Here are some of the very nice photos Jacquie Meisenheimer has taken.
We set our gear down on the upper deck and stretch before we're allowed to enter the pool through the locker room. As we stretch, the Canadians walk by in single file and check us out. They settle right next to us and I tell the boys "don't look, keep working".
We certainly look like a odd mix. Three six footers, a couple of 5 foot threers, and everything in between. Four Asians, two Hispanics, five Caucasians. It reflects America and I'm proud of it.
At the allotted time, the Canadians start down the stairs first. We follow. Into the locker room for a quick mandatory shower down to keep sweat from clouding the water. The Canadians leave for the pool first. We follow. Here we go....
Buzzer sounds, the Canadians are out for blood. They beat us to the puck and ram through. Play is furious, nine one-minute penalties and three two-minutes. Tristan gets tossed for gloving. John gets tossed for encroachment. For one minute, we have only four players against six. But we hold. The boys give their all. They're down forever protecting the goal. Quantum, Tristan and Peter cycle like clockwork. The Canadians don't quit. They keep coming and and make breakaway moves off the wall, but after getting burned so many times, we're in position to intercept and close it down.
With three minutes left in the half, John Meisenheimer scores for USA. It's halftime and every player is panting and spent. I tell them "fifteen more minutes, give it your all" "They're tired too".
I call out a play for the start of the second half. "ogre!" Raymond and Samuel know they have to beat Conrad, our center, to the puck and escort him down the middle as he picks up the puck. The backs are right behind, and this wedge drives almost to the goal but the Canucks beat it off to the left. Furious play, more fouls, more penalties. We hang on and Conrad Dale rams another goal in. Final score: USA 2, Canada 0.
ZamaritWe cheer, shake hands and clear the deck. At the side of the pool, I hug every player and thank them for this win. I tell them this is the first win, in history, for a USA U19 team at Worlds. On the upper deck, I hug Tom Brown, team manager Samuel Mariani, his wife Zamarit, Doc Lucky, his wife Jacquie, the moms, and anyone else that's nearby.
This win is dedicated to Gustavo Pesce and Agnes Debrunner who trusted me to take this team to the Worlds.
Our last scrimmage of our last practice day is not until 5 pm. We take Uncle Terry's advice and see a little of Spain. Hopped on the bus after breakfast, and took the boys to the beach. We arrive and they run into the sea and play like kids. Laughing, swimming, diving, they're having a great time.
After so much intense training, drilling, and scrimmaging, they have earned this break. Gustavo Pesce and Tyera's grueling sets are a distant memory as they frolic in the sea. Even serious mannered Tristan joins in with the building of sand castles. Or at least what we think are supposed to be castles....
We rinse off the sand at the public showers, have lunch at a local restaurant and arrive back at the hotel at 3 pm. "4:15, gear ready in the lobby", we tell the team. Back to the business at hand with France U19 Men waiting for us at the pool.
Last day's scrimmages are with pro Refs under game conditions. The French hit us hard. They score three in a row in quick succession. The boys are rattled. I call a time out, gather the boys. I tell the forwards to come back closer to help the backs who can't hold the goal. The forwards are waiting for passes that don't come. They're not attacking and backpicking to support the backs. We steady up but it's clear. We are outmatched and outclassed by this magnificent French team. Final score: USA 0, France 6.
We debrief and the mood is sullen. We review our mistakes but what does not change is that we know that as hard as we play, we cannot beat this team and the next three teams we face beginning tomorrow (South Africa, Colombia, and New Zealand). I sense the downbeat spirit of our team and tell them to huddle up and link arms. We are still standing poolside and I say on three, "TEAM!" They do and we startle everyone as their voices echo. The boys smile and we march out single file, in unison, gear bags shouldered and head for the lockers.
Usual Captains meeting held at our hotel. Tristan Reynard presents the issues, allows little input, and only entertains two questions. I must admit that he runs an efficient meeting and is thorough. The captains, Tom and I head to the dining room, and share our notes over dinner with the team. I announce who is sitting out for the first four games. Tom and I know that we must have our best team in the water for the games we can win, and sit our better players for the games we cannot. Only the captain and vice captain will not sit.
After dinner I wonder to myself how I'm going to keep the boys inspired when the burden is so heavy against these great teams. I still have to write about the crushing loss to France and I'm feeling a bit down. And just as I open my iPad to write, I see an email from Jennifer Smith. I open the letter and receive my answer. I will read Jennifer's letter to the boys before we play South Africa tomorrow and all will be right. Thank you Jennifer for inspiring me and tomorrow, the entire team.
Our afternoon game is with Colombia, another medal favorite. We strike and we get to the puck first. Conrad Dale is wearing his new Najades fins and he is flying. He weaves his way through the Colombians until the backs stop him and bring it back.
Surprisingly, our boys are hanging in. The Colombians bring their wall game into play and start bashing down the left side, turn and score. We fight and scrap. They score. Conrad is playing his best game of the tournament. By half time, the score is 6 - 0, but no one is discouraged.
