Victoria Higgins met up with the youngest members of the Colombian Women’s team to see how exactly two 16-year-olds have had such an effect on their team.
Valeria prefers defence, Callahans over greatests, and layouts over skies. Manuela likes offence and greatests, but can’t decide whether skying or laying out is more satisfying. Both sisters agree that scoobers are superior to hammers, man defence is more fun than zone D, and the long game is better than the short game. And they are definitely in agreement that Colombia is better than Australia, who they have ousted from the top seed in pool D and who they face tomorrow to decide who gets the automatic bid into quarter-finals.
If Colombia win their pool, they will play a crucial crossover game with the winner of pool B, which will certainly be the star-studded USA, ensuring that they would not have to face the most stacked Women’s team of all time again until the finals. Needless to say, Colombia are determined to win their pool, and the 16-year-old Valeria (#33) and Manuela (#8) Cardenas will be key players to watch when they try.
The twins were introduced to Ultimate in 2007 through INDER, a program that promotes sports such as Ultimate in Colombian public schools, at the tender age of eight. Already enamored by physical competition and eager to throw their bodies around, the girls loved how the disc could be manipulated in myriad ways to deliver just the right throw. In the nine years since their introduction to the sport, the Cardenases have watched youth Ultimate in their nation expand such that Colombia has become an undeniable superpower on an international level. In 2010, Colombia won the gold medal at World Junior Ultimate Championships in Germany; in 2012, with 13 years of living and five years of Ultimate under their belts, the Cardenas twins helped Colombia repeat their WJUC victory in Ireland. And though they went home with a bronze medal in 2014, the twins are headed to Poland this August to reclaim the title.
In their first of undoubtedly many appearances at the World Ultimate and Guts Championships, they are probably the youngest players to grace the fields. But both sisters insist that neither they nor their opponents consider their youth a detriment to their performance. “Being young is in our favor,” Manuela tells me, “because we have more time to continue growing as players and developing an understanding of the game.”
At least, I am pretty sure she said that, because she and Valeria do not speak English. Regardless, given that the twins’ already spectacular skills have decades to mature before most women reach their peak performance, is it possible that we might one day see the Cardenas twins in the prestigious red, white, and blue? “I like the level of competition in the United States,” Manuela says. “And if I had the opportunity, it would be cool to experience the competitiveness of club Ultimate there. But on a national and international level, I want to represent Colombia.”
She and Valeria will continue to represent Colombia in their most contested match at Worlds thus far on Tuesday at 1:30pm, when they will play a tall and physical Australian team. The teams are well matched; both defeated Italy (who have begun suspiciously eying me as I have coincidentally watched all three of their games) on Monday and finished with nearly identical scores of 15 – 7 for Australia and 15 – 8 for Colombia. Relentless rain plagued Australia’s game against Italy, causing both teams to turn the greasy disc over almost every point, but the Aussies still looked dominant throughout the match despite exposing that their jam defense is not ready to contain elite teams. In their afternoon match against Colombia, Italy displayed their best playing yet and went point-for-point until Colombia proved that breaks come in threes to take half 8 – 4 and never look back.
Tomorrow, Colombia’s huck-happy style may get them in trouble with the Australians’ height, but both Cardenas sisters and several other Colombian stars—Yina Cartagena (#20) and Alejandra Echeverri (#13) among others—have a frustrating knack for launching massive backhands just above defenders’ grasping fingers. Whatever the outcome, it will be little comfort to the Aussies that they will almost certainly have to confront Manuela and Valeria Cardenas again in 2020… and 2024… and 2028… and 2032…