Tournament experience with a new team is incredibly valuable, and the connections you form over one weekend of playing bulk games together is huge. Playing New Zealand Nationals last weekend was exactly that - we came out the other end a vastly different team to how we entered, and learning an incredible amount about who we are as the 2019 Australian Stingrays.
It’s easy to put a limit on your expectations when joining a fresh team, and while I absolutely thought I would have a valuable weekend, I did not think NZUC would smash my ceiling of expectations to the extent that it did.
With only one U24s returner on our roster (Georgia Sullivan) and a few ladies yet to play a women’s club season, this campaign’s Stingrays is vastly different to the the team that competed in Perth in 2018. We’re the young emerging players from our respective local clubs, in the process of working out who we are as Ultimate athletes. So this was a weekend of learning, to start bringing confidence to our game and taking control on the field. In our head coach Sarah Brereton’s words, we each needed to be heroes on field to get points on the board.
Our first game of the tournament was against Juvenile Delinquents, who were seeded first. Our energy was blurred somewhere between excitement and nerves as we struggled to string passes together and create flow in our offence, losing the game 4-13. There were cold drops, there were missed easy connections and there was hesitation as we began getting a feel for each other's movements, speed and style.
Our goals for the rest of the day were simple: focus on the fundamentals - cut hard, clear hard, attack the disc on offence; no unders and no arounds on defence; communicate, be loud and give to your team.
Whilst our second game against the Blueberries was a loss on universe, 11-12, we had begun to trust ourselves and create more confident flow through our structures. We finished day one with an exciting first win against Nasty Women, using our speed and balance in the wind to score early and hold our lead, taking the game 13-4.
We finished pool play on Day 2 with two wins, 12-10 against Zodiac, and a more confident 13-8 against Vixenz, taking us through to quarter finals and busting open the tournament.
Our most intense game of the day came that afternoon in our quarter final against GWS. As the only other Aussie opponents, and, for some of us, close friends and clubs members, this was a much anticipated match up. The momentum and connections from our previous games carried us through and saw us take the lead after trading points in the first half. Our defensive pressure on the mark helped cap GWS’s deep connections, and some close overthrows allowed us to convert and take the lead, finishing 14-12. Highlights include Tracey Chong shutting down their fast receivers, Kass Matthison (our youngest player at 17 years old) for her sharp cutting and cool head against her own club team, and Cookie Nguyen with her strong fat side throws.
After the high of four wins from four games on Saturday, our tired bodies and tired minds showed up for our semi-final on Sunday morning against Repeat Offenders, the second Capital Punishment team, which featured some of their more experienced players. They took away our speed advantage with a flat zone. We struggled to be patient and were too stagnant in our movement, forcing risky wide options through tight spaces. In return, they punished our turnovers with big swings and quick deep connections. We were in our heads and too slow to respond, seeing us lose 2-15 - our biggest loss of the tournament.
With an intentional lack of emphasis on the importance of this game as a semi final, I don’t particularly think it was the pressure that got to us. Perhaps it was third day fatigue that caused the hesitation in our decision making. As our coaches said, it’s a privilege to experience an 8-0 deficit and such a big loss together as team before Worlds. We’ve now undergone this learning experience, together, and we’re starting thinking about what helps us reach peak state individually and as a united team.
So with nothing to lose and everything to gain, we headed into the Bronze medal match with our brains switched on. We wanted to make the most of our last game together. Highlights include a huge layout block from Erin Healey outside our end zone, a beautiful flick huck down the sideline from Reyer Carpenter, and big snatches from Julie Chong (both of which you can check out here). It was the amalgamation of everything we’d learnt, practiced and gained over the course of the weekend. We put everything into that game and finished with a glowing bronze sheen of what’s to come.
The Stingrays of 2019 now know who we are. We have defensive grit from our Queenslanders Sabrina and Georgia, deep threats in our WA reps Neka, Nicole, Thea and Bronte, speed and power in our Victorian ladies - Julie, Tracey and Steph Chong, Liv and Jess, as well as Kass, Holly and Neka, control from our NSW handlers Branda, Brit, Mandy and myself, as well as balance and creativity from Reyer, Cookie and Paula.
Returning home from our first tournament together with a medal feels unreal, and I am immensely proud of every individual player for this little entree of what’s to come. Tournament experience is invaluable, and as our coaches said, it’s a privilege to experience such deficits, losses and wins together before heading to Heidelberg in July.
Biggest goals to take us to our next camp together include nailing our fundamentals, learning how to take control and be our own heroes on offence, and teaching Jess Parkes how to read a clock. There is no limit to our potential and I cannot wait to see who we are by July.
A huge shoutout to our physio Mitch for treating our ongoing trickle of niggles during the tournament, and to our beautiful friends from the New Zealand U24 Women’s team for introducing us to the sensational fruit that is Feijoas (Australia, catch up).