The weekend of Nov. 16 and 17, 2002, was a seminal one in the history of field hockey in the United States.
For it was on those two dates when a pair of future members of the United States women’s national field hockey team had their defining performances as scholastic stars.
The two games were held a scant 40 miles apart, the Pennsylvania Class AAA final at Ambler Wissahickon (Pa.) and the New Jersey Group IV final at The College of New Jersey.
On an overcast Saturday afternoon, the Pennsylvania game should for all intents and purposes have been a mismatch, despite the fact that the same two teams from the previous season were playing each other. However, the defending champions from Emmaus (Pa.) had scored a National Federation record 188 goals as a team.
That didn’t matter to a Buckingham Central Bucks East (Pa.) side featuring a midfielder named Lauren Crandall. She helped will the Patriots to a 1-0 win which came on an Ashley Kocis goal with 1:41 remaining in the second half.
The very next day, the marquee game featured a Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) side looking for its fourth straight NJSIAA Group IV championship against Flemington Hunterdon Central (N.J.). Central had won three state championships in four years between 1993 and 1996, so they were looking to round back into state championship form.
But little did anyone know that waiting for them was perhaps the single greatest field hockey team assembled up until that time. Eastern rolled over Hunterdon Central 5-0. Not only did the Vikings’ Shaun Banta score a record 49th goal of the season, but the defense, led by Lori Hillman and a sophomore named Rachel Dawson, held Central without a shot on goal.
The Eastern Express, in essence, was born that day. Eastern alternated penalty corner shooters between Hillman and Dawson, and Central was helpless to stop them. It was a fourth straight state title for the Vikings, extending an unbeaten streak to 90 games.
So much has happened since then.
Dawson and Crandall matriculated to ACC college programs: Dawson to North Carolina, Crandall to Wake Forest. Between the two, they would win three NCAA championships. But when they traded in their college kits for the traditional red jersey of the United States, they were absolute magic. With the two of them in the side, they qualified for the 2008 Olympics by winning the Kazan, Russia qualifier over Belgium.
Dawson and Crandall would play three Olympics together: Beijing, London, and Rio. In between, however, they had a number of unprecendented results. In 2011 and 2015, the States won the Pan American Games, beating Argentina.
And in 2014, the United States captured its first major trophy in the 94-year history of the women’s national team program by winning the FIH Champions’ Challenge. It was the springboard towards the States’ memorable run in the FIH World Cup, which, but for the width of a goalpost, could have finished in the gold-medal match.
Today, however, it was announced that both players would be retiring from the U.S. program.
Throughout their careers, these two women have been an absolute force on not only defense, but, on occasion, offense. But what they’ll be remembered for, for me, is their reliability. The two combined for nearly 600 caps, and they’re going to be hard to replace.
But what’s going to be equally difficult to replace is their connection with younger players. At Spooky Nook during events involving the national team, young people gravitated towards Crandall and Dawson like iron filings towards a magnetized ingot. USA Field Hockey could not have found two better ambassadors if they had tapped into Central Casting.
And to think: their histories have intertwined, beginning with that weekend 14 years ago this month.