The US Open and Mixed teams came away with gold, but the US Women came up short against a brilliant performance from Japan.
July 18, 2015 by Preston Thompson in News, Recap with 10 comments
The United States competed in all three finals at the U23 World Championships today in London. With all other teams done with consolation rounds by start time, the games were played in front of the best crowd of the tournament since the opening ceremonies. With gold on the line, the six teams went at it.
Coming into today, the Canadians felt that this may be their best chance to pounce on the US. In what might have been the most anticipated final of the day, the two squads engaged in a chippy and intense final. The second throw of the game hit a zone defender for Canada, giving them an easy chance to break. But a rushed throw blew an opportunity for a lead. With a completed throw, Canada could have taken a 1-0 lead; instead, they fell behind and never led.
But Canada held tight, thanks especially to big plays from Gagan Chatha. Chatha drove the offense for most of the game, and was the only force for the Canadian offense with any playmaking ability. In the fourth point, Chatha went up over both Hunter Taylor and Stanley Peterson for a huge sky in one of the most wild plays of the weekend.
But Canada’s ability to hang tough was short lived. A big layout block from Abe Coffin led to a the United States a 7-4 lead. The US took take half 9-5, going three for four on break opportunities in the first half.
Throughout the game, Canada was rarely throwing to open people, but rather trying to throw their cutters open. The US defense was able to match up down the line with the speedy and creative Canadian offense, making it impossible for them to move the disc fluidly. Instead, they forced downfield shots and tough breaks. The Canadians had a momentum swing in their favor when a Kevin Brown layout score was called back because of an earlier call. Moments later, Fred Lam would lay out for Canada, bringing the game to within two for the underdogs.
But the US was consistent and mentally strong. With their foot on the gas pedal, the defense began to get tighter and tighter. A bid from Dalton Smith angered the Canadian sideline as he slammed into captain Peter Yu on his blindside. Soon after, the United States’ spirit captain Travis Carpenter would help officiate a spirit timeout. A calmed down USA squad extended their lead and drained the Canadian energy. Trent Dillon’s layout D in the end zone helped set up quite an exclamation point. Logan Pruess bombed a full field backhand to Kevin Brown for the 17-11 victory. The United States took gold in the Open Division.
“It was a culmination of everything we had talked about from the very beginning,” said coach Bob Krier. “We talked about playing 25 deep. That we were going to do it with our legs, and trusting each other.” This game was no different than most of the tournament, in that no player carried more than their share of the weight. Since the beginning, the US didn’t want their players to play more than six or seven points a game, leaving them capable for this kind of performance late in the tournament. In the final, 17 of the 25 players rostered notched a goal or an assist. They were the deepest team in the tournament, and it showed.
Chatha was the heavy lifter for Canada, scoring three goals and throwing three assists in a losing effort.
The Mixed final was Australia’s opportunity to continue surprising the competition. But the USA squad had ideas of their own, and they were just too talented. The Aussies didn’t shy away from the big challenge, but their ‘Pommie’ zone just didn’t have enough wind to support it. To counter the potent deep game, the US had last back defenders making sure they were covering the long deep cuts of the Aussies. Clamp defense on the goal line from the Americans made it even harder for Australia to score once they did complete a huck, leaving almost no options for the Australian offense.
With the game getting out of hand, the USA never let up. At 11-2, Sam Greenwood forgot to use his hands, and instead blocked a huck from the mark with his face. Late in the second half, Leah Farris and Henry Phan were doing pushups on the sideline from mistakes they had made on the field. Claire Revere hit Sharon Lin to cap off a 17-4 obliteration of the Aussies.
“Our players did an amazing job of implementing our game plan,” said head coach Martin Aguilera after the game. “It just proved to be really effective.” The gameplan from the USA centered mainly around two things: poach on the deep looks and let them run their zone on our stacked O-line.
“This teams energy and spirit were really high and that’s great, but the chemistry on the field and their response to any sort of adjustment was huge,” added Aguilera. Despite the Australians’ best efforts, the USA was near perfect for the better part of the final. They deservingly took home the gold medal.
After the game, the crowd erupted when they realized that the great Indian squad wouldn’t be going home empty handed. The newcomers were proudly awarded the spirit award, for being the most spirited team in the mixed division (as decided by their opponents). After the game, the USA congratulated their peers on an outstanding accomplishment, while some went as far to give them their jerseys.
