We’re about to see the opening ceremonies in Toronto to kickoff the 2013 WFDF U-23 Ultimate World Championships. Team USA is sending three teams, one in which of the three divisions, and will be competing against the usual countries like Canada, Japan, Great Britain and Columbia, but are also joined by countries like Mexico, Chinese Taipei and Venezuela. On the whole, there are 17 total countries competing amongst the divisions this year – follow these links for full team rosters and schedules by division and team: Open, Women’s, Mixed.
Notice where the US teams sit in each division, high, even though we haven’t competed at the U23 level in either of the three divisions (2010’s results are here for Open, Women’s, and Mixed) and don’t sit in the world rankings (scroll for all divisions) as well. Perhaps the strong junior programs the USA showcased last year in Ireland, and the results of the USA in other world events, owe us this strong seeding across the board. No matter what, Team USA certainly comes in with high expectations in each division – as Eric Brach puts in his great preview for USA Ultimate, the fans expect a lot due to the championship tradition.
Of the non-USA teams, there are some potentially great games to look out for (aka, ones that don’t involve USA). On the Open side, the kick-off game of Great Britain vs. Canada features the #2 vs. #3 seeded teams, and will be on NGN for free (Sunday 5pm EST) – you can learn more about the British team here. Staying in Pool B, how Japan stacks up against the British and Canadians (vs. Canada on Tuesday 11am, vs. GBR Wednesday 3pm) could be telling on how each team falls in bracket play. In Pool A, if the Germans beat Colombia they can look to break seed (that game is Wednesday 3pm). On the Women’s side of things, Canada vs. Colombia (Tuesday 9am) and vs. Japan (Thursday 3pm) should be very interesting games; Colombia is the one seed so they’ll want to de-throne them, while Japan has been historically strong in world events (2nd at the 2010 games) and should hopefully not disappoint here. In Mixed, for Pool A Canada vs. Japan (Monday 5pm) is a big game, but I think to see how Ireland fits as the #5 seed overall, and third in the pool, after a dead last finish in 2010 will be most telling in their games against those two (vs. Canada Tuesday 9am, vs. Japan Wednesday 5pm). In Pool B, Australia sees its highest-seeded team, at third overall, with a tough game against #6 seed Colombia below them (Wednesday 9am).
For the most part though, it really is a crap-shoot with the other nations, and how they’ll finish and perform against each other. It’s not really fair to use last year’s Juniors as a qualifier, nor is it fair to use last years’ Worlds event as well. How will the new-comer nations perform? Will the hosts defend their turf? All questions that will be answered, and hopefully give us all a clearer picture of the International scene at the high levels years down the road – as it is in hockey, soccer and other sports, where future breakout stars emerge for each nation and a muddled future becomes a little less so after events like these.
For a more detailed breakdown of the USA roster though, Zack Smith and I tried to put together a Google Doc giving more details about each roster member for Team USA – including their college and most recent club team – with the help of course, of all of those who reached out on Twitter (many thanks!).
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Team USA sits in Pool A as the #1 overall seed, but with six teams underneath them looking to unseat them for a moment, in the game or in the tournament standings. Above I mentioned what Eric Brach said about Team USA success in International events – he writes that Team USA has claimed Gold in every one attended since 2008 on the Open side. The teams challenging feat start to take aim in pool play, which includes games against Colombia, Germany and Australia; and while no teams can be looked past in the team’s quest for gold, it all gets very real come 9am Monday when the Germans face off against them. Australia comes later that same day (game at 3pm), and we’ve already been warned to “beware the Goannas” by the Australian Coach in this piece that ran earlier this week on Skyd. Their late showcase game against the Colombians on Wednesday (7pm) will also be a challenge with a game against the Irish team earlier in the day. Pool play makes way for bracket play, and that is where the real defense of the USA Open success begins, as it could potentially end in any game.
This team’s roster will hit every challenger with a very impressive lineup. If you thought that NexGen was an Open All-Star team that challenges every Club team they face, imagine how this team would do. The big names are there: Jimmy Mickle and Tim Morrissy from Colorado, Christian Johnson from UNC, Brian Hart and Colin Camp from Wisconsin, and Josh Klane from Minnesota. But just as important as those names are, are the depth players who come beneath them. Leading the way are breakout player combos from top Club teams – Ian Toner and Justin Allen join Johnson from Ring of Fire, John Stubbs, Christian Olsen and Byron Liu from Chain Lightning. The play of Justin Allen was talked about as the standout dude in the interview Ultiworld had with Coach Bob Krier. Some knew him from his play at Appalachian State (I know I did), and he joins a whole bunch of players on the team from lesser-known colleges across the country. But as Ian Toner puts it while talking to USAU’s Brach, the team needs to come together quickly for the red, white and blue. In that Ultiworld interview, Coach Krier talks a bit of strategy and what they worked on during their two-a-days up here in Buffalo during the heat wave, but also focused on those players coming together. He admitted he was very “impressed with the selfless-ness” of the players, especially with such a talented group of players. As will be discussed with most every team attending the tournament on end, Krier doesn’t seem worried that they can’t come together to perform the duty at hand and neither did Toner while talking to USAU’s Brach. You can follow the team on Twitter at @USAUltimateU23O.
