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Dec. 9, 2007 — The State of Hockey 2007

The American field hockey community had plenty of reasons to be excited over the course of the summer. That was because the U.S. women’s national team has been playing about as well as it had been over the past 20 years, the last time it had qualified for the Olympics when it had not been the host country.

The Stars and Stripes had a one-goal lead at the interval of the Pan American Games gold-medal match against Argentina, but surrendered four goals in less than 20 minutes and lost not only the game, but the automatic qualifying bid from the Pan-American Hockey Federation to Beijing 2008.

But thanks to other continental qualification results, the U.S. has a relatively easy qualification group in its last-chance qualifier to be held next year in Kazan, Russia.

The U.S. men’s team, despite finishing seventh in the Pan Ams, will have a chance to qualify for Beijing, thanks to a number of hockey federations’ decisions not to field teams.

The youth movement in the U.S. system continued, thanks to the strong play of Katelyn Falgowski, who made the Pan Am team. In addition, high-schoolers Katie Reinprecht, Katie O’Donnell, and Kathleen Sharkey continued to improve in the U.S. develomental system. Reinprecht was the only high-schooler to have been chosen for the extended senior national team pool last summer.

O’Donnell and Falgowski headed one of the greatest overall freshman classes to enter the world of Division I hockey in some time. O’Donnell, playing for the University of Maryland, was involved in 35 Terrapin goals (18 scored, 17 assisted) this season. Nobody in Division I had that kind of involvement — although North Carolina’s Falgowski (nine goals, 21 assists) was close.

Maryland and North Carolina held the top two slots in the national polls for most of the season, but a late ACC matchup set the tone for the final month of the season. The Heels beat Maryland 3-0 on Oct. 20, sending the Terrapins into a tailspin. They lost three of their last five matches, including a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Penn State in an NCAA quarterfinal match on their home pitch.

Meanwhile, the Heels kept on winning. Rachel Dawson was at the height of her powers in the ACC final against Wake Forest, controlling the midfield with a deft touch and brilliant vision. Her penalty stroke sealed the overtime win, and that gave Carolina the impetus it needed for the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina would win the Division I final with a 3-0 over Penn State. The Nittany Lions had been able to parlay their all-American roster into a finals berth, thanks to enterprising hockey and good coaching, but North Carolina was too much on the day.

In Division II, Bloomsburg bested UMass-Lowell 5-2 in what is becoming a competitive postseason rivalry. Bowdoin College won the Division III championship with a dominating all-around performance, beating Middlebury 4-3 in the final.

In the clubs, Virginia Club Hockey won the National Field Hockey League, SUNY-Binghamton won the New York State Club Field Hockey League, and the University of California, Santa Barbara won the Western Collegiate Field Hockey Conference.

In the schools, a measure mandating nationwide field hockey eyewear was not only defeated for the fourth time in four seasons, but was overwhelmingly denounced by the membership of the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association. In addition, cracks started developing in the arguments for the protection of players when it was revealed that, in a special study of college injuries over the past 20 years by the Journal of Athletic Training, certain items which have caused injury like the full-faced hard-shell lacrosse helmet are being recommended for field hockey players.

There were some significant coaching changes over the course of the offseason, many involving some high-performance coaches coming into the grass roots. Lori (Mastropietro) Ierubino, the center midfielder for the 1994 World Cup team, is now at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.). Katie Grant, former member of the U-21 national team, coaches Princeton Stuart Country Day School (N.J.). Larraine Lodise-Gentry is now at Bristol Conwell-Egan (Pa.).

But some of the early-season noise was made by a former member of the U.S. men’s national team. Shawn Hindy, the first alternate for the 1996 Olympic team, is the second-year coach of Lehighton (Pa.). The Indians made a large statement in the Falcon Classic, losing in overtime to Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.).

Both teams would make their respective state tournament in Pennsylvania, but one very prominent team — Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) — did not. The Blue Knights found themselves the odd women out in the competitive world of District 2-AA hockey, where often three or even four elite teams are competing for just two state tournament slots.

Sem had played an electrifying overtime match on Oct. 6 at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), winning in extra time on a Sharkey goal. Eastern would win another interstate showdown two weeks later at Emmaus (Pa.), but would lose in the semifinals of the New Jersey Tournament of Champions to Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), its first in-state loss in more than 200 matches.

But by then, the Vikings had already won their ninth straight state championship, winning the Group IV title the previous Sunday. Eastern was one of several teams to extend their record state or postseason championship streaks, such as Skowhegan (Maine), Lakeville Hotchkiss School (Conn.), Carlsbad La Costa Canyon (Calif.), and Louisville Sacred Heart (Ky.).

Now, the winner of that New Jersey Tournament of Champions was Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.), which put that program back at the top of the New Jersey heap for the first time in nine seasons.

Many other teams across the country with traditionally strong teams, such as Emmaus, St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.), Wilmington Tower Hill (Del.), Ann Arbor Pioneer (Mich.), Severna Park (Md.) and Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) won their league postseason or state championship tournaments in 2007.

At the same time, however, some once-proud programs such as Medford Lenape (N.J.) and Centereach (N.Y.) found themselves struggling. Even elite programs such as Severna Park, Wyoming Seminary, and Eastern found themselves losing multiple games this season.

This allowed a number of unheralded teams to break through. Amongst them was Williamsville North (N.Y.), which defeated Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.) in the New York Class A state championship. All season, the expectations on the Spartans were magnified because of their failings in the postseason.

But attacking midfielder Chantae Miller, the only player in the history of the National Federation with 100 goals and 100 assists (she finished with astounding totals of 148 goals and 135 assists), would simply not let Williamsville North lose. Same with goalkeeper Nicole Lewis, who parlayed her experiences trying to stop Miller in practice as well as a national championship in the National Futures Regional Rumble into a well-deserved state title.

Another great story surrounded Mifflinburg (Pa.), a team which won the Pennsylvania Class AA tournament. Head coach Ann Beckley had paid her dues for 13 seasons as assistant coach before taking over the reins eight years ago. In addition, the team is located in a town of less than 4,000 people just west of the Susquehanna Valley. It was also a District 4 team; the last team from that part of the state won a field hockey title in the early 1990s.

The AA tournament might have been more difficult to win than the AAA this season; both Mifflinburg and finalist Palmyra (Pa.) had to beat some incredibly difficult teams with tremendous players in order to get to J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown, Pa. for the final.

But Palmyra might have been the most difficult team because of emotions. Playing in memory of Cassie Altfather, who died after the regular season, the team pulled together in a splendid effort to tie the match late, but the Mifflinburg Wildcats won in overtime.

Altfather’s death was not the only one suffered by the American field hockey community in the late stages of the season; three other players 16 or younger died in October and November.


Please remember those in the American field hockey community who left us in 2007.

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1 Comment»

  Mike wrote @

Chantae Miller not a 1st team all american?? What a joke.


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