Team USA concluded its first Pan American Junior Championships in more than a decade with the 7/9-seeded men’s team upsetting top-seeded Mexico to win team gold, and the women’s team earning team silver Sunday night in Resistencia, Argentina.
The gold and silver team medals contribute to Team USA’s total of four medals in Argentina, adding to Wil Hagen & Morgan Steelman’s mixed doubles gold and Samantha Chai & Kate Feely’s women’s doubles bronze earned last week leading up to the team competition this weekend.
The men’s team’s gold medal run began with a difficult group including 2014 team silver medalists Argentina and top-seeded Mexico. The U.S. men fell 2-1 in a close match against Mexico, but defeated Argentina to advance to the knock out rounds.
In the knock-out stages, Samuel Epley and Spencer defeated their Chilean opposition to set up a semifinal against Guatemala. Epley, Spencer, and Clark Doyle then swept Guatemala in the semifinals to reach the final in a rematch against top-seeded Mexico.
Lovejoy clinched the deciding final match and team gold medal, recovering from going 2-1 down in games to win in five, 7-11, 11-8, 13-15, 13-11, 11-5, in an hour and nine minutes.
The U.S. women entered the team competition seeded second, and fulfilled their seeding to top a group including Brasil, Guatemala, and Paraguay losing only one match in the group stages.
Victories from twelve-year-old Marina Stefanoni and Chai saw the U.S. defeat 3/4-seeded Argentina 2-1 in the semifinals to reach the final against top-seeded Mexico. In the final, Stefanoni earned the U.S. a 1-0 advantage, but Mexico pulled out two three-game victories in the remaining matches to win gold and consign the U.S. to silver medals.
“Spencer Lovejoy showed such maturity and grit by coming back from three match balls and winning in a heroic fifth games, ” Ganek Family US Squash Head National Coach said of the gold medal winner. “Marina Stefanoni wowed the crowd through her dominance in team play and this as a twelve year old.
“Not only did our players show the proper balance of competitiveness and sportsmanship by calling balls down on themselves, showing respect to their opponents and showing a strong understanding of fair play, but we also won over the crowd and the opposition by doing it right.”
With all eight Team USA members amongst the first generation to reach the national team through the US Squash Regional Squad program, Assaiante hailed the program and its impact on the national team structure. U.S. regional national coach and Argentinian Fernanda Rocha led the team through her native country on top of coaching.
“The summary of this trip is simply that a system can work, ” Assaiante continued. “The eight young people that came to Resistancia have come through this national team system structured under the guidance of Rich Wade so that we now have a national program in place at all levels. This system involves regional squads, regional national coaches, world championships, national championships, good-will tournaments with Canada and now a team comprised of players who through this system have come to an event we haven’t played in for over a decade.
“We will make our arduous trip home with smiles on our faces, medals around our necks and memories for a lifetime. The system is working.”