U20 Open team take on the world

Posted: August 4, 2010 10:33 AM

This August, 44 of the best youth Ultimate players in America will be traveling to Germany to participate in the 2010 World Junior Ultimate Championships. But first, the Open and Girl’s teams will meet at Amherst College next week for a weeklong training camp hosted by USA Ultimate.

Five members of Team USA have agreed to blog about thier experiences for usaultimate.org - Bethany Kaylor, Sally LandefeldMaddy RoorbachNick Stuart and Matt Barnes. Follow their progress here as they train, travel and compete throughout the next few weeks.

The eleventh entry is from Ben Van Heuvelen, coach of the U20 Open team, as he reflects on the boy's first round.


The USA boys’ 2010 campaign began with an 8:30am game against the hard-running Belgians. Sporting white shirts and blue shorts, USA received to start the game and spread the field with a horizontal offense. After a few in cuts and swings, a deep shot went off and Simon Montague caught the team’s first goal of the tournament.

The crispy offense of that first point eluded Team USA for much of the rest of the half, as the boys seemed to be playing with some first-game nerves. After generating a D at midfield, a USA miscue resulted in a turnover and a quick deep strike by Belgium. The score was tied at 1-1.

In the morning huddle, team captain Jonah Herscu had prepared the team for some early jitters, telling the squad that mistakes were inevitable, and they just needed to "run through them." And despite some more miscues, throws jammed into too-tight spaces, and drops, Team USA kept running and applying pressure. The score at halftime was 9-2.

The team had two goals in the second half. The first was to increase the on-field communication, in hopes of minimizing miscues. The second was to sprint down on the pull and set a tone of intensity from the very beginning of each point. On both counts, the team was successful.

The story of Team USA’s improvement through the first game was well represented by the game’s last point. The boys covered the pull, generated a D in Belgian territory, and went into their red-zone offense. Handlers were slightly out of position, tried to stretch their considerable throwing skills to the limit, and a tight inside-out forehand whizzed past a receiver for a turnover. More defensive pressure generated another D, and another red-zone possession. This time, the handlers got in position quickly, pushing for give-and-gos as soon as they released the disc, and working with their legs to break the mark with wide-open around passes rather than tight seam throws. As a result, the winning score was a flat pass to a receiver open by two steps.

Team USA therefore took three lessons away from its game against Belgium. The team had showed that it had not yet found its rhythm; that its defense and athleticism could largely compensate for those mistakes; and that its offense, when it fell into sync, could become fast and efficient. The final score was 17-4.

After the Belgium game, the boys had a 5-hour break to fill while waiting for their 4:30 matchup against Australia. They cooled down, ate some lunch, and cheered the USA girls with renditions of the National Anthem and "This Land Is Your Land," as the girls notched their first win of the tournament against Finland. Meanwhile, the coaches scouted the Aussies, who in their first game were battling the German boys to a universe-point loss.

The Australians are an athletic team composed of many solid role players and a few dynamic stars. On defense, they tend to front their opponents, clogging the space in front of the disc and tempting deep throws. On offense, they take deep shots. Team USA would have to establish a smart deep game early; on defense, they would have to test the Aussies’ patience and spacing by making them work it underneath.

As soon as the first pull went up, it was clear that Team USA was hungry to ratchet its play to a higher level of intensity. In one early offensive point, off a pull play, Jimmy Mickle launched a forehand full field to a deep-striking receiver. Jericho Barbour positively blew up, adding a leaping come-from-behind endzone catch block to his impressive stat sheet. Chris Kocher was open by a country mile on his underneath cuts and played shut-down defense on Australia’s standout players. Carter Mize got a huge D with a shoulder-height layout. And the nearly unguardable Julian Childs-Walker earned postgame MVP recognition from the Aussies for his phenomenal cutting.

Even more impressive than the individual efforts and big plays, however, was the cohesiveness and sustained energy of the team. The pace was high and consistent from start to finish. The sidelines were loud. And the team did the vast majority of the "little things" right – choosing the right throws, clearing space for teammates, positioning to take away the Aussies’ preferred cuts…

The halftime score was 9-3, and the final was 17-4.

After the post-game spirit circle and cool-down were over, the captains had two messages for the team. First, this was a big moment for the team – the first time they had really felt what it means to play "Team USA Ultimate." Second, the captains observed, just because the team had played "Team USA Ultimate" once didn’t mean that it would automatically come to them again. They would have to bring the same level of effort and will to improve to the next game and the game after that, through the end of the tournament.

Then they capped off the day with a cake for Justin Norden, who today celebrated not only several heat-seeking deep throws and two big wins, but also his 19th birthday.