By finishing 2nd at Mixed Nationals in 2019, we qualified for the first ever European Ultimate Indoor Club Championships, held in Herning, Denmark. With a field made up of teams who had finished 1st or 2nd at their own National events across all three divisions, it was sure to be a week of tough competition.
As we arrived in Denmark on Wednesday morning, a few things in the Captains’ Pack had our attention; Mixed Ratio Rule A, the strict sounding timings, and spirit circles before games to name a few. However, the Captains’ Meeting on Wednesday evening highlighted a whole new thing to think about; the size of the pitches… They were huge! The endzones were much bigger (and deeper) than anything we’d ever seen indoors, and with so much more room the pitches made all kinds of tactics viable indoors. Suffice it to say we saw a lot of different offences throughout the week and it was a great learning experience on the possibilities!
In the Mixed division, Thursday saw everyone play three pool games, power pools on Friday, then crossovers and bracket play over the weekend.
Our first pool game was against Odessa from Ukraine. Knowing the big pitches would make it tough to stop a disciplined team, we went into this game trying not to overthink things and to simply see what we were up against. As it turned out they were a heavily male dominated team (they admitted as much in the spirit circle afterwards!) and our women did a great job of taking advantage when we had the disc to begin the game. When they had possession however it was a different story; the extra space made it very hard to generate turnovers even though they were relying on a small number of players to keep the disc recycling. We tried our best to put some pressure on their handlers, but time and again they kept the disc moving just enough to allow their main receiver to get open and bail them out. As we got a bit desperate to keep pace with them we made some mistakes on O, struggling a bit with the timing and spacing on our dump and swing patterns. We didn’t give them anything easy on D, but they kept finding the hands of their receiver and we were left chasing the game at the end. Eventually we ran out of time and they took the game 9-12.
The second pool game was against 3SB, from the Czech Republic, and couldn’t have been a more contrasting style. Their patterns were set up to isolate the deep space and allow their tall (mostly female) receivers free reign to strike into the endzone. To begin with this worked for them really well and they got a few easy goals out of it before we adjusted. With the disc we looked a lot more comfortable on the big pitches and our offence looked much smoother. Their play style meant they were a touch more clinical when given chances, but we did enough to keep it close all the way through the game. After 30 minutes it came down to an 11-11 double game point and both teams looked a little nervy around the endzone. After a couple of turns each – including us dropping what could have been the winning goal in the endzone! – they took the chance and the game. We came away feeling like we maybe should have won, but realistically the improved performance was much more the story of this game for us.
Our final pool game, to avoid finishing last in the group, was against Ekeberg from Norway. They brought another different style to contend with, utilising their very confident handlers and relying less on the receivers downfield. Once again the big pitches were making it hard to shut down the handler movement and it meant that turnovers were still at a premium. However, the few we got we managed to make the most of and took a little lead for the first time in the tournament. Again though, we found ourselves with another double game point at 10-10. This time around we went turnover free in the final point, looking a lot more composed than the previous game to secure our first win and with it third in our pool.
Due to that third place finish we moved into the lower power pools on Friday, along with three other teams who had also finished 3rd or 4th in their initial pool. If we could finish in the top two of this new pool, we would get a crossover game to move up into the top 8 before the brackets started, otherwise we would go straight into the 9-16 quarter final round.
First up for us in the power pool were Trondheim (Norway). In contrast to Thursday, we started this game by generating a decent number of turnovers and converting the chances to get ourselves a lead early on. Their endzone shots were a little loose and we were able to get a couple of blocks before calmly slotting in our O. The longer games meant that things tightened up towards the end, and the game probably felt a bit closer than it was, but we managed to hold on for an 11-6 win to start the day.
Next we played the Belgian team; Diabolic Heaven. Once again we started the game well and earned a few turnovers on some of their more speculative deep shots. They did eventually find their game and battled back to keep the game tight most of the way through. By playing some of our most patient offence of the tournament we kept the scoreboard ticking over though, and held them off to take the game 10-6 and with it the all important top 8 crossover.
Finally, our opponents were Styrian Hawks from Austria. They had also won both their power pool games so far and so this game was to decide who topped the pool and earned themselves the easier crossover. This game was live-streamed on fanseat.com, and to be honest the show pitch took a bit of adjusting to. The walls were very close all the way round and, given that the game didn’t start until 6.45, the venue was pretty empty meaning there wasn’t much of an atmosphere… Excuses aside, we started pretty slowly, allowing them to take a 0-3 lead before we really turned up. We got ourselves back to 3-3, but then let them take another lead that kept us chasing the game. They isolated the deep spaces well and caused us a lot of problems with their zone D, somehow managing to take up a lot of the space despite the huge pitches. We were left needing breaks as the clock began to run down, but again we struggled to generate turnovers when we needed them. Despite the pressure we applied they held the disc well and won the game 10-13, winning by the three point margin we gave away at the beginning of the game.
With that we finished second in the lower power pool with a crossover game first thing on Saturday against a team that had finished third in one of the upper power pools; Hucks Berlin.
They had another different style to contend with, all of their plays set up to isolate one cutter at a time in as much space as possible. The big pitches made this very hard to stop because there always seemed to be plenty of room for them to use on either side of the field (or endzone!). We did manage to get some joy though and took an early break – our offence was some of the slickest we had played all week. Spurred on by the noisy crowd (big thank you to the other UK teams for the support!) we kept them at bay for most of the game, and were still up by a break at 11-10 as the clock expired. At that crucial moment however, we started to get a bit twitchy and began to try and force the scores for the first time in the game. We coughed up the disc and gave them a chance to tie it, and then did the same again to give them the opportunity to snatch the game away. They clinically took it. A crushing way to lose after leading for the whole game, the only time we were behind was when they scored to take the win!
Having proved (to ourselves at least) we could have been in the top 8, we looked to push on and take 9th place; starting with the quarter final against Ekeberg again.
We started the game poorly, and gave them the lead early on. Maybe it was a bit of a hangover from the previous game, but for whatever reason we had made things hard for ourselves. This was the moment though when we really came together as a team, and everyone felt that we were serious about getting that 9th place finish. From there on out we played some of our best D of the week and clinically took our chances to get back into the game. With all the momentum on our side we rode it through to take an 11-9 win and keep the 9th place dream alive.
Carrying on from where we left off, the next game (another rematch, against Trondheim) started and our defence was on it from the get go. We got turnovers early on and swiftly punished them to build a lead. They did fight back as the game went on and legs started to tire, but we had done enough early on to be able to hold on and take the win 11-8.
All of a sudden, there was only one game left. The 9v10 final on Sunday morning.
We were up against a new team for us; Maultaschen from Germany. We nearly weren’t even up against them though, as they turned up about 20 seconds before the game started. They started like they didn’t really want to be there, and we took this as a bit of an invitation to let our level drop after a good start – just as they got their game going! From there on it was a really close game, but one in which we were generally ahead, and as the time ran out we held a 9-8 lead. Once again we tried to finish the game a bit too quickly and gave them the chances they’d need to steal it from us. Once again they did so, and so were left with another sudden death loss to end on.
Overall then we’d finished 10th, but the performances had shown that we could have finished higher with just a touch more composure at some key times. Either way, it was a great tournament and the team spirit made for an amazing week. The experience should serve us well in the future and hopefully we can build on this European adventure.