ECBU 2013 Country Preview: France

by | June 22, 2013, 9:00am 0

Number of active players: 2382
Notable Beach tournaments:
Yes but Nau, Fogassa
Past participation in beach championships:
WCBU 2004, ECBU2008, WCBU2011
Division participation at ECBU 2013:
Open, Women, Mixed, Open Masters, Women Masters, Mixed Masters, Grand Masters

The sand holds a special place in every French ultimate player’s heart. It might not be their favorite surface to play on, but they have come to associate it with some of their best ultimate experiences. Almost every French player has told or heard a story or two from Yes but Nau, France’s largest beach ultimate tournament—and quite possibly French ultimate’s biggest party—and French teams have become a staple at Paganello over the past few years. Year-round beach leagues are springing up all over the south of France, allowing budding players to learn the ropes, while older players regularly dream back to that gold medal game that went down to the wire in Figueira Da Foz at 2004’s WCBU.

Ever since the 2004 championships, which garnered France a silver medal in the open division, a bronze medal in women’s and an honorable 4th place finish for the Masters team, France has put a lot of thought and effort in its beach ultimate programs. The country’s love for the beach culminated in the organization of 2008 ECBU, where France was able to take two silver medals. From then on, the French national teams became the training grounds for coaches and players who like to think outside the box. Nowadays, coaches who are tired of the normalcy associated with the “all-star team” approach to team selection—a model typically used for France’s grass national teams—get their shot at building and coaching a winning team.

These innovative approaches have led to extremely interesting teams coming out of France, and their results are usually as unpredictable as their play. This year, they’ll be coming out in full force down to Calafell, with teams in every single division. Here’s a run-down of every French team at ECBU 2013, including who to look out for and what to expect.


France Open after their victory at Yes But Nau

Historically, the current French open players have a lot to live up to. Their predecessors from 9 years ago took team USA to double-game-point in the World Championships final, and Coach Franck Benghanem, a player for French Open at the time, is always there to remind them of that heritage. Since 2011, Coach Benghanem has picked extremely young players for this Open team, making it a place where French rising stars can take on added responsibility, and play against some of the best players in world. To lead this young team, Benghanem picked the young Pierre Lemerle. A great athlete and competitor, the relentlessly positive Lemerle will keep this team mentally and defensively stable, while François Zoubir and Renaud Moirier keep the offense running under the supervision of the apparently ageless Christophe Laurino—the only player left over from the silver medal run of 2004.

Finishing 9th at WCBU 2011 in Lignano Sabbiadoro, this team has continued to play together ever since, especially the core of players now playing for Iznogood, a perennial title favorite in France’s club championships. Although Paganello didn’t work out too well for them this year (11th place), this continued effort has allowed them to come into the competition fresh off a win at Yes But Nau, France’s biggest beach ultimate tournament, in front of their home crowd. This could be the tale of a team peaking at the right time. Then again, this group gets better every time it plays together. Watch out for these young guns, especially late in the tournament.



French Women after a first place finish at BUM

The story behind this team goes back a long way. A decade ago, some of France’s best players decided to put together a pickup team suggestively named “Chupa”. Mostly playing indoor tournaments and living by the “play hard, party harder” motto better than anyone, the team gained great popularity in France before the core players faded away a few years ago. With WCBU 2011 coming around the bend, founding Chupa member Charlotte Disle decided to dust off the team and turn it into the next French Women’s Beach Ultimate team. With the help of a handful of her teammates from the city of Grenoble and Aline “Rasta” Mondiot, they were able to build a great program over the past few years.

Patrolling the sidelines for this team is the surly-looking François Larivière, who has been coaching French national teams for close to a decade. His concept behind this team isn’t rocket science, but it’s one of the first times that a French national team has successfully put it into practice: spend enough time developing friendships among players, and you’ll have a rag-tag group of girls performing like all-stars.

Not to say that this group isn’t talented: Aline Mondiot has been terrorizing defenses with her throws for years now, and her on-field connection with Blandine Bertin will yield points by the dozen. Haude Hermand is another impressive handler, and women from all over Europe will have trouble matching the athleticism of Lucie Ruffié and Mathile Ledoux.

After beating out the international competition a few weeks ago in Berlin to secure the BUM tournament win, this team will be come into ECBU with their confidence levels high, and ready to defend their WCBU 2011 Spirit title with even more talent and chemistry than last time around.



The French Mixed Team

The birth of this team wasn’t without controversy in France, due to the team’s relatively closed tryout process. FFDF, the French governing body for ultimate, gave this project the green light after no other coaching candidates surfaced, and French mailing lists were set on fire for a week or two. The fire has died down since, and French players are ready to rally behind their representatives in the mixed division.

Another example of the “team vs. all-stars” dynamic, this mixed team will most definitely have chemistry and athleticism on their side. Although this group is missing some of the big names usually associated with French mixed ultimate, these players know each other by heart. Half of them play for Sun, one of the leading clubs from the Paris region and a 6th-place finisher in this year’s mixed club championships.

