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Aug. 16, 2016 — And the U.S. women’s soccer team isn’t alone

The U.S. women’s national field hockey team, ranked fifth in the world according to the FIH rankings, was knocked out of the Olympics yesterday and, by all rights, should receive fifth-place points because it is the quarterfinal loser with the most points coming out of pool play; the States had 12 points, while Australia had nine points, and Argentina and Spain had six each.

The women’s team, after training together for the better part of 3 1/2 years, did vault itself up from 12th in London, albeit both of these results came after wins at the Pan American Games. But it could have been so much more; the States made some history during this Olympic tournament, winning more games during this tournament (four) than it has ever done at any one Olympics.

Given the record of American women’s team sports in everything from lacrosse to soccer to softball, a lot of people in a committed U.S. field hockey community thought it was about time for the field hockey team to have a golden moment.

And it didn’t happen.

Not after a second cross-country move of its training facility in as many Olympic cycles found the team occupying prime real estate in the midst of Pennsylvania’s golden triangle of field hockey (Scranton, Philadelphia, Harrisburg).

Not after the firing of the London coaching staff. Not after the reengineering of the team culture and an intensification of the residency program that brought all of the hopefuls for the field hockey team together in one place for more than three years.

Still, the U.S. team was able to achieve some notable feats at Rio. It scored one of its fastest goals in history, 22 seconds. It strung together four straight wins  for the first time in any Olympics.

But when some of the strongest incentives were placed in front of the team, the team underachieved. When the States were given an opportunity to finish at the top of Pool B and to become only the second nation in Olympic history to be undefeated in round-robin play, they fell 2-1 to Great Britain. When the Americans were given an opportunity to win its way into the medal round or to go home, they fell 2-1 to Germany.

When you get to know some of these players from the time they were teenagers, you start pulling for them not only because they are good players, they are good people from good families. In high school, for example, I saw Lauren Crandall will her Buckingham Central Bucks East (Pa.) side to the PIAA championship, defeating an Emmaus (Pa.) team which had been the first in National Federation history to score as many as 200 goals in a season.

I saw Jill Witmer during her senior year playing for Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), even when she spent very little time inside the school building, because of her homeschool education. I saw the Reinprecht sisters turn Flourtown Mount St. Joseph Academy (Pa.) into a state championship contender, sometimes playing against public schools more than twice its size.

I first remember Michelle Kasold playing in the 2004 Sun Devil Invitational at Virginia Beach against a field of teams including not only her East Chapel Hill (N.C.) team, but a team from St. Mary’s School in Johannesburg, South Africa, one which eventually sent three players to the South African women’s field hockey team.

A year later, I got my first look at Katelyn Falgowski at The Turf Bowl in Newark, Del. She was the dominant midfielder for Wilmington St. Mark’s (Del.), and would eventually make her first Olympics in 2008. At the same stadium, I first saw Caitlin Van Sickle playing for Wilmington Tower Hill (Del.), winning three state championships.

I remember seeing Katie O’Donnell, in her first game of her senior year at Ambler Wissahickon (Pa.), wrong-foot a Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) defender, sending her sprawling during a season-opening game. That Wyoming Seminary team included a pair of forwards named Kelsey Kolojejchick and Kat Sharkey.

I got to know the Dawson clan in increments over the last decade and a half. It started when I went to handful of U.S. games beginning in October 2001. Natalie Dawson, the eldest, was a forward for the American side during a four-match Test series against South Africa. And there was a line of small girls sitting in the stands, dutifully watching her every move on the pitch. And it just happened that those girls were Sarah, Rachel, Meghan, Hannah, and Melanie Dawson.

It’s a generation of players which could be rightly called The LeBron Generation. The Olympic team had a group of players which were able to take full advantage of expanded playing opportunities which started expanding about a decade ago in the reign of Terry Walsh as U.S. technical guru, and has morphed into the current player development apparatus.

Field hockey, it seemed, was looking for its LeBron James, and the current team played at a Rio Olympics in which James, ironically, did not play. But these wonderful players on the Olympic roster, who did so well in group play, are going home without what they came for.

While you’re gutted for the players, there’s enormous talent in the U.S. pipeline. There are young women who have played with distinction on the U.S. senior national indoor field hockey team and on age-group national teams, chiefly the Junior World Cup team which will be playing in Chile this November.

I’m hoping this next group shows us something that gives hope for Tokyo 2020.

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1 Comment»

  Mike edmonds wrote @

Nice article Al. Thanks.


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