Five National Team Takeaways from TEP

First impressions of Colombia's important 13-12 victory over the United States in the women's division, as well as thoughts on the other national teams in action in Medellín.

USA and Colombia Women’s National Teams at TEP 2024. Photo: Teleantioquia and TEP Instagram.

Torneo Eterna Primavera (TEP) in Medellín, Colombia, is one of the most renowned annual events in the sport. In a Worlds year, though, it gains even more prominence as the first true proving grounds for many of the Western Hemisphere’s national teams. This year gave us our first glimpses of all three Colombian teams, Canada Mixed, and United States Mixed and Women’s. Beyond a simple first scout, we may even have been treated to a preview of one of the Gold Coast’s gold medal matches in the form of a universe point women’s division final between Colombia and the US.

Here are a few loose observations from this year’s WUC sneak peek.

Colombia Women’s: WUC Co-Favorites

USA v. Colombia Women’s – 2024 TEP Final

If you harbored any doubts – and, really, that’s on you if you did – that Colombia could match up with the United States at WUC later this year, the come-from-behind 13-12 victory they earned at the Americans’ expense in the TEP final will have put them out to sea.

The conversation of course starts with Manuela and Valeria Cárdenas, the twins who each have a claim as the current best player on Earth. They were nothing short of spectacular for Colombia, fighting for jaw-dropping blocks deep in the game (as if locked in a battle of oneupsmanship against each other as much as against the US) and driving virtually every offensive possession even as they hardly took a point off to rest. Valeria’s layout block on universe point essentially clinched the victory.

The Cárdenas sisters, though, were only the start. Between Aleja Torres’ edgy forehands, Yina Cartagena’s unflappable swing handling (and sneaky deep cuts), dazzling footwork by Laura Ospina, max effort layouts from both Ximena Montaña and Mangie Forero as they reach career-best levels of play, and the tailor-made-to-overwhelm-US-defense power cutting of relative Revo newcomer Yessica Grajales, this is a roster that is a serious threat to win a world championship. It’s still too early to anoint them the favorites, but at this point they are at least co-favorites in Gold Coast come September.

USWNT: Room for Improvement

Let me get this out of the way first: there are no major issues with the US women’s team, so I won’t go overboard about the loss to a championship-caliber Colombian side. That said, letting the TEP final slip away on a break run is below the mark for a team with their sights set on a repeat gold medal.

A couple of thoughts, then, take them as you will:

  • The US need to do a better job contesting Colombia’s handler play. Colombia, armed with Valeria’s forehand and Manu’s backhand, are going to manage three or four deep connections every game. But they can live with that, especially with players like Sarah Meckstroth, Kami Groom, Ronnie Eder, and Rachel Mast ready to run with Colombia’s best cutters. What they cannot afford is to allow Colombia’s coterie of handlers to Revo-dance up the sideline for thirty yards of small gainers before feeling any pressure. Get more hands near the disc, get more bodies in the way of the preferred cuts, and force throws out to spaces where defenders have time to chase them down or the level of difficulty is ratcheted up.
  • The US could probably stand a little bit more play initiation from the handler sets. That is to say, rather than run the offense primarily through in-cuts and continuations, sprinkle in more attacks from behind the disc. It isn’t clear whether the personnel is right for a full-on weave set. (Alex Barnett could run one in her sleep, and Angela Zhu to a degree – but Julianna Werffeli and Qxhna Titcomb fall more into the classic hub-and-reset mold, and Claire Chastain, Anna Nazarov, and Abby Hecko seem more inclined to operate as hybrids starting downfield.) But one or two early short passes to change the angles of attack before the defense can adjust would go a long way toward preventing the kind of locked-in downfield defensive play that Colombia used to blow-up US possessions late in the game. Claire Trop and Lisa Pitcaithley, as good as they are, can only do so much when their defenders reliably predict where they are going to go.

I Don’t Think Anyone Can Beat US Mixed

USA v. Canada Mixed – 2024 TEP Final

Sure, I’m curious about France and Australia and Italy. Yes, stranger things have happened on the world stage. I just… How can you watch the high-end potential of the US Mixed team at TEP – a 15-9 win over a solid Team Canada – and see anything other than a gold medal in their future?

Anna Thompson, Henry Ing, Brett Hulsmeyer, and Amber Sinicrope were essentially unanswerable. Kaela Helton and Calvin Brown sparkled. Other established world-beaters like Khalif El-Salaam, Jack Hatchett, Dena Elimelech, and Carolyn Finney only had to be muted versions of themselves. It’s a juggernaut squad. If they play anywhere near their potential – which, to be clear, they did not at TEP, making mistakes as they tried to get on the same page, and even blowing a first half lead to trail at halftime – it’s going to be a cakewalk in September.

This probably isn’t a hot take. Sorry.

Forecast Calls for Zone

Canada Mixed are (understandably) still in the early stages of their offensive development, and it’s not quite clear how they’ll match up in person schemes against teams with less overall athleticism than the US. (I suspect the answer is that they’ll be just fine against the rest of the world. See: their semifinal win over Colombia.) We don’t yet know where most of their strengths will be once they round into form.

One strength is clear now, however: they are already running fantastic zone sets. Between Toly Vasiliyev’s disciplined no-easy-backward-resets mark and smart swing chasing on the front wall1, they left opponents with very few appetizing options to progress downfield. Having to solve the puzzle led to multiple simple mistakes from the otherwise dominant US that allowed Canada, temporarily, back into the game. Trading on such a strong defensive foundation sets them up well for a medal run.

Colombia Men’s: Where’s the Defense?

With all the attention paid to Colombia’s women’s team, it can be easy to forget that the level of talent found on the men’s national side will rival most of the countries heading to Australia – at least, it will on offense. World Games veterans Ivan Alba, Alexander Ford, and Simón Ramírez were predictably crisp, as was Comunidad El Oso’s Kevin Nariño. Jonathan Cantor – Makawua’s masked no-points-off, every-other handler – was brilliant to such a degree that he has essentially thrown his hat into the ring for the title of best offensive player in Gold Coast three-and-a-half months ahead of the tournament. They are going to score plenty of goals against any defense at the tournament.

But how well can they prevent goals being scored against them? Local club Medellín Instinto asked that question pointedly in the final by finding holes for clear passes all over the field, playing tight with their national team peers late into the second half. Colombia need to take the disc away rather than wait around for mistakes that might not happen. In fact, it was the Instinto defense that were by no small margin the hungrier and more athletic unit in the final. Is it too late to pull a couple of their playmakers in for a trip across the Pacific this year?

The 2024 World Ultimate Championships is set for August 31-September 7, 2024, in Gold Coast, Australia. Live coverage of the event will be available on Ultiworld!

  1. I apologize for not calling out more of the players by name, but the camera angle for the TEP Mixed streams was a tough watch. 

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

TAGGED: , , , ,

More from Ultiworld
Comments on "Five National Team Takeaways from TEP"

Find us on Twitter

Recent Comments

Find us on Facebook

Subscriber Exclusives

  • D-I College Championships 2024: Heartbreak Hotel – Six Teams Who Deserved to Make the Bracket
    Subscriber article
  • Out the Back: College Nationals Pool Play Rapid Reax
    Subscriber podcast
  • Field Pass: Pool Play Round 7
    Video for standard subscribers
  • Showcase: Massachusetts vs. Minnesota (Men’s Pool Play)
    Video for standard subscribers