The U.S. women's soccer team captivated the nation in winning the FIFA Women's World Cup this past summer, and for good reason. Its historic and entertaining run in France was hardly the only great performance by a U.S. team in 2019, though.
From the U.S. women's water polo team, which remains dominant, to the upstart U.S. rugby teams and the powerful U.S. sled hockey squad, the teams that make up Team USA thrived in 2019.
As several of those teams enter the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic year, no doubt many will be favorites to win gold medals in Tokyo. Before turning the page to the Olympic and Paralympic year, though, it’s worth stopping to take a look back at the memorable U.S. teams who defined 2019.
Here are Team USA’s top 19 teams of 2019:
Men’s Recurve Open Para Archery
Three-time Paralympian Eric Bennett formed a dynamic trio with 2016 Paralympian Michael Lukow and Timothy Palumbo that captured the men’s recurve open team title at the World Archery Para Championships in June in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. The Americans knocked off top-seeded China along the way. In the gold-medal match, they dominated to shutout defending world champion Russia, 6-0.
Men’s Wheelchair Basketball
The U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team has a roster that hasn’t changed much over the past three years, and its results continue to be lopsided. The Americans, featuring eight members of the squad that won the gold medal at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, cruised through the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 in dominant fashion. They beat host Peru by 100 points, routed Puerto Rico 106-35 and earned the gold with a 76-43 victory over Canada on Aug. 31. It marked the fourth consecutive gold-medal finish for Team USA at the Parapan American Games, and in the process, it secured a spot in the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. The Americans will head into next summer looking to win back-to-back Paralympic gold medals for the first time since the 1970s.
Men’s Foil Fencing
Miles Chamley-Watson, Gerek Meinhardt, Alexander Massialas and Race Imboden pumped their fists and posed with the American flag in Budapest, Hungary. The U.S. men’s foil fencing team finally celebrated winning its first world title in July after earning silver the previous two years and Olympic bronze in 2016. Imboden and Massialas, both two-time Olympians, won their opening bouts against France to give the Americans an early lead they never relinquished. They became only the second U.S. men’s fencing team to capture gold at the world championships, joining the 2012 epee team. Team USA—sometimes including Nick Itkin as well—also won gold at six consecutive competitions this year before suffering its first defeat in nine months and taking silver at an Olympic test event in Tokyo on Dec. 15.
Olympic figure skater Bradie Tennell stood next to her American teammates, all of them smiling as they held up their gold medals at the 2019 ISU World Team Trophy in Fukuoka, Japan. Tennell scored a 150.83 in women’s free skate on April 13 — the final day of the competition — to help the Americans secure their fourth World Team Trophy title. Team USA held a 12-point lead over host Japan after two-time world champion Nathan Chen and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou took first and second in both the men’s short program and free skate. The Americans added to their lead on the last day of the World Team Trophy, which featured the top six nations from the figure skating season, and earned their first title since 2015.
At this point, Simone Biles has accomplished so much as the most decorated female gymnast in history that there doesn’t seem like much more she can do to impress fans. However, the 22-year-old American superstar managed to top herself while leading the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to its fifth consecutive world championship in October, tying a record set by Romani from 1994 to 2001. Biles stuck a pair of jaw-dropping moves, including her new double-double dismount on the balance beam and triple-double on floor exercise, during the competition. Led by Biles’ historic performance, the Americans overcame some mistakes on uneven bars and balance beam to win the gold with 172.330 points. They outscored second-place Russia by nearly six points.
Women’s Ice Hockey
Amanda Kessel and Annie Pankowski managed to sneak a pair of shots past Finland, and goaltender Alex Rigsby (now Cavallini) took care of the rest in mid-April. The U.S. women’s ice hockey team edged Finland in a shootout to earn a 2-1 victory and claim its fifth consecutive IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship — and eighth in the past nine tournaments. It didn’t matter that Finland was playing in front of a large hometown crowd in Espoo. Rigsby held tight in the shootout, becoming the winningest goalie in a single women’s world championship with five wins in five starts. The Americans finished the tournament with a perfect record for the fourth straight year, dating back to 2015.
