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Dec. 6, 2016 — Region of the Year

The Region of the Year is awarded to a defined area of the American field hockey map. It can be a league, a city, a geographic region, a county, a section defined by a state governing body, or an entire state.

For the entirety of 2016, many storylines within American field hockey had to do with the Commonwealth of Virginia. The growth of the game showed with the addition of 14 teams in the northern half, which necessitated the addition of an entire tournament classification in the Virginia High School League.

This made for a series of thrill-a-minute field hockey games in the public school tournament, which included a number of teams which would have never had a chance to get noticed when there were just two tournaments.

Virginia’s excellence was shared by the private schools of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA). In non-conference matches, the VISAA teams played their public school sisters tough, led by Norfolk (Va.) Academy, one of only a handful of teams in the U.S. with an on-site water-based turf.

But what sealed Virginia’s designation as Region of the Year for 2016 occurred in mid-summer. At the National Futures Tournament at Spooky Nook, the Region 8 U-19 team, with 18 Virginians and two players from North Carolina, won the gold medal against a pair of loaded Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides featuring record-setting blue-chip players from the American high-performance system.

Virginia joins a number of winners selected by this site in the past:

2016: Commonwealth of Virginia
2015: Summit, N.J.
2014: CIF Central Coast Section, Calif.
2013: VHSL North, Va.
2012: State of New Jersey
2011: Lancaster-Lebanon League, Pa.
2010: No award
2009: No award
2008: CIF San Diego Section, Calif.
2007: PIAA District 4, Pa.
2006: Winston-Salem, N.C.
2005: Louisville, Ky.
2004: Kent and Sussex County, Del.
2003: PIAA District 2, Pa.
2002: State of North Carolina
2001: Lancaster County, Pa.
2000: Cecil County, Md.
1999: PIAA District 3, Pa.
1998: State of Maryland
1997: CIF San Diego Section, Calif.
1996: Hunterdon and Warren County, N.J.

Dec. 5, 2016 — An after-hockey life leads to a pinnacle

The after-life of field hockey players and coaches vary. Some have started their own businesses, others get advanced degrees, and other start families. The world of elective politics, however, is another matter. For a while, the most prominent government official with a field hockey background was former Environmental Protection Association chief Christie Whitman.

This afternoon, former University of Michigan field hockey coach Patti Smith will be sworn in as the mayor of South Portland, Maine. Her life story is pretty extraordinary. Read about her here in this article from The Portland Press-Herald.

Dec. 4, 2016 — When junior field hockey is like an investment portfolio

On almost any piece of literature regarding banking and investment products, once sentence is printed near the bottom in small type:

“Past performance is no indication of future results.”

Given the placements after the 2016 Junior World Cup, this is certainly the case.

The current Olympic champions, represented by the England junior national team, are a team you might expect to do well in the Junior World Cup, no? The Lions finished seventh.

How about Korea, the winners of this very tournament in 2001 and 2005? This version of the U-20 national team finished 12th.

New Zealand, which took silver at the 2015 World League and made the Final Four of the last two Olympics, saw its junior national team finish a desultory 13th.

And for all of the successes that Argentina’s senior women’s national team has enjoyed since 2000, yesterday was the first time the Albicelestes have won a Junior World Cup since 1993.

You can speculate from here to Sunday what was going on with each of these teams, and whether their respective federations put a high enough priority on these teams as a development exercise versus a competitive exercise.

But each team develops in a different way. Field hockey is one of those sports in which it is difficult to predict whether a group of individual talents, or a talented overall team with no “star” players, will succeed in the end.

In a tournament situation with games every other day, I think it is much more difficult for the talented overall team to sustain its level of play over the course of two to three weeks. This is why, I think the natural talent of the finalists — Argentina and Holland — built those two teams, and those building blocks will progress to the senior level in due time.

 

Dec. 3, 2016 — Concerns for future foundations

The United States senior women’s national teams currently hold soccer’s World Cup, lacrosse’s World Cup, and field hockey’s Champions Trophy bronze medal.

But over the last year and a half, there has been some doubt sown as to whether the junior national teams can feed into these successful programs.

Two summers ago, the U.S. U-19 women’s lacrosse team finished second to Canada; it was the first time the States had lost the gold since 1995.

Last night, the U.S. failed to medal at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, losing the bronze-medal match 1-0 to Japan, just the fifth regulation loss ever for the national side, but it was the third straight defeat to Japan during this World Cup cycle.

And tomorrow at 9:45 Eastern time, the U.S. U-21 field hockey team plays England in the 7th-place game, marking the fourth straight cycle the States are playing for either seventh or eighth place.

If brows aren’t being furrowed in Baltimore, Chicago, and Colorado Springs, they should be.

The young women who are being brought along at the junior level are, doubtless, going to find their success at the senior level. But for every Andie Aldave, Mallory Pugh, and Erin Matson, there are dozens of players in each sport who are looking wistfully at the footage of the world tournaments, knowing deep in their hearts that they could have made a difference for their country.