We fight on into the second half and slow down their onslaught. We move into scoring position and we...... Score!! Samuel Mariani is officially credited with the goal, but everyone played a part.
I call a timeout. I swim to the wall and tell them "I called timeout just to tell you to go out there now and have fun! (and secretly to give them a brief rest)
The Colombians are mad now and drive hard to score but we still hold our own and they do not score more points on us than in the first half: Final score Colombia 11 USA 1.
The boys are still psyched at our debrief, loose and happy. They're having fun playing at a level they have never reached before. Every single player including our Captains had the best game of their lives.
Next up New Zealand. The last of Murderer's Row for us. We'll play the Kiwis in the morning and meet Canada in the afternoon. Man, what an experience for all of us!
Our first game of the tournament is against South Africa. The pool has transformed into a secure complex. Areas sealed off, credentials checked. Rules enforced. Swimmers are marching in unison and looking serious.
I shake hands with the South African coach. Our teams warm up in the same tight area. We size each other up. First strike! They score a quick goal then a long hard battle. Our boys hold them for the rest of the half until the last two minutes and they score two goals in that short period on cheap breakaways. It's 3 - 0 at the half. We huddle up and regroup. The boys are up. They want to go. In the second half, we attack the SA goal repeatedly. We have them on the defensive and twice the puck is inches from a goal, but we fail to finish it. Final Score: South Africa 4 USA 0.
In the debrief, there is an air of excitement. We belong here. We could have beat the South Africans. I tell the boys "you have arrived". "You got mean". Raymond, Samuel and Che got nasty. Peter Derrick said they "Manned Up". And we did it clean. The South Africans pulled dirty tricks, grabbing arms and free hand fouls. We didn't and we took it to them.
We hold no grudges and the South African Coach gives me a pin with a printed USA and RSA flag. I return the favor with a commemorative patch and we shake hands one more time. The boys line up again on land and each SA. Player gives our boys a pin. Class. This is how it's done. Another memory for the boys on sportsmanship and tradition.
Next up Columbia.
We're the first team to arrive at the pool today. Invited by the New Zealand U23 Women to play on their assigned scrimmage slot of the day. The tournament officials offered to ref our scrimmage with two Pro referees. They wanted to test the sound system and scoreboard and we played in real game conditions. We had a team stretch, warmed up with a quick 400 yds and ready at 9:00 am for first strike.
We scored first! Right away and put the defending champion women on their heels. We pushed hard, scored again and the game went back and forth until halftime. The Kiwi women regrouped and the coach laid into them. They poured it on at the start of the second half. They scored and now we were on the defensive. I coached from the deck during the first half. Tom Brown was in the water. I leaned on the team for more drops to defend our goal. The kiwis pinned us in and sealed the ends. After an eternity, Quantum clears the goal and breaks away.
I went in and watched during the second half. The game was clean but fierce. We were called for stick infringements and warned about encroachment on ad pucks. The Kiwi women knew how to draw us offside. Our inexperienced forwards fell for the slight of hand moves on the puck. We were warned. Next encroachment, two minutes. Such is world level hockey. You play, you learn. They schooled us but the final score: USA: 3 New Zealand 1.
I was able to schedule one more team for our own practice slot at 1:45 pm: The Canadian U19 men. A good test. Playing the Canucks will tell us where we stand. Up to now, we've only been playing defending championship teams.
We warmed up. "bring it in! " I shout. Team gathers in a circle in the water, links arms and a few last words are said. Team captain leads the cheer. Tristan shouts "Team!" The team responds "USA", they echo three times and the whole pool can hear and feel our cheer. They peel out, the starters on the wall and subs into the box. We have this routine down. We're looking sharp.
Whistle blows, the game see saws back and forth. No score. One minute before halftime, USA scores. Late in the second half, we score again. Final score: Team USA U19: 2 Team Canada U19: 0 We have done it. But we will meet the Canucks again and they will be not be easily dismissed. The word goes out. Team USA is competitive.
I introduce myself to the Coach from France and invite him to scimmage with us at our last slot before the tourney starts. He accepts. Their U19 men are medal contenders. Another tough test ahead.
The opening ceremony is tonight at 8:00 pm at the athletic stadium next door. Will send a separate update with pictures of this memorable event. Tristan and Conrad have been designated to carry our flag and signpost into the stadium. More to follow.
During the warm up and scrimmage with the New Zealand U23 Women the sun lit the pool bottom. This let me take a picture of each Team USA player. Check out this slide show.
The U19 Aussie women canceled on our early morning scrimmage. Instead, the Colombian U23 men were willing to play. I swallowed hard and accepted the challenge. It ended up being the best decision we made so far in this four day pre tourney practice period.
Of course we were awed by their speed, size and strength. They were beautiful to watch. But something happened to our boys. They stepped up. Every one of our players upped their game. We dropped, we fought, we cycled, we chased, we harassed and we even scored.
