Madison will host 2022 Women’s Hockey U18 World Championship after two years of cancellations

Members of the U.S. women's hockey team at the 2016 Women's U18 World Championship
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On Monday, USA Hockey announced that Madison, Wisconsin, will host the 2022 Women’s U18 World Championship from June 6-13, 2022. Games will be played at LaBahn Arena at the University of Wisconsin and Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena.

“I’m gonna be biased, but [Madison] has the best fans for women’s hockey and sports,” said three-time Olympic medalist Brianna Decker, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin and served as an assistant coach for USA Hockey’s U18 team at the last two tournaments.

“The level of hockey is incredible. Most of these girls are going to be going [division] 1 and having a huge impact on college programs within the next few years,” Decker continued. “I always talk about the young players coming up are more skilled than half the players on our national team. So it’ll be fun to watch them and fans will really appreciate the games.”

Eight teams will compete at the 2022 Women’s U18 World Championship. Pool A will feature the U.S., Canada, Finland, and Sweden, while Pool B includes the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and Slovakia. The final tournament schedule – as well as ticket information – will be released “in the near future,” according to USA Hockey.

Recent History of the Women’s Hockey U18 World Championship

The IIHF Women’s U18 World Championship hasn’t been played since before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The U.S. will enter the tournament as the defending champion, having defeated Canada 2-1 in overtime in the gold medal game on January 2, 2020.

In 2021, the Women’s U18 World Championship (typically held in January) was the only top-level IIHF World Championship event that was cancelled, even though both the men’s U18 and men’s U20 tournament (also known as World Juniors) were played.

This year’s tournament was initially slated to be played in Sweden in January, but on December 24, 2021, the IIHF announced it was cancelling all January events due to surging omicron cases.

The cancellation of the tournament for a second straight year resulted in uproar from the women’s hockey community, including from current senior-level national team players – many of whom played at U18 Worlds when they were age-eligible.

The timing was an especially bad look given that the Men’s World Junior Championship began two days later, though that tournament was also ultimately called off and rescheduled after positive COVID-19 tests resulted in quarantines and forfeited games.

“Why is it automatically a cancellation?” Canadian player Erin Ambrose asked on Twitter. “We understand the concerns regarding health and safety but why is a postponement not considered for these women as the men’s tournaments continue without hesitation?”

Ambrose wasn’t the only person asking this question. When Sweden declined to reschedule the event for later in the year, USA Hockey expressed interest.

“We were able to step into the void and pick up this event and make sure it happened,” USA Hockey Executive Director Pat Kelleher said in a press conference on Monday. “The U18 World Championships is very critical to the girls’ game, to the women’s game, and overall to the sport of hockey across the globe – and specifically here in the U.S. [with all] the programs we run.”

There is some risk involved, especially given the very tight timeline between now and June.

“When we take on these events, we receive some hosting support from the IIHF. But largely, this is an event that the host country and the organizers take on some financial risk and burden to make this happen,” Kelleher said. “We will work with partners and sponsors to help make this event as successful financially as possible.”

Kelleher also promised better visibility and access to the event, including for people who aren’t able to travel to Madison to watch the games. At the 2020 Women’s U18 World Championship in Slovakia, live stream coverage was provided via a doorbell-style camera.

A screenshot from the livestream feed of the 2019 IIHF World Women’s U18 Hockey Tournament

“It’s a World Championship. We’ve hosted multiple world championships at different levels, men’s and women’s, and every one is special. And we will treat this one as such,” Kelleher said.

When the 2022 Women’s U18 World Championship was cancelled in December, IIHF President Luc Tardif responded to the criticism by saying the cancellation was a COVID-19 issue, “not a gender issue.”

Still, gender issues clearly remain ingrained in hockey.

For starters, while the IIHF refers to every women’s tournament as a “women’s” tournament, the organization does not use the gender modifier “men’s” to describe any of the men’s world championship events at any age level. This can be seen in the logos for the competitions:

The IIHF logos for the top division (men’s) tournaments in 2022. The IIHF does not currently refer to men’s world championships as “men’s” world championships. 
Unlike the men’s logos, the IIHF women’s logos all clearly indicate that they are for “women’s” tournaments.

While the omission of the word “men’s” is not a huge issue on its own, the centering of sporting events as inherently male is generally a good indicator of more serious gender disparities. (For reference, see the NCAA basketball tournament.)

Even in its press release about the new dates and host for the Women’s U18 World Championship, the IIHF also attempted to rewrite a bit of history.

“While one year was lost in the U18 Worlds both for female and male players due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2022 edition will mark the comeback,” the release read.

While the 2020 (Men’s) U18 World Championship was technically cancelled – a decision made just as the pandemic was beginning – the juxtaposition of the two situations is disingenuous at best, especially given the hoops that were jumped through to make the 2021 (Men’s) U18 World Championship happen.

After cancelling the 2021 Women’s U18 tournament – a decision made in September 2020 – then IIHF President Rene Fasel explained the situation in an IIHF Q&A: “The IIHF Council acknowledged that we could not put the parents of under-18 players in the difficult position of signing off permission for their daughters to compete in a tournament overseas. This concern was also voiced to us by some of the participating teams already… This will be an issue also for the men’s under-18 tournaments in the spring, the only difference being that we are still quite a few months away and we can afford to continue to monitor the status of the tournament and hope for improvement.”

Come the spring, not only did the men’s U18 tournament go on, but it was moved from Michigan to Texas, where COVID-19 guidelines were less strict.

There’s also the fact that – because there are two men’s youth tournaments (U18 and U20) – male players get two chances to compete at the junior level, while female players just have one.

“Obviously, it’s an important tournament,” Decker said. “It will be the first time that a lot of these girls put on that USA uniform, and I think they’re going to do a great job representing USA Hockey, but also our country… It’s a way for them to develop. You start those rivalries against Canada and other countries when you’re 16, 17 years old, and it carries you through onto the national team.”

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.