals awarded: WCBU2011 ended on a high note in the Discraft Beach Arena in front of thousands of players and curious onlookers witnessing six championship games of excellent beach ultimate.

From the beginning to the end Beach Worlds was a memorable experience filled with spirited fun on the beach and top competition on the field. It's no coincidence that the field is the beach and the beach the field… fair-minded spirit and competitive fire were united at this tournament.

The result can't be a surprise: the United States defeated the Philippines 13-9 in the finals and brought home gold as predicted. The Philippines—primarily represented by the club team Boracay Dragons— are known worldwide as masterful beach specialists and repeated as silver medalists.

Switzerland, led by Paganello stars Lorenz Stauffer and Robin BrĂ¼derlin, stifled Italy to claim bronze in the third place game.

The USA-Philippines finals gave fans everything they wanted: spectacular layout grabs, waves of speedy defenders, well-executed offensive sets and two teams prepared to compete for gold.

In the end too many early unforced errors from the Filipino side and too much firepower from the Americans proved the difference.

Twice the Philippines got caught looking for the next pass and dropped easy hammers: Perhaps USA's changing defensive sets and junky zones disrupted the Filipino flow just enough.

On offense the Americans were able to send in lines featuring cutters with just as much foot speed as fleet Filipino defenders Panoy de los Santos and Jeffrey Rodriguez. Coupled with the steady handling and deep-look options from veterans Tyler Kinley, Adam Simon and Webster McBride and a healthy height advantage the American offense proved tough to contain.

Still the Philippines fought: Down three breaks 0-3 to start they tied it at 3s before USA separated again with three straight and the counterpunching began. A spectacular hammer layout goal from Rodriguez closed it to 9-7 but was followed by a score and layout D from American Teddy Browar-Jarus to up the lead to 11-7. A double happiness D and score from Hendrix Manning was matched by a step-back flick huck from Simon to make it 12-8. There was some parity here, even if the Philippines' electric fast-moving "Dragon style" offense of quick passes proved unmatched on the beach and the Americans' calm under pressure rarely wavered. The match finally drew to a close with a Kinley throw to speedy Asa Wilson.

For the USA the tournament ended with a healthy respect for the competition and a satisfying win over a worthy opponent.

It was also notable for the USA's 12-10 showcase loss to Italy that confirmed what was suspected beforehand: even sending a hand-picked All-Star team from a nation of 40,000 full-time ultimate players isn't enough to overcome a steady and determined opponent.

For the Philippines they had to be happy getting back to the finals in what was clearly a more difficult field of competition than WCBU2007—down a break late in their quarterfinal against an upstart and largely unheralded Canadian squad, for instance, the Philippines had to run off two straight to win on double-game point.

In their semifinal against Italy, however—which initially started as a physical call-fest interrupted by a spirit-circle time-out—they strung together five straight scores twice to win in a blow-out.

But WCBU2011 in some ways may be the end of an era for the Philippines and the Dragons. The Filipino team we saw was the same group from four years ago and age may steal away some of their stars for future tournaments. Only a handful of players on this team are in their 20s and if the Philippines wants to get back to the finals in 2015 they will have to start a youth rebuilding process soon.

The Italians looked strong all tournament in defeating the USA and the Philippines in crowd-pleasing Beach Arena showcase games before mysteriously battling nerves and a sense of fear before taking the field in their doomed semifinal against the Philippines. Still the Italians proved their style of play marked by an aggressively opportunistic offense and fearless defense was a solid and successful model.

And finally we have to remember Switzerland as a presence here and a team we can expect to see more of in the future. Their tight 12-10 loss to the USA in semifinals said as much about their talent and savvy as anything.

One final note: as mentioned in the preview, competition-wise, this tournament suffered from its proximity to the European Championships. Grass is still considered superior for most of Europe and players from EUC Open finalists Sweden and Great Britain were not in attendance. GB's best player, Si Weeks, fitted himself on the Mixed Masters team, for instance.

But that takes nothing away from the players that did come to compete and a tournament environment that produced absolutely awesome displays of competition, spirit, fun and entertainment for players and spectators alike.

BULA has made it clear that it wants the ethos of beach ultimate to be different than that of the grass field game and if WCB2011 was any indication they have succeeded.

the Great Delay

Beach Worlds is over!

By, like, 2 days now. I'm an avid baseball fan. Phillies, if you must know. About 11 minutes after a routine Phillies game ends there's a complete write-up with video recaps, photos and statistics up online.

When an ultimate tournament ends there's a delay because one guy (me) is kinda maybe supposed to—although never explicitly stated—write up the results.

And i'm at a hotel outside the airport in Venice begging for spare change and emailing like a hound chasing a rabbit trying desperately to get photos of the tournament so i can put them up on Skyd.

It's sad but true. But we're getting better and we're getting closer. Any day now, any day.

Did I mention I now have a gold medallion? Traded for it. Traded my SOUL. Just kidding. In actuality I spent 23 years playing this ridiculous game to get it. Not bad, certainly better than playing 23 years without winning a championship of any kind....