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Archive for July 15, 2010

July 15, 2010 — An opportunity in Palo Alto

For the last 20 years or so, the American field hockey has had one frustration after another in building the collegiate game west of the Mississippi river.

There had at one time been a vibrant collegiate field hockey scene in California, one which led up to the National Festival (which had been a California staple for year). California teams competed in the AIAW national championships, and had been a significant part of the startup of NCAA sanctioning of the sport beginning in 1981. But budget cuts saw teams like Cal State-Chico,Long Beach, and San Jose State fall by the wayside.

Today, California’s four Division I field hockey teams (California-Berkeley, California-Davis, Pacific, and Stanford) are in the West Division of the Norpac conference.  They have to log a lot of miles to play each other, since the four teams in the East Division are in Virginia and North Carolina. And even if you climb the summit of Norpac to win its conference tournament, you may have to compete in a play-in against another conference champion just to get into the NCAA tournament.

If you do win that play-in, you’re most often up against one of the four host teams the first weekend of the tournament, and have little chance of making the quarterfinals. Think of this: California collegiate field hockey teams have exactly two wins in the history of the NCAA tournament, having played 30 matches in total. And one of those wins was guaranteed, with Long Beach State defeating San Jose State in first-round play in 1981.

It is against this backdrop that Tara Danielsen has taken the head coaching position at Stanford, the defending Norpac champion that is 0-9 in NCAA field hockey history, despite attracting a number of high-performance players over the years.

As Tara Jelley, she was a dynamic forward for the U.S. national team, earning 89 caps in the outdoor game and has also seen action with the indoor national team.

More recently, she and her husband Steve, who was capped 88 teams for the men’s national team, have been throwing themselves into the California field hockey apparatus. They formed a club called Rush, they coach Futures and camps, and you might have found one or the other umpiring the occasional match.

But that’s only one reason why I think this appointment is an opportunity for a transformative period for the Stanford program. Danielsen was shaped by coaches such as Pam Hixon who demanded accountability as well as excellence.

I think this appointment could be as important for the game of field hockey as the appointment of Kelly Amonte-Hiller as women’s lacrosse coach at Northwestern a decade ago. Danielsen has an opportunity to change the fate of not only a program, but maybe an entire sport.

Keep an eye on Stanford.