July 29, 2013 by Joshua Price in Preview with 2 comments
The World Games are now underway in Cali, Colombia. You can follow the action live on the World Games website thanks to fundraising efforts by ulti.tv and others.
We begin our preview and predictions discussion with Canada because, if you notice, they are seeded first. Technically, at Worlds in Sakai in 2012, they tied with USA in qualifying points but won the tiebreaker (Masters results) thanks to the return of Furious George circa 2005 taking it to everyone in the Masters division. Seeding doesn’t matter much in this round-robin format, so don’t pay it much mind.
Team Canada might need some of those Furious George skills and thrills to stay at number one but they can excel in this field of teams on one element alone: they’re gnarly. Not gnarly like “sick” or “rad” — they’re kinda mean. As in all good hockey teams who play hard and tough, I expect each of them to have playoff beards.
This feistiness will brings advantages to Canada. You know Jeff Cruickshank’s coaching is going to keep them dialed in on winning games. Their weaknesses are whether or not their women can outmatch their Japanese, American and yes, Colombian counterparts, and whether like the FG 2003 and 2005 squads, they have some hotshot break-the-mark throwers like Cruickshank and Kirk Savage. Right now I think Andy Collins and Anne Mercier are on that level, but neither is quite as creative.
I expect this team to play confident, aggressive, and relentless — they will have a chip on their shoulder. But will there be karmic kickback from the controversial game in Sakai 2012 versus the Japanese?
Next is Team USA, seeded second. USA’s bonafides rest in the usual Colorado-California-Atlanta axis of USA Ultimate power. 9 of the 13 on the roster plus the coaches have ties to these three areas of the country.
The strength of USA may be their coaching. Whereas Canada is going to run like a locomotive, the USA is going to be like the country’s namesake: a collected group of states brought together for a common purpose. If they can coalesce they should be very good. If they aren’t on the same page or injuries limit them, it’s another matter.
Coaches Ghesquiere and Tsang have the best CVs in the game and have a lot of experience as coaches at the highest level. Add in the relationships they already have coaching many of these players and this stands out to be a lot tighter unit than people might realize. But there’s always the pressure of being perceived as the favorite: part of the coaches’ job is to alleviate pressure and keep the team loose and confident.
USA has important break mark throwers in captains George Stubbs and Alex Snyder. They have good height on the women’s side which can never be underestimated and they have defensive stoppers in Georgia Bosscher and Sarah “Surge” Griffith. And they have Beau Kittredge. It’s hard not to say that they are the favorites again as defending champions twice running at this unique event. But be aware: in 2001 the Canadians won gold over the U.S., and they beat them in the finals a month ago at Poultry Days, a tournament in the American midwest.
Japan is next, seeded third. Their women showed themselves as key champions with a remarkable win in Sakai for the gold – but I just can’t help feeling that USA (Fury with pickups) gave that game away. Still — give the Japanese and especially #9 Madoka Ito and #11 Eri Enzu some credit. They are superb athletes, they are tireless and they have now broken through and proven they can win in big games. One top coach even explained that Enzu, who married recently and so has a different last name than in Sakai, is one of the top one or two women ultimate players in the world. Believe it.
This confidence should carry over but can their men compete? Of course they can—they are fast, experienced, unified and fit. Height mismatches will always be a problem for this undersized team but they know that. If they can get in the heads of the Canadians (on the men’s side) and the Americans (on the women’s), it’s another great opportunity for Japan, the defending silver medalists from the 2009 games in Kaohsiung City.
One potential catch for this team: they’ve never quite been able to perform as well away from home. In World Games and Worlds appearances not near Japan, they haven’t been able to muster as many runs to the medal stand.
Seeded fourth, also by a tiebreaker resolved by the Masters division in Sakai (in which they won silver, guided by big man Tom Rogacki) is Australia. This country does a great job of preparing long in advance for certain tournaments. In the summer of 2011 at WCBU, they kept their international stars at home so they could streak to medals in Sakai. In Sakai they top-loaded the mixed team in preparation for playing Mixed at the World Games. They shuffled Rogacki to the Masters squad to win that tiebreaker — they had it all planned out. And now they will be here in Colombia with a chance to surprise some of the favorites and sneak their way into the medal round. I like what they have going and I like their strategies.
One problem that this team might have is cohesion issues; the old guard (Wentworth, Rogacki) rejoins the new guard. Will they be on the same page? That is key.
Australia has a unique arrangement in the proliferation of Rocacki. Tom at 36 years young is still beastly on the field as a thrower and receiver, and a betting man would place him in top three for statistics in Colombia. Wife and team coach Anna Rogacki brings another element to Australia in savvy, dialed-in coaching experience. My gut feeling is that Australia will be there in the Bronze-medal match with the disc to win.
Powered for years of top three finishes in all European tournaments is theGreat Britain team. Although still relatively raw on the big stage of the World Games, they have before them a real opportunity for a medal, but now that they are sitting at 0-3, they’ll need two big wins to have a shot at bronze.
They’ve got fast, pugnacious youth on the field, especially on the women’s side but are captained by the most veteran of any of the players in Cali, Bex Forth, who is as hard-headed and focused as anyone. They have some slyly slick, hard-to-define guys in Ollie Gordon and Justin Foord and they’re psyched from the silver in Open in Sakai. All of this, to me, provides a risky combination of high expectations and pressure.
Like the Japanese women winning gold, GB will be under some pressure to perform as magnificently. And if you watched that unwatchable gold medal Open finals in Sakai you would have noticed how bad the GB men crumbled under the pressure, despite nearly beating USA in pool play earlier. That being said, now that that game is out of their system…
I think they can win some games here. Everything is in place. If they can put blinders on the younger players, this team is dangerous. I think Australia has more big-game experience and craftiness (but GB could easily win that) and I think Japan’s women will get blocks and shut down half of GB’s game so that leaves them with their best chance at upsetting a North American team.
Seeded last but by no means the Taiwanese team from the World Games 2009 is Colombia. We’ve seen them mentally unravel in big games before, losing to Seattle Sockeye at home in a televised match a few years ago. The entire country has only been playing ultimate since the late 90s which is a significant gap of time compared to the teams above them (with the exception of the Aussies.) Their women are their strength which in Mixed can work in winning games, but I’m not sure if it can work on this stage, especially with the power of the Japanese women, the versatility of the Americans, the height of the Canadians and the speed of the British.
Barrerra and Martinez on the men’s side are the savvy veterans who will look to keep the team focused and steady. Yina Cartagena and Elizabeth Mosquera are the break-out players whose big plays will have the Colombians in the stands cheering. The men’s team played Great Britain close in Sakai and the women took fourth with Cartagena earning MVP honors, so the thought is that if they can knock off anyone here it would be GB. But if Australia starts to look mentally unfocused, they could fall victim.
Pick ‘Em Predictions
Pick ‘Em Predictions Alternate Point of View
Biggest Surprise Factor in Cali
The wind at the stadium is predicted to cause extreme disruptions on the field with swirls, gusts and changing directions. Everyone in Colombia says that it will be a problem. With short games, a few top throwers and receivers could make all the difference.