A gold medal for the USA was second only to the moments shared with the Indian squad.
The USA women’s team looked dominant, unwavering, and nearly perfect all week. But everyone can have a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Japan saved something extra for this final, and it would propel them towards being the only non-US squad to take home gold in 2015.
From the beginning, Japan was focused. They began up a break and made it clear to everyone watching that it would be a close contest. Small mistakes kept Japan in the game for the first half, while the USA defense struggled to force turns against a group of Japanese players that all had good hammers. At 5-5, Jaclyn Verzuh got a layout D then ran downfield to receive the assist from Alika Johnston. But her impressive break bookends was nothing to the Japanese. As they often do, they sang all the way back to their goal line, immediately re-energized for their next point. The mental toughness of the Japanese meant that it was difficult for the US to take advantage of any momentum, something they would try to do before the game was done.
After Verzuh’s bookends, the Japanese held and then broke twice. A halftime lead of 9-7 left the grandstands in disbelief. The first half was riddled with turnovers inside the United States’ own half. Japan had them playing their style: small movements and big swings, with rare well-timed hucks. The USA’s normal big shot style was no where to be found until it made a small return in the second half thanks to Jesse Shofner.
After Japan traded to 14-11, Shofner bombed a backhand huck to Jaclyn Verzuh and the USA sideline exploded. This had to be the moment that the Americans needed to swing back into form. But just as before, the Japan energy was unwavering. A hold, then a break. After the time cap came on, the USA faced a seemingly insurmountable deficit: they trailed 16-12, game to 17.
A USA hold kept hope alive. They needed four more to win. Alexandra Ode found Chloe Rowse for a break and the sideline exploded.
It’s Shofner with another big shot, this time to Alika Johnston. They need two more.
The USA line up a stout D-line to go for one more break. In Japan’s short and quick offense, layouts are flying from every spot on the field. Megan Cousins comes within inches of a block. Shofner comes within inches of one too, and then finally Alika Johnston lays out for an upline as it barely connects with the Japan cutter. A Japanese blade flick found Asako Takaura, and just like that the comeback is cut short. The Japanese players collapsed in the end zone in pure joy, as their supporters erupted in the grandstands.
The Japanese women Facetimed their families back in Japan for the rest of the day as the US women wondered what could have been.
Still, a Spirit Award for the Americans cannot be overlooked. In all spirit circles, the American women would give the opposition’s game MVP a postcard with an address of one of the US athletes. Just another way to grow women’s Ultimate.
Japan’s gold medal symbolizes a playing field that year by year is leveling out. More and more we see the world catching up, and the United States’ status as top dog is not as safe as it once was. With momentum in hand, the Japanese will take their medals back home and attempt to grow as players and continue to compete as one of the finest ultimate countries in the world.
Third Place Rounds
In the Mixed division third place game, Canada bested a weaker German squad. Alan Scarth showed why he’s one of the best Canadian players in his age group, finishing with five goals and two assists. Three breaks in the first half and three more in the second was more than enough to lock up a bronze medal.
The Women’s Bronze Medal contest pitted Australia versus a disappointed Canadian squad. The Australians came out with high energy, taking a 9-5 halftime lead. The Canadians climbed their way back in the second half, forcing double game point at 12-12. A good pull would have pinned Australia on their goal line, but the Aussies couldn’t reel in the floater. Canada was given a short field, one that they wouldn’t waste. Australia held firm for the first five or six swings, but the offense was consistent. Canada scored for a 13-12 win and a spot in the medal ceremony.
Similar to the Women’s match, Great Britain took advantage of a disappointed Japan in the Men’s Bronze match. They were able to force a game to 13 with a 12-10 lead in hand. Japan quickly considered the possibility of going home empty handed, and they wanted no part of it. The Japanese came storming back and eventually found themselves in a position to win. They attempted a hammer to the end zone that forced the receiver to drag his feet on the boundary. With players arguing back and forth over the result, a Great Britain player approached an observer on the sideline who was favoring neither side. The bystander said he thought he was in, and in a remarkable display of great spirit, the British players were convinced. Japan took the bronze medal, 13-12.
Great Britain outperformed all expectations and surely did their home nation proud in a fantastic showing.