The 2018 World Junior Ultimate Championships are officially underway in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Thirty-one teams from 18 countries are competing this week at RIM Park in hopes of taking home gold medals.
A match-up between the women’s home team and Germany kicked things off after yesterday’s opening ceremonies, but the rest of the competition took to the fields for the first time this morning. Both U.S. teams were itching to get things underway. Each team had two games piece today, and both teams finished day one with 2-0 records.
The boys were up first this morning, taking on the Dominican Republic. The ultimate program in the Dominican Republic is up and coming, with the nation sending teams to international competitions more and more frequently over the last few years. But they still have a ways to go in their development before they can regularly compete with teams who have made themselves at home in the upper echelons of the sport. Behind the strength of their zone defense, which the Dominican Republic really struggled to break, the U.S. scored the first 10 points before the Dominican Republic got on the board. The final score showed 15-2, with the U.S. taking the big win. But it was a good and spirited first game for both teams. The U.S. boys took on Hong Kong in their second game of the day. Hong Kong held to open, scoring first, and brought a lot of enthusiasm to the game. But again, a combination of strong pulls and the U.S. zone, stifled their opponent’s offensive flow, often pushing them back and trapping them in their own end zone. The U.S. got two Callahans during the game (one each by the Jakes: Jake Taylor and Jake Thorne), bringing their total to three on the day, after Leo Sovell-Fernandez pulled one in during the first game. Hong Kong tried their best to contain the U.S. with their own zone, undoubtedly trying to mitigate their height disadvantage. But the U.S. handlers worked quickly and confidently through the zone, with Kodi Smart, Jonny Malks and Jake Taylor, among others, leading the way in the backfield. On defense, Tony Venneri was nearly always the first one down the field, pressuring the first throw, and Dylan Villenueve was basically unbeatable in the air. Hong Kong got all three of their goals in the game’s first seven points, and the U.S. took the win 15-3.
The girls’ team first met Mexico, a women’s program pretty new to international play. Mixed defensive looks, particularly the U.S. zone, made progress tough for Mexico. They struggled to keep the disc moving across the width of the field, narrowing any potential open space in the middle. The U.S. often forced the disc backwards, and after forcing turnovers, had earned short fields for their break opportunities. The U.S. earned their first win of the tournament, 15-0. Japan was next for the girls’ team. Famous for their unique, short-passes and heavy-on-the-throw-and-go style, Japan had very few opportunities to utilize their traditional strengths. The U.S. forced numerous first-throw or early possession turnovers – a combination of great downfield defense that took away (or got block on) their primary options and tight marks on the reset handlers. On only a few points did the U.S. not convert their first break opportunities, and at no point was the U.S. broken. On either team. In either game. Contributions came from up and down the roster for the girls’ team; 18 of the 24 players ended up on the stat sheet with at least one goal or one assist. Most everyone else put themselves there with at least one D. But the self-proclaimed Big Friendly Giants – Carly Campana, Stacy Gaskill and Tess Johnson – were literally and figuratively huge throughout the game. Johnson came up with multiple Ds, plus an assist, and when they weren’t throwing or catching goals, Campana and Gaskill were eating up yards with their cuts. In the end, the U.S. got their second win of the day, 15-3 over Japan.
Tomorrow is a lite day for the U.S. contingent. Each team only has one game: The boys’ team will get things started again at 9:00 a.m. ET against Japan; the girls’ team will take on New Zealand at 11:00 a.m.
Stay tuned for much more coverage to come from Canada this week: recaps, photo galleries and behind-the-scenes looks are available here and @USAUltimateU20.
And follow along with teams live on Twitter! The U.S. mascot – George – is live tweeting game updates @USAUltimateLive.