By now, members of the U.S. sled hockey team should be accustomed to celebrating together on the ice. The Americans went undefeated on their way to earning the gold medal at the 2019 World Para Ice Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on May 4, returning to the top of the podium after taking silver to Canada in 2017. It marked only the second time in tournament history that a team went undefeated, and the Americans added to their medal count six months later at the Para Hockey Cup in Paradise, Newfoundland. Declan Farmer and Josh Hargis each scored a goal to lift Team USA to a 2-1 win over Canada for its sixth consecutive event championship.
Men’s Rugby Sevens
The U.S. men’s rugby sevens team took its place on so many medal podiums this year that it has become almost routine for its members. The USA Men’s Eagles Sevens added to this year’s medal count in late July when they closed out a 24-19 win over Brazil to claim the bronze at the Pan American Games. Two months earlier, Team USA earned the bronze at the London Sevens. It was the Americans’ seventh medal during the World Rugby Sevens Series season, tying the total number of medals they won in the previous 19 seasons. They finished the season ranked second, and with a berth to the 2020 Olympic Games in hand.
Women’s Rugby Sevens
Like the men, the USA Women’s Eagles Sevens had their best season ever in the World Rugby Sevens Series, claiming five podium finishes across the six events. That included a win at the season-ending event in France, where the Americans also secured their berth to the Tokyo Games. Prior to 2018-19, the team had never reached the podium more than once in a season. Although the U.S. fell to Canada in an anticipated Pan American Games gold-medal match in late July, Team USA was back and raring to go as the 2019-20 World Rugby Sevens Series got underway. The Eagles opened things up in October with a win on home soil in Colorado before finishing third at the next tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Coming off a second-place finish in last year’s World Sevens Series, the Eagles are no doubt a medal contender going into Tokyo.
The U.S. wheelchair rugby team had an impressive two-month run that set up the squad for even more success next year. The Americans secured a spot at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in August with their win over Canada to earn the gold medal at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019—the team’s first gold in the sport’s two appearances. They didn’t have much time to enjoy it, though. In October, they headed to Tokyo for the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge, which is held every four years. Team USA continued its dominance on the world stage, and Chuck Aoki and Josh Wheeler made the most of their opportunities in the gold-medal game. Aoki scored a team-high 22 points and Wheeler added 19, as the Americans earned another gold with a 59-51 win over Australia.
Mixed Snowboardcross Team
Mick Dierdorff got out of the gate first, and then Lindsey Jacobellis hit the snowy course in Utah. The American tandem came together in early February to capture the gold medal in the inaugural mixed-team snowboardcross at the 2019 world championships. In doing so, Dierdorff and Jacobellis let the world know that Team USA will be the early gold-medal favorite when the event makes its Olympic debut at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. Dierdorff, fresh off his first world title in the men’s snowboardcross competition, raced past the field to earn his second title in three days. Jacobellis, a four-time Olympian and five-time individual world champion, followed him and matched his success. She made a strong push down the stretch to earn her sixth world championship.
Megan Rapinoe solidified her place as a cultural icon and the best women’s soccer player in the world when she celebrated one of her six goals at the FIFA Women’s World Cup by stretching out her arms and soaking in cheers from the crowd. It was one of the defining moments of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s historic run to its second consecutive — and fourth overall — World Cup title. The Americans opened the tournament with a 13-0 rout over Thailand, the most lopsided victory in World Cup history, and they capped it when Rose Lavelle booted a goal in the 69th minute to secure a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the final. The team won an ESPY and was named TIME’s Athlete of the Year.
Women’s 4x100-meter Medley (Swimming)
Good things happened whenever Simone Manuel got into the pool at the FINA World Championships in late July. Manuel won four gold medals and three silvers in Gwangju, South Korea. And she helped the all-star U.S. women’s 4x100-meter medley team close out the weeklong competition when the squad set a new world record with a time of 3:50.40 to win that gold medal. The American team of Manuel, Lily King, Kelsi Dahlia and Regan Smith had shown they could dominate their individual events. They didn’t slow down once they came together on the 4x100 medley team. Smith opened by setting a new world record with her 100-meter backstroke split and the others picked up from there.
