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Dec. 9, 2014 — The State of Hockey, 2014

Within the American field hockey community, 2014’s big story remained the continuous improvement of the senior women’s national team’s fortunes while, at the same time, the new Home of Hockey experienced a number of teething problems.

Spooky Nook Sports, located in Manheim, Pa., had its first major national field hockey event in early 2014, the U-12 and U-14 indoor national championships. However, the massive crowds overwhelmed the two-lane access road to the facility, and also overwhelmed the capacity of the food-service facilities to feed athletes and their families. Too, there were other events scheduled for the same weekend at the facility, creating a logistical and parking nightmare.

The indoor bubble was proposed to be the host for a 2015 FIH Men’s World League tournament, but the tournament was moved to Chula Vista, Calif. Aside from a desire to host the tournament in a warm-weather venue, the movement was prompted by reported ventilation problems with the indoor bubble as well as concerns with the proximity of the pitch to the seating areas.

Spooky Nook’s management has been learning on the fly. In early March, a Test series for the U.S. women against Canada was announced, but attendance was limited to 500, which also limited traffic. Improvements, including an off ramp directly to the site, are in the works and should allow a higher volume of spectators into the Nook for future events.

Aside from the structural teething, the women who practice and train at Spooky Nook had a tremendous run of success during the late spring. On May 4, the senior women’s national team won the Champions Challenge I title, the first FIH world-level championship the United States has won in 94 years. While the tournament qualified the Applebees for the 2016 Champions Trophy, it also provided a nice lead-in for the FIH World Cup in Holland.

The United States were on the front foot throughout a splendid World Cup campaign. Paige Selenski and Kelsey Kolojejchick scored in the first quarter-hour to defeat England in the first pool match, then drew Argentina 2-2 after a late Kolojejchick equalizer.

The next two matches were absolute domination by the United States. The team defeated Germany 4-1 and China 5-0 to qualify for the semifinal round, then came up against the very South Africa team that embarrassed the States at the Olympics. Playing a professional and clean style of play, the Americans won the game 4-2 to erase its bad memories.

The United States then met Australia in the semifinal round for a chance at the gold-medal match. The thrill-a-minute semifinal saw Kelsey Kolojejchick level the score 2-2 with under two minutes left in regulation, and the Americans almost pulled ahead in the dying seconds.

The game went directly to a penalty shootout, which Australia won 3-1. In the consolation game, the United States lost to Argentina. It was a creditable finish which could have been a medal for the width of a goalpost.

It was a young United States team that competed in the World Cup, and the youngest member of the team, Emily Wold, was expected to help lead her collegiate side, the University of North Carolina, to championship honors in a new-look Atlantic Coast Conference that was looking to hold on to the designation of the nation’s finest field hockey conference.

Not all went to plan for UNC; the University of Virginia won the ACC regular-season title, while Wake Forest won the ACC Tournament. Carolina did manage to get to the Final Four, but, after a 2-2 draw with Syracuse in the national semifinals, fell 4-3 in the shootout, with Wold unable to convert on the Tar Heels’ sixth breakaway attempt.

Two days later, Syracuse — another ACC team — met defending NCAA champion Connecticut in the Division I championship game. In a match devoid of much imagination or enterprise on the attack end, Connecticut took advantage of a penalty corner conversion in the first half and sat on the lead, winning the title 1-0.

In Division II, it was Millersville winning the national championship, while the Division III title was won by The College of New Jersey. In collegiate club play, North Carolina won the National Field Hockey League and Cortland State won the New York State Club Field Hockey league.

Two major issues involving athletic administration cropped up during the 2014 college season. One involved the University of California, Berkeley. There, the athletic department flat-out gave the field hockey team’s home ground, Maxwell Family Field, to the football team without providing any plans for a water-based pitch — or any pitch — for the field hockey program. A Title IX lawsuit had to be threatened in order for the Board of Regents to make progress on a new facility, one which might be ready by this coming fall.

The second administrative nightmare occurred at the University of Iowa. Only weeks before the season began, athletic director Gene Barta fired head coach Tracey Greisbaum on the basis of an investigation into her coaching methods.

Social media rallied to Greisbaum’s side, while stories about the former coach’s methods and even a relationship with a senior athletic administrator were made public. Yesterday, that athletics administrator was transferred out of the athletic department. It is a situation which is likely to be played out in the judicial system.

