USA Boys win the gold

Posted: August 10, 2010 04:05 PM

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 - Bethany Kaylor, Sally LandefeldMaddy RoorbachNick Stuart and Matt Barnes. Follow their progress here as they train, travel and compete throughout the next few weeks.


After a week of 8:30 A.M. games, Saturday’s 9 A.M. semi-final matchup against Great Britain seemed luxuriously late. As usual, Jody led warmups on the practice field behind the stadium, and then Team USA headed through the tunnel onto the showcase field. Next to us, on Field 2, the Canadians were warming up to face the Germans in the other semifinal.

We coaches had scouted the GB boys the previous afternoon in their hard-fought match against Canada. Their offense ran through a few very talented players who relied on forehand hucks and hammers. They played a switching clam-like defense against a horizontal offense. And in man-to-man defense, they weren’t afraid to play physical, taking charges and giving arm bars downfield, and bodying throwers with tight, aggressive marks.

In response, we initially set matchups, making sure our defenders’ strengths were well matched to the offensive players they were covering. We also forced backhand, or straight-up to backhand – defenses that worked well the entire game to take away GB’s potent deep game. Such a strategy depended on aggressive marks to prevent inside-out yardage-gaining passes and downfield defense that took away deep space while remaining close enough to contest underneath cuts. With a very deep roster, we had tireless waves upon waves of defenders to apply pressure from the moment of the pull. No team in the tournament so far had been able to match our pace when we played hard man defense the entire game.

On offense, we established a rhythm playing vertical offense in order to avoid the turnovers that might come from a combination of GB’s horizontal clam and early-point jitters. Later in the game, we largely switched to horizontal, and our talented and creative handlers were able to keep resetting the stall count until an opening appeared in the GB clam.

GB contested every point, generating some turnovers with its own aggressive defense. But even on the points where they lost possession, the USA boys fought hard to get it back. Our red-zone defense was especially effective all tournament, and a real point of pride for the team. The boys always put on hard marks to take away the inside-out, and defenders respositioned themselves tirelessly to take away up-line dump cuts and "win the lane" – a team defensive focus since the second day of training camp.

The final score was 17-4.

Team USA headed into a very long break. The stadium would host the finals of the under-17 boys European championships, then the under-17 girls, and then the junior (under-20) girls finals, before the boys would have their shot at gold. All three of those games went to time cap, and so the 4 P.M. boy’s final was postponed by an hour.

In the meantime, the boys cheered the girls onto their bronze-medal win over Australia. After that, with another few hours until finals, several boys played a round of Frisbee bocce and others napped on the picnic benches next to the practice field outside the stadium.

At 3:45, the team gathered for its final pregame routine. Light jog, dynamic warmup, several rounds of 3-versus-2 games, and a 3-man marking drill. Before we headed into the tunnel, captain Nick Stuart gathered the team in a huddle. Regardless of the results of the upcoming game, he said, every moment – each mark we set, each pass we threw, each play we made – would present us an opportunity to celebrate our teammates. If we treated the finals like a celebration of our team, and focused on making the most of each moment, then the results would take care of themselves.

Having won the flip, we chose to start on defense. Our strategy against the Canadians was similar to our game that morning against the Brits. We knew that Team Canada had a few marquee players who generated much of their offense, and that they liked the deep game, particularly on the forehand side. We began the game with a backhand force, using the mark to take away the inside-out and having downfield defenders force receivers underneath – a strategy we stayed with throughout the game.

Team USA quickly generated a D and scored, then another one. We were up 2-0. Then the Canadians answered back with a well timed breakmark throw to full-field huck. USA’s offense answered back, anchored by the strong handler play of Jonah Herscu. Then the Canadians scored again, bringing the count to 3-2. Team USA’s defense was as strong as ever, but the Canadian defenders were answering with strong positioning of their own, which seemed to be discouraging USA cutters from flowing with the handlers. On several points, as cutters drifted farther and farther from the disc, USA handlers began squeezing passes into tighter and tighter lanes, resulting in second chances for Canada’s offense.

After making some minor offensive adjustments, Team USA began to pull away. There were many highlight-reel-worthy plays. Eli Kerns lost a disc in the sun and got skied for a goal-line-to-goal-line huck, then laid out for a point-saving poach D. Spencer Diamond laid out past a Canadian for a sweet diving block. Jericho Barbour elevated over two Canadians for a trailing-edge skying defensive catchblock.

One funny moment came after Matt Rehder’s deep catch over a Canadian defender at the back of the endzone, as several players gathered and began pointing at the ground – and the stadium’s announcer began to speculate (in German) that the players were looking for a mark that would tell whether Matt had correctly called himself in. As it turned out, though, there was no disagreement; the players were searching for a lost contact lens. Goal, USA.

The Canadians were strong and tenacious opponents, and they made the USA fight for every inch, even late into the second half after the USA had pulled away. But even when the Canadians broke the USA offense to string two goals together, Team USA’s call-and-response of "U-S" – "A!" seemed to drown out the Canadian cheers – at least in our own ears. As captain Jonah Herscu was fond of saying, "It’s all about us." And even when Canada scored, the US boys found things to celebrate.

The final score was 17-7, and the USA boys defended the open-division championship title. More importantly, they met the goal they set on the first night of training camp: "Know the team, love the team, be a team."

--Ben Van Heuvelen