Men’s 4x100-meter (Track and Field)
Christian Coleman was off to a fast start. Justin Gatlin and Mike Rodgers kept up the pace. Noah Lyles then took the handoff and finished the job. The U.S. men’s 4x100-meter relay team cruised to a gold medal at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, clocking in the second fastest time ever at 37.10 seconds on Oct. 5. It was the eighth world title for the Americans in the men’s 4x100. Team USA hadn’t won the event since 2007, but Coleman — the recently crowned 100-meter world champion — set the tone while running the first leg. Lyles, meanwhile, didn’t show signs of feeling sluggish after winning gold in the 200-meter. He took the baton and raced toward the finish line, capping the American-record time.
Mixed 4x400-meter (Track and Field)
Allyson Felix was bound to break Usain Bolt’s record for most gold medals at the world championships, but the decorated American sprinter got a little help from her teammates. Felix surpassed Bolt in late September when she ran the second leg on the U.S. mixed 4x400-meter team that won the gold medal in Doha. It gave Felix a total of 12 golds at the world championships, and it established the Americans as the clear favorites when the mixed 4x400 makes its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games. The foursome of Felix, Wil London, Courtney Okolo and Michael Cherry also set a world record with its time of 3:09.34 in Qatar.
Universal 4x100 (Para Track and Field)
Noah Malone, Deja Young, Jaleen Roberts and Erik Hightower gathered on a track in Lima, Peru, and celebrated a victory with an American flag draped over their shoulders. They posed the same way three months later at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. In 2019, the American foursome set the standard for a new event known as universal 4x100-meter relay, which combines Para athletes — two men and two women — starting with a visually impaired athlete, followed by an athlete with a limb impairment, then an athlete with a neurological impairment and ending with an athlete who is a wheelchair racer. Team USA won the gold medal at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 with a time of 47.94 seconds. It marked the first time the universal 4x100 had been held at a major international competition. At worlds, Hightower made a late push on the final leg of the relay to help the Americans edge China for the gold with a time of 46.94.
Outside hitter Kelsey Robinson said the U.S. women’s volleyball team has “a lot of potential and room for growth.” Things have looked promising so far. Team USA successfully defended its FIVB Volleyball Nations League title, going 12-3 in the five-week preliminary round and then 4-0 in the finals to win the $1 million prize once again. The Americans earned the silver medal at the every-four-years FIVB World Cup in Japan, winning 10 of its 11 matches during the 16-day tournament. They knocked off top-ranked Serbia, No. 4 Brazil and No. 5 Russia along the way. In addition, the U.S. women won the Pan American Cup and the NORCECA Champions Cup — all while qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Women’s Sitting Volleyball
The U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team is playing as a “cohesive unit,” according to starting setter Kaleo Kanahele Maclay. With such team chemistry, the Americans proved unstoppable during a perfect season in 2019 that solidified their place as the world’s top-ranked team. This summer they won 15 of their 16 sets at the Parapan American Games and claimed the gold medal. They won all seven of their matches and didn’t drop a set on their way to winning the gold medal at the World ParaVolley Super 6 in November. They capped their impressive run at the tournament with a 25-12, 25-18, 25-22 victory over reigning world champion Russia. Team USA finished the season 25-0 to improve its record to 51-1 since the start of the 2017 ParaVolley Pan Am Championships.
Women’s Water Polo
Another year, another world championship for the U.S. women’s water polo team. Team USA has quietly built a dynasty with its combination of depth, experience and leadership. The Americans captured their third consecutive FINA World Championships title in July by winning their 53rd straight game — an 11-6 victory over Spain in the finals in Gwangju, South Korea – which is the longest streak in the modern era of women’s water polo. In doing so, they became the first team, men’s or women's, to win three consecutive world titles in the sport. Team USA also won titles this year in the FINA Intercontinental Cup, World League Super Final and Pan American Games, and the squad goes into the new year with a record 68-game winning streak. And they’re not done. The Americans will attempt to win their third consecutive Olympic gold medal next summer in Tokyo.
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.