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Archive for June 21, 2013

June 21, 2013 — PREVIEW: Futures Elite and U-21 National Championships

While the color, sound and fury of the National Futures Tournament will dominate the Hampton Roads field hockey landscape over the next few days, the keenest competition will be occurring a half-hour away at Old Dominion University.

There is a bit of a twist to this competitive tale. What had started years ago as the USFHA Summer League has now branched out to three separate competitions, each designed to identify high-performance players for international competition at the junior and senior levels.

The Women’s National Championship was contested last month. This weekend at Powhatan Sports Center, you will see two four-team tournaments that last only five days each: the Futures Elite Championship and the U-21 National Championship.

This year, the U-21 National Championship doubles as a selection camp for the 7th FIH Junior Women’s World Cup in Moenchengladbach, Germany. And each of the four teams in the competition are evenly matched.

The youngest player in the U-21 tournament, rising high-school senior Tara Vittese, is on the Metro U-21 team. She’ll be alongside Laura Gebhart, who is in the U.S. senior national reserve pool. Heather Morris, just recovering from a knee injury suffered last fall with Pottstown Owen J. Roberts (Pa.) is on this team along with Duke goalie Lauren Blazing, who was on the Pan American JWC qualification team from last fall.

The North U-21 team should score a lot of goals. Teresa Benvenuti, from your NCAA champion Princeton Tigers, is alongside Duke’s Aileen Johnson and local favorites Carly Atchison and Casey DiNardo, both of whom graduated from Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.).

The South U-21s should be fleet of foot, with Maryland’s Maxine Fluharty and Anna Dessoye, UNC’s Emma Bozek, Virginia’s Carissa Vittese, and Duke’s Hannah Barreca leading the way. But the West U-21s is, for me, the favorite. Led by a pair of players who recorded 100 assists as high-schoolers — ODU’s Kelsey Smither and Maryland’s Alyssa Parker — it will be interesting to see how well their teammates finish their passes; UConn’s Maria Elena Bolles and Maryland’s Katie Gerzabek should benefit on the attack end.

Competing on the same ground, and on the same matchdays, will be the Futures Elite Championship, which is more of a U-19 competition this year.

Even though the star players are pretty well scattered throughout the four rosters, the Metro FEC team is loaded. This team could put out onto the pitch Emily McCoy (29 goals in 2012), Kristy Bernatchez (47), Austyn Cuneo (67) and Jaclyn Hibbs (35 assists in 2012). And at the other end? Shannon Johnson, she of the 53 shutouts for West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.).

Competing for top honors will be the South FEC team. The resumes of these players when it came to league and/or state championships is remarkable; Gianna Perrone and Karlee Spirit helped win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions for Voorhees Eastern (N.J.). Emilia Tapsall guided Greenwich (Conn.) Academy to the NEPSAC Flight A championship last fall. Morgan Biting helped Hummelstown Lower Dauphin (Pa.) to the Class AAA title. Kaitlin Trombetta helped Farmingville Sachem East (N.Y.) to the New York Class A title. The South also happens to have U.S. indoor national team member Erin Matson, who is just entering high school this fall.

The North FEC squad has Kate Barber, the all-time assist leader in a four-year high-school career. She’ll be alongside Julia Young, whose Yorktown Grafton (Va.) team was a main rival to crosstown rival Tabb for the VHSL Class AA/A honors last fall. Gabrielle Major, a veteran of a U-19 USA team that went to Holland this year, is also on the North team. In addition, three players who ended their scholastic season on the same field at the same time reunite on this team. The occasion was last fall’s New Jersey Group IV final, and Cat Caro’s Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.) side had to face a Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) team with Carly Celkos and Madison Morano. These rivals now have to join forces for this tournament.

For its part, the West FEC team has a pair of players from Severna Park (Md.), Marissa Balleza and Maeve Doherty. Eryn McCoy, who is headed to Boston College next fall, is also on the West team. One interesting youth player to watch is Margaux Paolino, the rising sophomore from Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.). She is a member of the senior women’s national indoor team, and may very well impress here. Watch also for Kristin Matula, the Louisville Sacred Heart (Ky.) star who is headed to Michigan State.