MONCHENGLADBACH, Germany – Not holding back an ounce of energy, the U.S. Under-21 National Team exerted their entire selves for 70 minutes of elite play in the final field hockey match at the Junior World Cup against South Africa.
Although the team competed in six games with distinguished opponents and varying extreme weather conditions in Germany, the squad continued to dig deeper with each match – growing and strengthening performance against international competitors. U.S. defeated South Africa, 4-2, to take home a respective seventh placement in Mönchengladbach’s Hockeypark. Steve Jennings a long side his colleagues Pam Bustin and Tracey Fuchs, were able to use the tournament as a second-to-none experience that sharpened game knowledge and skills.
“It’s fantastic to close on a win and we had a great tournament overall,” said Steve Jennings head coach of the U.S. Under-21 National Team. “We played some incredible matches. Our loses were to some of the greatest teams in the world and for many of those games we were right there for long periods of time. Really couldn’t be prouder of this team.”
From the time their turfs touched the field, Team USA created a flow of contagious electricity by developing passing combinations to their attack circle. The U.S. brought the scoreboard to life in the 15th minute when U21 athlete Marie Elena Bolles of Phoenixville deflected a straight shot into the cage. South Africa responded to the lone goal with one of their own in 29th minute of play. As time dwindled close to halftime, U.S. 21 Captain Laura Gebhart broke the knot at the 33th minute sending a powerful hit from center circle past South Africa’s goalie.
This momentum didn’t fatigue with the opening of the second half for Team USA. U.S.’s Nikki Parsley and Emma Bozek capitalized off of penalty corners in the 60th and 68th minutes of the match. Although Team USA’s defense played as a unified force through the entire game, South Africa was able to squeeze in a goal during the 69th minute with rebounded play in the circle.
“Coming into the tournament we knew we had a great team and we started connecting even more with each game,” said U.S. U21 athlete Maxine Fluharty. “Together we made that win happen today. The match against South Africa was a hard-fought battle and a great way to end the Cup.”
From the beginning of the tournament, U.S. set a high-tempo tone after defeating Korea in the first match of pool play by winning 4-1. Korea is one of the most decorated teams at the Women’s Junior World Cup, having participated in all editions of the tournament since its creation and finishing on top in 2001 and 2005. Next on tap for the U.S. was the Netherlands, a squad with equally noteworthy accomplishments having been crowned Junior World Cup Champions in 1997 and in 2009. Despite the U.S.’s efforts, the Netherlands’ attack secured five goals to USA’s one. Ghana was the U.S.’s final competitor in Pool A. The U.S. U-21 Team displayed dominance as they continually carried the ball to their attack circle. USA won the match, 6-0, and qualified for quarterfinals against Argentina.
The match against Argentina provided much anticipation for those in the stands from the back and forth ball movement in the middle of the pitch for almost the entirety of the game. Argentina was able to capitalize on key moments to create a 2-0 victory. The next match up for the U.S. was against Australia on Friday. Although starting strong, Team USA fell to the Jillaroos losing, 4-1.
“There is a lot of pressure for these athletes to keep growing,” said Jennings. “Some are advancing to the Senior Team and they’ll have to step up a couple more notches. There are players underneath them that will have to step into bigger roles too. Hopefully, even more so, this tournament sets that bar of excellence even higher no matter their paths.”