Tristan Debrunner had a great game. Fit and aggressive, Tristan stopped the Colombians repeatedly. Conrad Dale used his size and speed to move our puck into scoring position. Our young S.F. Boys attacked and controlled the puck. Samuel Mariani and Jake Meisenheimer had their best scrimmage and Peter Derrick really started to sync up with the team. I was proud of them. At halftime, I swam up to them and Tristan said "this is so fun!" It was a breakout game for our team. Do you believe in miracles? Well, no... Final score: eleven to one. Cheers and handshakes.
At our post scrimmage debrief, I asked each player what they thought and they all said how much fun they had. I told them how much improvement they made in weak side support and they agreed that they learned from the last match and applied better positioning. It showed. The U23 Colombian men are the defending world champions in their age group and once again, we didn't back down.
Our afternoon scrimmage was again with the Colombian U19 women. We played them yesterday and after this game, the Colombian coach said we showed dramatic improvement in our positioning, passing and teamwork. Final score: USA five, Colombia one.
Official practice starts tomorrow and opening ceremonies two days later. Tomorrow, we're confirmed for a scrimmage with the New Zealand U23 women who just happen to be the defending champions in their age group. I know they'll bring out the best in us.
Tom Brown and Samuel Sr hung our U.S. Flag on the flag rail. (Yes Carol, we hung it correctly). Thanks to all who are reading these updates for your replies of support and encouragement. Can't answer them all but they are appreciated. I read a letter from Max Van Rechem (USA UWH VP Development) at our pre dinner meeting and the boys were moved and inspired. Thank you Max.
After a great breakfast of fresh fruit, pastries, cheeses, deli meats etc., we taxi'd the team to the pool for our first practice.
We warmed up with 500 yds in the lap pool and at 11:00 am sharp, slid into pool 2 and scrimmaged @ 80 percent among ourselves. Assessed the performance of the new players while the team adjusted to the fast tiled bottom with a Simms puck.
After lunch, we scrimmaged with the Colombian U19 women, a well coached, disciplined team that played exactly as we had predicted after watching their men's team last year at PCCs. They were aggressive, fast and fit. We played under game conditions with a Colombian referee. That he called five fouls on us, two with two minute penalties on Quantum and Samuel didn't bother me. It was good experience for the boys to sit and for us to play with five. After hip hoorays and handshakes, I felt good about our first real workout and our four to one scrimmage win.
After lunch and a rest, we took on the U19 Aussie men. The Aussies played an open, end around game that was completely opposite of the Colombian wall game. Our weak side backs consistently played out of position and they scored easy uncontested breakaways by swinging and passing off the wall and banana running to score with us watching helplessly. But our boys fought hard. We repeatedly pushed forward and attacked their goal and one time they were forced to cycle out to the corner for two minutes as we pinned them in and kept attacking their goal. Alas, our weak side forward failed to seal the end and they finally took it out the other side and ran the length of the field to score. Again, I was not disappointed. Yes, they scored but we had them fighting for their life for those minutes. I was thrilled with our tenacity and aggressiveness against this big, fast and experienced team. We'll correct that tactic and seal the ends next time. Final score: five to nothing. I couldn't be happier with the score. You had to see our players to understand.
A great day of practice. The team is now fully adjusted to the fast bottom and synching up as expected. We reviewed our mistakes and the team now knows that it can compete. The Aussie U19 men are a medal contender in our age group and we didn't back down. The Aussie coach. complimented our younger players stick skills and encouraged us to continue our youth development. Tristan Reynald (tournament director), Steve Kars, and several other officials came by and expressed their appreciation for Team USA at the tournament.
We lost John Meisenheimer for at least a few days with a shoulder sprain. It's a re-injury and while we don't think it's serious, we'll sit him for a while until he's pain free.
We took the public bus back to the hotel, and yes, another team meeting before dinner. Tomorrow, we take on the Aussie U19 women and the Colombian U19 men. Uh oh.......
All travel went off without a hitch. Planes on time, Connections made, luggage arrived and all rendezvous were made in Valencia.
Bus arrived and in an hour, we were in Castellon. Fast and easy hotel check in, we held a team meeting before dinner. Talked about what we needed to accomplish for the next three days of practice before the tourney starts. Covered roles and responsibilities for each player. Reinforced the need to do fundamental things well. Covered some important rules and reviewed our strategy for corners and walls. Asked each player to share their thoughts and then we broke for dinner.
Dinner was awesome. Private room setting for us with fresh fish, pork, pasta, veggies and salads to choose from. All fresh and delicious. I had the boys sit at their own table. The moms at another and Sam Sr, Doc and I sat to discuss next day's plans. Boys went straight to bed after dinner. The food and service exceeded everyone's expectations.
Met the Colombians who are staying at our hotel. Arranged a scrimmage for tomorrow and hope to have one with the Canadians too. Long, long walk to the pool is not feasible in this heat. None of the teams we spoke with are going to walk. Colombians are taking Taxis. Kiwis are using private cars etc. We elected to take the public bus to save money and to keep the team together. Will see how it goes.
Everyone is upbeat and spirits high. We plan to arrive early tomorrow at the pool to take some team pictures and be ready for our scheduled time in the water. Ok, gotta get some sleep. Stay tuned.
This blog is written by members of the USA National Under 19 Underwater Hockey Team