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Dec. 10, 2016 — The disconnect between an all-star team and a national selection

This past week, the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association released its NCAA Division I All-America team.

All-America and all-star teams, as chosen by coaches and media members at the end of a particular season, are meant to be a snapshot of who did really well in a particular field of endeavor, usually meaning over the course of a season just past.

This is much different from the selections made for a national team pool, which are done after evaluations by selectors, subject to certain criteria put forth by the national governing body of the sport.

When you look at the three rosters’ worth of players selected for the NFHCA All-America team, only six of the players on the final roster for the United States at the recently concluded Junior World Cup were on the All-America team. (A seventh, Virginia’s Tara Vittese, was injured).

You can point to a number of reasons why the two lists of players do not coincide more. One is that exactly half of the NFHCA All-America selections are either college seniors or graduate students. I don’t have every single player’s birth date in front of me, but you can guess that a number of the selectees would not be eligible to play in the Junior World Cup due to age.

But one other important thing to look at are the number of foreign players. Ten out of the 16 players on the first team were born outside of the United States, which goes a way to showing how important the foreign influence is on NCAA Division I.

I think, however, the reason for the lack of current All-Americans sent to Chile is the schedule and the run-up to the Junior World Cup. This year’s Cup took place just five days before the end of the U.S. domestic season, meaning that the team would have days, not weeks, to train together.

Indeed, go all the way back to June 2, 2015, when the selectees for the 2015 Young Women’s National Championship were released. Almost every single member of the team playing in Chile appears on this list.

This tells me that the U.S. selectors and junior national team coach Janneke Schopmann were playing the “long game” when it comes to player development. Instead of calling a training camp in the summer before the JWC, picking the 18 best players, and sending them on their merry way into their domestic seasons, USA Field Hockey kept this cohort together for nearly a year and a half for occasional weekend and summer training sessions, as well as tours and the qualifying tournament last spring in Trinidad & Tobago.

There is risk involved in this strategy. What if an eligible player rounded into form during the planned process of the evolution of the squad?

It happened in another sport this year. The National Women’s Soccer League produced amazing talent such as Lynn Williams of the Western New York Flash and Kealia Ohai of the Houston Dash, but they did not appear on U.S. women’s national soccer team head coach Jill Ellis’ radar until after the Americans crashed out of the Olympics without a medal. I sincerely think these two women, amongst others, could have helped the U.S. cause in the run-up to Rio.

Of course, this is all hindsight. The next step occurs Jan. 1 when Schopmann takes over as the coach of the senior women’s national team. The road to London 2018, of course, goes though Spooky Nook this coming summer with the Pan American Cup, but I’ll be interested to see the evolution of the senior national team pool in the years ahead, and which players of the U-21 side will figure in those plans.

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