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Archive for November 29, 2018

Nov. 29, 2018 — The effects of foreign players in American collegiate field hockey

Today, Shippensburg’s field hockey team won its NCAA Division II national semifinal 4-0 over West Chester University on a magnificent four-goal effort by sophomore Jazmin Petrantonio, who is from Argentina.

In the second game, East Stroudsburg beat Pace 3-0 thanks in part to an assist from Celeste Veenstra, who is from Holland.

The last few years have been a collective high-water mark for foreign athletes in NCAA field hockey. And not only has it been their mere presence on rosters, but the importance of the players within their teams.

Connecticut, for example, had the finest player in the country last year, Charlotte Veitner from Germany. This year, UConn had a strong foreign presence with six of its top eight scorers coming from foreign lands.

Maryland, the national runners-up, had a three out of its top five scorers from outside the United States. North Carolina, the champions, may have had its top two scorers from the U.S. women’s national team (Erin Matson and Ashley Hoffman), but four out of their next six point-scorers were from outside the United States.

Indeed, when you look at the 18 rosters that made the Division I tournament after Selection Sunday, there were 120 foreign players.

The last couple of years, the all-American teams chosen by the National Field Hockey Coaches’ Association have leaned heavily on foreign athletes. When you look at the 160 players chosen for the all-regional Division I teams, 87 players are from outside the United States.

There has been a little bit of imitation on the part of other divisions, as more foreign athletes have infiltrated Division II and III rosters.

Question is, should the NCAA do something about it? Is it in the interest of the people who run collegiate sports in the United States to limit participation by foreign players?

The answer, I think, is no. But that includes a big “however” attached to it.

The “however” can be boiled down to the following: it’s possible to go to the well once too often in order to find the one talismanic player (such as a Charlotte Veitner, a Marina DiGiacomo, or a Paula Infante) who can affect a team’s fortunes.

In addition, foreign influences in college sports have risen and waned over the years. In basketball, there used to be a lot of players from Europe and Africa on Division I rosters, but with the rise of Eurobasket and the quintupling in size of the National Basketball Developmental League, a lot of those players have gone those routes to develop their skills.

In ice hockey, Canadian influence has risen and waned on both the men’s and women’s sides, and it is notable that one route to quickly build a women’s team, especially when it comes to sides like Niagara and Mercyhurst, is to stack a team with Canadians.

In soccer, foreign players used to be on top rosters, but the club system in Europe and in Latin America has taken a number of the best foreign talent and gotten them to play on professional teams as teenagers. Heck, look at Mallory Pugh, who should be a junior at UCLA right now, but is playing for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

And if you want a look at the waning of foreign influence in an NCAA sport, look at women’s lacrosse. Yes, you have a significant Canadian influence that is beginning to evince itself through the heroics of Selena Lasota and Danita Stroup. But have you seen members of the English and Australian junior national teams on Division I rosters recently? I haven’t. Maryland, which made it a habit of recruiting from foreign lands, did not have a single foreign player last spring.

And when you look at the rosters of the two teams — Boston College and James Madison — that competed in the last Division I final, there wasn’t a foreign player on those rosters, either.

Somewhere along the line, I think, there was a diminishment of returns when it came to foreign recruiting, that it is harder to get players to commit to the Division I lifestyle with strong club programs at home.

Or maybe coaches in some sports eventually realized that good coaching isn’t all about finding players who are already good, but instead is about molding what comes into the university setting into a good team.

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