The United States’ Under 23 teams took home gold in all three divisions — Open, Women’s, and Mixed — yesterday at the U23 World Championships in Toronta, Canada. The finals victories sealed a perfect performance from the USA, who closed out the week undefeated in all divisions.
The Open Division team fought through poor offensive execution with great defense to defeat Canada 14-11. The Women’s Division team battled the wind and a tough defense to take down Japan 16-14. The Mixed Division team had the easiest game, using a 5-0 run at the finish to beat Canada 16-9.
While the US was widely considered the favorite in each of the divisions heading into the tournament, the unbeaten appearance is still impressive. The three teams showed resilience and poise, winning less competitive games by large margins and grinding out wins even when not playing their best ultimate.
Here is a recap of each of the finals matchups that sent the Americans home with hardware.
Whether it was due to the pressure of the big game, the wind, or the opposing defense, the Open Final was not a showcase of smooth ultimate. Turnovers were frequent in the matchup between the US and Canada. After notching a break to start the game and establish an early lead, the Canadians could not take advantage of mental mistakes and execution errors from the Americans and traded points throughout much of the first half.
The US would get the game back on serve to go up 3-2 as Kelsen Alexander found Matt Bode, a playmaker all week for the Americans, in the endzone.
Despite giving away the disc on offense, Team USA played excellent defense all game after the turn and limited Canada to just two breaks in the game. A USA 3-0 run midway through the game gave them an insurmountable lead.
The Canadians would get back within two after a break to get to 12-10, but the US would finish out the game holding on offense to win 14-11.
This was a gritty team effort by the US. 14 different players either scored or assisted, a sign of the depth of the American squad. Christian Johnson (UNC, Ring of Fire) was the standout player in this contest, finishing with three assists and a pair of goals.
Isaiah Masek-Kelly was excellent for the Canadians; he had three goals and two assists. Only eight players on the Canadian team scored or assisted on a point.
When Japan and the US met during pool play, the Americans used a thrilling late comeback to take the win on double game point, 17-16, giving us an early preview of the finals matchup.
It was just as tight a game.
Like the men, the women got broken to start the game, but Magon Liu’s steady handling — she assisted or scored on four of the first five USA points — kept them even until the Americans got their break back to make it 6-5, as Kami Groom found Alysia Letorneau for the score.
The teams would trade points for much of the game, as the Japanese defenders put pressure on the Americans by sagging sideline handler defenders into the lane, forcing the disc to the edges of the field. But the USA offense held serve until, eventually, their defense could get them a small cushion, as Julia Snyder hit Kami Groom to put the US up 12-10.
Japan would break back, however, to tie the game at 13-13, as Fukuoka Nagisa punched it in to Takamasu Ayana after the turnover.
The Americans again gave themselves breathing room by rattling off two straight points to go up 15-13, but the Japanese then scored downwind on offense and, on the subsequent point, worked it all the way up the field into the wind. They very nearly scored, but a sky interception by Groom gave the Americans the disc back. Claire Chastain found Groom in the endzone for the bookends score and the gold medal victory.
Liu finished the game with seven assists and two goals, Chastain had five assists and a goal, and Claire Desmond had six goals to lead the American team. The rotation, which was tight all weekend, tightened up even more in the finals: just nine players scored or assisted for the US.
The US Mixed team was easily the deepest in the field, and their finals performance showed just how dominant they were. With the playing time and the playmaking spread out (18 players scored or assisted!), they were able to continue to trot out fresh legs and outstanding talent.
After giving up a break to start the game, the Americans went on a 3-0 run to take a one break lead. The offense, led by Eli Kerns (2G, 7A), would not get broken again in the first half, and the US took the first half up 9-6 on a break. They extended that 2-0 run into a 4-0 one by breaking twice to begin the second half. Claudia Tajima found Rebecca Miller for the first and Kerns hit Elliott Erickson for the second.
A mental letdown let the Canadian defense punch in two consecutive breaks as Gagan Chatha found Peter Yu to get Canada back within two.
However, the Americans collected themselves and dominated down the stretch, scoring five straight to close out the win and secure the gold.
The Mixed team was never really challenged except in their pool play matchup against Canada, which they won on double game point. They made the right adjustments for the finals, putting pressure on downfield receivers, and never looked out of control of the game.