After a 15th-place finish at Paganello, they’ve been working on both their play and camaraderie, and although the talent level isn’t necessarily representative of the best France has to offer, they have plenty of skilled players on this team. Natacha Le Map’s intensity is priceless, as are Olivier Labbé’s athleticism and scoring touch. Thomas Fumagalli will bring sound throwing and decision-making and Vincent Lepagnol, although he seemed a step slow at last month’s French club championships after his return from ACL surgery, is always a force to be reckoned with, on grass and on sand alike.


Open Masters

The French Open Masters at Yes But Nau (photo by Jose Pires)

Masters has been a strong division for France for a few years now. Taking bronze at each of the past two EUC events in 2007 in Southampton and 2011 in Maribor, France will be looking to do at least as well at ECBU. And they probably have the team back up such lofty goals: their athleticism is threefold, mixing quickness (Vincent Peltre, Pierre Lecollinet), speed (Cyril Noguès, Thomas Lemoine) and height (Florian Grumiller, Bruno Conway). They have a very technical team as well, with the likes of Jean-Yves Goliard and Ludovic Taveau taking charge of handling duties on offense, while the fundamentally sound Benoit Brosse will do a good share of the heavy lifting on both sides of the disc.

This Masters team competed last month at Yes But Nau, which was a bit of a disappointing outing for them: a heavily weighted first few games caused this team, still working out the kinks in its game, to fall to the lower half of the bracket, where they proceeded to stomp on everyone who stood in their way. They’ll be back with a chip on their shoulder next time they take the field, which could be bad news for the ECBU opposition.

A very strong team overall, the biggest challenge for the French Masters might be their chemistry. Most of these players take on leadership roles in their own clubs, and getting a single voice to be heard might be an issue. However, Cyril Cayla is a brilliantly positive leader, and I’m sure he’ll find a way to get this team to gel in time for the championships.


Mixed Masters

The French Mixed Masters at Yes But Nau (photo by Jose Pires)

A few years back, a better half of this team was winning mixed tournaments all over France. United under the name “OUF” (French slang for “crazy”) and representing the city of Tours, their team used to be one of the most talented non-Parisian units in France. Time has since taken its toll on some of these players, but the talent is still there. Cédric Chaintron, once upon a time the face of French ultimate, stands as the biggest reminder of that era, and though he’s not as quick as he used to be, he’ll be ready to light up the sand of Calafell as he once did the green grass of Southampton. Pierre Chancelier is a brilliant thrower, and will often look to connect with the huge Guillaume Delalle.

This experience will be augmented by the fiery intensity of Ludovic Fichet on both O and D, and the athleticism of Cédric Trestard. On top of that, this team can count on decade-old friendships to hold it together tightly. There might be some more talented teams out there at ECBU, but they’ll have a tough time getting rid of this crew.


Women Masters

The French Women Masters

For the first ever appearance of the Master Women team, head coach Frédéric Risse and assistant coach Amaury Guérin were able to put together a sizable roster, with 16 players making the trip to Spain. This team is definitely top-heavy, and will probably run into some problems later on in the competition when fatigue will be factor, but they have enough good players to make a good appearance and surprise a favorite or two.

Key players include the athletic trio of Isabelle Bacquet, Priscilla Aubry and Anne Leborgne, who’ll be looking to work off the quick handler movement of Lise Roman and Muriel Baranger. Pili Alqueraz and Anne-Lise Labrune will also be a big part of this team, giving the French ladies intensity and experience. The rest of the roster might need a little more time to adapt to the international level of play, but this team’s talented and experienced coaching staff will be a calming presence for all those new to the European ultimate scene.


Open Grandmasters

French Grandmasters at Yes But Nau (photo by Jose Pires)

As you’d expect, this grand master team sports a few of France’s master bronze medalists from 2007, and a bunch of familiar faces. Olivier Chevalier, France’s very own Iron Man, will probably still be playing well into his sixties, as will his partner in crime Frédéric Daussy. This team will have experience and spirit, but that won’t be its only traits.

Laurent Gauthier, who still plays French Division 1 open with Sun Créteil, the young guns from the Paris suburbs, will look to burn a lot of slower players with his speed and intensity. And as far as experience goes, you can’t do much better than Matthew Lefèvre: a long-time Condors and Beyondors staple during Santa Barbara’s glory days, he’s become an essential part of the French ultimate community, providing great disc skills for excellent Ultimate Vibration teams in the early and mid 2000s, and recently leading the French Masters to a bronze medal in Maribor in 2011. A lefty with a great array of throws and pinpoint accuracy, Lefevre is also an amazing teammate and a fierce competitor. If he can get his fellow Grand Masters to emulate his competitive mindset, look for France to fight for gold in this division.

Article by Eric Maniez

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