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Archive for December 11, 2018

Dec. 11, 2018 — The State of Hockey, 2018

The 2018 calendar year was supposed to have been a hopeful one at the highest level, especially seeing that it was a World Cup year, and the Americans finished a gallant fourth four years ago. But the year saw a number of fateful twists that have left the U.S. women’s national program with a truckload of question marks at the advent of its participation in next year’s FIH Hockey Pro League.

The States were hit by a number of retirements after Rio 2016, and was hit with an incredibly important one the eve of the 2018 FIH World Cup, as Katelyn Ginofili, who had been with the senior women since the age of 18, retired from international competition.

The effects were immediate. The team’s midfield and defense looked lost in its opening World Cup group match against Ireland, and the Green Army ran out 3-1 winners thanks to the goalkeeping performance of Ayesha McFerren, the rising senior at Louisville. The States would not qualify for the knockout phase of the competition, but Ireland would maintain its Cinderella form all the way through to the World Cup final.

After the competition, even more retirements ensued, including goalie Jackie Briggs, defender Stephanie Fee, and captain Melissa Gonzalez. This left a very green squad to contest tournaments and friendlies throughout the rest of the calendar year, which finished with two defeats and a win over Belgium at Spooky Nook.

Speaking of the Nook, it was determined that the site of the U.S. women’s national team training center would be the site of all but one of the team’s games in the FIH Hockey Pro League, the main qualifying arm for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

That one game, however, is the debut home match against Holland, the World Cup and Champions Trophy holders. That game is scheduled to be a “cold war” played in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Feb. 16th, two weeks after the Americans’ FIH debut match at Argentina.

A young team, playing two very difficult matches to start HPL, is a recipe for either opportunity or disaster. It will be interesting to see how the States do when they get five out of their last six games at home.

Key amongst those likely to be on the Pro League roster are the two players who scored goals for the Americans at the World Cup, Margaux Paolino and Erin Matson. Both did extremely well for their university teams in the fall; Paolino for Duke, and Matson for North Carolina.

As usual, these two players led their two teams in one of the nation’s most competitive leagues, the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, there was a shift in the balance of play in 2018, as the Big Ten Conference placed more teams in the NCAA Division I women’s field hockey tournament than the ACC. One casualty of that shift was Louisville. The Cardinals, even with Irish heroine Ayesha McFerren in the goal cage, fell short of the tournament criteria to get into the field of 18.

Close games were the order of the day through the NCAA Division I tournament, except when it came to North Carolina. UNC bossed its way through the bracket and won the title with a 2-0 win over Maryland. In Division II, it was Shippensburg winning its third straight championship with a 1-0 overtime win over East Stroudsburg. Division III saw the first known NCAA tournament games held indoors at the Spooky Nook dome, with Middlebury beating a game Tufts side by a 2-0 scoreline.

In the clubs, it was North Carolina winning the National Field Hockey League, and Rochester Institute of Technology winning the New York State Club Field Hockey League.

The competition and recordbreaking in American high school field hockey was as intense and as prolific as ever. It was a bit more concentrated this year, as only five players would score 50 goals this seasons, whereas there were nine a year ago. Moreover, there were six instances of individuals amassing at least 30 goals and 30 assists. In addition, four players wound up with more career goals than what had been the all-time goal-scoring mark until the start of the 2012 season.

But one player outshone them all.

Mackenzie Allessie, the senior from Mount Joy Donegal (Pa.), would not have been blamed for wanting to shelve individual accolades in favor of creating chances with her next-level skills and passing. But in 2018, Allessie gobbled up goals like they were going out of style. By the end of September, she already had passed the 50-goal mark. The first week of October, she had her 300th career goal.

On Oct. 17th, she did a unique double in the Lancaster-Lebanon League postseason tournament. In a 6-0 win over Annville-Cleona (Pa.), she became the first scholastic field hockey player in recorded Federation history to score 100 goals in one season, and later in the first half, she surpassed Austyn Cuneo’s career mark of 326, set a scant four years ago.

From there, it was anyone’s guess as to whether Allessie and Donegal would be able to win a second state championship, especially since the records were in hand and the competition tough districtwide and statewide. But after a tough loss in the Lancaster-Lebanon final, the team would win the District 3-AA Tournament, then survive and advance in the PIAA Class AA Tournament against the likes of Gwynedd Valley Gwynedd Mercy Academy (Pa.), Radnor Archbishop Carroll (Pa.). and Elverson Twin Valley (Pa.).

The Class AA championship final against Palmyra (Pa.) came down to overtime. After about 2 1/2 minutes of Donegal penalty corner defense, there was what could be described in fencing as a “coup-fourre,” or a goal scored against the run of play.

After the Indians denied the last of a four-corner Palmyra flurry, Allessie, the central midfielder in the Indians’ 7-on-7 formation, self-started on the ensuing free-out, and was pretty much all by her lonesome at the halfway line. On a full sprint, she controlled the ball with one hand on her stick, guarding it with the right side of her body.

Upon entering the attack zone, she cut left through three players, rounded the Palmyra goalkeeper, and sliced a backhander into the backboard. You could hear one spectator hard by the fencing at the Zephyr-Coplay complex drawing out an “Oh, my God” as the play finished. The whistle sounded. Game over.

Allessie wasn’t the only history-maker in 2018. Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the nation’s most dominant program, won its 20th consecutive state championship this fall with an undefeated record. Two other programs, Shrub Oak Lakeland (N.Y.) and Watertown (Mass.), fell short of their 10th consecutive state titles in their respective states. Lakeland’s loss in this year’s state final ended a 137-game undefeated string, which was the fourth-longest of all time.

Elsewhere, Emmaus (Pa.) won its 30th straight District 11 championship, while West Long Branch Shore Regional (N.J.) finished second with a 9-2 record in the Shore Conference Class A Central. It was the first time in the last 48 seasons that the Blue Devils did not win its regular-season conference championship. Despite that, Shore won the Group I state title. Also notable was the play of Skowhegan (Maine) Area, which won its 18th consecutive Eastern Maine sectional championship, allowing the Indians to compete in its 18th consecutive Maine Principals Association final.

Around the country, though there were plenty of teams repeating as state champions, some won their first championship. This includes Hershey (Pa.), Somerset-Berkley (Mass.), Aurora Regis Jesuit (Colo.), and Danbury Immaculate (Conn.).