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Archive for September 15, 2019

Sept. 15, 2019 — College vs. country

The U.S. womens’ national field hockey team, knowing its opponent (India) for the two-game all-or-nothing FIH Olympic qualifier series, has scheduled friendlies at Spooky Nook against Canada later this month.

The roster for these games is an expanded one, including a number of players who were not on the Pan American Games roster.

Mind you, this is to be expected, as the coaching staff would like to get a look at as many players as possible before the Nov. 1 and 2 matches at Bhubaneswar, India.

The thing is, the Olympic qualifiers take place two weeks before the start of the NCAA Division I Tournament — during the final week of conference fixtures and a week before conference tournament play.

This puts the four college players from the Pan-American Games — Mackenzie Allessie (Ohio State), Kelsey Bing (Stanford), Erin Matson (North Carolina), and Margaux Paolino (Duke) in a club-vs.-country situation not of their own making.

Now, in other sports, the world governing body usually has the foresight to schedule a major tournament in a window of time away from a domestic competition. That’s something FIBA failed to do with the 2019 World Cup, which was held just this month, a scant six weeks before the start of the NBA season.

That robbed the tournament of many American stars who skipped out on the World Cup tournament. An elite player participating in the World Cup, followed by the NBA preseason and regular season, followed by the playoffs, then the 2020 Olympics, could wind up playing as many as 130 games in 340 days.

FIH has had a number of conflicting tournaments that have affected the availability of players for NCAA competitions. Back in 1997, the Junior World Cup was held in early September, and coaches held out their college players for the tournament. As a result, the U.S. pretty much sent a high-school team to South Korea, and wound up finishing 12th and last.

FIH, in its infinite wisdom, scheduled its major qualifiers right in the middle of the U.S. domestic season — and, frankly, the domestic seasons of a number of other countries such as England and Australia, who also will now have some club vs. country conflicts.

In a 120-minute tournament where the U.S. cannot afford to finish second-best, it is an open question what the U.S. roster will look like. Will the roster be made completely of post-grad players? Can the States afford to be without four of its key players?

Let’s remind you that Paolino and Matson were the only two U.S. players to score goals in the 2018 World Cup, that Kelsey Bing was the Player of the Match in more than one FIH Pro League fixture, and that Allessie has scored more goals at the scholastic level than anyone else.

I have a feeling, given the way the schedule falls, that these four will be called in for the qualifiers, but only days before they occur. Though the resulting team won’t have trained together for long, the collegians will be top form, having trained with their teams since August.

That being said, the players that head coach Janneke Schopmann have brought in may yet yield a gem or two who could figure into future Olympic plans.