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Feb. 19, 2015 — The countdown to Toronto

In five months and five days, the lone automatic women’s field hockey berth into the 2016 Rio Olympics from the Pan American Hockey Federation will be decided.

For the last week, two of the likeliest candidates for that Olympic berth have been crossing sticks under the dome at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex near Lancaster, Pa.

So, what have we learned from both these teams since they last met in the bronze-medal match from last year’s FIH World Cup? From my seat (since I’ve had flu-like symptoms the past several days), here are a few thoughts.

1. Honors even, pretty much. The first three matches were all drawn before the United States got a Kat Sharkey field goal and a Lauren Crandall penalty stroke to take a 2-0 win in the fourth and final Test. The result in the last of the four tests may have sent the crowd home happy, but the games showed there was very little separating the two teams save for the five places in the world rankings table.

2. Hustle and no flow. The new four-quarter system of play made the games very choppy in terms of gameplay. The big differences between the 60-minute version of the game and the 70-minute version were the administrative timeouts on the awarding of penalty corners and upon the awarding of a goal. There is also a two-minute timeout at the end of the first and the end of the third quarters. Add in video referrals (which could be initiated by team captains or by the umpire), and you had games which felt almost like committee meetings with a little field hockey mixed in.

3. The missing magician. You could forgive the Albicelestes for playing a little less than free without Luciana Aymar in the lineup. The retirement of the eight-time FIH World Player of the Year leaves an enormous void in possession, leadership, and scoring. It is going to take some time for her teammates to realize that there’s not going to be that No. 8 jogging from the changing room onto the pitch to rescue them.

4. A star in the making? For all of the goalkeeping talent the United States and Argentina have available at the high-performance level, only one shut out her opponents for 60 minutes. That goalie is the United States’ Alesha Widdall, who came up with some fine stops against Argentina in the fourth and final Test. Should she become head coach Craig Parnham’s first-choice goalkeeper in the future, she’ll end a decade and a half of dominance by graduates of the University of North Carolina. But then again, if you expand the timeline, you’d notice that, between 1985 and 2015, exactly two universities (UNC and UMass) were represented by the first-choice goalie for the United States. And with Widdall and Jackie Briggs defending the fort against Argentina, the pattern will continue no matter which goalie is designated as the No. 1.

5. The Nook. Friends, get used to it; the future of American field hockey is in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Despite bitter cold and snow on the outside, thousands of spectators came to the indoor dome for the four-match Test series. If you saw the games, you’d have noticed that people were prohibited from sitting in the front row of the bleachers. That’s because there isn’t enough runoff area between the sideline and the bleachers. I cringed whenever there was a contested ball on the sideline because I’ve seen what two players are liable to do if they collide, and it often results in the loss of balance, a fall, or a trip.

I also noticed one other thing: the Nook’s dome roof is not the most aerial-friendly. As a defender, one can easily lose a white ball on the white background; the rest of the dome surface (from about 10 feet down to the base) is blue. Too, we also don’t know whether elite players are liable to hit the inflatable dome with aerials, though I’m sure USA Field Hockey has brought in some of its men’s national team pool players to try to hit the roof with a flicked ball.

Overall, it is going to take a lot of work to make the dome a world-class playing and spectator experience. It’ll take some time, but I think the right people are working on it.

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1 Comment»

  Chalie Hatch wrote @

Build a four season championship stadium…like once said “build it and they will come”.


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