A Week at the Under-23 World Championships – Day 2, Part I

Posted: July 24, 2013 11:07 AM

The following is part of our of continuing coverage of the 2013 WFDF U-23 Championships in Toronto, Canada. 

They’re punted to a different field. Their game is 20 minutes late.

And they’re dancing to Beyonce.

You must not know ‘bout me, you must not know ‘bout me...

For many teams, getting kicked last minute off the showcase field, from which friends and family could watch a live-streamed broadcast of their game, would be a source of frustration. But for U.S.A.’s mixed team, it’s just water off their backs. They stay loose singing along to Mrs. Jay-Z and 50 Cent, and when a Taylor Swift song comes on their jambox, National Team veteran Khalif El-Salaam starts bouncing around like a little kid. They don’t show any sign of agitation at the scheduling snafu. Besides, it just gives them more time to enjoy the fact that they’re at the World Championships.

"I am most excited about spending two weeks completely focused on ultimate...to represent our country," wrote U.S.A. mixed player Sarah Meckstroth in the days leading up to the tournament. That excitement shows. Meckstroth is all smiles, and the rest of the team is, too. They’re a unit, and a happy one.

"I’m interested in...what sets us apart from other teams. For instance, chemistry," noted Lisa Pitcaithley. It’s certainly something she understands. Pitcaithley opens the mixed team’s first game of the day, against Australia, by skying her player deep for a defensive block, then completing the double happiness with a layout grab past a poaching male defender for the score. Her whole team rushes the field, swarming her with hugs and high fives.

"Lisa? She always blows up," effuses Pitcaithley’s U.S.A. mixed teammate Natasha Won. Won and Pitcaithley built a kinship together as two-time USA Ultimate National Championship runners up with Polar Bears – and with five current and former Polar Bears on the U.S.A. mixed team, it’s unsurprising that the whole squad has managed to build such chemistry so fast. They quickly use those bonds to race to a three-break lead, forcing Australia to burn an early timeout.

It doesn’t do them any good. Mike "Ogre" Ogren conjures a defensive block deep, then rips an upwind huck to Aaron Adamson, who climbs an invisible ladder to pull down the floater in front of the end zone and push the score to 4-0.

As the division that can sometimes be forgotten, it’s hugely positive to see the mixed squad playing hard ultimate and pushing themselves to keep the competitive juices – and the Spirit of the Game – flowing in equal measure. Australia does finally make their way onto the board, but U.S.A. answers right back by easily shredding Australia’s defensive zone with a New England tandem of Ian Engler (Dartmouth) and Jack Hatchett (Ironside) running the show together. When the wind picks up, Australia has even more trouble finding answers to the American attack, and the scoreboard shows U.S.A. up 9-2 at the break.

U.S.A. women’s player Amanda Kostic called her team a "faceless army," and if that’s true, then the mixed squad is an Air Force. Missiles are launched throughout the second half: Sophie Darch hucks upwind to Pitcaithley, and Ogren hucks downwind to Sarah Meckstroth. Becca Miller lays out chest high for a score, and the points just pile up. "Anyone except the U.S.," answers one fan when asked who he’s rooting for, and when called out, he adds, "Nothing against them. I’m just pulling for an underdog. U.S.A. looks unstoppable."

They certainly play that way. In just over an hour, U.S.A. mixed puts the Aussies to bed by the lopsided score of 17-2. They’ll later finish the day with a 17-3 shellacking of Great Britain, and when it’s done, they don’t even appear to have broken a sweat.

"The depth of our team is our biggest strength," said Jack Hatchett in the early days of the team, and his comment seems prescient. U.S.A. mixed will finish pool play tomorrow with a game against Chinese Taipei, but win or lose, they’ve already sewn up the top spot in their division and will move into Thursday’s power pools as the new number one seed.

The men’s team’s one game of the day finds U.S.A. matched up against a fired-up Italian squad. Italy is coming off a tough double-game point loss to Australia in overtime – the very game, in fact, that forced the U.S.A. mixed team’s earlier contest to start late – and they show up with something to prove.

That something to prove, however, quickly meets its match in Kevin Brown.

Kevin Brown, a standout from UW-Milwaukee, beats his man to the disc for a block, and the U.S.A. punches in the first point of the game.

"My older boy plays, too," notes a proud papa Brown, who drove up from Wisconsin to watch Kevin play at these World Championships. "He won a national championship with Wisconsin in 2003." Kevin comes from a strong ultimate heritage – something else his father picks up on.

"The game has changed so much," he says, commenting on the revolutionary growth of the game at the pre-college level. "There are so many opportunities to play now: youth league, women’s, coed. It’s such an advantage to begin playing in high school, and it’s amazing that now, players can." Surely, Mr. Brown is not alone in applauding USA Ultimate’s efforts in supporting the youth game – in fact, many of the other U.S.A. players got their start in high school, or even earlier, as well.

One such player who started young is Italian handler Bruno Mine. Two years ago in Poland at European Juniors, he was good; now, his game has matured to the point where U.S.A. coach Joe Dur calls the young handler’s disc movement "technically excellent." Eager for a chance to shine on offense, Mine steps up on the next and runs the show for the Italian team. He touches every other pass and throws most of the gainers, and with his help, Italy marches up the field to tie the score at 1-1.

For a while, the game promises to be a slugfest: Mischa Freystaetter, tweaked shoulder and all, has to contort himself to catch the next score, and Italy, led by Mine, responds. Jimmy Mickle does his best to incite Micklemania the next point, as the disc moves from Liu to Klane to Mickle to Camp to Mickle to Freystaetter to Mickle to Brown for the next goal – whew! But again, Bruno Mine guides in a score.
At 3-3, Italy calls time out before the pull. With an eye to break back, they come down in a zone – a zone that Brian Hart helps shred with hammers and crisp around backhands. His wide-open receivers are the usual targets: Freystaetter, Camp and Liu.

Unlike the American offense, which utilizes many potent throwers, any of whom can take over the game, the Italian offense features a lot of quarterbacking; the offense seems to need Bruno Mine to consistently touch the disc. When it moves upfield too fast for Mine to be a factor, the wheels start to come off. U.S.A. surges to a lead off a layout block by Dylan Wolff to make the score 5-3. This sets off a run of breaks – punctuated by multiple acrobatic Ds by Doublewide’s Dalton Smith – that carries U.S.A. through halftime and all the way to 16-3. On the wrong end of an astounding 13-point run, Italy slips in one last goal on game point. The match ends 17-4, and the U.S.A. men’s team retires to eat a quick dinner before heading to the showcase game: U.S.A. women v. Canada, to be played in the stadium under the lights.

Day 2 Highlights - Images by CBMT Creative

WFDF World Under-23 Ultimate Championships (official website)

Tw (@USAUltimateU23):


Have any questions or comments? We welcome community feedback and discussion made in a respectful manner. Please refrain from profanity or personal attacks, as such public comments negatively reflect on our sport and community.