The UEA Women’s first international appearance was on home turf at the Dubai WCBU two years ago. Even though they finished in bottom place last time round, this year they found themselves beginning the tournament highly seeded due to the addition of many teams new to the international beach scene. As day three of the tournament draws to a close, the UAE may still be seeking their first victory, but it can’t be far off after a gritty and athletic display against the Australians yesterday afternoon.
While the team here in Royan has managed to retain at least half of the players that represented them in Dubai, they are a very different team today. Despite having lost to the Australians 8-5, every member of the UAE was left buzzing by their performance; and for #3 Liana Edwards, it was testament to how far they’ve come:
“Two years ago if that was the score at the start, it would have just stayed like that and gone on to 13, but what has changed in the last two years is that we bring it.”
Even though the UAE went down early against the Aussies, they showed athleticism from the off with big grabs from #12 Amie Channon and #16 April Rose Magabulo to keep the disc alive on offence. But even though they were making big plays and pressuring the turns from the Aussies who were looking for the quick I/Os, they could not make the conversions. The Aussies in contrast were monopolising the disc early on, with a lightning quick run through D and double happiness from #14 Lyra Meehan. They took the game to 4-1 and secured an early three point margin.
However, the UEA were not going to let up and #7 Monica Saade put that down to a conscious change in team mentality after the lessons learnt from that morning:
“The problem before was that we got down on ourselves in the last game, it was obvious to us and the opposition. Today we trusted ourselves more, and were using the plays we’d been practising.”
Looking around the faces of the team, that energy was evident. They were completely unfazed by the scoreline and were always rushing out onto the line.
As the UAE continued to grit through, they had some sweet flow but Channon’s hucks hugged the sideline, making it difficult for her receivers. But it didn’t perturb their efforts, with a hammer assist off the sideline from #10 Olivia Brent and ballsy long shots to #3 Edwards from #13 Julia Jaskolski.
Nevertheless, there were definitely a fair few moments of inexperience and execution didn’t always come off right. But as Channon explained, it didn’t deflate them because the trust was there:
“The long discs didn’t all necessarily come out flat, they came down funny and knifey but we’ve been so strong at reading those and just taking them down under pressure and sort of unopposed.”
The trust was also there that, if the possession was lost, they would get it back:
“[If you make a mistake] its fine, because we’ll all just go again and do something amazing again. Its such a nice feeling to be out there competing at that intensity.”
Unsurprisingly, UAE’s unrelenting pressure did start to take its toll on the deficit and at 6-3 they forced an Aussie timeout. That’s when #66 Julia Ridley unexpectedly raced in to the snatch a D on the swing and UAE convert, sending their fanbase on the sideline decorated in flags and jazzy crowns into chants for the next point. The momentum carried over with a blinder pull, and a quick conversion after an Aussie fumble.
With the deficit now narrowed to 6-5 it was apparent that everyone on this UAE side was stepping up and, more heartening still, that they had established a dynamic where the new players are thriving. As Monica explained:
“Normally at a tournament like this they can be nervous, but everyone is so well prepared, they’re totally new to sport, totally new to frisbee but did not look like a rookie.”
Of particular note in this instance is #6 Jo Hocquel who only started the sport in September and whom Channon praised for not shying away from stepping up to more demanding roles on the team. In return, Jo explained that it was “Amie’s influence at the first training” that made her want to commit to Ultimate.
In fact, that is a sentiment echoed by the whole team who are incredibly grateful for the effort that Channon has put into the Ultimate scene in Dubai. They all agree that until she instigated the creation of a Women’s beach team back in 2015, they were never able to progress as players in the local leagues on offer.
More fantastic still, it has helped turn what was once just a shared love of Ultimate between mother and daughter into the opportunity to play on the same national team together for Andrea and Laura Bombala. Andrea, who didn’t find the sport until her late thirties and nearing nearly a decade of play, said that she never made any progress until taking and running sessions with Amie.
Andrea’s tutelage under Amie has ignited her passion so much so that she intends to continue playing “for as long as I can run, in all the divisions I can play in” and now can’t wait to return to her home country of Canada where there is a vibrant Masters scene.
Likewise for Laura, having been exposed to the sport for years, this is the first time she has been able to make significant progress. She explained that now at school it is the norm to see Ultimate in the PE curriculum and a disc flying around outside at recess.
Channon herself has a wealth of experience and has represented Great Britain all the way from junior to senior level at both European and World Championships over the last decade. Her calibre really shone through in this match making huge plays at critical moments. In a crucial point that could have seen the game tie at 6-6, she got a huge layout block on Australia’s #0 Caroline Ma who up until that point had been ripping up the middle of the field with quick one-twos with the rest of her team. Unfortunately for UAE, Australia’s patience on the disc appeared to be the difference in the end, and they saw out the game by looking for the quick breaks that required less energy than the long shorts.
It comes as no surprise then that Channon has been integral in the organisation of junior events in Dubai schools. Unfortunately, however, for the time being, it is limited to the international schools as Andrea explained:
“We’ve really tried to get locals involved because I think it would really get it going if that were the case. For funding you need the local involvement. But unfortunately the culture doesn’t allow for the parents to be dropping the kids off at weekends and committing to things. Its unique and funny like that. We definitely try but its not been as popular as been hoped.”
So while one day it would be wonderful to see more and more local women representing the UEA, that wouldn’t be possible without the powerful role this team is playing putting the UAE well and truly on the map within the Ultimate world.
Hopefully they will continue to get stronger and stronger throughout this tournament and get the victory that they not only deserve, but that will inspire the base of players they are helping to cultivate in Dubai.
By Charlie Blair.