There are also pundits who are looking askance at the selections made by the national team coaches.

But each of the three rosters were chosen under completely different circumstances. In the case of the lacrosse team, the U.S. staff purposely chose a scholastic all-star team rather than find a couple of eligible players to come off a college roster. That proved costly as the Canadians rode the scoring of Selena Lasota and Danita Stroup to the gold medal.

The calendar was not kind to the soccer and field hockey selectors. The U-20 soccer team had to rely on players who were not in the NCAA Tournament, which finishes up this weekend. While this was a good chance for players like U.S. senior national selector and 2016 Olympian Mallory Pugh to get some time in for top-quality competition, there were a number of players in the College Cup which could have made a difference in Papua New Guinea, had they been released by their collegiate teams to play.

The same could be said for the field hockey team. About a third of the U.S. roster was playing right up until the end of the U.S. domestic season, and, after competing in the NCAA Final Four, flew directly out of Norfolk to go to Chile for the tournament, limiting their pre-tournament contact with each other. The conditioning and game sense for the Americans should have been in mid-season form, but the player who leads the team in scoring has not played a timed, scored, and umpired game this fall.

Which makes you wonder where the strength lies in the U.S. developmental system in all three sports.

Dec. 2, 2016 — And speaking of awards …

You may recall that last spring, this site kept track of the top girls’ lacrosse schools in a weekly Top 10, then made a final Top 50 published last June. There was one thing missing from that inaugural Top 50: a physical, tangible award given to the top team, Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.).

And, when the final Top 50 for field hockey is published later this month, there’s going to be one thing missing: a physical, tangible award.

It was 14 years ago when this site got the idea to build a simple trophy to symbolize the apex of the game of field hockey. Not something storebought, but an award which could be duplicated year after year.

The idea was to build something tall; we were inspired by the Philadelphia Eagles, who commissioned an enormous trophy for wide receiver Harold Carmichael. The 23-foot, 9-inch award was bestowed when he broke the NFL record for consecutive games with at least one catch.

Given the size of the plaques I’ve seen given to field hockey teams winning state championships, I knew the TopOfTheCountry trophy would receive a lot of looks because the trophy towered over everything handed out by either state associations or newspapers.

But I got a perspective when I delivered the award to the Sacred Heart Valkyries in Louisville, Ky. after their 29-0 season in 2008. When walking past the trophy case towards the cafeteria, there were some shoulder-high awards lined up in front. They had two levels, four victory statues on each corner, and a cup on top. Underneath was a bronze basketball.

This is, of course, Kentucky, where the sport is a religion amongst young people like soccer in Argentina or football in Florida.

The trip to Kentucky also uncovered a possible problem. The award could go to any team, nationwide. I drove the trophy to Louisville; something I couldn’t readily do if the nation’s best team was in California or Colorado or Texas; it would have to go on an aircraft, a non-starter for a trophy that size.

The problem could have evinced itself this year on the penultimate day of the domestic season. What if No. 1 Emmaus (Pa.) and No. 2 Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.) had lost and No. 3 San Diego Serra (Calif.) had won?

This site hasn’t yet determined where to go from here when it comes to the design of the new end-of-year award to the finest team in all the land. There are plenty of options, but we’d like to go for something which is not only timeless, but something which can be updated as the years go on. Think of it: the last five and a half years of girls’ lacrosse and field hockey in America could have seen a total of 11 identical trophies going to exactly two schools: Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) — that is, if we had done a girls’ lacrosse Top 50 the last five years.

Who’s getting this year’s award? Stay tuned.

 

Dec. 1, 2016 — Previewing the awards season

With the end of the U.S. domestic field hockey season, we follow the advice of the late field hockey writer Jim Davis: “move this stuff inside.” Here’s what we’re planning for our end-of-the-year coverage:

Dec. 6: Region of the Year
Dec. 9: United States Coach of the Year: The Nominees
Dec. 13: The State of Hockey 2016
Dec. 16: Games of the Year
Dec. 20: The Final Top 50
Dec. 23: The Final Statwatch for 2016
Dec. 27: Your national scoring champion
Dec. 30: United States Coach of the Year

Nov. 30, 2016 — ADVISORY: Liveblogging USA vs. Argentina

POSTGAME That’s all for now; good night and good hockey

POSTGAME You could hang your hat on the fact that Argentina’s first goal came on a missed obstruction call, but given the injuries that have hit this team, and the margin of victory between these two teams in April, this is about the result you could have expected

POSTGAME The States now drop to what is now a star-studded consolation round which includes the nations who hold the current bronze from the Champions Trophy (United States), the current Olympic gold medal (England/Team GB), and the Rio bronze medal (Germany)

FULL TIME That’s the end of the game; Argentina wins 2-0 and advance to the semifinals

67:20 USA PC Dragflick is blocked down; follow-up is blasted wide! Was that the chance to get back into it?

