European Ultimate Indoor Championships 2022: Replay | Popgen Tech
What happened in Lithuania at the first tournament of its kind!
December 20, 2022 by Sean Colfer in Recap with comments
There is a long-standing debate in Europe: which country is actually the best indoors? In much of Europe it’s something played largely for fun, a side quest for outdoorsmen who don’t have much else to do during the winter months. There are only a few dedicated indoor players who don’t venture on seven-a-side courts1. But in Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, indoors is much more popular and played much more often.
In early December we saw those arguments settled (for now) as the first European Ultimate Indoor Championships were held in Kaunus. The divisions were all different sizes, with 16 open, eight women’s and 12 mixed teams. Here is what happened in a very cold Lithuania.
The winners and standouts
The open division was the largest, and seemed to have excellent depth in the tournament. In the end, Belgium ran out as winners with a 17-14 victory over Finland in the final. The Belgians have had a huge Mooncatchers influence with both Jonkers brothers, Reph and Ben, as pivotal to this team as they were in Cincinnati at WUCC. The tournament was something of a breakout for Sofiene Bontemps, another Moon player who scored 25 goals in six games to lead the division2. They defeated a Finnish team that lost in the pool but had a strong run in the knockout stages. They unfortunately lost key player Erkka Niini to injury in the final, and after an early 5-1 Belgian run to take a 6-4 lead, the Finns were never able to catch up.
Latvia, arguably the favorite going into the event, defeated the surprise package Ukrainians in the bronze medal match. Arvids Orlovskis continued his dominant performances this season with 20 goals and 20 assists and looked largely unstoppable all weekend. Alas, his masterpiece of eight goals and five assists in the semifinals was not enough to overcome his Mooncatchers teammates as Jonkers brothers Bontemps and defensive ace Daan de Maarre produced phenomenal second-half efforts in a 16- 15-classic tackled.
The women’s division had only eight teams, with the home team seeded first. However, the Lithuanians finished with bronze medals, losing to the Netherlands in the semis in a game they led 8-6. From there, the Dutch accelerated and finished the match on a 6-2 run fueled by Justine van der Meulen and GRUT standout Floor Keulartz. The Dutch faced still unbeaten Sweden in the final, the teams met in the pool in a game that saw a number of lead changes before Sweden ran out 14-13 winners.
The final promised to be a tight, exciting game, but a four-point run by Sweden at the end of the first half effectively ended the game, the Dutch unable to come back from an 8-5 deficit against so a talented and well driven team, the Swedes won 15-12. Sarah Eklund, for many years one of the best players on the continent, was unstoppable on the pitch and scored eight goals, but the standout and breakout performer for Sweden was Vendela Viktorsson. She was excellent all weekend with and without the disc having previously flourished for KFUM Orebro at Club Indoors in 2020. Lithuania defeated surprise semi-finalists Great Britain 14-11 in the bronze medal match after GB won the quarter against Latvia with a Callahan all-point by Tanya Fozzard.
Twelve teams meant the mixed schedule was a bit odd, with byes in the first knockout round. The semi-finals featured a balanced, deep Britain team that scored six straight points around half-time to beat another team that far exceeded expectations, ninth-seeded Slovakia 16-8, and advance to the final. Estonia also progressed after winning a slightly tougher semi against their friends across the Gulf, Finland. The Estonians started a little stronger and turned the screw with a 4-1 run to close the game 15-10. Both teams in the final were unbeaten and entered with the same goal difference3 so everything was set for a great final match of the tournament.
The first 16 points were extremely tight and neither team could gain the upper hand for long. One break apiece left the scores tied at 8-8 with GB coming out on the attack to send the match to the half on serve. However, a miscommunication on the first pass left Ott Toomsalu with the interception for a Callahan to send the Estonians on a high halfway. They grabbed the O point out of the half, got another break a few points later and closed out the game for a 13-10 win. Estonia’s stars were the standouts in the division, with Jakob Tamm finishing joint top of the standings and Helen Tera doing a great job all weekend. Finland rode an excellent first half to come away with bronze medals, 16-13 over Slovakia.
Estonia and Belgium are not teams that traditionally win gold medals in Europe, so the jubilation of the teams at the end of their matches was not surprising. Overall, it was an excellent performance for the smaller ultimate communities in Europe – Ukraine and Slovakia were big surprises, and the Latvians, Lithuanians and Finns all excelled in more than one department.
The tournament itself
Running an indoor tournament for 36 teams is not quite as logistically easy as running one outdoors; there are many more spaces that can fit a number of games outside at the same time. Such space is always at a premium when you put a roof over everything. This meant that the matches for the entire weekend were split across multiple venues, which had multiple impacts.
Some of the venues were better than others in terms of space. At one, there were bleachers very close to each side of the fields, while at another there was essentially no sideline. Divisions were grouped together, which meant that teams could not cheer on their compatriots.
“It was a shame we couldn’t cheer on our boys, I wanted to see them, but [being in the same hall as other women’s teams] was helpful in surveying other teams in the division. Some of the halls were better than others, but the quality of the floor was the best I’ve ever played on,” said Dutch women’s handler Sarah Sparks.
“We couldn’t support any other GB teams and we only saw the women in their bronze medal match, which I didn’t like,” said GB mixed captain Ben Bruin. He also pointed out that the schedule meant that if matches didn’t go in the right place, there would be replays early in the knockout rounds, something the open division also experienced. There was also some slight confusion about rules, and with the food for some dietary requirements4.
Overall, given the requirements of hosting so many teams indoors, things seem to have gone pretty smoothly. The shuttles worked well, the hotels were of good quality and the organizing team worked hard to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible once the games started. “I thought the organization was very good. Format was maybe a bit strange, but I thought it was very well managed,” said Latvia’s opener5 Ned Garvey.
The future of indoors
Given the relative success of this tournament and of the club tournament held in 2020, it appears that international indoor is here to stay. It gives smaller countries that have a much smaller player pool a chance to compete with the bigger nations and the matches have provided some fantastic highlights for spectators. The addition of indoor to the calendar has been very positively received by the playing community, and the European Ultimate Federation has certainly taken notice.
“Even though there is currently no larger strategy in place, the EUF is well aware that these championships, especially for northern countries, can have a big impact, not only for the players, but also for the federations,” Felix said. Nemec, EUF event manager, said.
The big factor to consider is player burnout with such a packed calendar, but Nemec says the EUF is working on how to integrate things and make them work indoors alongside everything else:
“We are working to establish a plan how these Indoor tournaments can be part of the bigger picture without exhausting the athletes who already work so hard all year long. We have noticed that these official tournaments can also be a burden for federations as they may have to go there due to their official recognition in their country. This varies from country to country and requires some evaluation. It’s brilliant that we’ve seen all these different athletes get their spotlight. Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and of course Belgium, Sweden and Estonia!”