April 03, 2017, 10:36 a.m. (ET)

USA Women Down Greenland, Qualify for Pan Am Championships

It was crunch time for the USA Women’s National Team (WNT) Sunday night against mighty Greenland.  The Americans had beaten Greenland previously in the tournament and were now facing their rivals for the second time in three days.  This time however, everything was on the line.  While the WNT was 3-0 in the preliminary round, the only thing that mattered would be the results of the medal round.  Only the top three teams would earn a place in the 2017 Pan Am Championships this June in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  In a brilliant display of tenacity and perseverance, the WNT fought thru challenge after challenge to overcome a late two goal deficit to beat a very talented Greenland team 20-18.

Greenland and the USA have played several memorable games in recent years.  Every game is tough as the teams match up well, although they play different styles.  Greenland is a tall, strong, and physically gifted team.  Several backs are truly elite athletes with cannons for arms.  They attack with blistering speed and have a tremendous discipline whether on offense or defense.

Zoe Lombard, returning to the lineup after missing two games, opened the scoring for the Americans.  Freshman Ashley Butler followed as did Jence Rhoads and the titanic struggle was underway.  Greenland fought back at every turn and back and forth the teams battled.  Kathy Darling and Julia Taylor chipped in goals and after Lombard scored again, Greenland withstood the assault to eventually overtake the USA to lead 8-7.  Sarah Gascon tied the score and the USA would then surge ahead on a couple of goals by Rhoads and Darling.  After an unsuccessful 7-meter shot by Darling, the teams left the court at halftime with the USA up 10-9.

The second half was almost identical to the first.  The USA got goals by Darling, Nicole Andersen, Gascon, and Lombard, but the unshakeable Greenland team hung right with the Americans.  When Taylor and Ashley Van Ryn scored to edge ahead, Greenland came right back and caught the USA and actually went up by a pair of goals.

As time drained from the clock, Shani Levinkind and Van Ryn brought the WNT back to a tie with only three minutes to play.  Over the next two minutes, all the critical elements of coaching, training, and practice, were on vivid display.  As Head Coach Latulippe explained, “When that girl tried to hit that gap there was an opening.  In a split second, Sarah (Gascon) was suddenly there and got the charge call and everything changed.  Then we got the ball and we were the ones to take advantage of the opportunity.  Defense!”

Latulippe called a time out and diagramed a play designed to create an opportunity for Gascon to find Rhoads hoping for a gap in the defense.  Sure enough, the play worked exactly as designed and after a series of passes, Gascon took a feed and whirled to find a streaking Rhoads finding daylight in an otherwise seamless defense to score the critical USA goal.  The USA now had a 19-18 lead.

In the final minute of play, the tenacious American defense proved once again up to the challenge.  Rhoads made a big block and the Americans stopped Greenland cold.  The Americans countered and when Lombard scored with 46 seconds to play, the opportunity for a trip to Argentina was seized.  Closing out Greenland was once again left to the brilliant defense and once again they came through.  As the smoke cleared, after a truly pressure-packed battle, it was the USA WNT who were left standing.  

It was the amazing American defense that kept the WNT in the game and gave the team a chance to win.  The interior was once again impenetrable.  Gascon, Fithian, Rhoads, Andersen, Darling, and Levinkind, were extraordinarily disciplined against an onslaught of elite Greenland scorers.   When Greenland tried to go wide, the wings, Taylor and Lombard were there in support.  

USA will now take on Puerto Rico, who pounded the Dominican Republic in the other semi-final game.

Scoring-Lombard (4), Darling (3), Rhoads (3), Gascon (2), Butler (2), Taylor (2), Van Ryn (2), Levinkind (1), Andersen (1)