St. Gallen/Herisau, Switzerland, May 7, 2018- Latvia were the toast of the 2018 IFF U19 Women's Floorball World Championships B-Division, with three consecutive group victories capped off with triumphs in the semi-final and Gold Medal final against Russia, sealing promotion back to the A-Division for the 2020 inception of these Championships.
But what are the secret ingredients behind Jurijs Fedulovs' formidable side? It goes without saying that the Latvians were more than a match for any competitor in their five games, sounding out their intent from Day 1 with a 20:0 win over the USA. And that wasn't all. They were free-scoring throughout the competition, amassing 68 goals in their five games, results which also included a 16:4 humbling of debutants Australia, a 20:1 hammering of Group C rivals Austria (who progressed from Group C as runners-up with Latvia), and a 9:2 win in the final against Group D winners Russia. Hungary were the team who stifled the Latvian forward-line with most success, losing 3:0 in the Division-B semi-final.
Of those 68 goals, 33 were scored by a trio of forwards, but the common factor within all of them is that their assist statistics remained consistent with their goals. Leading scorer Anna Ankudinova netted 13 goals, and assisted seven. Julija Rozite and Simona Grapena are the other two of that prolific trio, both scoring ten goals apiece. Rozite also chipped in with ten assists to match her goal ratio, Grapena seven. Of the three, Grapena is the only player whose total percentage of shots to shots on target fell below 50% (with 49.02% of her 51 efforts on goal, equating to 27, being on target). The efficiency of that forward line is behind much of their free-scoring form, without doubt, but the sheer amount of opportunities created for the trio reflects how efficient the Latvians are in their build-up play. They scored 67 in five matches, but created 501 shooting opportunities in that time (201 on target), a remarkable statistic.
Besides this, the Latvians owed much of their success in Herisau and St. Gallen to their defensive solidity. In their five matches, despite scoring 67 goals, they were impregnable at the back, conceding a mere seven. Their stand-out defender, Laura Gaugere, who along with Ankudinova appeared in the B-Division all-stars team, also did her bit going forward. Despite being a defender she netted eight times, but crucially assisted on 13 occasions, the highest of any player in the squad. In fact, when one tallies the goals scored by Gaugere and the forward trio of Ankundinova, Grapena, and Rozite, that accounts for 41 goals, over half of Latvia's overall tally.
With a quartet that possesses such craft in attack, and a defence that leaks very little by way of goals, it is easy to see how Latvia's endeavours were so successful. Quite incredibly, they were never at any stage trailing in a game throughout the campaign. Even in their closest match-up by way of scoreline, the semi-final against Hungary, they were able to keep a clean sheet, Ankudinova, Grapena, Gaugere and Rozite either scoring or having a hand in each of the three goals scored in that game also.
Looking closer at the more defensive side of their game, their physicality has certainly been a secret behind their success, with 65 of 96 physical duels (tackles) won by the Latvians over the course of the tournament. Of the star quartet, Grapena was the only player not to make a tackle, whilst Rozite won three and lost three. Ankudinova's statistics make for better reading, winning 19 of her 31 duels, but the numbers prove Gaugere's worth both defensively and going forward, with her winning 30 of a total 41 physical duels, a 73.17% success rate.
It seems a discredit to amount so much success within a squad to a star quartet, however. Skipper Elizabete Pavlovska ranks amongst the highest in terms of her balance statistics in the squad, and was a valuable player in terms of building-up play to create opportunities for the forwards, not to mention being the leader figure on court for a team of strong individual players, which in itself requires a deal of charisma.
It seems the leader figures in the squad have also identified discipline as an area of importance. In 300 minutes' worth of game-time over five games, they only gave away 18 minutes in penalties. With the better sides prone to taking advantage of penalty incidents through numerical advantage, Head Coach Fedulovs has clearly instilled discipline into his side to ensure they give as few advantages away as possible.
Therefore, as important as their star quartet has proven in their campaign, there are still aspects of their game which is owed to hard-work on the training court on discipline, defending as a unit and building-up play quickly, as well as being clinical with the opportunites they have, their quality in the final third being the area where their star players step-up to the plate.
With a multi-faceted team sprinkled with the extra quality of star players required to win games. it is no surprise that Latvia have enjoyed a campaign as fine as they have, and they'll surely embrace the challenge that they will face in the A-Division when they return to these championships in 2020.