Titles Defended, USA Triumph at Pan Am Junior Champs

By Matt Hetherington | July 13, 2018, 12:22 a.m. (ET)

The US Junior Boy's and Girl's teams emerged with gold around their necks as they successfully defended their team titles at the 2018 Pan American Junior Table Tennis Championships in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

The teams had advanced from the groups stages after their match wins yesterday, the boys finding themselves straight into the semifinal stage, while the girls had to face off with Paraguay in the quarterfinal in order to pass through to the medal rounds. 

The team passed responsibility onto Rachel Sung and Rachel Yang, who teamed up with the more experienced Crystal Wang to cruise to a 3-0 win over the opposition from Paraguay.

As both teams headed into the semifinal stages it would be Brazil who would face them in both events. 

The boy's suffered a blow early on with Guilherme Teodoro coming out in the first position for Brazil to record a 3-1 win over Nikhil Kumar. Kanak Jha swiftly locked in his 2 points, while Nick Tio landed a victory to help push the US side into the final. At the final hurdle they would face Argentina. 

The girls team had a slightly tougher challenge. Top contenders Amy Wang and Crystal Wang were both defeated by a player who could be considered in the Pan American field, their nemesis. Bruna Takahashi of Brazil stole away two points, beating the two most experienced members of the US side. The pair redeemed themselves by capturing 2 respective points from their other singles matches, but the true pressure of the match fell upon Rachel Sung. 

Indeed it was the third match of the tie that held the balance for the US and Brazil, the win for the American team would equalize at 2-2 and allow Crystal Wang's point to seal the deal. Sung didn't immediately find herself in the zone and the first game fell 11-1 for her opponent. She quickly adjusted and faced the pressure head on, taking the next three games to score the all-important point and allow Crystal Wang's fifth match win to give the 3-2 result to USA. Into the finals and they would face Canada.

The coaches placed their trust again in Rachel Sung and Rachel Yang, as they paired them with Amy Wang, while the reliable and experienced Crystal Wang supported from the sidelines. This was part of an important long-term plan to expose all the team players to high pressure situations. This put some added pressure upon Amy Wang to take two wins. 

In a lesser expected scenario, a determined Ivy Liao of Canada upset Amy Wang in the opening fixture and put the USA on the back foot. Rachel Sung fought through a 5 game showdown to hold the team in the competition. Her result drew USA and Canada to a 1-1 draw. 

Rachel Yang defended her way to another win in the third game and took some of the pressure off the team, handing them a 2-1 lead. In the fourth game, Rachel Sung came through to avenge her teammate and win over Ivy Liao and the girl's took the gold. 

In the boy's final Nick Tio was elevated to the first position and, along with his exceptional forehand game, accelerated to a 2-0 lead over Martin Bentancor as the US side battled to overcome Argentina. Bentancor squeezed back into the match and surged forward to win the next 2 games and leave Tio on dangerous ground in the fifth. Tio struggled but eventually found his footing, but it was too late. 11-9 in the fifth and Bentancor put Argentina on the board as he shut down Tio's forehand game and got on the offensive. 

Kanak Jha followed up in the second position, exhibiting the class of a US Olympian as he recorded another top performance and leveled the team score. 

In the third match, Sharon Alguetti was unstoppable as he won in straight games over Leandro Fuentes and set Kanak Jha up to land the finishing blow. 

Jha avenged Tio in 3 games as he took out Martin Bentancor, his flawless win record laying the foundation for the US side to take gold and successfully defend their title.

USATT High Performance Director Joerg Bitzigeio noted the strong performance of the teams and the coaches bringing up a few players into pressure positions in order to expose them to higher levels of competition and more demanding positions. The less expected scenario of Amy Wang in the girl's final presented some uncertainties, but the two Rachel's played well to handle the situation and bring the girl's team through. On the boy's side Kanak was a reliable force for the team and Nick Tio did well to open with a close match in the final against Argentina. Overall he was happy with the team performance and satisfied with the result and defending of the team titles. 

Congratulations to the Boy's and Girl's teams on their gold medal performances, along with coaches Qi Wei, Gao Jun and Joerg Bitzigeio. Good luck for the individual events!