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July 23, 2017 — A few takeaways from South Africa

NOTE: Updated with new rankings.

The United States women’s field hockey team won its semifinal tournament of the FIH World League this morning with a 3-2 shootout win over Germany. The whole competition, held over the last couple of weeks, has given supporters of American hockey a look at a completely new U.S. team, one which defends with tenacity and vigor, one which is cold-blooded in attack and hot-blooded in the challenges.

Here are a few takeaways from this tournament that you should keep in mind for the next year:

1, The tournament didn’t mean anything for world rankings … or did it? There was an unexpected bonus for the United States in winning its World League semifinal: 25 rankings points. Those allowed the States a bump up in world rankings, but only a small distance. But it’s at the end of the World League final when the lion’s share of world rankings points on offer are doled out. In other words, despite how well the States played in this tournament, it’s still possible for them to come out with eighth-place points after the WL finals, but the 25 points for winning Johannesburg would actually allow the Stars and Stripes to gain rankings points at least equal to the team placing ahead of them at the World League final, unless the States win silver, which is a 50-point gap behind the winner.

2. No matter what today’s result was, the United States would not have avoided the Group of Death in Auckland. Because of the serpentine nature of the seeding for FIH events (top seed goes in Pool A, next two seeds in Pool B, etc.), the United States is going to have a tough go because the States now have a different group of competitors in its World League Finals pool from the World League Semifinals. Here is how the pools are likely to shake out, if we read the regulations correctly. If the U.S. had lost to Germany, the States would still have been in Pool A, but at the third rung; the Danas would still have been seventh in rankings had they won:

Pool A Ladder Pool B
HOL -1 1 ENG-2
USA-4 2 ARG-3
NZL-6 3 GER-7
KOR-9 4 CHN-8

In the World League final, the States will have to play against a Netherlands team which is not only the defending World Cup champion, but the team which won the other World League semifinal in Brussels a few weeks ago.

3. Team defense. The American backline of Alyssa Manley, Julia Young, Caitlin Van Sickle, and Ali Froede have done their best imitation of their soccer sisters Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Ali Krieger. They have been phenomenal, holding the re-badged England team, your Olympic champion, to one goal and holding Germany to one goal in the final.

4. Goaltending, especially in specialty situations. Three years ago, Jackie Briggs would have told you that penalty shootouts were not her specialty. They are now; she was tremendous in holding off the Germans and English in penalty shootouts.

5. The Kid. Erin Matson is the youngest player on the senior women’s national team since the days of Katie (O’Donnell) Bam. Your Founder had a chance to chat with her a year and a half ago after a game featuring her Kennett Square Unionville (Pa.) team. I saw a young woman that afternoon who was completely unfazed and unaffected by the attention that had surrounded her since she made the senior indoor national team at the age of 11. Her shootout goal in the championship game is a testament to the confidence that she has in her skills, as well as the coaching staff’s confidence in her.

6. The Comet. The leading scorer in the World League final was none other than Jill Witmer, who has shown her ability in the attacking third at Millersville Penn Manor (Pa.), the University of Maryland, and now with the senior national team.

7. The future. I wouldn’t blame U.S. coach Janneke Schopmann if she used next month’s Pan American Cup as a runout for reserve players such as Amanda DiNunzio, Alyssa Parker, and Jess Jecko. There is a points bonus for winning the Pan Am Cup, but it’s not as big a prize as winning the World League Finals or the World Cup.

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