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Archive for November 20, 2006

Nov. 20, 2006 — Field hockey as kiwi fruit

The kiwi fruit, a species of edible fruit from the Actinidia deliciosa vine, is sometimes called “The Ugly Duckling of Produce.”

A brown, fuzzy casing may keep the uninitiated away. But peel the skin off, and you will find brilliant and sweet green and yellow flesh.

That ugly brown cover is reminiscent of how the game of field hockey is packaged in the United States.

Take, for instance, the recently concluded NCAA Division I tournament. Friday night, the live ticker from the game site indicated that the final score, in regulation, was Wake Forest beating Duke 5-3. I was interested in one entry close to the end of the match, showing that Kristina Gagliardi had scored a goal for the Demon Deacons.

I found that extremely interesting, seeing that not only was Gagliardi a goalkeeper, but she had torn an ACL earlier in the season.

Only hours later did I ascertain that multiple missed entries in the display for live statistics led to the game being “over” when it had, in fact, gone into overtime with Wake winning 5-4.

You thought that was bad? The game broadcast Sunday on College Sports Television was even worse. Some of the same misstatements of fact from earlier in the season were repeated; specifically, that the sixth-place finish by the United States in the FIH Women’s World Cup was “our best ever,” forgetting that the Americans won bronze in Dublin in 1994.

But the ultimate error occurred in the middle of the half. A Maryland turnover led to a Wake shot that clearly flew wide of the cage on first glance, and the announce team wondered why the shot didn’t count as a goal through four replays over two minutes.

They didn’t even realize that the ball never entered the cage in the first place.

I know that several coaching bodies have sponsored college broadcasts over the years, with the AVCA ensuring a Sunday night broadcast of women’s and men’s volleyball on CSTV and the NSCAA cosponsoring a Friday soccer broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel.

It’s time that either USA Field Hockey or the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association do the same thing. 

In the meantime,  I hope that if you taped this year’s championship match to watch it again, you’ll turn the sound down. You’ll be doing yourself a big, big favor.

Nov. 19, 2006 — It’s a young woman’s game

If there was one parallel between the four teams that contested the inaugural New Jersey Tournament of Champions, I found it interesting that none of the coaches in the tournament were over the age of 35, and none had reached the 200-win plateau coming into the 2006 season.

But that’s not because any of these four coaches are callow, wide-eyed, or lucky. Nope, all four have had the necessary experiences to drive their teams towards this first-in-the-nation playoff.

  • Ali Good was a player for Group I champion Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) when the team won New Jersey Independent Schools Athletic Association titles in the 1990s. In 1998, she took on the role of assistant coach before ascending to head coach for the 2005 season.
  • Like Good, Meredith Elwell coaches at her alma mater — only in her case, it’s at Group III champion Moorestown (N.J.). A former two-sport athlete for the Quakers and at the University of Virginia, Elwell is continuing the path set forth by legendary head coach Joan Lewis, who coached the team to more than 400 wins and 15 state championships.
  • Like Elwell, Danyle Heilig is a graduate of Moorestown, but coaches at Group IV titlist Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), which is about 12 miles away. Heilig’s willingness to teach her players international-caliber tactics and skills has paid off handsomely in eight years at Eastern following one season at nearby Haddon Heights.
  • Jill Cosse, head coach at Group II champ North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), is actually the oldest of the four coaches, having graduated from Trenton State College in 1993. After a couple of seasons at Kean University, she took the West Essex job after the retirement of legendary Linda Alimi and won a state title her first year out in a thrilling 2-2 draw with Allentown (N.J.). She has also coached her lacrosse team to several New Jersey Group B (small-school) championships.

I found it very interesting the way these four coaches were able to not only get their teams to get past the “tipping point” of the group finals, but to get high-school students to focus on a particular task and work collectively towards a purpose, all the while bearing the burden of history. None of these four coaches had ever handled a team in this situation before, and it could not have been easy for any of them.

It makes me wonder what’s going to happen when the more experienced coaches like Nancy Williams, Trish LeFever, and Carole Schoen make it into the Tournament of Champions. Will they handle situations with the same grace and aplomb as the four coaches in the 2006 tourney?

Should be fun to see what happens next year.

Nov. 18, 2006 — Catching up with the Kulinas

Was in Allentown, Pa. for the Pennsylvania state championships, and around halftime of the Class AA title match, I ran into a phalanx of blue-and-white striped players and coaches from undefeated Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.).

One face in that crowd, however, showed instant recognition. It was Kiley Kulina Strohm, one of the best players in the Lower Dauphin program’s history. She attended Penn State and made the U.S. women’s national team pool in 2002, but did not earn a cap.

But the two of us had an on-field moment together on a hot summer afternoon in 1999. It was a four-nations tournament for the U-20 national teams from England, the United States, Chile, and India. I had been hoping to sit and enjoy the afternoon up at Kean University, but was asked to volunteer as a ballboy. I seized the chance to view the action from up close. Not only did I get to see our young American players, but got my first chance to see up close a young lady named Paula Infante, who would win the 2005 Honda Award for the best field hockey player in the NCAA.

After the AAA final which saw Lower Dauphin beat Flourtown Mount St. Joseph’s (Pa.) 2-1, I ran into Kiley’s younger sister Kellie Kulina, wearing the maroon and black of Lock Haven. A few years back, I had believed that she, Ashleigh Haas (University of Virginia), and Carey Fetting-Smith (University of North Carolina) had the vitality, game sense, flair, and strength to help change the game as we know it in the United States.

But that hasn’t happened. Haas made her name on the lacrosse field, winning the national title at Virginia. Fetting-Smith now works in New York, and Kellie Kulina now works one-on-one with young special education students in Dauphin County.

Which makes me wonder: if I were to pronounce here that Wyoming Seminary sophomore midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick might find herself on the same fast track as Katelyn Falgowski or a Katie O’Donnell, would she fall under the equivalent of The Sports Illustrated Curse?