As the Women’s pools draw to a close, the final match up for both teams sitting at the top of the table of Pool A turned out to be against each other. Neither team had had an easy ride so far: in particular the States, who were unexpectedly pushed to sudden death by Denmark the previous day. Having said that, it was expected that USA would be moving to the next round of play heading up the division. However, Spain’s ascent in seedings during pool play has been impressive.
The USA have been selected from across the country with a strong contingent of players from both the Boston and San Francisco clubs, with a handful of them representing in London last year. While they know each other well and are very familiar playing against each, Allison Maddux explains that they’ve not had a great deal of opportunity to train together:
“We went to Beach Westerns and Beach Nationals. We split into O and D lines. Not entirely, but to try and get a lot of reps with one another.”
In contrast, this Spanish team has been forging its rapport over the three last years, playing together at EUC in Copenhagen, WUGC in London and numerous beach events this year in preparation for Royan.
Knowing that beach is their strength and that the USA had already been pushed, the sideline was buzzing with expectation for the Spanish as the game began. The first Spanish pull went up to the pulsing “Espana!” cheers and clapping from a group of around 20 local French children who’d been brought along by their PE teacher to watch the tournament for the day.
It was a cool, calm, still morning that had yet to embrace the scalding temperatures that the next round of teams would have to face. This allowed both teams to demonstrate some beautiful and clinical offence during the first three points.
Both teams come out moving the disc quickly and confidently crossing the width of the field with ease.
The USA execute their long game immediately with Sara Miller cutting up the line to launch a huge disc to Calise Cardenas. After a quick reset back to middle, Cree Howard goes on to hit Cardenas in the corner of the end zone. The point lasts all of 40 seconds.
Returning on defence, the USA continue to flex and send a monster pull to the end of the end zone leaveing the kids on their school trip gasping. They take to their feet to check out the Spanish offence who move the disc flawlessly and also take a quick score with Aina Pérez Voto finding Isabel Gutiérrez Prada unchallenged in the end zone with a cross pitch huck.
But with the score at 2-1 both teams start to make throwing errors. The USA D line works hard to win back possession with a layout block from Claudia Tajima tight on the under cut and resume as before, zig zagging across the field to increase their margin by two points.
But the Spanish are able to catch the USA to bring the score level to 5-5. A series of USA mistakes ramp up the Spanish and their sideline, knowing that it is now or never to capitalise:
“They didn’t make many [mistakes]” explains Helena Andres Terre. “We made more, more than we were expected to make. But we saw USA make mistakes we weren’t expecting them to make so we were hoping to take advantage of that.”
With the USA turfing an easy pass and overshooting the long shots, the Spanish were throwing bodies all over to keep the disc alive with huge grabs from Andrea Carretero Ulloa and Hanna Rohret. The Spanish keep calm, finding an isolated Marta Mampel Arija in the middle who sends up the huck to Gutiérrez Prada to equalise. The crowd goes wild with the chants and claps starting up again. The Spanish are really in this game and appear to be making a comeback.
But despite the roar of the sideline, and Spain’s first chance to get the break, the Spanish offence is getting too close to each other and Maria del Carmen is bulleted a pass which she understandably fumbles. The USA capitalise on the confusion quickly and score in two passes, before the Spanish can even take a breath, bringing them ahead again to USA 6-5 ESP.
The States now begin a five-point run which ultimately seals the game. However, the USA are by no means flawless. Getting the timing of long throws right on sand seems to be plaguing them all too often with Spain adapting well by putting more pressure on the marks.
However, they are given lifelines by the Spanish, who keep making their own mistakes under pressure that allow the USA to pull away, something they freely admit was a result of nerves and inexperience at playing under such pressure.
With the Spanish conceding another and now down 8-5, the crowd, who are still well and truly engaged in the game, attempt to hype up the team at risk of their spirits going down after a quick, clinical score from the States. But the USA show impressive resilience, with Sarah Anciaux getting a hand block deep in Spanish territory and converting quickly. This buoys the USA D line who now continues ramp up the pressure. The directions from the sideline are loud and energised as they force to Spanish into the middle allowing an agile Allison Maddux to get the interception and again convert quickly to bring the score to USA 10- 5 ESP.
As the game draws to a close, the USA’s long shots start to overshoot again and the Spanish are able to snatch a couple more points with Luci Otal Ordás making some impressive low release breaks. The USA’s Becky Malinowski and Maggie Ruden respond in kind, opening up the pitch with big breaks. They eventually get it to Malinowski on the line who rushes through the middle of the pitch with a quick give-and-go to simply slot in the winning score, securing the 12-7 USA victory.
But, despite the loss, the mood of the Spanish team was buoyant and they were clearly thrilled to have pushed such an accomplished USA team on their first ever meeting. Martel Mampel Arija beams with pride when I asked her what the USA reflections were in the post match circle:
“They said really nice things,” she giggles. “That this was the most intense and hardest game so far and was hard to stop us on O.”
Moreover, their performance well truly won over the crowd. In particular, the group of middle schoolers out on a field trip. They were lapping up the atmosphere of this match, instigating chants and amplifying the cheers whenever the Spanish scored. When I asked one of the girls what she thought of the game, she asked me if Spain had won. They did spend a lot of time practising their hand stands, to be fair.
Nevertheless, whilst they may have not been paying too much attention to the scoreline, they were enamoured with the players and they were quick to ask me if they could have a photo with the Spanish team who won over everyone at the field this morning.
By Charlie Blair.