At the high-school level, the field hockey season was overshadowed by the departure of three legendary head coaches. During the offseason, Angela Tammaro, who has won more than 1,500 varsity games in several sports, retired from Greenwich (Conn.) Academy. Also, Nancy Williams, the National Federation’s all-time leading winner, retired from her job at West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.). And just before the season began, Elvetta Gemski stepped down from her position at Mountain Top Crestwood (Pa.) after her husband Stan died suddenly.

The 2014 season saw the extension of a number of long-established championship streaks. Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) won its 16th consecutive NJSIAA championship. Emmaus (Pa.) won its 26th consecutive PIAA District 11 championship. Greenwich (Conn.) Academy won its 31st consecutive Fairchester Athletic Association tournament title, and West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.) won its 44th straight Shore Conference divisional title.

Shore Regional, however, did not win the Shore Conference Tournament, which was a story unto itself. The prestigious in-season knockout tournament, won by the Blue Devils the previous 15 seasons, was instead won by Rumson-Fair Haven (N.J.). Both of these schools would win their respective state championships, and each team boasted a 50-goal scorer: Jessica Welch (58) for Shore, and Madison Maguire (51) for Rumson.

These two were part of a phalanx of brilliant scorers who turned the all-time record books inside-out. Seven players scored more than 50 goals this past season, the first time in recorded Federation history that it has happened. Aside from Welch and Maguire, Austyn Cuneo (95), Caroline Andretta (60), Jane Donio-Enscoe (57), Nikki Santore (53), and Haley Schleicher (52) all broke the 50-goal mark.

Schleicher, the junior from Virginia Beach First Colonial (Va.), became the first field hockey player to score 50 goals and assist on 50 in the same season. Aside from Schleicher’s 50-goal, 53 assist effort, Cassidy Goodwin (30-43), Melina Moore (44-40), Santore (53-37), Meredith Sholder (48-31), and Andretta (60-30) joined The 30-30 Club.

But when it comes to all-time records, the laser focus this season has been on Cuneo, the brilliant center forward for Voorhees Eastern (N.J.). She scored 95 goals in 2014, which brought her to 328 for her career. And this is how far Cuneo left the previous record behind: she broke Lexi Smith’s previous mark by 71 percent.

Cuneo’s consistency can be marked by two statistical markers. One, she now holds the record for a freshman (69 goals), a sophomore (68), a junior (96), and a senior (95). But the second marker is that she scored at least one goal in 70 consecutive games.

She and her teammates helped Eastern to a record goal-scoring total for a team, 256. That’s nearly 9 1/2 goals per game. There was no better exhibition of that offensive ability than on the evening of Oct. 18, 2014 when the Vikings hosted Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.). Playing fearless, quick, and skilled hockey, Eastern scored five without reply by the interval, including a flurry of three in the final four minutes of the first term. The final was 8-0 for Eastern.

It was a loud and clear statement, and it seemed that a 16th straight state championship was a near-formality for the Eastern Express. Indeed, it took until the final of the 2014 Tournament of Champions for the Vikings to be truly tested this season. The opponent was an inspired and determined Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) team that had waited a year for another chance to play the Vikings. The Royals fought Eastern with their speed and skills, and almost pulled off the upset, losing 3-2.

The result represented the 106th straight game since Eastern has lost a game, but it isn’t the longest current unbeaten streak. That goes to Watertown (Mass.) ended the 2014 season with a 138-game undefeated string over the last six seasons. The Raiders also did something that only a handful of teams have ever done in a season of more than eight games: shut out every opponent.

Watertown has to avoid defeat in its first 16 games of the 2015 season in order to break Eastern’s all-time record of 153.

Heading into the end of the domestic season, another situation involving the administration of the game on these shores came back into the news. Former U.S. technical director Terry Walsh, after leaving his job in late 2012, had found success coaching India to a win in the Asian Games.

But in trying to negotiate a new contract, Walsh was rebuffed by Hockey India, which cited a finding in minutes of a 2013 meeting of the USA Field Hockey Board of Directors, outlining a scheme by which Walsh pocketed more than $176,000 in leasing payments for a software package that could have been purchased outright at a lesser cost.

Earlier this week, Walsh sent a legal notice — an action far short of a lawsuit — to USA Field Hockey. The story has yet to conclude.

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1 Comment»

  GNathan wrote @

Not a word about the men’s team? Interesting


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