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Archive for December 10, 2019

Dec. 10, 2019 — The State of Hockey, 2019

The current state of field hockey in America should sound familiar if you have been around the game a while: the U.S. is going into an Olympics without a ticket on both the men’s and women’s sides, there are occasional squabbles about whether boys should be allowed to play on the high-school levels, and an ACC field hockey team is the finest in all the land.

In short, the game is exactly where it was 20 years ago.

The struggles of the U.S. men, a group of ragtag players without a national league, without any varsity play in the NCAA and with only a handful of players in the developmental pipeline, are entirely predictable.

But the seeming collapse of the U.S. women’s team, just five years removed from a fourth-place finish at the FIH Women’s World Cup, is a staggering development, especially given the tens of millions of dollars spent on the sport since 2001.

A change in head coach was announced in late 2019, and I believe there are more changes ahead, given the grievances outlined in a petition which received more than 5,000 signatures in less than a month.

The failure of the U.S. women’s team came on the heels of a subpar performance in the FIH World League, winning two games and losing 16. The team also underperformed at the Pan American Games, failing to make the gold-medal match for the first time since 1991.

While the U.S. high-performance system has struggled, there have been some remarkable achievements elsewhere in domestic field hockey.

The University of North Carolina, featuring Team USA’s Erin Matson, went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in NCAA Division I. The Heels were not only the nation’s only undefeated team, no other Division I side had fewer than two defeats.

The NCAA Division II championship was won by West Chester University, while Middlebury won the Division III title. In collegiate club play, Northeastern won the National Field Hockey League, Cornell won the New York State Club Field Hockey League, and the University of California, San Diego won the Western Collegiate Field Hockey Conference.

At the scholastic level, the Score-O decade continued, with 10 more players hitting the 50-goal mark for a season and seven achieving the rare status of a 30-goal and 30-assist season. We also have had the unique situation of Lucas Crook, a senior at Somerset-Berkley (Mass.) not only becoming the first male player to get 100 assists in a career, but the first male to get 50 goals in a season. He also became one of less than a dozen field hockey players to get 100 goals and 100 assists for a career. His sister Cami is just nine goals away from joining the 100-100 club.

Perhaps the biggest story of the domestic field hockey season was that a national high school tournament was conceived and held with 36 championship-level teams playing 41 games over three days at The Proving Ground in Conshohocken, Pa. in late September.

Field hockey supporters got to see players and teams which were dominant in the present, but also got to see such teams as future VHSL Class 6A winner Langley (Va.), future Michigan Division I champion Dexter (Mich.), and future NEPSAC Flight A champion Greenwich Sacred Heart (Conn.).

Also circulating on the grounds were the field hockey teams from Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) and Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), two teams which seemingly followed each other throughout the Northeast U.S. throughout the fall.

These two rivals in The Garden State Firm had met each other Sept. 14th with Oak Knoll winning 4-1. Two weeks later, they teams were both at the National High School Invitational, playing non-common opponents. Two weeks after that, Oak Knoll came to McAleer Stadium to fill an open date on its schedule against Louisville Sacred Heart (Ky.) the same weekend that the Valkyries and Kingston Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) came to play Eastern.

Five weeks after, it was Oak Knoll meeting Eastern for the 2019 Tournament of Champions, as the Royals held the state’s non-public championship and Eastern had won the Group IV title (for the state’s largest schools) for the 20th consecutive season.

Though Eastern showed its intensity and skill throughout, Oak Knoll was just a bit better, especially on execution. How did Oak Knoll win? The Royals stole two pages from the Eastern playbook.

One page showed how important it was to score within five minutes of the beginning or end of a half, since the goal seemingly counts double in terms of psychological advantage. All four of Oak Knoll’s goals were scored within five minutes of halftime; two in the first half, two in the second.

The other page that Oak Knoll adopted was attacking a defense with speed and skill. The opening goal from Bridget Murphy saw her burst through a seam into a space about eight yards deep, which led to the opener. The final goal for Oak Knoll was a bit of passing brilliance as Murphy struck a bouncing pass that Lily Ramsey crafted into the goal with an extremely deft touch.

While Eastern was still able to maintain its 21-year championship streak, another significant title skein was ended this season. Los Gatos (Calif.) was going for its seventh consecutive CIF Central Coast Section title, but were beaten by San Jose Archbishop Mitty (Calif.), a loss which broke the team’s 128-game unbeaten string.