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Before discussing the team, it is unfortunate that Michela Meister of Stanford/Fury, and this team, had to return home to California due to a serious knee injury while training this week and we wish her well in her recovery (along with Sarah Davis with a similar injury!). The Women’s team sits in one giant pool, and Team USA as the #2 overall seed. That means the challenges start early and often in pool play, and only continue once they reach bracket play. It all starts with games against Austria and Colombia on Monday (11am and 3pm respectively). Tuesday shapes up to be the toughest day for the team, starting with an early game against Japan (9am), and finishing with a game against Canada that night (7pm). Those are two tough teams, both with strong success at the last U23’s in 2010, but also a strong International history of their own against the Americans. Other hard games include facing the defending champions in this division, the Australians (Thursday at 5pm) and ending pool play against Great Britain on Friday (9am) – a team that has gone through great lengths to prepare for whatever may be thrown at them, including the Americans.
Of these National teams, this team may boast the most college level strength; if NexGen were to ever assemble a roster on the women’s side to tour with, many of these names would probably be included. Admittedly I don’t know as much about those players (and some of the mixed players as well), and their past performances and hardware – just what I’ve searched for and come up between Skyd, Ultiworld and other blogs – but I do hope to change that this week. In researching though, the Ultiworld interview with Coach Mike Whitaker was most insightful about the strategy of the team, and its selection. During the interview, Whitaker mentions that the team was made to be, and is expected to be very “well-rounded.” I’m taking this to mean not only in the traditional meaning, that the team itself would be able to compete with whatever style, but what Whitaker describes as well. He goes into detail how he and the team expect each player to be ready to play offense or defense, handler or cutter, depending on the situation and game. That says to me the team really is close to what would be assembled for a hypothetical NexGen team, as that’s what we’ve seen on the tour. Whitaker’s strategy may not be very different from what the other coaches are utilizing, in hopes of assembling something that can attack the different strategies they’ll be facing this next week from the International teams. Be sure to follow the team on Twitter, @USAUltimateU23W.
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They have the most interesting Twitter account by far – it’s not even close (follow them @USAUltimateU23X). And as the #2 overall seed, and atop Pool B to start, they’ll have a giant target on their back. That means Australia, Colombia, Great Britain, the Chinese and Venezuela will be coming for them starting at 3pm on Monday, when the USA mixed team plays their first game. The biggest challenge may be Australian ‘Bluebottles’, the #3 seed – for a quick primer on the Australian style of play, read those parts of the previously linked Skyd article on the Open team from down under. We saw at Worlds that the country is very much so coming into its own in the International scene, this is merely another event for them to cement that stake. Another threat for Team USA may be #7th seed Great Britain. Ranked low, but historically strong results for the British team ; as two players talk about in this podcast from UTalkRaw, the team’s mentality will be taking away the pressure from themselves and from their name to help lead to success. They’ve been playing together as a team to help build experience, and to train themselves better; an advantage they hope they hold going into Toronto. Also be sure to fully study the schedule for the mixed teams once they get out of pool play – it breaks off into three different pools to determine more games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (which is different from the other two divisions), which can set up a possible games against the Canadians and Japanese depending on results.
Roster-wise, the USA team is very strong like the others, featuring plenty of Club and College Nationals level experience across the board – featuring players from Ironside, Chain, Polar Bears, Fury, Riot, Central Florida, and Tufts among others. Specifically, we saw very strong play by the two NexGen players on the team, Eli Kerns and Elliot Erickson, during their time on the tour this summer, and anyone who watched Oregon Fugue play at Nationals can attest to the level of play Sophie Darch brings to each game. The team won Twitter through the shenanigans they has been letting the world in on, including a lot of fun games to bring the team together – which in mixed I think can be the biggest issue. I name-dropped a bunch of strong Open and Women’s teams, and while there are plenty of Club Mixed players on the roster, getting the team to gel both on and off the field is very important to the success of the team in Mixed maybe more-so than any other division. If their Twitter is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem for this team.
If you’re looking to watch the games, the NexGen Network will be carrying the games live and on demand from Toronto. But if you can make the trip up there, it looks like Ultimate Canada and the Toronto Ultimate Club are doing a great job bringing in local sponsors, vendors, and trips to attractions to better the event for spectators and the athletes – including a trip to see the Blue Jays, the Toronto Rush coming out, a beer garden at the fields, and some poutine. Either way, stick with Skyd and follow me on Twitter (@Skyd_JLeppert) and the USA-U23 main account (@USAUltimateU23) to follow all of the updates from this next week of ultimate.
Feature image is the 2013 U-23 logo, with all thanks heading back to WFDF and Toronto Ultimate Club for its use.