63:00 Argentina is content to keep the ball in the attack end and to whittle down the clock

61:50 Argentina is keeping the ball in the attack end here; you wouldn’t know the States are up a player

59:52 ARG GREEN Barbara Gentili is off for the stick tackle

58:05 USA PC Low dragflick goes wide; not sure whether it was intended for the right-post player, but there was nobody between her and a yawning cage

57:35 USA PC Dragflick is defensed; will re-rack for the foot

57:00 Sophia Tornetta goes down hard in the midfield; she’s been the Energizer Bunny out there

53:00 The States have pulled back into a shell and don’t seem to have an answer of how to even get out of its own end of the pitch

52:10 Argentina golfs a backhander that Bing saves

48:10 von der Heyde may be familiar to you as a member of Argentina’s 2016 Olympic team as well as gold-medal winner in the 2016 Champions’ Trophy

48:00 ARG GOAL Lucina von der Heyde gets time and room on the right elbow and sneaks a near-post shot past Bing, and it’s 2-0 Argentina

47:00 ARG PC Shot goes high and wide of the goal cage

44:00 ARG PC A couple of shots are blocked down in front of Bing before they get to her; Albicelestes lose possession on a backsticks call and it’s a free out for the States

42:30 Argentina is content to keep the ball and make the Americans chase

39:35 A Sophia Tornetta backhand causes a few anxious moments in the Argentina circle, but the Albicelestes clear their lines

36:45 Woods telegraphs a free-in pass that Argentina almost takes for a snowbird; they can’t do that if they want to remain in this game

35:00 The second half is under way

HALFTIME Oddly enough, there is no video referral system for the Junior World Cup

HALFTIME As the halftime horn sounded, U.S. coach Janneke Schopman confronted the umpire on the end of the field where the U.S. conceded the goal; the question is whether an Argentina forward impeded the U.S. flyer trying to change course in following the option-left. Have a look:arg

HALFTIME The goal was a penalty corner, not a bit of magic from field play, which is somewhat surprising. The Argentina team that beat the U.S. in the Pan American qualifier had skills to burn

HALFTIME And that’s the horn to end the first term; Argentina leads the United States 1-0

32:20 Argentina with another near miss in open play; is this where the floodgates open?

31:20 ARG PC and GOAL An option left goes to Bianca Donati, who puts it into the cage as Argentina takes a 1-0 lead

29:00 ARG PC Defensed by Hurff again!

24:30 Argentina with an open backhander on Bing, but Julieta Jankunas sends it high

23:30 The Americans have a free hit in a dangerous position, and choose to go around the outside, but the Argentina defense forces them over the end line

20:00 The States are now in a hit-and-hope mode, as Argentina is starting to play the incisive ball in the attacking third

17:30 Argentina with a free hit in a promising position, but spurn the chance on a bad cross towards the spot

15:00 ARG PC Shot is defensed by USA flyer Laura Hurff

12:45 ARG PC Low shot is saved by a logged Bing; the rebound lays tantalizing at her feet but nobody is around for Argentina to flip it in

12:00 High shot is saved by the USA goalie, Kelsey Bing; the rebound is called dangerous — odd, because the shot itself created the danger

11:15 The Americans get a free hit deep in their own end and lift the free hit into an Argentine forward; a mental error that goes unpunished

9:50 Argentina looking dangerous in the circle but Carrie Hanks with a smart tackle and takeaway for the States

6:00 Teams are testing the other’s defenses; neither attack can maintain possession in the circle

0:41 Argentina with an early circle penetration, but the angled shot goes wide of the cage

0:00 The game is on

PREGAME The United States is in its traditional red; Argentina in its iconic white and blue striped tops and black kilts and socks

PREGAME The teams are warming up on the turf under sunny skies, temperature around 85 degrees

PREGAME There is history between these two sides, and not just on the senior level; on April 9, the teams met in Trinidad & Tobago in the final of the Pan American Hockey Federation Junior Championship, where Argentina scored five in the second half — the last four in 12 minutes — to run out 6-0 winners

PREGAME There have already been a couple of interesting results today; the day started off with Holland thrashing Germany 5-0, and Spain beating England 5-3. The Australia-Belgium game is later today

PREGAME The winner of this game goes to the Junior World Cup semifinals; the loser falls into the 5-through-8 bracket and have two more games remaining against the losers of the other three games today

PREGAME The States have been led thus far by Erin Matson and Ashley Hoffman, as well by the defensive acumen of Nicole Woods on the back line

PREGAME The Junior Albicelestes are led by Maria Granatto and Julieta Jankunas, who have four goals each in this tournament. Granatto has been tapped as the next great Argentina player

PREGAME Argentina comes into this game as the champions of Pool B, with a 3-0 record. The United States was the second-place team in Pool A, and is 2-1 thus far this tournament

PREGAME Hello, and welcome to Estadio Manaquehue in Santiago, Chile for this Junior World Cup quarterfinal match between the United States and Argentina