Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Power Pools, Day 2
After the jersey swap night at the fields, a late dinner, and a quick team meeting to prep for our last two power pool games, we went to sleep with our 1-2 matchup against Australia on our minds. We knew that it would be a dogfight, and we hoped to use the challenge to hit that next gear in our quest for the championship. It had taken us a few points to get in rhythm against Sweden the day before, and so we also wanted to focus on doing what we needed to start strong.
Team USA vs. Australia, 17-16 (stats)
A tall and athletic team that plays a more US style of ultimate - vert stack, looking to their strong downfield cutters - the Aussies had played a close game against Sockeye a week before the tournament and were undefeated going into this game. There was a swirly breeze in the stadium and an occasional drizzle.
On their first few offensive points, our D was able to force some 50-50 shots, but the Dingoes were great in the air and were able to pull them down. On D, their tough zone and poachy man defense forced some bad throws from our handlers in the wind, and they were able to capitalize and score two early breaks. Our defense turned up the pressure and started generating turns, but our throws weren't sharp enough and we were left still looking for our first break. Our offense was taking risky shots, but great deep catches by Robbie Cahill and Bart Watson did lead to a few efficient points. At 8-6, after an offensive hold, our d-line finally collected itself and punched in a break, and on the next point Mark Sherwood got a nifty point block-catch leading to a quick score. We put in a strong line to break for half and, after getting the disc, Tom James found John Levy for the important goal.
We had clawed back into the lead from our first half hole, but the Aussies had much more left to give - two quick breaks out of half on backfield turnovers, including an uncharacteristic drop from Cahill, and we were right back in the thick of it. Our defense earned them back to give us a 14-12 lead, but the Aussies connected on great hucks on both O and D and were resilient the entire game through. When we broke, they stopped our runs and broke right back, showing their great spirit and determination - and following this trend, the Dingoes rattled off another two late breaks to snatch a 15-14 lead, continuing to get lots of space open deep and capitalizing on a bevy of offensive drops and misthrows.
A quick deep shot to Beau put our d back out, and Kurt Gibson came up with a big sky d but had to leave the game with a knee injury on the landing, and our d still could not convert. At 16-15, Adam Simon got the disc back after another turn with a layout D on an upline dump cut, and Beau found tons of space deep to bring it to double game point. Australia worked it well to 20 yards out, and threw a bladey hammer to the end zone to a laying out Dingo who saw it bounce off his fingers. Sherwood threw up a hanging deep shot to a crowd, but it was tipped over and into the hands of a bidding Sam Kanner, rewarding his hustle in trailing the play and securing the victory for Team USA.
Full credit to Australia for the best game we've had in a long time - as Kittredge said in the circle afterwards, they kept us in a corner for the entire game, punched back even stronger when we struck, and were at least as deserving of victory as us, if not more. Cheers to them for a very spirited and fair game as well. Tom James picked up MVP honors for his efforts on defense while Simon (predictably) gave our awards to the Aussie handling crew for their great play.
A gritty victory for Team USA - one leaving a bad taste in our mouths, as it exposed a number of weaknesses on both sides of the disc, but a win nonetheless. Drops and throwaways on O (Bart Watson was a particularly notable offender) were punished, and our D struggled with the Aussie deep game and with moving the disc after the turn. Still, we improved as the game progressed, had a number of great plays, and were able to grind out a tight game under pressure, and the experience should serve us well later in the tournament. As Dutchy reminded us, "Every victory, perfect or imperfect, is a success."
Team USA vs. France, 17-6 (stats)
Our last game of power pools was against the French team. At this point in the tournament injuries have started to thin our ranks - Mac Taylor, Cassidy Rasmussen, Kurt Gibson, and Russell Wynne were all sitting for this game (we hope to see them all back in action ASAP). After our morning experience, we hoped to use this game to shape up our offense, creating and using space and working our resets more effectively. Our offense was able to piece apart the French zone early on, and our defense came out playing hard man D after a gauntlet warmup and earned breaks off of layout in-cut D's by Tom James and Martin Cochran, among others. Although the offense did get broken back once off a deep throw Beau was baiting, we were able to break our trend of going down early. The emotional intensity of our Australian game took its toll here, and while we were playing hard, we were not as focused or engaged on the sidelines. Still, we took half 9-3 and continued our pressure in the second half to win 17-6. Guillaume Espitia, #0 for France, took MVP for his offensive work in scoring three goals, while the French handed out pins bearing le coq sportif to our team (finally us non-MVPs have something to take home with us!).
All in all, a challenging and at times frustrating day for Team USA, but also filled with some of the most exciting ultimate we've been a part of so far - and at the end of it, two wins in the book is nothing to be unhappy about. As elimination games begin, we can only work to continue rising!
Posted by Zachary Travis