MNT Wins Gold, WNT Captures Bronze at Puerto Rico Invitational
by Matthew Collins
A successful weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico saw the United States' Beach National Teams walk away with two medals: Gold for the MNT and Bronze for the WNT.
Going up against international competition, the Puerto Rico Invitational would lend itself to see where the USA teams stack up againts competition within the region. On the men's side, the US took on Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago, while the women took on Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and an Orlando Brazil team, with several members being from the Brazilian beach national team.
Friday's action saw the men's side go perfect on the day, not losing a single set versus hosts Puerto Rico and Canada. The women's side had some flight issues, leading to starting goalkeeper Staci Self and specialist Lauren Micou missing the first match versus Puerto Rico. Meghan Kaminski stepped into protect the net, but the hosts took the match in a shootout. In the afternoon match, Self and Micou finally made it to the sand, with the USA defeating Mexico, behind 18 points from Christine Mansour and a dominant second set.
On Day 2 of the tournament, the Women's national team started the day against eventual champions, Orlando Brazil, and although an eight point performance from both Melissa Browne and Christine Mansour, the USA fell in two sets (16-20, 8-14). The WNT was able to bounce back versus Canada, winning in two sets (23-12, 16-14) with a strong offensive performance from Taylee Tellechea and Lauren Micou, who provided nine and eight points respectively. Puerto Rico 2 were the opponents for the morning session for the men's squad, with the men's team winning (26-11,26-10) and qualifying for the semifinals as the top seed. In that semifinal versus a talented Trinidad and Tobago squad, the USA saw their toughest battle of the tournament, claiming the two set victory (23-20, 22-17) to advance to the Gold Medal Match.
The WNT started the final day of the tournament versus Puerto Rico in the Semifinal without Renee Snyder and Meghan Kaminski due to injuries sustained on Saturday, leaving a difficult situation for Coach Michi Mensing to try and replace both the offensive efficiency from Ingram and the defensive prowess from Kaminski. After losing the first set, the USA came to life and dominated set #2, winning by fourteen, forcing a shootout. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico came out on top, with the USA moving on to the Bronze Medal Match.
Mexico was the opponent for the WNT in the Bronze Medal Match, and after each team captured a set, a shooutout would determine who brought home third place. Staci Self made a huge stop at 6-6 to allow the USA to go up by 2 on the next shot, and forced a errant shot on the next Mexico attempt to seal it for the Americans.
The MNT finished the tournament on the beaches of San Juan versus Mexico in the Gold Medal Match. The men's side came out swinging and won the first set by a score of 26-16 and the second set 25-18, to lift the trophy in Puerto Rico.
The USA walked away with several awards from the tournament, including Jason Borchik winning Most Valuable Player, Jamison Whiting being awarded Best Defender, and Christine Mansour claiming top scorer (86 points).
Viva Kreis, Theresa Mapp, and Jacob Roberts all made their international debut for the beach national teams, with Kreis having already made appearances for the national team on the indoor side.
WNT Coach Michi Mensing saw this tournament as a success as the team showed chemistry between veterans and newer players, and fought through injuries to capture the Bronze.
"This third place win was a display of team morale and overcoming adversity. With Cedar Bellows as our team captain and head of our defense, who did a phenomenal job integrating our new players into the lineup, it gave Melissa Browne and Christine Mansour the freedom to play up in offense," Mensing said. "We were required to experiment a lot this tournament to compensate for injuries and know that to stay competitive we need to strengthen our player pool for the future. But we also know that the core of the team is strong and invested in becoming better every day."
Coach Michael Hinson of the MNT saw this tournament as an opportunity to bounce back after the disappointing news in July that the ANOC World Beach Games was cancelled.
"After missing out on an opportunity to play in Bali, the team was hungry for competition. The tournament was very well well organized and in a beautiful location. Overall the competition in the continent continues to grow and we were forced to raise our game. We viewed the tournament as the start of the new cycle leading up to the summer of 2024," Hinson said.
On the team's performance being crowned champions, Hinson added, "The guys played with great desire, effort and relentless competitiveness. Very proud of the whole team for the work they have been putting in preparing to represent the United States. It is always a great honor to represent our country and we cherish every opportunity to put on the red, white and blue. We are all incredibly excited about the upcoming competitions and could not think of a better way to kick off the new season!"