Heidelberg, Germany (July 20, 2019) – The U.S.A. U-24 Mixed National Team won gold this afternoon at the World Under-24 Ultimate Championships in Heidelberg, Germany. They defeated Japan 15-12 in a game that was tight and hard-fought from start to finish. The game was a rematch of the 2018 U-24 Worlds final in the mixed division, and although the score margin ended up the same, the game felt much closer this time around.
The U.S. broke to start after Mia Bladin was able to knock away a deep shot from Japan. Brett Gramann launched one back the other way to Joe Freund, and he went up to bring in the goal. The teams traded points until the U.S. was able to break again for 6-4, but after that, Japan put together a mini run to jump back in front, including a hold on a marathon point that included at least a handful of break opportunities for the U.S. With their break out of halftime, Japan was in front 9-7. The U.S. needed to break twice to get the gold. The defense nearly got their hands on countless throws, with bodies laying out all over the place, and discs getting tipped up into the air and somehow still ending up in Japanese hands. The first of those two needed breaks after Japan finally missed on a throw behind their receiver. We worked it down the field before almost getting stymied on the goal line. Without many options and a rising stall count, Alissa Soo threw open Michael Ing at the very front of the end zone. That goal tied it at 9-9. Japan’s zone – a pretty standard three-person cup, with two women on the sides and a tall male in the middle – did a good job of slowing down the U.S. offense and forcing up the throws they wanted to see. The wind helped with that a lot too. It continued to pick up as the game went on, so Japan trapped the throwers up the upwind sideline, knowing anything thrown over the top had a good chance of getting pushed quickly out of bounds or over the heads of receivers on the other side of the field. And they were right. But when the U.S. was patient and really attacking the open spaces, they were successful.
The second crucial break was almost entirely a result of a monster pull from Freund. The pull landed in bounds and rolled out the back of the end zone. Japan picked it up, and with the defense completely set up, Luke Webb picked off the first throw. A quick dish to Freund, and the U.S. was in front.
They took that momentum and ran with it, Japan fighting every step of the way. Two points later, at 13-12, Freund actually landed a pull on the back line. But even though Japan was able to start at the brickmark, Freund wasn’t done on that point. The teams traded turns before the U.S. got it back on a drop, with Freund already downfield on his own. Gramann picked up and put it up for him. The wind bounced it higher than was initially planned, but Joe did his Joe thing, going up high to bring it in. The break for 14-12 essentially closed out the game.
The U.S. women, Anna Thompson, Mia Bladin and Julia Kwasnick in particular, were busy clogging up space in the throwing lanes, playing brackets on their Japanese counterparts. Because Japan typically put at least two of their women toward the back of the stack, it bracketing made total sense. And with a woman playing in the open-side lane, the mark could shade harder to take away the inside breaks that Japan thrives on.
On game point, Matt Gouche-Hanas crossed over to the D line, and got a big layout block on a throw underneath. He and Alan Villanueva worked their way up the field, working back and forth until a short toss went to Stan Birdsong. Gouchoe-Hanas did his typical work in small spaces, and Birdsong put it up right in the front corner of the end zone, right into Gouchoe-Hanas’ breadbasket. That was game! The U.S. earned another gold medal, 15-12, in the mixed division.